3rd – 9th January – ‘The God of Small Things’

What a ‘chillaxed’ start to the New Year it’s been.

We left Kochi and drove further south to one of the main Backwater tourist hubs. We’re staying somewhere between the towns of Kumarakom and Kottamy, very small and rural and both feel like miles away from Fort Kochi.

I’ve named this post after a book by Arundhati Roy, an Indian novelist who was born in Assam but grew up in Kerala. Last year I read a book by Arundhati and John Cusack called ‘Things That Can and Cannot Be Said’ (a must read might I add), so was aware of her writings and political stance already. Let’s just say she isn’t too fond of PM Modi and is also keen to remind people that Gandhi still backed the Caste system for independent India! Anyway, we bought TGOST in a Fort Kochi bookshop as it’s based in Kerala. Low and behold the setting of the story, Ayemenem, is a village up the road from where we are staying, and the river that flows at the bottom of our Homestay is mentioned frequently in the book. Both Steve and I have been captivated by the book and find it perfect to read whilst within the surroundings of its location.

As we are in the middle of nowhere there isn’t much to write about in this post! We wanted two weeks away from it all before heading to the big cities again so it’s nice to settle down and just relax – something that after years of not being able to do I find that I am able to doing just that. We went on another boat trip, this time Vembanad Lake for 3 hours, not as ‘epic’ as the Backwaters tour the previous week, but nevertheless still an enjoyable day, especially watching Kingfishers torpedo into the water to grab a fish. The lake is the longest lake in India stretching over 2033km, aka bloody massive!

When we weren’t going out-out, we decided to pop out of the house and go for a walk most days, only to be gawped by the locals like creatures from another planet. At first it’s quite strange and funny, but by the third time it was just bloody annoying! We weren’t hounded or pestered by anyone (well, only once when kids ran up to us and asked for pens! *slow hand clap to the Westerners who gave these kids the idea that every white person gives out pens!*) and most of the kids are rather sweet, saying a quick ‘Hi’ and giggling. Seems odd to be a local ‘wonder’… I even got asked to pose for a selfie with a group of teenage girls, they didn’t seem to be smiling that much in the picture, mind!

On our final day we decided to take a bike ride to Ayemenem, as we were so close to it and hadn’t used up much energy over the last week. We started off before the heat of the day crept in, which still didn’t help, the humidity made it hard work even at 8:30am. I was sweating in places where I’ve never sweated before! It didn’t help that I had a cold (winter colds exist outside the UK for Nessa it seems!) and, again, we were stared at by the locals, a couple of them shouted out ‘where are you going?’… it must have been an odd sight, two foreigners cycling through their tiny village on a Sunday morning. Great experience though.

It was such a nice bike ride, going through paddy field after paddy field, watching the Egrets stand like stone waiting for a fish to pass, gospel singing coming from the numerous churches that we passed. I would guess that we passed around 10 churches and only 1 Hindu Temple. Christianity seems to be the bigger religion in this area, more so than Hinduism or Islam. One night we got stuck in traffic because of a procession to a huge church in honour of Twelfth Night, otherwise known as the Epiphany. It seemed to go on for miles, with hundreds of people holding lit candles. I can only imagine what the Christmas celebrations were like round here.

As much as we have love the scenery in places we have visited there is always the odd collection of litter that enters vision. The rubbish is usually plastic (man’s most horrid invention) floating or clogging up a stream or river. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for one to become accustomed to the litter, which I guess is why locals don’t clear it up. It’s just a normal sight. A lot of people throw out food waste for the roadside cows or goats to eat… you can only imagine what the poor creatures end up eating! Interestingly enough Kumarakom is marketed as a ‘plastic bottle-free zone’, so pretty much all of the restaurants you visit offer filtered water unless requested otherwise. It’s certainly changed my mind about how serious India is taking the issue of ‘green living’. A little bit at a time goes a long way. Until you inform/educate people about the consequences of throwing things away and not recycling then nothing will change, and people will keep using the rivers and streams as a dumping yard.

Places

Lakeview Restaurant – as the food in the homestay wasn’t great (we’ve never had chicken that needed chewing so much!), we went out for food a couple of times. Lakeview was part of Zuri International Hotel, a rather grand setting next to a man-made lake with lots of chalets dotted around. I found my new favourite food here, a Keralan speciality called Karimeen, aka Pearl Spot fish. It’s marinated with onions, tomatoes and various spices then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. It’s a small fish and full of bones, but when you do find some flesh it’s worth it. I ended up eating it three times whilst in Kumarakom. I even ate the eyes!

Easy Restaurant – I wish it was! This was part of the Vivanta By Taj resort, so we already knew it was going to be expensive. Still, opening the menu made my jaw drop. Gobsmackingly expensive, and the food was just average. I might add Steve thought the food was good, maybe it was my socialist taste buds working in action (pricey food is never worth it). Anyway, lovely surroundings again and local musicians playing classical Indian music, worth it if you want some crisps when asking for papadoms!

Pearl Spot – this was my fave restaurant sat right near Vembanad Lake. Prices were good, and the food was lovely and spicy to clear my cold. A note, if a restaurant does not list beer on their menu it’s always best to ask, Steve did and ended up ‘winning’! Also, Indian Budweiser is 100 times better than the crap you get served in the UK, a premium lager which didn’t have sugar added to it… something that Indians seem to add to everything!

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