Chinese fishing nets: the price you pay for a good photo
Trivandrum Demonstrations 2
Nightime streeviews Kochi
When Adam arrived in India I took some pleasure in taking the lead having had the chance to adjust the cultural “smack in the face” that India presents to the uninitiated. Nevertheless on our short afternoon in Trivandrum I managed to lose my phone and we passed the remainder frustratingly trying to file a report for its theft (which was in my opinion pointless but at the time I felt important so as not to offend our hosts). I got bounced from junior officer to sergeant to captain eventually to the regional police Commissioner who was understandably bemused that I’d been ushered into his limelight for a matter so unimportant as the theft of a phone.
The afternoon quickly wasted away we and we had to make a dash for Kochi, the first leg of our dual tailed onwards adventure. It started on uneven ground, taking an almost fatal rickshaw ride to catch a train (capture a mad, probably drunk, driver swerving across three lanes of traffic into the leftmost shoulder of the opposing side before careering through an infinitesimally small gap closing between two shoulders of giant public buses – to affect a triple overtake) – progressed to our first journey proper on a Indian train and culminated in the first of what would be many hotel negotiations in the depth of the night as we arrived late in town.
Despite arriving late I decided to take a walk with my tripod and camera up to the famous Chinese fishing nets. After wandering around I eventually made it up to the sea’s edge and began taking some long exposure shots. All of a sudden I was set upon by a pack of dogs – Local strays out to rough up a tourist no doubt. Barking turned into overt aggression so I ran and clobbered a couple as they clambered after me with my tripod. I managed to pegg it down the street and bailed into a sidedoor of a restaurant, luckily still open at 1130 at night. Hearing the clamour the owner rushed out and proceed to kick the remaining mongrels who had chased me down from the coast and putting paid to the pursuit.
After the excitement as serendipity would have it I then spent a fantastic night speaking in French with some travellers who had holed up in there with a bottle of wine. Late in the evening I stole home and crashed out in hotel (Adam having gone to bed a good while earlier when he first arrived).
The next day we explored Kotchi in the rain – really quite torrential. I also began the “great battery quest” as the spares I’d brought from Amazon turned out to be duds and as luck would have it my single charger gave up the ghost that on the first day of my travels. We returned that evening to the restaurant I dipped in to thank the team who saved me the night before for taking a late taxi down to the station from overnight train to Madurai.
With my feet somewhat more firmly on the ground and with a couple of days to kick back in India before Adam, my adventuring buddy, was set to arrive I decided to voyage out to at Lonley planet’s reccomendation north of the city Trivandrum. Jumping on the local after a somewhat confusing ride I was dropped off in the town of Varkala some miles up the coast from capital. I decided to walk down to the beach initially as I was hounded every 10m “auto” drivers who were trying to drum up custom. However laden down as I was in my bags I made a really clumsy sideways flip over a piece of very well laid Indian road and crashed into a puddle generating quite the injury. At the time I shrugged it off with a bit of inappropriate machismo. With a little dented pride I re-shouldered back on my trudge. It was only later that I realised the injury sustained my ill attired flip flopped foot would cause – as I developed in turn a severe foot infection (I developed a sinus!) Which even today shows in the scarred underportion of my right foot. Hulking down the road a ways I gave in and got an auto anyway.
In time I arrived at the beach I drank in the site of the ocean – a welcome reprieve from the clamour of the city – and posited myself on the beach. I began to take photos whereupon I noticed another chap doing the same. Nothing ventured nothing gained in the land of travellers I went over and said hello. What a fateful meeting!
Dressed in a white cotton shirt, his prototypical shaggy locks and the dusting bronze of someone who is clearly been in India long and I had – the man announced himself as “Harm” in a Dutch accent. We hit it off immediately and began in earnest to talk about the “philiosphy of photography”. Being late in the day by the time I arrived we spend the afternoon wandering around discussing photography and drinking in the sites and sounds of the low season holiday resort. A night over beers precipitated me not getting my train back to Trivandrum crashing instead upon the beachhead in harms luxurious beach hut (to my then and future standards for this trip at least!). I still remember vividly sitting there drinking Diet Coke as we watched the sun setting in a five o’clock-ish kind of light producing such stark shadows of the palm trees that framed our view of the ocean.
The next day Harm being the more adventurous and arguably spontaneous of the two of us stated with no derision that we hire a motorcycle and drive off to see the area. One of the most unforgettable days of my life and one also for my shoulders probably never find me again… shouldering two massive camera bags clinging throughout the day.
As we wove through villages we ran into the local kids who are keen to have their photos taken and demanded in exchange “one pen”. We had a blowout on the tyre and were led miraculously by some locals to a place not far from where we’d crashed out of the race. We eventually made it to the town on the coast before making our roundabout retreat before the night closed in back to the resort. Now in the dead of the night. Exhausted and grabbed a rapid meal and then Harm swiftly turned around and boosted me back to Varkala station – to catch my train back to Trivandrum. A serendipitous meeting to be sure!
The fun didn’t end there though: at the platform I ran into someone else, a Swedish guy called Seb. As luck would have it he was on his way to meet another Sebastian in Trivandrum. Coincidences like this are certainly not to be overlooked so we had a local night drinking and enjoying late-night curries at the behest of local Indian Sebastian’s direction.
Thus…Varkala to Trivandrum was an excellent first foray into my Indian adventure and certainly made up for the roadside dumping that precipitated my initial excursions the day before.
Although my journey to India was and was always meant to be a mainly photographic odyssey I had also intended to take some film as I went along. In the end I barely took any and the whole process broke down early into the journey. All that is recovered is the first 10minutes or so from an old Sony handy cam. Those of you who have read my other post and have seen the photos from Trivandrum might like to take a look at this short one-minute film which includes a shot of George indulging a beer, my first proper Indian” meal and shots of the dancing. Grainy pictures aside the beautiful music captures some of the spirit of the evening which I shared with Midhun and Stalin on my first night in India.
Stepping off the plane at Trivandrum airport was like being hit with a stick. The powerful tropical climate, the wall-to-wall press of crowds together with the sleep deprivation of a 16 hour transit flight sitting next to an enthusiastic Indian Middle Eastern worker called George bungled me sideways – so much so that I almost walked out of the airport without my pack. Somehow I was persuaded to take a journey with George’s cousin with the route plan of meeting up with him and his family to buy a chicken from market and to cook it fresh at his house. Needless to say the connection failed and the abandonment by my non-English-speaking friend in the middle of a foreign satelitte town somewhere outside of Trivandrum a little after two hours after my arrival was a sharp reminder of the vagaries of life’s dice – sometimes stories like this start out really well and other times they start in the shit. Somewhat demoralised I took some means to get me back into the centre of the city where I collapsed in a hotel after a long needed cold shower. Later I ventured out cautiously food – taking leave of the lonely planet to find somewhere safe and secure.
After the afternoon’s reprieve I journeyed down the road to take some photos where ran into two young students Midham and Stalin (named after one of the great Communist leaders to which many in the Keralan state still pay homage). Somewhat unremarkably for Kerala (although shocking it seems to us) Stalin has a brother called Lenin. Together we went to a community festival up in the northern reaches the city where I enjoyed an incredible session of traditional dance. The music was genuinely transporting and confirmed my senses in India as I sat amongst the crowd of entirely local people. We closed the evening by reflecting on our mutual experience of being university students, although worlds apart, and talked of our futures and aspirations. It would be a few days before Adam was to arrive during which time I had a whole side adventure in the fantastic town of Varkala. In the meantime I took stock of India as both shocking and exciting.