I am reporting from the mini Utopia of Varkala is south Kerala. I love this place although it is a little touristy, but the people, the beaches and the travellers here have made it my best 4 days yet. The bonus is that I wasn't even supposed to be here and only decided to get off of the train after speaking to locals about it and asking their opinion.
Before I got here I was in Fort Cochin for a couple of days. It was a really nice, laid back place. Not much to do except watch the fishermen who still Chinese fishing nets to catch the fish, but it was good. You get to the place via the local ferries which adds something to it, especially when there is a ferry traffic-jam and you have to climb through 4 boats to get to dry land.
Whilst in Cochin I also went on a trip of the backwaters. You spend the morning in a canoe being taken around the narrow waterways. After that you get out and are given a guided tour around the village. That was really good as the guide showed us all of the local plants that are used and you get to smell and taste them. For example, there was nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, old spice and curry. Sounds a bit gay, I know, but it was really good to see it in it natural form and not on a supermarket shelf. I never knew what a pepper plant looked like because you just don't think about it.
Being shown the natural medicines was good too - getting back to basics and knowing you can live off of the forest etc, if you know what you are doing!
We then had a traditional lunch eaten off a banana leaf which was excellent and the beer helped too!
The afternoon was then spent on a houseboat travelling around the lake. Most people slept for this but I was sitting with 2 English girls who have been travelling for a couple of years so I picked their brains about Oz and New Zealand.
So that was Fort Cochin, quiet, relaxed and beautiful sunsets - like everywhere else in India I guess.
Oh another thing about Cochin is that alcohol isn't really on the menu so it gets served to you in a teapot so the authorities don't see it!
Whilst in Cochin I got talking to a couple of Indian lads. I got the same old questions about if I was travelling alone and if I was married as at 30 yr old I should be!
It is so different here. A girl has to be married by 22 and a boy by 28, and it will be arranged. They really do not have much freedom to choose a partner. Then once married they will all live at the man's parents house, the entire family and whatever is earnt by each individual is split fairly between everyone.
Now I obviously would not want to live like this, but I must say one thing. I have yet to meet a young Indian male who is not polite, friendly and is doing their best to get an education to improve themselves. Which is a lot more than I can say about the youth in my own country.
The saddest part about it is no matter how well they are doing at work, because the wages aren't great and the money has to be split between family none of them are likely to leave their own country even though a high percentage of people I have met dream of doing so to see some of the world. Another thing I have to be grateful for I guess.
On the morning of leaving Cochin my hotel owner told me not to go the Kovalam, where I was originally supposed to be heading and instead stop off at Varkala. I then thought I would ask the opinion of the restaurant owner and someone on the train and they all agreed that Varkala was best, so I went with the local knowledge and turned up at about 8pm with no where to stay.
The train journey there was an experience. There was a massive electrical storm so I spent 2 hours hanging out of the door of a fast moving train watching it. Bloody brilliant.
Once at Varkala, I met a rickshaw driver who assured me he could get me a good place to stay at a good rate so I decided to give him a chance. As I turned up I was very dubious as we approached from the back. Once I got to the front I could've hugged him. The room was one of the best yet, it was cheap and the location was excellent.
Varkala is set along the top of a cliff and mainly made up of the restaurants / bars and shops. My room was right in the middle and has a sea view - nice.
The Rock N Roll bar is next door and you get 10% off staying at my hotel. So I thought on my first night I would check it out. I got in there at 9pm and left at 5am. It was one of the owner's birthday so he was dragging everyone in who walked past. At one point there were about 25 of us all sat around a table getting on it. I ended up hanging out with 2 Norwegian and 2 American girls (I like female company) and that is who I have spent the last 3 days with - more so with the Norwegians.
The only bad part of the evening was the birthday boy getting into a fight with some other locals and having to leave town for a couple of days, but more on that later.
One funny thing that happened was an Essex girl (who tried to steal my book) got too p*ssed and walked straight out of the bar and over the cliff edge. Fortunately it wasn't a big drop at this point but she didn't know that because it was dark and she was rescued 'hanging' onto the edge. It is bad but I still think it is funny.
An uncomfortable moment that I had that night was when speaking to an English couple that I think had consumed more than just alcohol. As I am talking to the lad, his bird starts to squeeze and rub my leg!! The lad saw it too and didn't quite know what to say, so I just carried on talking like it wasn't happening and moved my leg. Then she started rubbing my arm and I just had to shift my chair little bit to the side - how random.
Next day after finally getting up we spent the remainder of the day at the beach, followed by a 4am finish in Rock N Roll. It was a funny night. Myself, Unni, Sigrid (the Norwegians) and Max (bar owner) spent the evening playing 'Sh*thead' (A card game for those of you who do not know). The forfeit for losing was to eat a chilly. I lost 4 times. Max lost 8 times, and as an Indian he still struggled with the chillies. Hot hot hot.
Yesterday was again a very lazy day. By lazy I mean lunch and a visit to the cash machine. We then hit Rock N Roll again for more cards but agreed not to use chillies. Instead it was shots of rum.
Before we know it, the chillies made an appearance and in the course of 20 games I lost 9 times. So 4 shots and 5 chillies for me. Chilly number 5 was unbelievable. Numbers 2 and 3 had already given me a spinny room and my t-shirt was quite damp from the sweat but number 5 literally blew my head off. There are a series of photos that show the event of number 5 taking place and I will get the onto Facebook when I can - there are funny.
The night then took a dark turn. Hiness (who left town for fighting) was back and no sooner had he got back to the bar those other blokes came looking for him. What happened next can only be described as shocking. I didn't see it all as we just sat at the table drinking, but there were knives and glass in use, and big knives too. Our card game was cut short as Max tried to keep the peace and ended up in hospital for his trouble. A nice knife wound that needed stitches. I was told today that 2 blokes from the 'other side' are still in hospital and needed to surgery to repair their wounds. It was mental and all set to the back drop of a massive storm on a cliff side - like some sort of action movie.
Even though that was all crazy and just plain reckless and stupid it hasn't ruined my experience here. My time spent with Unni, Sigrid, Max and the yanks has been brilliant and I will be sorry to leave.
What has ruined my time here was getting badly sunburnt today. It wasn't even my fault! I bought some sun lotion which I discovered this afternoon (which was about 3 hours too late) had expired. Couple that with the fact that I am secreting chilly sweat and you have a recipe for disaster. I was only in the sun for 2 hours but the burns are bad. Lobster isn't quite a good enough analogy for my appearance.
Still I am heading to Darjeeling tomorrow, which is in the foothills of North-East India. So no more burns. I will not see a beach again now until mid-January at least as Frodo Baggins is now embarking on his mission through the Himalayas after 2 final stops in India. I still have 2 more weeks in this country but I already know that I will miss it a lot. I am so very glad that I chose to come here. Yes there have been times when I wanted to get out but mostly it has been brilliant. If anyone gets the chance to come, I would tell you to do it 100%.