Thursday, 15 May 2008

The "honeymoon" period

The first "shock and awe" bit of India - which our friend Steve amusingly calls "the honeymoon period" - is drawing to a close... we hope.

We've spent the last couple of days in Varkala, a lovely clifftop beachy bit in Kerala. Thanks very much Dan and Charlotte for the recommendation! It's literally a breath of fresh air after the heat, dust and autorickshaw fumes of Madurai. Are we glad to get out of there... what a shithole!

Its main highlight - the Sri Meenakshi Temple - was all covered up with scaffold and thatch so the carvings could be repainted. Result: boring temple. Probably would have been pretty dull anyway, to be honest. I think most things are going to pale in comparison to the incredible stuff we've seen in Mexico and Cambodia. Future resolution: forget temples, unless they're in Hampi.

We took the train out of Madurai, fresh from a shouting match with the Golden Park Hotel, who screwed up my white t-shirts and vests in the laundry, dyeing them a delicate shade of green/yellow. Looked like they'd used gooseshit as a detergent. Anyway, they disclaimed all responsibility for the incident: "How is it possible?" and I ended up getting uncharacteristically riled and actually shouted at the intransigent guy behind reception who refused to summon the napping General Manager to deal with the problem. We walked off in a huff having paid the bill minus 500Rs compensation that we thought was fair... and then went back when we realised we didn't have a receipt, so they could have just pocketed the cash and called the cops. We ended up handing over another 200Rs to get the paperwork. Fuckers.

The train ride was something else. 8 hours (when it finally arrived) of packed bustling and musical chairs, primarily thanks to one nutty extended family of about 15 with a collective case of ants in their pants. Seems like they had only actually paid for 8 seats, but - this is India! - that should be enough to fit everyone in, dontcha think? It was funny, if a little annoying at times, but at 100Rs each (EUR 1.6) for a 2nd class ticket, you can't really complain. And they were extremely amused at our appalling, 1-handed chappatti eating technique.

So... Varkala. I have turned into an action hero! Rising at 06.00 to make notes about special ideas I had in semi dream states, then badgering Debs out of bed to take a early morning stroll along the beach. We were expecting to be more or less alone on the strand, except for maybe a yoga hippy or two. How wrong can you be! The entire local population was out for their morning dip/game of cricket. As were some scuzzy dogs who were playing a little too boisterously for Debs' liking. At one point "they had us surrounded... they did!" - it really wasn't all that dramatic, but Debs was totally shaking with fear. LOL!

In other wildlife news, they have hawks here! Not sure if they're sea eagles - is there such a thing? - or ospreys or whatever... but there are dozens of them, soaring around the cliff tops in search of mice or frogs or fish or whatever it is they eat. As you walk along the cliff top you're frequently surprised as one soars up beside you, just metres away, then floats away to look for another snack. It's very cool. Hawks not shown in below pictures.

Oh and by the way, we're nowhere near Jaipur or the Pakistan border, where the security situation is... worrying. We've changed our plans accordingly, and are now completely avoiding Rajastan, unless everything settles right down. Fairly unlikely.

Ben and Debs

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