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Rhymer´s Travel Diary: Entry 8, April 8, 2002
Pornography, Hippies, Brats, Indian Tourists
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Photos: A strange chap

  

Porn Again

Indian Media is strangely familiar looking stuff. In terms of the English language press, there are a lot of papers which look exactly like The Times, one that bears a strong resemblance to the Guardian and another that looks like the bastard offspring of The Telegraph and the Independent. Still no amount of typographical plagiarism can disguise the content. All the news is about the effect of the recent budget on coir production; and the international pages concern themselves largely with arguments with Pakistan 善ak・and Bangladesh 船esh・ Still what do you expect for five pence?

Nonetheless, I壇 managed to find the best of a bad bunch and, on the day we left Kovalam, stopped at a kiosk outside the station to pick up my usual copy of 禅he Hindu・and a trashy mag for Jane. As they were fresh out of Indian Cosmo, I asked the vendor for 疎 magazine for women, like Cosmopolitan・ He smiled broadly and handed me a surprisingly pricey magazine called 船ebonair.・When I gave it to its intended audience, she was surprised to find it taped shut and when she removed the tape, equally surprised to discover that I had bought her a porn mag, full of busty Asian lovelies with their jugs out. Never mind - once we壇 got over the shock, I enjoyed Debonair, even if it was rather less robust than the Dutch publications I normally favour.

Happy Happy Hippies.

Having spent an entirely pleasant week in Kovalam, we decided to head north to Varkala, a resort which, our guidebooks assured us, was like Kovalam used to be before it became the Malaga of the East. And Varkala is truly a world away from its brasher sibling. Sprawling along a cliff-top it is built largely of bits of palm trees which results in cute eco-friendly look. Every other hut houses a yoga class or a transcedental meditator or some such. Marijuana smoke wafts lazily through the palm trees and waiters solicitously offer you hash after your meal. Unsurprisingly, is also absolutely chocka with hippies and travelers. Many, many white people with dreadlocks. Despite their popularity, dreads on the unblack are not a good look. Bob Marley yes. James from Guildford no.

When it came to stereotypes our fellow travelers obliged us fulsomely. Walking along the cliffs late one afternoon, I espied a hippie type earnestly playing his bongos and chanting at the setting sun. Jogging on the beach that evening, I almost ran into another longhair. We got talking and I explained that I was not a natural jogger but was running for the first time since I broke my leg, adding that it was very pleasant to do so on a beach. 糎ow・he replied, 惣ou must feel, like, very connected.・I replied that I did, both literally and metaphysically, an answer which seemed to satisfy and confuse him in equal measure. Then he turned towards the sea and went back to his meditation; for some people the 60s never ended, even if they were born in 1975.

Where Varkala really shone though was the food: huge marlin, warm water crabs, tuna so fat their skins looked ready to burst and ghostly, ethereal looking squid. So, by the end of day one, I was feeling that if Valkala was the 疎lternative・it was a pretty good one. Here, I mused, is somewhere we can keep it as real as we like. I can change my name to Waterfall, Jane can call herself Moon unit and we can run an Ashram from our bamboo hut; maybe I値l even score some drums off the bongo seller.

Cocks with Dreadlocks

By the end of the following day, I felt rather differently. For starters Varkala is a complete washout as a 礎each resort・・the sea is far too dangerous to swim in. Also, if you were running a resort what would you do with your rubbish? Take it to the dump? Recycle it? Burn it? Or how about just chucking it all down the cliffs onto the beach? To say India has a litter problem is a like saying the Americans are fond of guns. But these are small beefs compared to the people. Varkala is the most unfriendly place I have ever been. The guy who spoke to me on the beach represented a high point: thereafter (waiters aside) we could count the number of people who talked to us on one hand.

The typical Varkalan visitor has Rasta dreads, wears an Indian sort of skirt, Thai beads and sports a couple of Celtic tattoos. I知 all for cultural fusion ・after all where would we be without the chicken tikka lasagna - but the sort of ethic dogs dinner this lot garb themselves in proves that good taste involves knowing what to leave out. And if you think I知 being a little harsh, try putting the beaded sandal on the other foot. Imagine an Indian coming to Europe and prancing around dressed in clogs, a kilt and an embroidered Spanish shirt, all nicely topped off with a beret. Say hello to them and they blank you with ill placed superiority. The cheapo tourists (for, much as they would hate the sobriquet, that is all travelers are) in Varkala are completely up themselves and self-absorbed. In much the same way that suppositories are.

It is interesting to not though, that keen as this lot are to wrap themselves in 粗thnic・tat and pick like magpies over the local religions and philosophies, they can稚 bring seem to bring themselves to touch the local cuisine. Indeed, as we tucked into coconut fish curry, drank cardamom tea and ordered dishes just because they had interesting names, the 叢izza ethics,・if they were feeling adventurous might, just might try a shrimp. Washed down with coke, naturally.

Varkala was also as hot as Kovolam: 80% humidity and 40 degrees in the shade. We found ourselves on the beach from 9-10 and then unable to do anything until 4pm. When the high point of your day is winning a sweating competition with your girlfriend, it really is time to go. So, snubbed by the 喪eal travelers・and dripping with perspiration, we took a leaf out of our imperialistic ancestors・book and headed up to the Hills. Or rather the Nilgiri Hill Stations, where a hundred and fifty years ago, the British built a several towns 7,000 feet up in the middle of nowhere because the view kind of reminded them of Surrey.

Ghats and Brats

So back on the train, through rice paddies and palm covered hummocks, into scrubby bush and finally alongside the Western Ghats, which in Tamil Nadu, look remarkably like the Pyrenees. Trains give you an excellent opportunity to observe Indian families at close range. In this case ・a fairly typical family - Mum appeared to have abdicated responsibility once childbirth was over. She did very little, sprawling a sleeper berth for the duration. Dad, conversely, was in charge of everything, from feeding to entertaining to toilet duty. And nobody was responsible for discipline. The kids had the high pitched voices of those who are used to whining until they get what they want. Please, you wanted to say, I don稚 mind your offspring swinging from the overhead berths most of the time, but could they please not do it when I知 trying to eat a scalding liquid curry. And when a hawker came through the carriage selling squeaky bird toys (one of those playthings designed only to irritate) dad bought his brood a bird apiece ・and one for himself. India is a traditional country and you might reasonably expect a Victorian dad and a stern mother ruling impossibly well behaved children with an iron rod. But when it comes to producing overindulged bratty kids, the Indian middle classes are streets ahead of their Western Counterparts.

And what happens to these kids when they grow up? Well, the girls seem to turn out OK・he boys on the other hand・a group of six will spot you, descend like a pack of hyenas and bombard you with rapid fire questions. While I知 all up for a polite conversation, this is an interrogation not a conversation. What is your name? Where are you from? Are you married? Why no children? How much do you earn? Your culture is very bad why the divorce rate? All interspersed with rather suggestive comments about how beautiful my 層ife・is. You develop a ficticious alter-ego designed to minimise these tiresome 粗xchanges.・I was an accountant from London, married and a pious Christian. I was planning to have kids next year and would never, ever, swear to the God I so devoutly worshiped, divorce my wife.

Indian Tourists in India

Our destination, the rather charmingly named town of Ooty, is a major tourist magnet, but for Indian tourists, who like us, wanted to escape the heat of the coast. It sprawls across a valley high in the picturesque hills and, as it was built by the British boasts a botanical garden, a race track and an ornamental lake.

Feeling the need for exercise, we decided to hike up the top of the region痴 tallest hill. When we asked for directions, we caused great concern. 選t is 8km ・you cannot walk! Get a taxi!・The owner of our guesthouse later explained that middle class Indians consider walking degrading, which would explain the plumpness prevalent amongst the wealthy. In fact, those who counseled against walking were right: there were so many Indians driving up the hill (and playing Hindipop and honking their horns as loudly as possible) it was a perfectly horrible walk.

And there is nothing the average Indian tourist likes more than a snap of the family with a couple of pale-skinned folk: 善lease, a photo..・is the commonest greeting we heard and in the months to come our gormlessly grinning likenesses will be gracing family albums all over southern India. Most impressive of all was when a minibus screeched to a halt where we were having tea, just to take our photo. But we were talking to a family of Icelandic-Canadians. Our putative snappers looked from us to them and decided that compared to an all-blonde family we were nothing. That kind of rejection hurts.

Despite this stinging rebuff Ooty was as friendly as Varkala was frosty. Not a dreadlock in sight and we hung around with Brits, Belgians, a French bloke, and a Dutch pair who, two days earlier, had stayed in a hotel where a three day old body had been discovered in the room next to theirs. We went up to the local flash hotel where we dined in a restaurant reminiscent of a Cambridge College, with Liz and Lynn, a pair of Mancunian fabric buyers. We wandered round the botanical gardens with a British family who had chosen Ooty as an unlikely destination for a two week vacation. And, best of all we joined a joined an American eye surgeon and a British conservation worker on an organized trek through a joyously roadless area. Our guide, despite suffering from flu (doubtless exacerbated by the pot he smoked at lunchtime) was an impressively knowledgeable fellow. He took us through a charming landscape which recalled the Massif Central in Southern France. He found us a decent cup of coffee and even had a stab at explaining the caste system to us. When he got to the subtle status gradations conferred by different coloured lunghis (the sort of nappy-cum-skirt) worn by men here he lost me completely. But what really made it a day to remember was that he found us that greatest of all luxuries in India. A place with no people.