My enduring memory of leaving the French influence of Pondicherry is as we were walking through the railway station, a group of Indian boys, dressed like English schoolboys in white shirts and grey shorts, thought they would trick me. They called out to me as I was boarding the train, “au revoir mademoiselle!” Then burst into fits of giggles when I called back, “au revoir mes petits choux!”
The train journey to Kerala was great, through some stunning rural areas where I saw field upon field of sunflowers swaying in the gentle breeze it was absolutely beautiful. We passed through lots of very pretty villages and several areas where there was obviously a lot of wealth with impressive mansion sized houses and villas surrounded by high walls and metal security gates. Kerala is a favourite tourist destination because it has some of the loveliest beaches in the world, with endless stretches of soft white sand edged with palm and coconut trees. It also has an immense system of waterways and back waters where you can take a seat on house boats that look a bit like they have been built from straw, with roofs that keep you out of the sun. The boats take you through the backwaters and stop so that you can witness some lithe bloke shimmy up a coconut tree and knock four or five down to the ground. We drank the fresh milk and sliced off small pieces of sweet coconut for the fish which clamoured around the boat, their generous mouths already open, waiting for the feast.
We stopped again in a clearing to walk and were shown pepper trees with pink, green and white peppercorns lying in rows waiting to be harvested. We watched women weaving rope from the husk of the coconuts and were served hot and spicy fish and vegetables dished up onto a banana leaf, sitting outside on a bench, it was just wonderful. I saw my first elephant in the wild when we were travelling through Kerala. I was on a coach, we were driving at night through woods to our next destination and a small elephant crashed out of the trees just ahead of the coach and careered across the road, it was breath taking. Almost everyone but me was asleep.
We took a boat across the water to arrive in Kochi, waving at whole families standing knee deep at the egde of the water, bathing. Kochi really surprised me because there is so much of an English influence there, it reminded me of Stratford upon Avon There are some beautiful churches, it`s very clean, there are lots of fresh fish restaurants and it is famous for its lace making industry. There are whole streets of shops selling exquisite lace at pretty hefty prices I have to say.
As you wander down to the ocean, you see fishermen hauling up all sorts of weird and wonderful fish in enormous triangular nets stretched out on wooden frames they are called Chinese fishing nets. We helped the men to haul them up and in return they gave us some fish!
There are lots of stray dogs in Kochi, some in pretty shocking condition and we met an Indian woman who was working with the government to stop animal cruelty and especially the neglect of dogs, so I was impressed by her efforts.
We ended our stay there by visiting the theatre to see a performance by the world famous Kathakali dancers. Renowned for their incredibly colourful costumes and make up these classical dancers take up to twenty years to train. We stopped to talk to them after their performance and they showed us some of their complex make up techniques including inserting a seed into the corner of the eye which turns the whites of the eye, to red. Most dramatic! I totally fell in love with Kochi and was reluctant to leave however, it was extremely hot so we decided to head up into the hill station of Munnar where it is considerably cooler and where we could wander around some beautiful scenery including lots of tea plantations.