Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Finding religion

Since fleeing to Kerala from the flooding of the north our rainy bad luck has continued. The day after arriving in Fort Cochin the peninsula received it's worst rainfall in 50 years. We had to move accommodation the morning after the 15 hour storm and had to wade knee deep through the streets to our next spot. Quite fun actually.

I loved the old European feel to Fort Cochin. It's colourful and peaceful and the food is great. More on the delights of Indian food later.

From there we wanted to make up for our failed Himalayan trekking expedition and set off for Munnar in the Western Ghats. The road up was winding but gorgeous and it looked like some fine walking could be done. Alas the actual road into Munnar was blocked with a landslide and we couldn't get there without a big detour on back roads. A familiar story. Once bitten twice shy on this one so we sacked off the trekking once more. We did however stay about 20km south of Munnar in the hills and managed to get a lovely walk through lush rainforest and tea plantations. Beautiful flowers and trees and wildlife all around.

From the hills we moved to Allepey (a shithole) where we could do a backwater houseboat cruise. This is  the prime Keralan tourist attraction. We didn't know if it was going to be worth it as the rain had followed us down from the hills but we took the risk and I'm glad we did. We were lucky with a great bamboo houseboat for the two of us with a lovely little bedroom, a nice crew and a great cook. Three massive blue tiger prawns bought at the side of the canal were our spicy dinner treat. The crew used wooden bamboo poles to move the boat along for most of the trip which was much preferable to the noisy polluting motors of all the other boats setting off from Allepey. I could have stayed on that boat for days. It was one of the most relaxing things I have ever done. The weather held out during daylight too and when we moored at night a big storm set in but we were warm and cosy on board playing cards. Well romantic.

On the local bus from Allepey to Varkala beach we encountered a genuine mad man. He engaged me in conversation as he stood beside my seat. It started off in the usual fashion: "Where are you from?", "What is your name?" etc. However it quickly degenerated into rambling nonsense. Part English part one of the 1652 languages in India. He would punctuate his stream of consciousness by staring at me wild and wide eyed for a few seconds then continue. I got the impression he was trying to look into my soul.

He was enthralled by his old red Nokia phone. He would show me the screen while pointing up to the sky, flexing his bony fingers as if receiving the signals himself. He muttered about god. I think his insinuation was that he had a direct line to the man upstairs (or one of the many people upstairs in Hinduism). From time to time he would open up his shirt exposing his chest to me, stare at me with those eyes, then close the shirt and take out his phone again. In his shirt pocket he had a 500 Rupee note which he would wave at me, the bus conductor and everyone around him. The significance of this eluded me. Also in the pocket he had two combs; one pink and one blue which he would occasionally drag through his hair in a long smooth sweep. He was a stylish man. In a mad kind of way.

As my patience started to wear thin he grabbed my hand as if trying to pass energy to me. Sadly the earth didn't move and I remained non plussed and a non believer. Pity really. Finding religion on a cramped Indian bus has a nice ring to it.

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