Day 3 – Hot Footing it with the Hindus

The cliff top promenade really lent itself to a nice early morning run, the heat and humidity however did not. I considered it for all of about two seconds and then rolled over and went back to sleep. By the time I resurfaced it was stifling, which is pretty much the perfect temperature to go marching off to see some ancient and dilapidated temple on the top of a hill. I slathered on the sunscreen and headed on out.

Temples are ubiquitous across India and so I knew that it was only a matter of time before I found myself shoeless and confused in an Asian house of worship. To be honest I was quite surprised to have made it all the way through to day three without one. Vakala’s trump temple is Shree Janardhana Swamy, a 2,000 year old crumbling ruin, dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu. The unbelievers are not allowed into the inner sanctum, instead we had to be content with wandering barefooted around the periphery. I was beginning to get a real sense of how the art of firewalking developed as I hopped from scorched foot to scorched foot while the asbestos soled Indi attempted to précis the world’s oldest religion and its 30 million gods!

I was well on the way to grasping the basics; Shiva, Vishnu and some other supreme being called Brahma are the three main men. However, Hindu gods do seem to be a bit non-binary, so it is possible that they could be the main women, who knows. Anyways, they are respectively known as destroyer, preserver and creator and together form your bog standard holy trinity. It’s fair to say that you can barely move in India without bumping up against some incarnation of, or temple dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu. Not so much Brahma however. It turns out that he developed a bit of a crush on some goddess which he’d created, grew four heads and then got into a spat with Shiva about the whole thing and she cast him out. The upshot of all this is that there is only one temple dedicated to Brahma in the whole of India. Needless to say, I was keen to know where. Sadly I landed awkwardly on an almond as I hopped on to the marginally less scorched foot, made a very non-Hindu utterance under my breath and the moment to ask was lost.

We quite literally, hot footed it around the rest of temple. Beneath the welcome shade of a giant Banyan tree, Indi continued to explain that Vishnu takes 10 different earthly forms, known as avatars, each having its own area of expertise if you like. Then, just when I was nodding in deep understanding and agreement, he dropped the bombshell … Buddha it turns out was the 9th avatar of Vishnu … WTAF?!?! I needed a strong chai and a sit down to take this all in.

Holy men at the Beach

On the way back from the temple, still reeling from the unholy Buddha debacle, I stopped at Papanasam Beach, just a way south of the main tourist beach of Vakala. Loosely translated as “Redemption Beach”, the Hindu faithful flock here to cleanse themselves and primarily to wash their dead relatives out to sea. Thankfully, unlike Varanasi, they don’t do the actual burning here. Instead you simply bring the mother-in-law’s ashes along in a jar, give them to a holy man who sits lotus-like beneath a beach umbrella. Then, for a princely sum, he does a bit of chanting, waves a few incense sticks around, you nip off and pour her in the sea, job done. I watched this curious spectacle unfold for quite sometime before I lost interest and plodded back up to the top of the cliff in search of chai.

Back at the auspiciously named Dreams Beach Resort, which didn’t quite live up to its epithet, I took a Nanna nap (although I prefer to think of it as more of a siesta). Yesterday I had totally missed the sunset and I was keen to avoid a similar tragedy today. Suitably refreshed from my siesta, I headed back to my small fishing boat beach, with a grand plan to do dinner and sunset on the way back. During my walk I saw what I initially thought was a giant super mutant rodent. It seemed highly possible given the state of the place. However, when the super mutant rodent was stopped in its tracks by a cat and I got the chance for a more thorough inspection, I was delighted to positively identify the creature as a mongoose … killer of cobras and slayer of rodents! Jubilant with my find, I pressed on.

Once again, my prized patch of sand was empty. I made a small nest and settled down to read my book. The surf was much higher today with big white rollers continuously pounding the beach. It lacked the tranquility I was searching for, in fact I could barely hear myself think. I’d just about finished with the sun screen and sand body scrub when I concluded that it was much too hot and decided to venture into the sea instead. The water was balmy with not a hint of oohing or aahing as I waded confidently in. The surf seemed monstrous now I was in amongst it and my timing was decided amateur. I underwent no fewer than three total wipe outs before I finally managed to get past the breakers. The currents were really strong and, even as a confident swimmer, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. My exit from the sea was even more undignified than my entry. I got caught from behind, face planted and pinned down while the surf completely filled both top and bottom halves of my bikini with sand. I laid myself out to dry and thought wistfully about the chaffing that lie ahead on the long walk home.

Vakala sunset

After another little face down nap, that was almost inevitably going to result in a patch of sunburn about the shape of Cyprus slap bang in the centre of my back, I packed myself up and headed back to town. The sun was sinking fast as I scuttled past a myriad of yogic wannabes in an assortment of Tree, Warrior and Mountain poses. I found myself a suitably soft seat and a perfect view, ordered a mango lassi, paneer butter masala and the obligatory nan bread and settled down for the show … and oh what a show it was!

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