Sighing a breath of relief after we had to race to the station in Mumbai, owing to Mark’s clerical error, we made the platform just as our train came into view we were able to sit back and relax, we had no other choice really, we were going to be stuck on a train for the next 30 hours after all. Taking in the ambiguous culinary options on offer and washing them down with a chai are among your only recourse. But heading to the south of India brings with it a sort if wind change in operations, things immediately seem to be more relaxed, the food changes, the people seem to be laid back and it is instantly noticeable how many more women are involved in civic life through your interactions with store owners through to station managers. Kerala is, as locals will proudly point out, the most educated part of the country, not that that mattered to us as we pulled into Varkala, we were just looking forward to hitting the beach.
Varkala is a beautiful seaside town, well-appointed on a cliff top overlooking a pristine beach on the Arabian sea. There isn’t too much to report other than that we sat on a beach a dug into depths of our wallets to spring for a few cocktails. Varkala is on its way to being a bit of an it-town, with Mark commenting that the demographic appears to have changed a bit since he was last here. A pared back version Goa beach vibe it’s well worth a visit if you want some time away from the buzz of India. One notable beach highlight was seeing an insta-couple making sure everyone was able to enjoy their holiday as they were, spending upwards of 40 minutes to get that perfect shot, just to inspire the highest level of #wanderlust in all of us.
Moving onward we headed to the southern most point in India. Why? Just out of curiosity really, but in the end it was worth it. We had expectations that there may be loads of tourist because it is the tip of India, and as a result it could be a bit of a Disneyland. But, that expectation couldn’t be further from the truth. One guess is that being so far South many people just can’t be bothered coming to Kanyakumari, an incongruous mix of colorful Mediterranean style seafront houses and dilapidated sea-salt battered buildings. Other than a monument at the most southern tip, it’s a town notable for its friendly locals, yummy food and……..India’s first WAX museum! Complete with figures such as Jack Sparrow, Bruce Willis, Arnie and a slightly scary rendering of Barack Obama. To say it’s unexpected is an understatement, but we had a great time being forced into an array of poses in front of some 3D paintings to appease the bubbly staff. It was an interesting day and a half and we were happy to have made the trip and are happy to report that we’ve been to the cape of India.
Heading North from Kanyakumari we made our way to Pondicherry via night bus. Pondicherry is a favorite amongst the French as it gives them a pleasant reminder of their past conquest. French architecture and more importantly, French pastries abound with a cafe scene to match. Other than taking our time strolling the streets and taking in croissants, it’s relatively peaceful, with traffic down the narrow streets at a trickle rather than torrent like most Indian cities. Auroville, a commune of sorts is on Pondi’s outskirts and was designed as a test to sustainable living, with one part of the village even toying with a cashless society. While the idea certainly has plenty of merit it just appears to have become some sort of place for wealthy Europeans wanting to rid themselves of the shackles of responsibility. With a whiff of Jonestown about it, the cultish feel is hard to shake. The ‘mother’, the founder of the commune had some founding principles, one of which involves the shunning of material possessions, as they are a hurdle to self discovery, and that work, even manual labour, is a vital component to finding oneself. So, colour us skeptical, when we see only poor Indians doing any form of work. Meanwhile Europeans scoot around on mopeds listening to Ipods and checking into Facebook on their Macbook pros at one of the many, admittedly wonderful cafes, but at least they wear baggy elephant-print pants and loose-fitting cotton V-necks, so you know their hearts are in it.
Moving North, our eventual destination would be Chennai to catch our flight to Sri Lanka. But, having heard exactly 0 good things about Tamil Nadu’s biggest city, we decided to stay for only the night before the flight, and spend a night in a small beachside town Mahabalipuram. While the beach itself wasn’t overly inviting with discarded fish parts, dog and cow shit and dead rats among the bullets to dodge on the sand. However the there was a lovely little park with Krishna’s Butterball. Looking at it online it seemed pretty lame, but in person, the 250 ton boulder sitting precariously on a sloping smooth rocky outcrop was impressive. Previous kings have felt moved to try dislodge the rock due to safety concerns, one tried to moved it with 7 elephants, another tried dynamite, all to no avail, quite how it got there, and how it stays there is a mystery, but it’s pretty cool. It also had the most depressing fun fair we’ve seen – and Mark has been to Chernobyl – although the street dogs appeared to be having a ball running around the various ‘rides’. One feels that the rides might give you tetanus to go along with all that fun.
Onward to Chennai and there really was nothing in the area of even the most meagre levels of interest. Luckily for Mark, the hotel had the cricket channel, allowing him to take in a full day of cricket, and for us to catch up on some Netflix series, it’s nice every now and then to actually do nothing. The next morning was an early rise for flight to Colombo.
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