Today is a car day – a 7 hour trip, to cover 180 kms! By the end we are all ready to strangle Rajesh, who has kept up a constant stream of talk about anything and everything (and all jokes or funny stories must be told 3 times) except for the one hour reprieve we were given when he discovered his wallet was missing. But, when he found his driver’s licence tucked into another wallet, he was all smiles and talk again – in fact, even more so, fuelled as he was by relief, as it was only the licence that was really worrying him. Ah well, we have to keep reminding ourselves of his good points, which are many – excellent driver, with an amazing knowledge and memory of the roads; kind and considerate; extremely concerned about our welfare; keen to show off his country; knowledgeable about his country.
I am yet to discover the charms of Kerala though, well at least Northern Kerala. The small size combined with the density of population means that the trip is through constant ‘urbanisation’ – houses, shops, townships line the road. We see no rural area the whole way, but at least there are plenty of trees to frame the buildings. It certainly is lush and green.
Kitta and I are already pining for the jewel box colours worn by the Tamil Nadu women. The saris here are more functional – browns, maroons, mustard, olive green, cream with only occasional flashes of peacock pink, red, yellow. There are also many more Muslim women, so that introduces a lot more black into the equation. Even the tuk tuks are black instead of the Tamil Nadu yellow.
And the traffic! We spend a lot of time at a standstill, with cars, buses, trucks and tuk tuks all jostling for position. There seem to be many more cars and a lot less motorbikes, all crammed onto narrow roads. And, as we discovered in Sri Lanka, the private buses reign supreme; the bullies of the road, with load horns and a heavy foot on the accelerator, they will always get their way.
To relieve the boredom, stretch our legs and have a toilet break we make several stops. The first is by an estuary in Kozhikode to see the range of working boats gathered side by side.
Next is to look at a “beautiful” beach. Well, it might have been if it wasn’t covered in litter.
Next stop was to wander through a Crafts Village. That was a hoot as we had to pay 100 rupee to be allowed to take photos, but all of the craft shops had signs banning photos. Not that there was anything to photo as none of the craftsmen were actually working. And, the crafts on display left a lot to be desired. But, the toilets were relatively clean, as opposed to the last toilet stop, which had been an experience.
In Mahe, part of the independent territory of Pondicherry, we did a drive by several of the liquor shops in a vain search for tonic water to go with our duty free Bombay Sapphire. Alcohol is an interesting product in Kerala. The sale of alcohol is tightly controlled by the State Government and is the state’s major source of revenue as it is highly taxed. There are literally hundreds of alcohol shops throughout the country, all pouring money into the state’s coffers as alcohol consumption appears very popular – we saw long queues outside liquor shops on our drive. As Mahe is part of the old French territory it falls outside the Keralan Government restrictions and taxes. Hence, the town is wall to wall alcohol shops, selling very cheap booze. But, what is bought in Mahe must be consumed in Mahe so it is not unusual to see very drunk men, who have made the most of Mahe’s cheap alcohol. However, obviously no one drinks their gin with tonic, and we continue on empty handed. No G & T’s on the verandah for us this evening.
Our last stop is a wander around the old fort at Tellicherry, where we cause quite a stir and have to pose for numerous photos with groups of young women.
We finally reach Kannur around 4.30. It takes a while to find our accommodation, Costa Malabari 2 on Thottada Beach, as it is tucked away down small winding laneways with absolutely no signage. But we bump into the Manager, Kurian, near Costa Malabari 1 and he hops onto his scooter and leads the way. We had been warned that the guesthouse was simple, but it was a bit more than simple. Basic might be a better descriptor. Costa Malabari is one of the original guest houses in the area, and I don’t think much has changed since they started. Brings back memories of my back packing days through India in my youth. But, it has cooling sea breezes, an unrestricted view of the Arabian Sea, the sound of the waves to lull you to sleep and a very genial host in Mr Kurian.
We are here on the lure of a semi private beach and the possibility of seeing a Theyyam ceremony. The semi private beach turns out to be a small patch of very muddy unenticing water. It would seem the rains have caused the water to become a bit of a mud bath. And the Theyyam ceremony is due to start in 10 minutes, so we fling ourselves back in the car and follow Kurian, a Theyyam expert, to a tiny local temple.
Theyyam is a very ancient ritual that is only performed in the Malabari area of Kerala. The one we see is relatively simple, with one ‘performer’, 3 drummers and a horn player, and only takes a couple of hours. Apparently they can have up to 10 characters and a much larger orchestra and can go for 24 hours! Thank God we got the abridged version as our interest did wane once we had seen the intricately painted and beautifully decorated performer, as we had no idea really what was going on. Although the drumming was mesmerising – how they keep up that tempo for that period time is mind boggling – and explains the buff bodies of the drummers! We escape after an hour and a half, whilst the locals are lined up for yet another blessing from the performer, who is now an incarnation of the temple’s deity. But, it was fascinating to see the decorations on the performer, which Kurian later, quite rightly, describes as a beautiful art form.
Theyyam done we have the next day completely free, and are determined not to set foot in the car, despite Rajesh’s attempts to lure us in. We set off on foot to explore some of the surrounding area, but don’t get very far due to the heat. The main beach is long, and empty.
The area is certainly becoming more developed, and there are some new and palatial private homes, plus a growing number of accommodation options. We end up taking refuge in one, Blue Mermaid, as the young owner sees us trying to work out a way to walk back to Costa Malabari through the network of small paths and grasses, and gestures us in to his beautifully maintained gardens, where we rest and take respite from the heat before walking back to Costa Malabari for our lunch (which is delicious by the way).
The afternoon is spent on the deck chairs on the front verandah. Plans to take another walk in the cooler late afternoon are scuppered by the deluge that arrives, and stays through dinner. Then it is early to bed, as we are leaving at 6.15 am so we can catch the 7.15 train from Kannur to Cochin.