11th October 1985 8.30am
Sheeba Lodge (25/- double inc. bathroom)
I got away at last. This was partly because I joined up for a while with le Suisse Claude, our routes coincided to here, and partly because Kovalum was beginning to open up to holiday makers and pure pleasure seekers, the ‘See India in a Month’ brigade.
The beach is now for bronzing on and rippling muscles in tandem with the waves. Or, in the case of a young Dutchman who booked into Moon Cottage, a chance to smoke heroin for the first time. Apart from a fleeting visit to our canasta game around 11pm, he hasn’t been seen since. Some holiday!
So, it was time to go. With Kerala busmen striking in the best tradition of labour men – this state was recently governed by the Communist Party – we journeyed by taxi to Trivandrum, and trained to Quilon. It was there that we re-entered India, or rather that part that aggravates travellers. A restaurant with no rice? And if Hotel Karthika is the best place to stay according to Lonely Planet (32/- a double room), I dread to imagine the worst. Large holes in the mosquito netting meant that we were bitten and irritated all night. The sink was in danger of falling off the wall if filled with water.
But this was but a staging post before taking the ferry through the Kerala backwaters to here. And what a journey that was for four and a half rupees and nine hours. A gentle ride through constantly changing scenery, in the sense that there was always a different vista or aspect of life to consider and take a photograph of, this must be one of the world’s greatest everyday journeys..
The waterways run parallel to Arabian Sea, and a fishing fleet supplements nets cast in the backwaters, fed by rivers trying to reach the sea, by men poling or paddling dugout canoes. Chinese fishing nets are supported on a cantilevered construction of palm tree trunks. There was little evidence of prosperity among the folk living on the banks, and our ferry appeared to be an important lifeline.
1. I took umpteen photographs with my Nikon SLR from where I was sitting on the roof; this was one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been. Noting that I was running out of film, I switched the camera off off and put in back in my rucksack. And it was then that I finally saw a lone fisherman casting his net high and over the water. I may not have captured it on film, but that scene is my one abiding visual memory of that day.
2. fr. Guardian 2007
“In Kerala, … where a few hippies used to ride boats through the backwaters, so many people now take boat trips that the riverbeds are plastered with plastic bags and the fish taste of kerosene.”