A woke in a state of total and utter discombobulation. It was a full minute, which feels like a life time when you are in grip of bewilderment, before I grasped my bearings … hotel … India … holiday … safe!
To be more specific I was in Trivandrum, the state capital of Kerala. Literally translated as “coconut land”, Kerala is one of the “ten paradises of the world” if you believe anything you read in National Geographic Traveller magazine. For those of you not fully versed in the complexities of India’s geography, Kerala occupies a narrow strip of coastal territory in the far south west of the country. It is a tropical paradise of wide sandy beaches, tranquil backwaters, lush green rice paddies and of course coconuts! If you’ve never set foot in India before, then Kerala is a great place to start. It is considered to be one of the safest regions in India, it has a relatively high standard of living, tourist don’t get accosted on every outing and all in all the culture shock is very manageable compared with the horrifying chaos you will experience further north!
We (that is myself, our guide Indi and an incongruity of 6 fellow travellers) made a relaxed mid-morning departure for our first destination, Vakala. A short 50 mile hop up the coast, Vakala is one of those achingly groovy hippie backpacker hangouts. The kind of vortex that, 20 years ago, I probably would have found myself sucked into for a month or so. Nowadays, a couple of days would more than suffice. The journey was exactly what I had come to expect from India; bumpy, slow going and hair-raising in equal measure. I watch the bewildering culture pass by and was a little thrown off by an overabundance of communist revolutionary icons and symbolism. Red flags with the familiar Soviet hammer and sickle flew from every street corner and posters of Lenin and Che Guevara were plastered on any spare bit of wall. I wondered if I had missed some major geopolitical shift. My bewilderment deepened yet further when Indi casually explained that the state’s ruling communist party had been democratically elected. This pretty much summed up India politics in a nutshell … utterly mystifying and a little bit cuckoo!
The tumultuous city streets gradually gave way to a hectic urban sprawl, which then became a surprisingly laid back Vakala. I settled into my typically Indian accommodation, which basically amounted to spending 15 minutes trying to figure out which of the dozen or so switches actually turned the single solitary lightbulb on and off, then a further 5 minutes going through a similar process with the taps, spigots and faucets in the bathroom! In the league of Great Indian Mysteries, plumbing and wiring are right up there!… With the basics mastered it was time to explore.
Vakala is basically a 1.5km walkway of hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, Ayurvedic spas, yoga studios and street hawkers that runs along the top of a cliff. Below is a beautiful wide sandy beach and a very welcoming Arabian Sea. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all very chilled and convivial, but just a little too uber-spiritual-downward-facing-vegan-dreadlocked-dog for my liking. I made a beeline north to where, apart from a couple of high end resorts, it’s just the fishermen, a few locals and beautiful deserted beaches. I found myself a perfect spot and promptly proceeded to fall fast asleep in the shade of a fishing boat. They tell me that snow is on the way back home … India gets better by the day!