So, we’re saying goodbye to Rajasthan today, and heading south to Kerala. The day starts with an early wake up at 6am, and more shifting of items from case to case trying to make 4 x hold luggage weigh less than 15kg and 4 x hand baggage less than 7kg, (and without all the liquids in the hand luggage etc). The 2 x pestle and mortars, bedding and other extraneous stuff we’ve acquired are seeming like less of a good idea at this point… It takes a while, but eventually we declare ourselves done.
Steve bobs down to reception and unexpectedly comes back wearing a flower necklace. We laugh at him but he points out we’ll all be getting one soon enough… I remember now, seeing pics on Booking.com of people gurning on the steps in their marigold necklaces. The poor chap who has to dispense them is barely awake…
We get to the airport unscathed and in good time, and guiltily can’t think of anywhere to put our flower garlands than the bin (I start to see why garlands and monkeys are often together – a good way to recycle them, perhaps). It’s some time later, on the plane, when I notice on the paperwork that ‘international’ visitors get an additional 5kg in the hold baggage, so much of our painstaking repacking may have been unnecessary.
It’s a long way to Kerala from Udaipur it turns out – we fly to Mumbai (just less than 2 hours), change flights to Kochi, and then another two hours in the air. Meantime we’ve arranged a car from Kochi airport to Mararikulum (Marari Beach), where we are to stay three nights.
In the two hour journey from airport to beach hut, we are looking out and I’m again realising how lucky we have been to have had a driver who points to things of interest along the way. Perhaps there was nothing of interest, but we got as far as Steve pointing out that there are Christian churches here instead of Hindu temples, and Mosques (to which the driver says ‘we are mixy, Hindu, Christian, no problem’). Steve then points out a fruit bat on the overhead wires, (to which our driver adds ‘already dead’).
As he makes a call to find out where we’re headed we noticed the language, which had started to sound familiar, sounds different. Shakti would say ‘theek hai’ (sounds like ‘tikka’, means ‘OK’) many many times during a telephone conversation, and that was particularly noticeable by its absence. The driver tells us he is speaking Malayalam, as do all Keralans (I think in fact they don’t call themselves Keralans, but Malayalis). Obviously our research for ‘down south’ has not been thorough, as we had had no idea of this…
The main differences we think we’ve noticed, aside from dead bats, and the language, is that perhaps there is less poverty down here. We haven’t seen anyone collapsed by the side of the road, the shop fronts seem just a bit newer, we haven’t yet seen any unclaimed dogs or cows along the way. There’s time yet, as we’ve only been here a few hours… Also, Steve feels there aren’t as many birds, as he’s only seen crows…
The ‘beach hut’ we’re staying in has been hand made by the host (I don’t know what he does for a job, but he’s clearly pretty good at construction, thankfully). It consists of two separate rooms with ensuite bathrooms, with a hammock and seating outside. Our hosts have introduced themselves as Binoy and Swapna. Oh, and the kids have a sizeable lizard in their room. I wait for looks of horror on the faces of the hosts, and a big net or bucket or whatever would be the correct catching and despatching apparatus, but none is forthcoming. Swapna smiles calmly and says ‘they do not hurt you’. Crikey. Physically maybe not, but mentally perhaps. Still, the kids have already bagsied that room, so I abandon them to their fate.
We ask about food, and the heavily pregnant Swapna says it’s too late for her to provide some, but she will show us a restaurant in the village. The restaurant turns out to be a small homestay with plastic tables out at the front in the sand facing the beach, and a limited menu ‘veg’, ‘fish’ or ‘meat’. We go for the veg option for three, and an enormous bowl of rice appears, followed by three tiny bowls of curry. We have nearly consumed these when another tray of food comes out, with poppadoms, four bananas and two other varieties of curry.
As we start to walk back we can hear singing/chanting in the distance, and we see a group who appear to be carrying lit torches, and doing some kind of incantation, and they’re getting closer and closer to us. Steve and Ella stride off ahead, leaving Jack and I bringing up the rear and going as fast as we can but struggling through the soft sand. We start talking about scary films, but the line of conversation doesn’t help – I’m trying to keep the mood cheery, however, am genuinely getting pretty scared… They are definitely gaining on us, and of course we have no idea if the chant is a pre-curser to certain death (ours, obvs), or just a regular Friday night here in Kerala.
We make it back to our place of safety, and I bolt the gate behind us with some relief. Ella is sitting in the hammock and I’m in a chair and we can hear them getting closer again, just the other side of our high (but very thin) garden fence. They’re really close, maybe a foot the other side of the thin screen…. I notice a fire lit nearby too which is high enough to make me wonder if someone’s house is on fire. Then, to my absolute horror, the back gate bursts open, and the entire group of maybe 30 people files in, still singing and chanting and carrying candles.
Ella swings so rapidly out of the hammock she is virtually face down in the sand. I am sitting awkwardly facing forwards as they all approach us. They are a distinctly eerie bunch, and I pretty much freeze. My jaw may or may not have dropped open… Of course, they may be terrifying on the outside, but it turns out their intentions are thoroughly well meaning and godly. They continue past, and to the host’s house… We recognise Swapna, our host, among their number and she gives us a reassuring smile. I’m feeling pretty jumpy though, and just to tip me over the edge nicely a massive frog hops across infront of me. There are a load of children among the singing/chanting group and they don’t seem frightened, so I try to stay calm!
We’re all pretty tired after a long day’s travelling, so we retire relatively early. It’s so quiet and peaceful I decide the earplugs won’t be necessary. (This turns out to be an error).