Goa and Kerala. To do the seventeen days there any amount of justice would need many more words than I can manage now; I was barely on the computer during my time there, and together with four different Wonders to write-up, have found myself with somewhat of a backlog. Instead, I will summarise these couple of weeks as best possible.
Goa is all about the beaches and I'm really not a fan of beaches. There's sun, it's hot, you sit around - so what? I'd rather visit a temple and pretend to be cultured, or watch football, or sit in my room and moan. However, I must admit I ended up rather enjoying Goa, or Palolem to be precise.
The reason we were there wasn't just to satisfy Danielle's furious craving for sun and beaches, it was because Danielle's friends, Chala and Peter, were getting married. Danielle had been invited and I was the "plus one", and it all very well tied in with my travels. It also meant lots of free booze. I think we may quickly be getting to the bottom of why I enjoyed Palolem so much.
Of the five days we spent in Palolem, two were dominated by the wedding, although the others usually involved a drink or two in the evening with some of the wedding party. A few days before the wedding itself was the pre-wedding beach party. A private beach (except for some stray Russians) was hired, and we all lay about indolently, drinking free mojitos or beer, and eating tasty little snacks. At darkness fell, an eccentrically-grinning man, mostly-naked, danced with fire, and then we all went home.
The wedding took place on a hill very scenically overlooking the nearby Patnem beach, and was a non-religious ceremony conducted by a Peter's Catholic priest uncle carefully choosing his words. About sixty people were in attendance, a pretty decent number given the halfway-round-the-world distance, and afterwards most were very keen to enjoy the free booze at the reception. I include myself among them. Better still, because the free booze was included with the hotel reception package, we were encouraged to drink as much as possible before the 11pm cut-off time when it would start costing money. At 10.55pm, Danielle brought me four beers.
Of course, the wedding wasn't just about the free booze, it was a very enjoyable day of socialising with Irish people, drinking shots of tequila with a bare-chested Slovakian maniac, elaborate dancing with Danielle, and discussing how lovely the wedding dress was with various ladies (actually, given my ongoing heterosexuality, I may have taken a passive role in these conversations and simply agreed and smiled). Either I've been very lucky with all the weddings I've been to in my life, or I'm simply someone who really enjoys weddings, but I'm happy to include this as another hugely enjoyable wedding I've attended. By 4am though, largely due to the tequila shots - which were in 60ml measures - I was worse-for-the-wear, and Danielle reports that I looked at her with a sad fatigue and pleaded "I want to go home now."
Aside from the wedding focus of Palolem, our days were spent idling. Drinks, food, sitting on sun loungers reading. It was a pretty lazy existence. We met a Norwegian lady in her 50s, who was a sex therapist and travelling the world following a messy divorce, and seemed to be having an epiphany. One day, we walked to some rocks and back. Another time we swam in the sea. Once we considered getting a boat to see some dolphins, but this never quite eventuated. Grudgingly, I admitted I was quite enjoying the beach this time. After the frantic pace of northern India, it was quite pleasant. But don't tell anyone I said that.
Oh my. This was initially the inverse of Goa: very packed and eventful. Burness and I have a friend, Vizzy, who is from Kerala, although spent many years in Aberdeen, hence how we know him. Along with a few other people - Calum, Pauline, Dave, and later, Gill, all of whom I didn't previously know - we all gathered to visit Vizzy and let him act as guide and host. This timing was very coincidental, but very fortunate, as it was a good group who got on well, and most importantly liked drinking as much as possible.
I can only summarise this briefly, as each day could warrant a whole bunch of words, so here goes:
Day 1: Danielle and I arrived by train. Burness, tired and hungover, met us at the station. We met the group at Vizzy's home, then went on a driving lesson. Driving in India is a little more intense than Scotland, I can confirm.
Day 2: Backwater day. We took a small boat around the canal-like backwaters of Kerala, which the Lonely Planet rate as the second-best thing to do in India (after visiting the Taj Mahal). The jungle-canal-open water scenery was beautiful. We drank a lot. In the evening, we went to a friend of Vizzy's who happens to stay in a very large house, and drank some more. Then we visited a Hindu temple ceremony, followed an elephant round a temple, and felt a bit guilty we were so drunk.
Day 3: Exhausting day. Tired and hungover, we had a five or six hour roundtrip to see some people make coarse rugs. Great. Then we saw a long wooden boat - a snakeboat - and then rode an elephant. The elephant was definitely a highlight, although for anyone who has never seen an elephant's mouth I dare you to look at a Google image. Warning: surely Not Safe For Work. In the evening, we got drunk again at Vizzy's friend's house, and being Burns' Night, Burness attempted a Burns' address to the haggis (in this case, a curry) before the dinner table. He was so wasted he couldn't speak: it was the worst address I have ever witnessed.
Day 4: The day without chicken biryani. We took a train to Kochi, mostly to enjoy one of the reputedly best chicken biryanis in the world. By the time the girls had shopped, we'd walked to the ferry port, just missed the ferry, and waited for the next one, we were very hungry and dismayed to learn that the chicken biryani was sold out. Fortunately, there was some kind of mutton thing - what kind, I don't know, I was so hungry it immediately was stuffed into my mouth. By now we were in Fort Cochi, a very charming old part of the city, and did a short auto-rickshaw tour involving a synagogue, a place with lots of ginger, and a charming old cathedral.
Days 5 and 6: These were Danielle's last couple of days, so we just had some relaxing days by the beach. Danielle got a massage of a form many would interpret as ritual humiliation. We drank some wine, had romantic walks along the sand, discovered India sells Tennent's Lager, were the second ever customers to a new restaurant, and had a very relaxing time.
The rest of the days: I said goodbye to Danielle as she returned home, and caught up with the others, after a day of travelling. The next few days were spent in something approximating a mountain retreat, drinking and relaxing, and playing cards. We had sometime daytime activities - walking up a river and a jungle trek (i.e. a two-hour forest walk), but otherwise spent in sedentary bliss. Some people did yoga and tai-chi - I certainly did not.
(the last four photos courtesy of Pauline)
And that, in a 1200-word nutshell, is Goa and Kerala. Summarised, not justified, but you get an idea. To quickly finish, after Kerala, Burness and I flew to Mumbai, then a took a train to Aurangabad, just an hour away from my final Indian Wonder: Kailasa Temple in Ellora. I write this following that, on the way back to Mumbai, where we are to catch a flight to Sri Lanka in the early hours of tomorrow morning. Phew.