KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The trip from Land's End to the beautiful beaches of Kovalam (pronounced Ko-va-lum) takes about two hours and the road is sandwiched between the Cardamom Mountains on the right (east) and a narrow strip of fertile land on the left (west). When we approached Kanyakumari from the north, the land along the highway was mostly fields of rice and vegetables; there were very few people in sight and even fewer villages. However, when we started on our northward journey, it was one village after another, with barely a break in between. Once again, we were reminded that we are in a country with a billion people, they all seemed to be living in this narrow coastal strip. The road was in good condition and there were very few trucks and buses to deal with. When we crossed the border into the state of Kerala, the roads became even better. I did manage to take a photo of a truck loaded with freshly harvested rice parked beside the road. We had seen so many of these trucks on the way to Kanyakumari but they were on the move and I couldn't get a good shot of them. Can you believe the size of the load spilling over the box of the truck?
We first visited Kerala in 2000 when we spent ten days touring the state with Dilip and Alaka Kembhavi before returning to Mumbai for a family wedding. I have been dreaming about coming back to Kovalam ever since, and staying at the Sea View Palace hotel once again. The beaches were just the right size and there were few hotels with a second storey - the Sea View was one of them. The beach was lined with small gift shops, restaurants and tailors who could whip up an outfit for you in just a couple of hours. It seemed to be a little paradise.
We knew that the fast pace of change we have seen all over India would have affected Kovalam as well, but we were unprepared for what awaited us. Hawah Beach is much as it was before, but Lighthouse Beach is almost unrecognizable. The entire beach has been lined with multi-storey hotels and even the Sea View Palace has built an addition in front of the original structure, with only one large room on each floor facing the sea. The shops, restaurants and tailors are still there but they occupy the ground floor of the hotels and the view looking back from the beach is no longer one of grass shacks under waving palms, but of concrete and tiled roofs with masses of signs and even some neon lights.
For this reason, we chose a small hotel on Hawah Beach called the Marine Palace Hotel. It is set back from the beach a little and our room looks over the swimming pool of a neighbouring hotel behind ours, instead of out to the ocean. The road from the village comes down the hill beside our hotel and dead-ends at the public parking lot, but this is good as it limits development on this beach and it is here that the Indian tourists gather each evening for a stroll along the sea. Most are day trippers from nearby Thiruvananthapuram, but there are also busloads of school children who stop for a couple of hours - they are probably on their way home from a pilgrimage to Kanyakumari.
There is not really a lot to photograph here and I don't want to make you too envious (or bored) with too many photos of the beach or the sunsets. However, I do want to tell you about some of the other residents of this place in the sun. When we woke on our first morning here, I was startled to hear the squawking of hundreds of huge black crows in the palm trees outside our window. They were making such a racket I thought that there must be something spilled on the ground that they were fighting over. When I looked out the window, they were just flying from tree to tree and I have come to understand that this is their regular routine. They seem to be the only bird in sight and finally realized that there are no sea gulls here to scavenge the beach like the white gulls we are used to in North America. I associate the gull's calls with the sea and I guess they are part of the romance of the ocean for me. I don't think I will ever feel that way about the crows - the only memory they conjure for me is Alfred Hitchcock's terrorizing film "The Birds".
The other annoyance in the morning is the small temple just opposite our hotel. As early as 5:00 am the priest starts clanging a large brass bell. Now, if this was the sound of a bell ringing intermittently, it would not be irritating, but it is rung continuously and reminds we of the clanging of the dinner gong on the old western TV show "Ponderosa". Not the most pleasant way to wake up in the morning!
Breakfast is included with our room so we go for a walk along the beach before returning to eat in our room. Our second night in Kovalam, Anil came down with a very bad stomach. He managed to miss all the problems the rest of us had in Cambodia, but this time it hit him hard. I have never seen Anil get sick to his stomach before - not once in thirty-three years. It shook him up pretty badly, but he has a new appreciation for what I went through all those years with my migraine headaches! Unfortunately, I followed along eighteen hours later, just as he was beginning to feel better. Anil was resting on the bed when the cleaning staff came to the room. He jumped up quickly to let them in, and just as he opened the door, he blacked out and fell backwards onto the bed. When he opened his eyes, there were four very worried faces staring down at him. I missed all the excitement as I was in the bathroom having a shower. Thank goodness the bed was so close to the door or he might have hit his head on the marble flooring. Another bullet dodged...
Once we were both back (steadily) on our feet, we spent a couple of days at the beach relaxing and playing Scrabble. We had only intended to stay for three days but ended up staying for six. Again, we were happy not to have a tight travel schedule that would have forced us to move on before we were ready.
As we ate most of our meals at different restaurants around the beaches, we were able to explore the area well. The hotels and restaurants are all along the beach at the bottom of some gently sloping land. Behind the buildings is a small maze of palm trees, canals and raised walkways. It's a nice way to move from one place to another, especially during the hottest times of the day. It is shady, cooler and a great place to see the local people going about their day-to-day business. Many of the small tailor shops have moved back in this area when they were pushed off the beachfront by the new hotel developments.
Our last morning was a very loud one! We woke to the sounds of intense chanting from the temple across the road. When I went out to see why it was so much louder than any other morning, I found the place a hive of activity. The gates to the temple were decorated with sugarcane, banana-leaf decorations and there were men selling tickets at a little table. When I asked what was about to happen, I was told it was the beginning of Shivratri - a holy Hindu festival honouring Lord Shiva. As we were packing up to leave, I took some photos of the women lined up in the temple courtyard cooking pots of sweet rice for their families. The smell of woodsmoke and incense was quite captivating and all the ladies were dressed in beautiful saris. Once the rice was cooked, the women will take it to be blessed by the priests and then home for their families to eat. In the end, I was happy the temple was so close to our hotel or I would have missed this altogether.
It was time to move once again, but this time we were going to see a beach that Adia had told us about in 2003. I was eager to see the place that featured so prominently in her photographs and had captured her interest so much.