South India. Days 11-13. Udupi, Malpe.

I’m only seeing Junee this evening after class, so I have some time on my hands. I’ve decided to ride to Malpe Beach for the day. It’s only about 10kms away and, minus the panniers, it’s going to be an effortless ride. But first, more serious business at hand …

The signs were there. They had been stepped on too many times, forced to work in the rain, dragged through mud, exposed to the hot sun day after day, then chucked aside at the end of a long day.

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South India. Day 10. Kahangad to Mangalore

Every day, on the road, my daily interactions with the locals have always been fun, interesting and friendly. I’ve not met a single person who would turn away from my camera, until today, at breakfast …

My breakfast stop is a little ‘hotel’ just outside Kahangad. As I often do, I try to photograph the owners in their element, but the all-women crew of this little cafe, although very friendly, all refuse to let me photograph them. But I’m not about to give in; so we play hide-and-seek — I point my camera at them and they giggle like little girls and run or turn away, screaming something in Tamil.

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South India, Day 5. Exploring old Ponnani.

Ponnani is made up of 2 very distinct districts — the old and the new. The old Ponnani is what you’ll see first if you come in to town using the coastal route 17. The new Ponnani greets you first if you stay on the busier route 62, which then meets route 17 just at the edge of town.

I wasn’t impressed at all by the newer side of Ponnani when I arrived yesterday. It’s chaotic, nosiy, busy and without much character. So, this morning, I decide to ride around the old part of town and see if it’s worth my time. As I head towards the port, the houses and buildings seem to age backward in time.

It’s old, very old, but colourful and full of old-world charm and character. Some of the shops are shuttered and locked, abandoned for the glitzier side of town, but many are still in operation. They’re mostly small businesses; selling anything from bananas to ropes to bamboo. Even the residents seem very much in character. They’re very friendly; even more so when I get up close and personal with my camera. If there’s one thing that lets you make friends instantly, it’s the camera. Must be their innate sense of Bollywood in their DNA.

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Cows, pedestrian, motorcycle and a bus… so who gets right of way? The cows of course. Next in line? Whoever is bigger, louder and faster.

 

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At the end of the sealed road, I find myself riding on a dirt road leading towards the sea. Continuing on, I come upon some huts next to the water, busy with fishing boats and groups of people gathered around some of the boats. The smell of salty air permeated with that of rotting fish, punctuated by the sound of seagulls, crows and egrets cawing and flapping their wings, , completes the whole scene.

I stop to absorb it all. I feel a little overwhelmed, heady even, but I think that is likely from the thousands of rotting fish being dried in the sun.

Some of the fishermen behind the huts are loafing around on the beach, looking at me uninterested. The action seems to be happening around the boats so I ride straight into the thick of it.

Instantly, I become the star attraction.

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Ponnani’s fishing port

 

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Fish being dried in the sun. Once dried, they are bagged in gunny sacks. I don’t think they’re for human consumption

 

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Fresh off the boat

 

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A cycle-tourer does seem to stand out like a sore thumb here.

 

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My presence incited a heated argument among some of the fisherfolk, with this guy seemingly telling the other off for being ignorant about touring bikes (I think…). I just stand there and watch them go at it, amused by it all.

 

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Except for his flip-flops, he looks very much a seasoned tourer.

 

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Me too!

 

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One of the joys of cycle-touring…being welcomed by locals.

 

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Next….. I continue towards Calicut aka Kozhikode. A big city, I expect it to be crazier than Ponnani.

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South India. Cochin, Day 2, pt 1

Cochin is old. Very old. That’s what makes it such an absorbing little town. On a bicycle, which is the perfect conveyance for this place, you can amble along at your own pace exploring its nooks and crannies.

Some of the quiet streets are loudly coloured by garishly painted exteriors walls and signs. Other streets are less elaborate — a monochrome of whitewashed walls of old European looking houses. With so many Europeans having made their homes here throughout the centuries, a Jewish enclave in Cochin would not be out of place, which is where I’m headed next.

Jew Town is located along Jew Town Road near the Mattancherry jetty. Not unexpectedly, the synagogue has become a popular tourist sight, complete with stalls hawking trinkets and the like. I push my bike into the pedestrian-only main street for a quick look. Nothing much to see except tourists gawking at the synagogue. Most of the Jewish action must be happening behind closed doors.

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Portrait of the day. A lottery seller plying hope to prospective millionaires.

 

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Rich in years, he agrees with me on the best mode of transport

 

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Poetry on the streets. Even a simple task like sweeping can be graceful. She was fluid with her movements, pirouetting with her broom, almost dancing. She was a joy to watch.

 

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Lost in thought, this trader sitting outside his shop in Jew Town was oblivious to me as I took this shot of him.

 

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Quaint little shops with their quaint wares

 

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An open space, a patch of grass, and the game is on. Actually in India, cricket is not a game, it’s a national obsession. When I was there, World Cup Cricket was in full swing and support for the national team reached a feverish pitch.

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My favourite part Cochin is Fort Cochin. Everyone seems to make a beeline here. There’s a permanent air of festivity to the place. The locals seem to enjoy walking the promenade which extends all the way to Mahatma Gandhi Beach a ways down.

The most striking sight here are the many Chinese nets dotting the shoreline. Strangely unique to Cochin and nowhere else in India, these nets are fully operated by humans, at least half a dozen to each net. They’re a sight to behold when the huge square net is slowly lifted up by a cantilever aided by a counter-balance of rocks tied to the other end of the contraption. The catch, however, is usually modest — a handful of fish and some crustaceans.

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Mahatma Gandhi Beach. Weekend crowds throng the beach from end to end

 

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A peanut seller on the beach

 

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Nuts are simply fried in sand from the beach itself; no oil, no salt, just plain fried delicious peanuts

 

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Once done, the sand is sieved through this strainer. Plenty more sand where that came from…

 

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Only 10 rupees for a handful served in a paper cone. Some minute grains of sand could still be tasted…you know it’s there when you crunch down on them with the peanuts.

 

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Tomorrow, I head north along the coast, starting with a short ferry ride from Fort Cochin to Vypin Island. From there I intend to hug the coast as much as I can, making detours through the backwaters, not just to avoid the busy main roads, but I reckon it will be more fun this way.

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South India. Cochin, Day 2, Pt 2.

Cochin, or Kochi, as it is officially called today, is very laid back. I like this place. As I ride along its shady tree-lined streets, I’m assailed by wild colours, incredible smells and a cacophony of sounds at every corner. Life seems to move at an easy relaxed pace here.

The promenade by the sea is a particularly nice place. Just where it starts to wind along the shore southwards is a jetty where a roll-on-roll-off ferry discharges its cargo of motorcycles, cars, autos and trucks. I think this is the ferry that will take me to Vypin island tomorrow when I start heading north.

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The sun is shining brightly in the cloudless sky. It’s hot and I’m feeling hungry. I haven’t had breakfast since I checked out of Taj Mahal. I think I’ll head for that not-too-fancy eatery just next to the jetty. A young man is busy preparing little balls of dough to make pratha. I order some, with a glass of milk tea, or chai, as they call it here in India. The curry for the pratha is very good, as is the chai, so i order seconds. No spoon or fork, it’s fingers-only cuisine. In India, do as the Indians do…

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Hygiene looks a bit iffy… but what the heck…

 

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it’s tasty!

 

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Cochin has a very chequered history of being colonised by first the Portuguese, followed by the Dutch, then the British. It’s not unlike Malacca and the rest of the Malay peninsula, which was also colonised by the the same gang of Europeans. To me, colonisation is merely a politically-correct term for economic rape. They lord over the ignorant natives, enrich themselves with the land’s abundant natural resources, then leave when it looks like the next greedy bunch of colonists have a made a new deal with the native rulers, and so on… until the natives finally revolt.

These Europeans did, however, leave an enduring legacy behind  —  their culture and heritage, especially their architecture which gave Cochin its distinct personality. All these, in effect, made Cochin what it is today — a popular tourist destination.

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Kerala goes by the touristy tagline ‘God’s own country’. And it’s not undeserving of this accolade either. Cochin, and the rest of Kerala, is as beautiful as it is pious.

 

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Churches of every denomination, shape, size and colour can be found throughout the city.

 

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Not surprisingly, Mother Teresa is revered here.

 

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And so is St Something, I didn’t quite get the name when I asked his devotees…

 

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Even guest houses are overtly religious.  Like a lost sheep, I was drawn to this garishly painted one after checking out of Taj Mahal.

 

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Colourful sareed women at a Hindu temple ceremony add to the mélange of faiths in this city

 

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Old world charm … this could easily pass off as a street in Europe