Tuesday, January 06, 2009


HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE. We are just back from south India. I hope you've all had an excellent Xmas and wish you health, happiness and peace in 2009.

I've put an album of 60 photos from our trip on Facebook. It has been an extraordinary fortnight, packed with fascinating, wondrous, perspective-grinding impressions. Here are just a few:

We saw:
Tiger paw-prints - fresh - in the Periyar national park
Sunsets the colour of a swami's robes over the Chinese fishing nets at Fort Cochin
Sunrise over the tea plantations at Thekkady
A dazzling display of Kathkali dance
Plantation of cardamon, pineapples, tea, rice and coffee
Amid myriad carvings in the 'city of a thousand temples', Kanchipuram, one showing Parvati embracing Shiva, standing delicately on tiptoe
A kingfisher flashing fluorescent turquoise above carmine lotus flowers on a pond
The Kerala backwaters, from a houseboat
Children as young as 4 begging on the beach
Entire families - mum, dad and three kids - zooming along on a single motorbike
A guest house called Pallava
A bus called Melvin

We heard:
Monkeys 'policing' the jungle by whooping from the treetops (="look out, tigers, here come another bunch of those idiot tourists!")
The sitar, Indian flute, the tabla
The rolling of waves on the Bay of Bengal
The call to prayer in Cochin, where 4 world religions have long flourished peacefully side by side
That there are more than 22 languages spoken in south India
That units of measurement include a 'lac' (100,000) and a 'karu' (10 million) - London is a small city in Indian terms.

We smelled:
Jasmine everywhere in Kerala
Crushed leaves from spice bushes - curry, cloves, allspice...
The bark of cinnamon and sandalwood, the sap of incense and rubber
Ayurvedic hair oil (well, I did - Tom doesn't have hair). It works.
Fish, fish, fish
A great deal else, often in places it shouldn't have been

We tasted:
Fresh coconut water drunk with a straw from the shell
Keralan fish curry galore
White snapper and fresh lobster drenched in garlic butter sauce
Too much channa masala (hot spicy chick-peas)
Fresh green peppercorns plucked from the plant
Home-made chocolate
An intriguing concoction that arrived when I requested peppermint tea: a stew of Tetley's, a handful of mint leaves and about 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns.

We felt:
Thoroughly pummelled by Ayurvedic massage, which seems to have sorted out my bad back
An extraordinary bop on the head from the elephant that blessed us with its trunk in Kanchipuram
The aurora of heat that greets you when you leave the airconditioning behind
Intense sun on our skin
Covered in grime after a day's sightseeing
Terrified on the roads: overtaking is a way of life, whether you're a bus, a truck, an ox-cart, a car, a motorcycle, a rickshaw, a bicycle or an elephant, and traffic lights are in short supply.
That we would have liked to stay for much longer than 2 weeks
Humbled by the wealth of ancient artistry, skills and wisdom
Touched by friendliness, non-aggression, kindness, community and family strength: people supporting extended families on 300 rupees a day (= approx 45p) often appear happier in themselves than most Londoners do
Saddened by the plethora of ingrained attitudes that nevertheless seem to hold everything back. India is a succession of priceless gems strung together on a decaying thread. Marvel after marvel, linked by disastrous infrastructure.
Challenged, moved, churned up