KERALA – A FLIGHT AFTER VISHNU’S AXE
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Дата публикации: 01.01.2015
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|Жанр(ы): Биографии и реальные истории, Приключения, Книга Написано Пером|
They say that you can’t run from yourself. But don’t blindly follow such axioms. Believe that everything is possible. It’s true, only in India. We didn’t buy any tickets, didn’t arrange any tours. And four months before our departure, we hadn’t even made any plans to go anywhere. One of us had spent their thirtieth year on the job. The other looked at life philosophically and waited for it to change, if not for the better, at least not for the worse. Simply, on one cold autumn day, HE stood in the biting wind on the road cursing himself for not filling the tank ahead of time...
In Kerala, you get up every morning at sunrise. And this picture – is the most amazing that can be seen in these parts. And while enjoying the beauty, more than anything, as is known, you think about friends. And about the woman you love. About her first of all, of course...
We waited for the sun, embracing in the gray dawn hour, buffeted by the winds of three seas at the southernmost tip of Indian land - Cape Kamorin.
We tossed about in a rundown 1956 Ambassador along a wavy mountain road on the way to the kingdom of tea plantations in Munnar.
We spotted an elephant lunching behind a thick banyan, and then fled through the jungle from the gray giant.
We sailed hundreds of kilometers on the waves of the Arabian Sea.
We tasted dozens of different Indian dishes and even went to cooking classes held by the chef at a Kerala restaurant.
We learned how to do ayurvedic massage with hands and feet and received diplomas from a reputable college.
We stood on our heads and meditated, looking into a fire under the guidance of our yoga teacher - Saji.
We sometimes smelled incense randomly drifting around, not knowing where it came from.
We have taken photos and videos to preserve the memories of thousands of faces, landscapes, sounds and tastes - the whole mosaic of experiences that will remain with us for life, and have already completely changed it, just because we were in Kerala.
And finally we thought - why not tell the good people about how we traveled to India?
This thought came to mind after the next "Hello-o-o!" on the Malabar coast of the Arabian Sea near the city of Calicut where, again, we - the first Russians - studied Kalarippayttu, the most ancient martial art in the world, in the former kingdom of Zamorina.
We decided not to bore the reader with historical facts, figures, names and places, each of which requires some explanation and pulls the whole train of the trip into history, clarifications and asides. Most people are educated. Whoever’s interested in these things can look them up on the internet or go to the library.
We just decided to talk about what we had seen and tell it as we understood it. This seemed most practical and useful to us.
At the same time, we tried to provide some information for those travelers who’d like to live in southern India and travel around Kerala. It's worth it. After all, Kerala is also called the Land of the Gods or even less pretentiously – Paradise on Earth!
Parallel to Kenya.
So we didn’t buy any tickets, didn’t arrange any tours. And four months before our departure, we hadn’t even made any plans to go anywhere. One of us had spent their thirtieth year on the job. The other looked at life philosophically and waited for it to change, if not for the better, at least not for the worse.
Simply, on one cold autumn day, HE stood in the biting wind on the road cursing himself for not filling the tank ahead of time. Now, HE said HE’D have to drag the canister to the gas station. While it was fairly close, the prospect of walking there was none too attractive.
And as HE walked, and as HE opened and filled the canister, the idea about India popped into HIS head. It should be nice there right now, HE thought, warm, and without the cold wind. (It was almost like the old children's film: "It's warm! They have apples!")
HE remembered that SHE was studying yoga and would probably be happy to continue this study in India. And HE wanted to do this himself. To soar above vanity, to find a new vantage point on the surrounding world. And finally, to also try his hand at yoga. And, actually, HE went on to argue what was stopping it? Lifestyle? Daily routine? Force of habit? Oh, how hard it is for people to change their path in life. But in order to turn the "cart of life" sometimes a decision is all you need. As they say, "make up your mind - and you're free."
However, we will not bore the reader by enumerating our motives for traveling. Everyone has their own motives. Or they might not have any. Remember the anecdote: "Why, why? Well just because..." And so, too, sometimes the answer is just, “And why not?” And that last phrase is what SHE said to HIM when HE came home, telling HER about HIS idea of India.
“You know,” SHE said, “an Indian just called me...”
A mystery? No. Just the last link of the chain being connected. Let's go!
Let’s pick a place to live.
In choosing a place in India to direct our steps, we remembered... Kenya. This country is known for its unique climate. Here it’s 25 degrees Celsius year round, at most 30. We traced the parallels on a map directly from Kenya and landed on Kerala. Here, we decided, there should also be a circle of twenty-five. And it turned out to be correct.
We didn’t want to go somewhere with extreme heat. It’s hard on the body. We confirmed that Kerala was indeed the only place in India where the temperature barely changed year-round - from 25 to 28. Now that’s the place to live! The monsoon here ends in November. After that, tourists flock here from around the world to get ayurvedic massages, lose weight, and trim the belly, hips and any other parts with unnecessary excess folds of cellulite.
The latter reason was of no concern to us. Nevertheless, we decided to go in November.
And so a few more introductory lines. Trust me, the next lines will be easier. We decided not to write a book, but instead to offer the reader a diary kept by one of the authors. A diary is a direct live reaction to what was seen and experienced – this seemed like a more valuable resource for someone wishing to travel to India than a ponderous book. Only in a few places have the authors allowed certain episodes of their adventures to be recounted in a literary form.
Where's the money coming from?
Our friends, with whom (wait a little more!) we spoke about our intention to go to India for a year, could be divided into three groups.
Some reacted to us as if we were people prone to eccentricities that suggested not all might be right in the head.
Others were primarily interested in the financial aspect of the upcoming venture. That is, to say, “Where’s the money coming from?”
We found people who did not hesitate to ask us this question as they say, in plain language, which, frankly, frustrated us as if our idea was such a blatant faux pas. This latter reaction was sometimes disarming, as with frank rudeness.
We had not customarily made a habit of asking other close friends (unless they volunteered it) how much they made, or where the money for an apartment or a car came from. However, as for the cost of living in India, this question tormented certain of our acquaintances.
There was a third group. They reacted to our undertaking not just with understanding, but did not hesitate to admit that they were jealous and also wanted to take such a journey. And, in fact, change their lives.
So, for that third group, we will give some practical advice about money. In India, it’s possible to spend as very much, or as very little as you like and, in the latter case, without pushing the limits of discomfort, and without denying yourself some decent food and tolerable shelter. Suffice it to say that we rented the second floor of a new villa on the shores of the Arabian Sea - two rooms, a kitchen and an 80 square meter terrace - for only 150 dollars a month. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Flying over the Himalayas. Goa.
We landed in Goa, and the first things which surprised us about India was how completely mild the weather was, and that the crows here were smooth (almost no feathers), like the local dogs.
We stood in line a long time at the border guard for more than an hour. Then we began to figure out how to get to Kerala.
It turned out that there were no flights there from Goa. The nearest city, they explained, from which you could fly to Thiruvananthapuram - the capital of Kerala - was Bombay. But Bombay was one day by ferry or nearly 600 kilometers by road. What to do? The kind Indians explained to us that Kerala could be reached by train from the nearby town of Madgaon. It was a way out of the situation.
Without hesitation, we ordered a taxi at a special booth - paying a set rate seemed safer than dealing with the private taxis at the airport entrance - and we set out "on blind faith" to the station.
And so we arrived at the station in Madgaon. But no one had waited for us... There were no trains or tickets to Thiruvananthapuram (or Trivandrum as residents of Kerala abbreviated it) on this day.
Waiting train at Madgaon station.
"Come tomorrow at least one hour before the train departs to Trivandrum," advised the railway man behind the little glass window. That hour meant by 1 p.m. The prospect of spending the night in a hotel near the station was not appealing, especially since the beaches of Goa were only 12 kilometers away - the ocean! And that's where we headed in the very same taxi.
We quickly got a room in a cozy hotel with a green inner courtyard and a small pool. We never took a dip in this water, but immediately went to the sea. The sand on the Goan beach was as fine as starch. You could wade 70 meters in and the water was only up to your waist. The bottom was also smooth sand all the way out.
We dined on shark fins and a selection of hot spices, prepared with lemon, mango and pepper. We washed it down with some tea.
The next morning took a taxi to the station where we waited for three hours before the train departed. The station director made an exception for us issued tickets for a first-class compartment for two, and received $2 as a “tip.” Before the train left, we had lunch at a restaurant - eating spicy soup and fish like royalty (a filet baked in breadcrumbs). Very tasty.
We liked the Rajani train. Dinner, also included in the ticket price, consisted of seven courses. Soup, beans, fish curry, chicken, vegetables, rice, and dessert.
Reclining, I got out my laptop and tried to describe this part of our journey more literarily. And here's how it came out:
Under the sound of wheels
The Rajani Express was a half-hour late in arriving at the Madgaon station. Other trains were obviously not expected at this time, as the rickshaws and "coolies" crowded around the entrance to the platform just ten minutes earlier had moved into the shade of the trees where they sat on the grass for the time being.
A policeman with an extremely large rifle on his shoulder and a sinister mustache, exhausted from standing around at the gate, sat down on a chair in a glass booth where a fan was running.
Two Indians, guarding the plate by the entrance to the public bathroom (which also had a shower), idly counted coins, and it seemed like it wasn’t the first time they had nothing else to do.
The newspaper sellers languished in idleness. From time to time, people approached the vending carts for a bottle of drinking water. Those who could not afford twelve rupees per pint just leaned over the curved brass faucet sticking out of blue tile with the inscription, "Drinking water."
Little signs hung along the platform with black and yellow numbers corresponding to the cars, and passengers were already seated on benches under the platform roof - each in accordance with their class of ticket.
After the difficulty of getting tickets on the express, we calmed our nerves over breakfast at the station restaurant. The one-hundred rupees we had to give the station duty officer for the trouble was a mere trifle compared to the three and a half thousand which I laid out to upgrade the ticket to Trivandrum.
The restaurant was divided into two parts. One part fed exclusively vegetarian food. There were a few Indian families having breakfast there. A sign reading "non veg." was hung by the entrance to the other part, which was completely empty. The waiter was delighted to have visitors and, finding no other way to express their feelings, launched an overhead fan at maximum speed.
The brown blades begin to rotate like a helicopter rotor, so that the Magdaon flies had no opportunity to land on the “fish-king” au gratin steak. Besides hot spices, we preferred lemon and mango slices as seasonings, they were able to deal with the burning fire and keep it from attempting to spread throughout the body.
Look, kids! They just crawled under the benches on the platform in front of quite a decent and kind mother, and then took pieces of candy (chapati) from her hands, stuffing them in their mouths with their dirty fingers. Drawing the attention and interest of foreigners, the Indian woman, "wrapped" in a light pink sari, smiled. Behind her, as if on cue, her children laughed. And it was bliss...
The station speaker grunted something out. At first, it seemed like words in English. And then, it must have been repeated in Hindi. Both were broadcast on a background of white noise and were equally unclear. But just in case, we hurried to settle with the waiter and went out to the platform. It turned out to be the right move. The Rajani Express was poking out its head from around the bend lined with overgrown coconut palms.
Our suitcase must have been designed to the exact specifications of the narrow corridor. After some difficulty, we finally pushed our way into our coupe. It was roomier than Russian trains, with ample seating. Just for two. The air conditioning in Upper Class worked wonderfully and cold air got under my shirt. I shrugged my shoulders from the chills, and Irina, sitting in a corner by the window, covered herself with a blanket.
The Express started and the next minute there was a conductor in a checkered vest, white shirt-front, and a little black silk bow-tie that looked like a butterfly.
"Coffee, tea, whiskey?" inquired the curious conductor, placing particular emphasis on the last word.
Whiskey here at the North Pole would have been most welcomed. However, there was a sign hanging in a prominent place within our coupe plate that declared a strict prohibition on the use of alcohol.
"Lunch will be served soon!" the conductor continued his monologue. "Vodka, rum, whiskey?"
Leaving the question unanswered (we were still planning to take part in yoga), we asked the conductor to turn down the air conditioner. There was no way to adjust the air in an individual compartment, and the conductor could not disable the entire system for two passengers. And yet, the Indian man found a solution. He climbed up, along with his shoes that had strolled at least one-hundred kilometers through the Rajani Express corridors, onto the table where lunch would soon be served, and began to frantically stuff the vents with fresh pages from the Hindustan Times, which I had planned to read to kill time along the way.
It became clear to me that the “tip meter” had just kicked in, and the efficient conductor certainly expected to cash in at the end of the route. To complete the picture-perfect work the checkered man stamped his feet on the table coupe, twisted the iron screw back and forth on the air conditioning vents and, apparently deciding that the proper impression had been made on the foreigners , got down.
For the next half hour after this, the conductor dropped by four times with the words, "Rum, whiskey!" and then brought an excellent four course dinner. And when we locked the inside hook, he continued to offer alcohol behind the closed doors.
I moved back to the window. It was almost impossible to make out the landscape through the smudges on the glass. Soon, flying by Madras, the autumn southwest monsoon fully lashed out on the roof and windows of the Rajani Express. Unfortunately, the flowing water did not make the glass any cleaner and all my attempts to get an advance peek at the Paradise on Earth were in vain.
The train arrived in Trivandrum before dawn. The driver of the night taxi, without bargaining, took us to Kovalam. After hundreds of miles by rail with all the stops, the fifteen kilometers to the Arabian Sea coast flew by.
It was still dark when we entered the resort village. The driver stopped the car at the hotel and began to unload our stuff. Somewhere nearby, the not-yet-visible surf hit the shore with a roar. The subtle morning light was barely starting to peer through a dense crown of coconut palms. The gentle aroma of mangoes floated by.
“It seems like we’re in paradise!” I declared. “And in this lifetime!”
And we stepped resolutely over the threshold of the sleeping hotel...
Sunset in Kovalam.
From the diary - The first morning in Kovalam.
The hotel was called Moonlight. Irina immediately climbed into bed and continued sleeping, while I sat in a wicker rocking chair on the balcony and began to examine the area.
It was an exciting, mysterious new world! Kovalam is completely immersed in very green coconut palms and banana leaves. The room was relatively cheap, very comfortable, and clean. All shoes had to be removed before entering the hotel. We went around barefoot. The marble was perfectly clean.
The next day began to search for a home. We befriended one motorized rickshaw driver named Shaji, and he drove us around to different addresses that he knew.
We picked the second floor of the villa which had two rooms. Each has a bed, and there is a private shower and bathroom. The room exits right onto the roof (a platform in front of the third floor, which the owners will build in a year). The roof is flat, about 80 square meters - a great place for yoga.
An Indian family lives on the ground floor (she was local, but her husband was Italian). We hope that the Indian woman will help us get started, teach Irina local how to cook delicious meals, and help with yoga.
Our house with blue kitchen.
From the diary. “Suga Maanu!”
It is the beginning of November. We are sitting on the terrace of the house we rented. Irina is buried in her astrology, and I am writing these lines. The house stands on a cliff. Coconuts and bananas grow right in the yard. In front of us in a huge stone bowl, a freshwater lake framed by coconut groves, and about a kilometer (20 minutes walk) behind it is the sea.
The local people are very nice - everyone smiles and has a sense of humor. In the morning we went to the sea through the coconut forest and all of the Keralans we met on the way said Good morning! to us (Suga Maanu! in Malayalam).
There is no crime here, we are assured. The beaches are smaller than in Goa, but the sea is also shallow here for the first 60 meters out. There are a lot of older couples from England and Germany. People come not only for Ayurveda (dozens of procedures), but they also just rent rooms to read in silence.
We celebrated our housewarming with a Keralan style dinner. They served us about ten different dishes on banana leaves. And we washed it all down with fresh pineapple juice. In parting, they decorated us with jasmine bracelets.
Kovalam beach in the morning.
A local guru gave me a back massage, which was expensive by local standards - 900 rupees. It was done with oil and using his feet. A chiropractor walks on the patient's body, holding on to a rope over his head, and presses the sore spots with his feet. It’s very tough, but can be effective (my back ached so I agreed). The master called me from the capital and came by car. He did everything, but refused to take the money. He said that it was his karma...
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