We spent the first 3 days in Varkala sitting on the beach, recovering from the eventful start to our journey in India. The most interesting thing about Varkala was watching Indians on the beach. The beach was totally divided into an Indian section and a Western section. While the westerners pranced around in bikinis and played in the water, the Indians mostly stood on the beach with their family and friends and looked out at the ocean. A few Indian men got in, and zero women. I don't know how Indians can resist the temptation to rush into the water in the oppressive heat and humidity of Kerala, but they do. I also don't know how they can wear pants and long sleeved shirts while Steve and I are sweating like dogs, but they do.
|A fishing village near Varkala. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
|Fishing huts near Varkala. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
After Varkala we took a houseboat tour through the backwaters, something Kerala is famous for. The backwaters run through rice fields lined with palm trees and fishing villages. Most of the islands do not have stores or roads. Villagers go everywhere by canoe and ferry. They bathe, brush their teeth, wash their clothes and wash their dishes in the canals. At around 5pm many villages are out front fishing for dinner. During the day many work in the rice fields in the center of the islands. Kerala is often called the rice bowl of India, as well as the land of rice and fish.
|Morning commute. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
|Fishing for dinner. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
|Bath time. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
|Loading rice onto a rice barge. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
Then we did a homestay in one of the village islands. We stayed with Thomas, Laurie, and their young daughters Ann and Nina. We ate meals with the family and learned about rice farming, how Indians deal with the heat, etc.
|Thomas, Laurie, Ann, Nina, Steve and myself. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
It was very relaxing. Thomas told us sane people don't do anything between noon and 4pm. We were guests in his house, we didn't want to disappoint him, and we wanted to emulate the locals, so we dutifully lounged and read when it got hot. In the cooler hours we walked around the village or went canoeing. Most villagers were extremely friendly when we walked by, flashing us big smiles (big smiles are a Kerala staple). The kids all greeted us, practicing their English phrases ("what is your name?", "what is your country?", "where are you going?" ). Several children gave me flowers, 1 chubby boy even swam up to our canoe to deliver the gift. It was adorable! We felt very welcome and comfortable.
|These girls gave me flowers. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
We ate with Thomas and his girls. His wife eats after everyone is done, but she hangs around at meal time and we got to talk to her a little bit too. The meals were at very specific times: 8:15am, 1:15 and 8:15pm. There was also tea at 4:30pm. The fixed meal times may help the family to coordinate meals at home, since Thomas works in the field and the girls have to go to school. The lunch was the biggest meal and included 3 different kinds of veggie dishes, 1 curry, and a few tiny fishes (they may have been anchovies). I was in heaven with all the veggies, and everything had coconut in it (yay!). The mango curry was made with mangoes directly from their yard. Their milk comes by delivery every day from a local family with 2 cows - as I mentioned, there are no stores on their island.
|Drying coconut in the sun. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
As you may have guessed by their names, Thomas's family is Christian. There are a lot of Christian churches in Kerala. There are also a lot of Muslims, for instance most of the fisherman are Muslim. Of course there are also a lot of Hindus. When we stayed in Varkala there was an all-day-all-night festival going on at a nearby Hindu temple that lasted at least 3 days and featured more lights than an amusement park, elephants, torches, drums and singing. Oddly there weren't that many people at the temple while all of this was going on. Anyway, the music from the proceedings was broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the neighborhood, and in fact we have passed through several neighborhoods where music (what we think is Hindu temple music) is constantly blasted all day. (Some of it may also be political as there is a parliamentary election coming up -- there are even guys driving around with small vans and ridiculously disproportionately big loudspeakers mounted to the top, blasting candidate information and slogans). Another thing we observed is the number of folks who have marks on their forehead which I think only come from visiting a temple - I would say at least 20% of men in Kerala have this on any given day. Religion and daily religious worship seems to be a big part of life here, whether it be Hinduism, Catholicism or Islam (in spite of it being a Communist state, although the only thing that ever made me feel like we were in a Communist state was the fact that every single hotel we stayed in had the exact same soap, whether it was a nice hotel, a midrange hotel or a houseboat).
|A mosque at the fishing beach near Varkala. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|
|A church in the Alleppey backwaters. From 20090407_KeralaStarred|