After our expensive entrance into the dirty little border town of Raxual, (see previous post,) we boarded a train heading east to the capital of West Bengal and the old colonial capital of India – Calcutta (Kolkata). Our arrival was yet another surreal 6am wakeup in unknown surroundings but we were quickly awed by the fleet of yellow Ambassadors, (part soviet tank, part Rolls Royce,) waiting to take us over the landmark Howrah bridge to our A/C hotel.
After a brief nap, shower and regroup we set out on am ambitious walking tour, hoping to see the real Kolkata in between the tourist stops and old colonial buildings. We drank juice made with sweet green oranges (can they still be called oranges? maybe they’re limes…) and walked through hundreds of of stalls, selling everything from plastic slippers (sandals) to tax law textbooks. Between the palm trees and art-deco architechture (see fire hall – above), it sometimes feels like stepping into 1970’s Miami with flood of Indian immigrants. Then you see a man ride past on a bicycle with 20 live chickens and remember – this is most definitely not Miami.
We walked and walked, but even ice cream in an A/C restaurant wasn’t enough to allow us to survive the heat so we hopped an Ambassador back to New Market for some shopping. By late afternoon we were ready to amble back down to the Victoria Monument for sunset and marvelled at the simple beauty of India’s second most beautiful building reflecting in pools of Bengali sun. Finally, we sampled of local delicacies for dinner – fish and prawn curries, followed by a well deserved rest.
The next day had us waking up well before sunrise and racing to the airport for our journey south to the promised land of tropical beaches and surf in Kerala. We arrived at 10am in Thiruvananthapuram, (thankfully known by it’s colonial name of Trivandrum,) and immediately set off for the cliff top beach town of Varkala. Happily, April is summer and the off-season here, so hotel managers are chasing us around offering lower and lower prices for rooms. We meet a nice guy named Lucky, and settle into one of his quiet little rooms for Rs 300 ($6) a night. We’ve got a hammock, a mosquito net, and the sounds of surf… life is good.
With no real plans other than max chillin’, I found the best of the 6 rental surfboards available in town and we took off exploring the local breaks. The beach under the cliff is a heavy closeout-only zone, but a friendly Dutchman pointed us north to a point break at “the green mosque” that sounded intriguing. At 6am I ventured up the beach and found a green mosque with a narrow little beach and surf pounding into rocks. The break doesn’t seem surf-able, so I turn around and fight the closeout waves at Varkala beach for the rest of the morning.
Later, it becomes apparent that every mosque in the area is green, and the following of Islam is strong in Kerala. We finally decide that we need some help and contact the nice folks at Soul & Surf, a local surf and yoga lodge, who took us in their sea-foam green jeep to a beautiful little point break further up the coast. Many waves were slayed and we returned to the spot on our own the next day with rented scooter and board.
mid-fail. PS – the blue board IS NOT mine.
As the swell dropped we headed up the coast to check out the Keralan backwaters. Much of the coast is dotted with freshwater lakes, which have since been connected by canals giving it a laid back Venice-feel with palm trees and tropical wildlife. We spent the afternoon slowly punting through palm plantations and fish ponds, drinking fresh coconut water and getting a feel for tropical life. Then it’s back on the scooter to Varkala, only to pack and move south to Kovalam Beach.
Depressingly, this is Caroline’s last stop in India and we celebrate/mourn the event by splurging on our hotel room with A/C, a huge comfy bed and a balcony with sea view, (of yet another green mosque.) We rent a surfboard for the next morning and gorge on fresh seafood and cold beer. The surf isn’t much better than the pounding I got at Varkala beach, so we return the board and alternate bodysurfing and soaking up rays on the beautiful beaches.
After more amazing food and some last minute shopping it’s time for Caroline to head to the airport where the impatient taxi driver ensures that our goodbye doesn’t last long enough to be (overly) sad. He then drops me alone at the train station and leaves me to find my way to Bangalore and the start of an entirely different trip – my internship with the Foundation for Ecological Security.
IR loves CHAI, CHAI, CHAI, CHAI, CHAI