Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kovalam, Kerala, South India

Sunrise over the backwaters of Kerala

Well, I'm on the road again. It is unbelievable, but after 3 days I have already covered 1000km and have decided to spend a day relaxing. The kilometers are done early in the morning, I leave at 6:00 in the morning so that I can stop riding around 13:00 or 14:00 in the afternoon (that is 1 or 2 o'clock for those of you in the U.S.A., who didn't spend any time in the military!) The last day in Benaulim was spent watching the local parade as part of the last day of the Carnival celebrations.

Carnival, Benaulim

I will post a complete set of pictures with my next regular web page update, so stay tuned. But the short of it is that it was wet and colorful, as the participants like to cover each other with water soluble dyes, and spray them down with water. A foreigner with a camera was not exempt. All in good fun. The night was then spent partying at the beach. The following morning, everyone was in church at 6:00 as I rode out of town.

The first day I rode through Mangalor and along the coast to Bekal, where I stopped for the night. I visited the best restored fort in Kerala while here. It was unfortunately not worth the cost (100rs for foreigners), as I found the fort in Goa much more interesting. This one was very sanitized and was still being restored, with brand new walls. One thing that made is stand out was its entrance which was made up of various walls, with a road taking 90 degree turns before finally getting into the fort proper. A very well secured entrance. One thing I really did like about Bekal was the beaches north and south of the fort, both of which were very nice.

Typical movie advertising.

First thing you notice when traveling in this area is that it is heavily Muslim. Everywhere, you saw the signs for mosques, green flags flying everywhere, cresents painted on the road, and on buildings (I think there was also an elections recently, or about to take place), I also noticed everywhere signs for Islamic English schools?!. And as always, wherever I stopped people would surround the bike and ask, "what country". I would "salam alaykum" them which they all found very good and say I was from Switzerland. They would then ask if I was a Muslim, and why I spoke Arabic, to which I would reply I only speak Shwaia, shwaia (little, little), to everyone's amusement.

Ernakulathappan Utsavam festival in Vadanappally

The next night found me in Vadanappally, near Guruvayur. After having found a place to stay and getting something to eat. Which, by the way, was the first time I have eaten a rice dish in public with my hands (they didn't give me any fork/spoon). Naturally with an audience. If anything I did manage to finish my food, and if I may say so my self, I didn't make quite as much of a mess as your average Indian. Many of which were sitting around me. Which also explains why there aren't any tablecloths anywhere to be found. Also, I took twice as long to eat, a whole group showed up shortly after I got there and were gone within 15 minutes, I was still figuring out which one the sauces was the best. The food was excellent, I have no idea what I had, but it was great, and there was plenty of it. They only charge for the various sauces, and you can have as much rice as you want. The plate I had was a number of sauces, some dry, some wet, with various vegetables (in the sauces). I had ordered the "Special Dish", which apparently also came with a banana, and a couple of chapatis. In the end the bill was 1 sfr (0.80$).
As I was finishing there was drum music playing outside. As I stepped out, there were 3 huge elephants in the middle of the street, along with musicians and a bunch of kids dancing up a storm. I got my camera out and took a number of pictures (these will also be posted in due time). As the procession continued on, more elephants would appear from side streets to great fanfare and more dancing and drumming and horns playing. In the end 10 elephants had showed up and they all marched into the temple grounds together. It was a Hindu festival taking place to the god Shiva. There was much dancing and rejoicing, kids playing and a whole carnival atmosphere. The end of the evening was marked by a smallish fireworks display, and huge firecracker explosions. I though they had set off some TNT, it was that loud. After that everything broke up and people headed home.
In the morning it started up again, or at least I heard the drums going at 3:20 in the morning. I didn't get up to see what the commotion was.
As I left at 6:00 I saw a couple of elephants wandering back from the center of town where the temple was.

Lighthouse beach, Kovalam

I drove through some of the most scenic areas I have seen in a long time. Lots of river crossings, beautiful palm groves, everything green as far as the eye can see. I stopped at a couple of beaches, with absolutely nothing but a few fishing boats and plenty of sand. A bit further south, came the resorts. Kovalam is one of these. It is a small village which was been tourist town, with plenty of small hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants. I find it very charming. It is a lot more relaxed than anything in Goa, and the beach is fantastic, a number of small coves with some nice sand. What I found very interesting, they have life guards at a number of beaches. The restaurants are along a paved promenade which runs right behind the beach, and it is relatively clean and organized.
This morning as I walked into town there were a large police presence and they were in the process of tearing parts of buildings which were built too far towards the beach. A huge spectacle with tourist and locals alike watching the goings on. A couple of men with sledgehammers, a tractor with a back hoe, and parts of building lying in ruins along the promenade. Never a dull moment in India.

More coming soon...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Carnival Time in Goa

Unblievable but true, another update. I have just posted over 100 pictures that I have taken of the carnival here. There is another parade tomorrow, so I might even put a few more up. Since my page isn't quite finished here is the direct link:

For some background; there has been real big controversy around here regarding who should be organizing the carnival. Apparently the traditional organizing committee had been challenged by another group and they have been fighting about it for weeks. The day before it started the challenger withdrew its opposition and the carnival could take place. Normal politics in India, apparently. Nevertheless, the turnout of the performance troops is smaller than it had been in previous years. Some locals attribute this to uncertainty.

The main difference to other Carnival celebrations which I have witnesse, Fastnacht in Switzerland, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, is that here most people are just spectators. They sit and watch while the carnival committees do all the dancing. Few people are dressed up or seem in the spirit of Carnival. I can only attribute it to the fact that it a Christian festival, and the spectators are of other religions? Not sure but it would explain the lack of enthusiasm. Of course I would expect many more Christians to take part..??

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Goa, India has been updated....

Well, 4 months have gone by, and I am still in Goa. But the good news is that the web pages have finally been updated. I am not going to bother promising that I will be more punctual in the future, since that will probably not be the case. But, I doubt that it will quite as long a wait for the next installment.

Regarding this update, since I last wrote, Cecilia and I have split up. Life goes on and so do we. She will continue to travel on her own, as will I.
At the moment she is heading south, after having various problem with her bike, you can catch all her latest news at her blog Fernweh Travels

With any luck at all, I will be continuing south soon (in two to three days). I will continue to update these pages, as well as my web site, which at the moment isn't quite ready. But of course all the data to date can be found at and here.

See you all soon.