We got married in December and left soon after on a epic 45 day trip, riding down the entire western coast of India (you can read about it in my previous posts starting in December). I was initially disciplined and good at blogging about it and and thought I would finish the backlog a month after we returned. It has been 4 months now and I still have an entire state to go through. I blame Game of Thrones, I just started watching it, and had to get upto date before season 7 starts. That mission is accomplished, I watched Cersei burn down the great sept of Baelor and Arya kill Walter Frey two days ago but my blog remains incomplete… sigh
But not for long. I am back on track now and once I finish this, I have an exciting solo trip coming up in July to write about. Nervous and excited at the same time, more on that later – now back to us and buttercup.
Buttercup is our bike in case you were wondering.
We started on the 2oth of December in Gujarat and rode all around its convoluted coast for an enjoyable 15 days, and reached Mumbai on the 5th of January 2017. We spent 10 days exploring coastal Maharashtra and drinking copious amounts of Soul Kadhi and reached Goa on the 13th of january to sun filled lazy days, soaking in the ocean. After a quick stop at the shaka surf club in Karnataka where we failed to learn to surf, we were finally ready for the last leg of our journey, exactly a month after we started.
It was the 20th of January 2017
We said bye to our new friends, fellow travellers and kindred spirits at the Shaka surf club and headed towards Kerala in the morning. I was looking forward to breakfast in Mangalore, with perhaps some of the famous Mangalore buns, baked with bananas inside. I had had them just once before, when I had done a girls trip to Malpe Beach, Udipi. I told the Other all about it, and we kept our eyes peeled but in vain. We passed Mangalore but there was no place to eat, we passed other small towns, but there were just no restaurants on the highway. This was a new phonemenon, we were 5000 KMS down in our trip and had never had to search for food so far. Gujarat, Maharastra and even Goa were peppered with restaurants and tea shops, but Karnataka disappointed us.. sorely.
With growling stomachs we rode into Kerala. Though ravenous I was struck by how the world changed. Crossing the line was so clear. Hardly kilometres apart, but the roads were narrower, there were more trees and nobody wore pants. Men lounged in their lungis, and the world was still moving but slightly slower. We stopped at a roadside shop and wolfed down some kerala parathas. They were bad. It was past regular breakfast time and we got cold leftovers. In my experience, in our 6 days in Kerala I realised that the street food in Kerala is bad. I think the best cooks have left and are in the other states dishing out yummy parathas and kurmas. The other was salivating for some famous beef fry, and was very disappointed with the street version of it.
Most of the restaurants we went to had great food though so my advice is perhaps in this state you need to stick to restaurants or go by recommendations.
Apart from the bad street food, my sincere advice is do not do a road trip in Kerala, fly or take a train. NH 66 is at its narrowest here, but that is only half the problem;
- There are no villages around the highway, just towns merging into each other. A lot of the gulf money is returning, and we saw new house after new house, each bigger and flashier than the previous and obviously the good architects have left the state with the cooks. The ride was hurting my eyes. This construction frenzy also meant that the highway was flooded with furniture and tile shops but we were hard pressed to find a tea shop.
- The state also has an army of psychedelic buses who believe that they are reincarnations of the knight bus and can magically slip through cracks, but they are not, there is no diagon alley. They are just regular buses who try and act like cycles. You have to watch out for these guys, they are unpredictable and come from everwhere.
- We had not factored in the humidity, we were truly south now, there were no seasons, just hot and hotter and it was very very humid. It was almost impossible to keep the jacket on or the visor of the helmet down, I was drowning in my own sweat.
I had imagined Kerala to be green, with old beautiful wooden homes, surreal kathakali dancers in the distance, women in white sarees and oily hair lighting lamps, and maybe a elephant or two.. I got the opposite, non descript towns that merged into each other all along the highway.
The other Kerala also exists, but just not on the highway.
Our original plan was to stop at the bekal fort by the sea, but with the sun trying to do us in, I added it my bucket list and we rode on full steam to Kannur and made it in time for lunch.
Kannur is a smallish town in North Kerala with a terrific history, it was conquered by the Portugese and then the Dutch and then the Indians and finally the British who ruled the city till 1947. Kannur or Cannanoore as it was known is the only place in Kerala to have had muslim rulers – the Arakkal. The town is also famous for textiles and the beach is now slowly attracting the surfing community.
We were staying at a hotel on the ocean, sharing a rocky wall with the angry Arabian Sea. Being a small town, we got a room with a great ocean view for 3000rs, but again being a small town the room was only half as clean as I would have liked it, but they had teeny tiny bottles of coconut oil in the bathroom. You know you are in Kerala when….
But my favourite part of the hotel was Sumathi, the bell woman. As I was checking in she strode out of the lobby and helped the other unpack the bags from buttercup. And she picked up both our backpacks, swung them over one shoulder each and strode purposefully back. My jaw dropped, that was girl power for sure.
The hotel serves traditional kerala fare buffet style for lunch and it over compensated for our terrible breakfast. Fresh veggies, sambahr, rasam, the fat thick kerala rice and fried poppadums, everything with a generous amount of coconut. I am very very partial to the garlicky kerala rasam and the poppdums fried in coconut oil. I was in heaven. The non vegetarian version of this thali comes with fried fish, the Other was also in heaven.
We took a bit of a nap and headed out to St.Angelos Fort. The fort is built at the very edge of the sea with red laterite blocks. It was built by the Portugese who had several strongholds in this part of the coast – Diu and Goa included. It was later captured by the Dutch who added bastions to it, and then finally by the British. It is a beautiful 500 year old campus, but there is no audio tour and the sign boards don’t really help. The Other and I used common sense and wandered around what we thought were the granary, horse stables and dungeons and settled by the wall to watch the ocean.
This part of the coast, our hotel included has no beach, and the sheer walls rise from the oceans. I don’t think the ocean is very happy about that, and batters against the walls incessantly. We stood at the edge and peered down, the waves dashing agains the rocks, the spray would hit our faces. It was awe inspiring and scary… you will not survive the fall, but these walls have withstood the onslaught for 500 years.
We then rode by the port to the arakkal museum inside the old palace, it is very well maintained and show cases the history of the only muslim rulers in Kerala. India is such an amazing country with so many layersand layers of history, I just wish we had better museums and better souveniour stores. I haven’t travelled much, but have mugs, shot glasses and fridge magnets from the few countries I have been too, and hardly any from my own. One of my dreams is to work on the tourism and promote civic pride and memorable identity of our built and natural heritage, but I don’t think I have the bandwidth for any thing else at the moment.
Kannur also has a quaint red light house, which was down to the road from our hotel and we popped by for a quick visit before heading back to our hotel to catch the sunset. We were looking down at the vastness of the ocean this time and it was a slow sunset, very different to watching it on the beach, being level with the horizon.
Back at the hotel, we were sorely disappointed that there was no bar. We had forgotten that the whole state is a dry state. Kerala was once known as a boozy state, where men stood outside liquour shops in queue at 10:00 am, and the locally brewed toddy was world famous. I have always wanted to loll about a house boat, floating down a coconut tree fringed canal sipping on toddy but it looks like that dream is going to stay unfulifilled for a while. In an effort to curb the rising alcoholism in the state, the government banned all alcohol pretty much everywhere. You can get beer in a few places, but you will have to pay for it in time and probably three times the price.
We settled for dinner in the outdoor area, overlooking the inky black ocean. The swivelling light from the lighthouse would trace a path across the water rhythmically and we could hear the waves, and feel the salt in the air. Though there was no wine, there was candlelight and this great scenery and I was ready for a romantic dinner.
The restaurant does not serve local food for dinner, so we picked the safe option of roti – sabji – dhal. I guess it was a different chef and the food was terrible, a bit of a dent in the dinner I had envisaged, but hey we were eating under the stars to the sound of the sea and I was not going to let the bad food spoil it for me.
Kannur gave me a sense of place which on the surface looks like a non descript town but is hiding much more inside, layers and layers that are waiting to be peeled away. I was further intrigued when I saw a photo exhibition on the people of Kannur at the Kochi Biennale a few days later. Kannur is a place I want to visit again, a little more slowly.. the word languorously comes to mind… I want to discover what it hides.
Kerala initself is a very sensual state, it is gods own country after all and it needs more time. We could not do justice this time. Our next stop in this state was another place I have wanted to go to forever – Wayanad, in the hills, and that offcourse is my next post.