Sunday, 19 March 2006

India


As you can see from the time of this post, the jet-lag is still with us. We're both feeling knackered and really depressed at coming back to this cold, grey, rule-bound country.

India was the total opposite - hot, vibrant, chaotic. A complete bombardment of every sense with no respite. Everything is louder and brighter, more intense, which did get a bit much every so often, but now seems strangely addictive. We are suffering withdrawal symptoms, both from the curry and the country.

Some memories from the holiday:
- The drive in from the airport, with enormous speakers with bhangra blaring and neon lights flashing, even at 5am. Seeing people up and about, smartly dressed, herding cows or carrying baskets on their heads.
- The food, oh the food. Just about the best I've ever had, and I didn't mind eating curry for every meal - in fact, it seemed obvious and right. So many different vegetarian options and such delicious flavours. We did a cookery course too, so will attempt a few sambars, avials, and thorans, although they're bound to be depressingly unauthentic.
- Seeing dolphins playing in the Arabian Sea
- Keralan sunsets
- The children - so lovely and inquisitive and polite (most of them). Such beautiful smiles.
- Elephants. Wandering down the road, and as part of festivals. My favourite moment was hurtling down the road in a rickshaw one night in search of the elephant parade. When we finally found it and joined the procession I remember just grinning from ear to ear - totally exhilirating and unlike anything I've experienced before. (After a while we did get elephant-fatigue. One conversation actually went something like this: "Apparently there's another elephant festival tonight. Can you be bothered to go?")
- The chocolate cake at the Teapot in Fort Cochin
- Shopping in Ernakulam. One of the most hectic, hot and bothersome few hours of my life, but utterly fascinating. The spice markets, the shops full of pots and pans, the jewellery. Made me wish I could carry more home.
- A coffee shop in Jew Town, Cochin. Ben asking where the loo was and being whisked off down the street on the back of a scooter to the owner's art gallery.
- The breakfasts at the Vashti Art Cafe
- Jai and Laila, one of the families we stayed with, telling us tales of India, of being in the Navy, and eating their delicious food most of which they grow on their farm.
- The Ambassador cars, the auto-rickshaws, and the Enfield motorbikes. The incessant beeping, the total lack of any kind of road-rules, the sheer terror of being in a car facing an oncoming bus on the wrong side of the road showing no signs of stopping.
- Our hilarious taxi driver who clearly had no idea where he was going and took us two hours in the wrong direction. Asking every single person we encountered for directions, and getting out for many regular cigarettes. The family who were shy but then had their photo taken with us and showed us how cashews grow.
- Seeing familiar foods actually growing: pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa beans, mangos, nutmeg, jack fruit, rice, bananas, and millions of coconuts.
- The coconut pickers of Philip Kutty's farm shinning up the tree and sending nut after nut crashing down. Then hacking them open with machetes for us to drink the coconut water. Seeing countless coconut pickers with giant metal baskets overflowing with fruit, balanced procariously on their heads.
- The duck herds pootling down the backwaters herding hundreds of ducks in front of them.
- The beautiful saris and their beautiful owners. Like butterflies walking down the street.
- Constant comparisons to Glastonbury Festival!
- The ayurvedic hospital and the extraordinary massages we had there. Utterly invigorating and disturbingly thorough. The hospital itself was like a serial killer's lair, and the old-fashioned contraptions scared the life out of me. But the two women who massaged me did such a fantastic job and my blood had no choice but to reach every part of my body with renewed enthusiasm.
- Amazing floating flower arrangements everywhere we went.
- The newspapers.
- Swinging in hammocks reading our books at Mankotta House.
- Travelling from Alleppey to Cochin, and then Kottayam to Trivandrum by train. The amazing curry from the Pantry Car.

I'm sure there are many more which I will post when I think of them. It was an incredible fortnight, which was both relaxing and exhausting.

Our appetite for curry was matched only by our appetite for literature. We consumed:
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Marikami
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
Watching the English by Kate Fox
Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland
The God of Small Things by Arandhati Roy

and I'm about to start Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater, and watch Gandhi. We are converts to the great land.
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