The knob at the hotel told me that it would take about twenty minutes to get a rickshaw from Fort Cochin to the railway station in Ernakulam. So, we had a train at 9.43am and sauntered out of the hotel at 9am without a care in the world. Once in the rickshaw the guy assured me it was about a 45 minute journey. We had agreed on a price of 175 rupees and I told him if he got us there on time I’d give him 200. Well, it was like he’d just taken a shot of amphetamine and suddenly we were breaking the sound barrier as we whizzed around Kochi.
We skidded up to the station at 9.41am and legged it to our platform. The train was just pulling in as we sat down in first class I admit I felt a little bit of satisfaction that we had made it and were now heading South, to our favourite place in India.
The journey flew by as I was completely engrossed in the second Stieg Larsson book – The Girl who played with fire and the kids played on their Ipod/phone.
We pulled into Trivandrum on time and jumped straight into a rickshaw headed about 15km away to a sleepy little slice of paradise called Kovalam.
Now, I know only a few words of Hindi which means in the South I know nothing, because they speak Telagu. But I am convinced I know one word, ‘Kovalam’ must be Telagu for paradise. It is an absolutely stunning place that would contend easily against some of the most beautiful tropical places on earth. Think coconut trees, sleepy homes, men in skirts and the Arabian Sea. It comes as near to perfect as Thailand and has the vibe and atmosphere of some hippie camp back in the seventies. Kovalam is basically two small coves separated by a some rocks with both encompassed by hills filled with tropical greenery. Both beaches are stunning arcs of black and golden sand. Though black sand sounds dirty and off putting it isn’t, it simply adds to the uniqueness of Kovalam and is so un-Indian it’s easy to forget you are still on the subcontinent.
Gone are the crowds, gone are the vehicles and all you get is a front of restaurants, craft shops, hotels and the sound of Tracy Chapman and Bob Marley blasting out. People come to Kovalam to get away from life and many find themselves staying longer than they had first anticipated, such is the draw of this place. Few can believe they are still in India.
There is basically only one thing to do in Kerala and it is why most people come here – Nothing. Without getting a day trip somewhere there is absolutely nothing at all do in Kovalam. It is perfect, and so we spent much of our time doing exactly nothing. We relaxed on the beach, by the hotel pool and mooched about eating good South Indian cuisine.
Both kids have taken a real love to fresh fish and they love choosing their fish from the days catch and then having it cooked up the way they like it – Abi loves it fried Indian style with Onion Pakora and Charlie loves it in a fish curry with a few chapattis.
It wasn’t all paradise, I have mentioned a few times now just how difficult getting something done in India is and I now have the perfect example. I decided to send something back to the UK in a parcel and so packed it all up the size of two orange cartons, it weighed about half a kilo. I went to the courier and they looked dodgy, I wouldn’t have trusted them to get a parcel next door and so headed to the GPO which is essentially a main post office. We had to travel to Trivandrum which was a ball ache but as I was throwing a strop a bus came toward us headed for Trivandrum.
In popular Indian places most things of any significance are repeated in English, the same goes for Kerala, except for buses. By pure chance I knew bus 111 was the one we needed and so hopped on, tickets were 12 Rupees for me and 6 for both kids. A woman got on and there was a space next to me, she refused to sit there and beckoned me to move one of the kids me so she had space. Quite ridiculous really, but the way it still goes in modern India.
Once in Trivandrum no one would take us the 1.5km to the GPO, simply it wasn’t worth their effort for the price it would be. So we walked.
This is where India kicks into action. A simple job, by default becomes a difficult job.
Once inside you must queue up at counter 1, the purpose is so that when you get to the front they can tell you what counter you need to be at to deal with your specific need. 15 Minutes later we were told counter 5 which is the parcel counter, they would then assess whether you were sending a parcel within India or Internationally. Another 10 minutes later and we were sent to counter 8. They determined that England was international and so would need counter 12. Counter 12 didn’t deal with packages going to Europe and so we were sent to a different counter. Once there we were asked if it contained anything which wasn’t allowed to be sent. I asked for the list to confirm it, but she didn’t have a list. I asked for her to tell me what I couldn’t send and all she could remember was medicine. So because she couldn’t remember the other items she then had to phone her boss to come down who would come down in five minutes.
Fifteen minutes later he came down and I told him the contents were fabric and souvenirs. He claimed jewellery couldn’t be sent and so the parcel couldn’t go. I argued with him for ten minutes that a carved elephant was not jewellery and he needed to phone his boss to confirm. Half an hour later it was agreed that a carved elephant wasn’t jewellery and my parcel could be sent, only one problem. It had to be re packed because it had to be in an official ‘India Post’ box. Of course they didn’t have any boxes and so another twenty minute wait for a box and eventually it was repacked into a box that to my eyes looked exactly the same size, but said India Post on it.
Eventually the package was sent, but as we left the post office Charlie asked “how come everything in India is so hard” Even a nine year old had seen the sheer awkwardness and hassle that simplest of things in India entails.
As we made our way back to paradise I was thankful that we have only one week of the absurdity and ball ache that is India left.
Yes we’ve loved it, but now we’ve had enough.
Once back in Kovalam we decided to climb the lighthouse. I shot up like a man on fire, I am now fitter than superman and twice as hard. The kids too breezed up the stairs and within minutes we were enjoying the uninterrupted panoramic views over Kerala and I changed my mind – We’ve not quite had enough yet.