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Clare’s Travel Diary

Monday, 24 Dec 2007

Location: Varkala - Kerala, India

MapWell Merry Xmas one and all!

This festive season finds me chilling on the Beach in Kerala at a little place called Varkala. Since I last wrote Chris and I have parted company and she is now back in Devon for Xmas in all that cold weather I see you've been having, and I have properly unpacked my bag for the first time as I'm going to be here till 2nd January.

After we had our wonderful day in the temple at Madurai we headed south to the Varkala for the first time. We had actually bought tickets to go to Cochin on the train from Madurai but the train as going to get in at 3.30am and so Chris went to speak to the info desk at Madurai station to see what time the first train was to go from Cochin to Varkala. This caused a bit of embarrasment for Chris as the poor man behind the desk tried to explain in broken English that the train we were on actually stopped at Varkala at midnight - so we had already inadvertently bought tickets straight to Varkala. Sadly the concept took quite along time for Chris to understand but she did say that the now sizeable queue behind her, breathed a collective sigh of relief when she finally got it! On top of that Chris had had a small accident with her water bottle when we were on the way to Madurai which resulted in her ipod floating in a pool at the bottom of her bag - amazingly the little device sprang back to life once we were on the train to Varkala leading us to think things were really going our way that day!

We arrived at Varkala late and bedded down in our guest house before the next day dawned all bright and lovely and we headed to the clifftop and the beach. Varkala is lovely, its got two smallish beaches which are reached down stairs from the cliff edge. interestingly during the monsoon the bigger beach completely disappears as I guess the sea level rises slightly, both have quite strong currents so there are lifeguards and women who walk on the beach selling pineapples and coconuts if you get a bit peckish. On the clifftop there is a path along which are all the restaurants, shops, Ayurveda & yoga schools, beauty parlours, expensive accommodation and travel agents. Walking along it is a continuous conversation with everyone trying to get you into their shop or restaurant. Its pretty low pressure though and once they know you its all jokes and laughing.

We had a lovely couple of days on the beach, Chris got to do some Xmas shopping and we met up with an English girl, Debra who I had met while Chris was ill in Mamallapuram. She had been living in Trivandrum, a little way down the coast doing some volunteering for three months and is also now at home in England - but she'd been to Varkala a few times over the 3 months and therefore knew loads of people here.

Our final stop before Chris headed home was Cochin, we went up there last week for a few days as Chris was leaving from there to connect with her Bombay flight to England and we wanted to do a Backwater cruise. We hopped on the train and got there really quickly, its only a couple of hours north from here and immediately got the ferry over to Fort Cochin. Fort Cochin is the bit people recognise as it has the massive Chinese fishing nets along the harbour (apparently they've been there in some form for almost 700 years). They are big cantilevered nets which are raised and lowered by four people at sunrise and set. They obviously make a great photo opportunity and they guys who own them make a little on the side by letting tourists help operate them in the evenings.

The rest of Fort Cochin is lovely, all little streets and colonial houses, many with original doors and features which would have been ripped out years ago in the UK. Its kind of like the old bits of York in that it looks a bit museumy. There are also however lots of nice places to get tea and cake, and we indulged ourselves on that front too!

Cochin is also a really good place to go see Kathakali performances. Its the traditional dance/theatre of Kerala and is very stylised with flambouyant costumes, over the top makeup and tells stories from the Ramayana & Mahabharata. Its all gods and goddesses and heroes and villains. Its all set to drums and live singing and the characters don't speak but communicate through coded hand movements, facial expressions and gestures. Performances traditionally last all night but in Cochin there are lots of places which do shortened, tourist friendly versions and we attended one of them - I expected to be a bit bored with it but it was actually really engaging and colourful. The narrator tells the story first and you get an intro into the types of movements and expressions, plus you can watch them do the makeup (it takes about 1.5hrs!) so you really get a feel for it. The pictures are great, when I upload them take a look - its a feast for the eyes!

Kerala also has its own type of martial art called Kalarippayatt and the theatres put on demonstrations of this too. It is said to be the forerunner of all other martial arts and is apparently 3-4000 yrs old in origin. It seems to combine yoga, gymnastics and street-fighting as they demonstrated fighting hand to hand as well as with a number of weapons such as swords, daggers, bamboo sticks, short wooden clubs and something which looks like a four stranded whip but the lengths are 2 metre long flexible metal blades... Pretty serious stuff! Chris and I were in the front row and flinching as they demonstrated the exercises and combat drawing sparks off the concrete floor inches from us!

On Chris' last day we did a Backwater cruise from down near Alleppey, this involved being poled along in a Kettuvalam - a wooden and wicker house boat, having a banana leaf thali for lunch on one of the islands and then going in a small canoe style boat for a couple of hours in the afternoon. It was really nice and calm, there were no sounds of motors or traffic and we both just really relaxed into it... a lovely last day. We even had a great sunset when we got back to Fort Cochin which meant we could get the sunset fishing net pictures.

Chris left early the next day and I headed back down to Varkala later myself. I had a slight hiccup on the train by getting on the Northbound line first and going half an hour towards Bombay before the conductor told me but other than that I made it without incident back down here and here I will stay until the 2nd January.

So Merry Xmas everyone and a Happy New Year. I probably won't update again for a little while - maybe around the 10th January, however I will be adding some more photo pages so keep visiting!

Signing off for 2007,
Clare x