Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pt. 8: In Which We Begin Our Final Journey With Kerala and Goa

There’s one piece of insight a Fulbright alum shared with me about the short time they had left over at the end of his teaching exchange: we made a bee line to Kerala. This most southwesterly Indian state has the distinction of having been ruled by an elected communist government for virtually all of its existence, that power having been relinquished only in the last few years when the Congress party finally claimed electoral victory. So what is the communist legacy? The highest literacy rate, the highest Human Development rate, and the least corruption in the country.

But this was no bleak communist bloc technocracy, bent on industrialization and doctrinal hegemony and intent on destroying the rights of the individual. This is just one of the prettiest places we’ve visited. It’s really best known for the so-called backwaters, large lakes, lagoons, and the rivers and channels that connect them. And in between are miles and miles of rice paddies, palm stands, jungles and waterside villages. But perhaps our favorite experience here was attending a dance performance at the Folklore Museum in Kochin. It’s a beautifully constructed, 3-story, purpose-built structure designed in the local traditional styles which houses a trove of antiques and artifacts, and also houses a beautiful performance space. We arrived early enough to see the performers putting on their makeup right onstage and then enjoyed a thrilling performance of several dance styles, including Baratnatyam and Katakali.

After several days at a beautiful lakeside Ramada resort that I can safely say resembled none of the aged motels of the same name along the turnpikes back home, we spent 24 glorious hours cruising the backwaters in a plushly appointed riverboat. It wasn’t an action-packed thrill ride, but a quiet, lazy, meandering kind of cruise, where we just sat back in comfortably padded rattan chairs and watched the riverbank drift by, traced the flights of waterfowl and hawks, and got a steady stream of peaks into the everyday lives of the people who lived along the banks. Too bad we accidentally erased all but 3 of our photos. See, I knew there was a downside to digital.

Goa was equally chillin, and even better still, we had our own house—with 5 bedrooms! Our extravagant accommodation was the result of an accidental double-booking at our chosen hotel, and to honest, ended up being a much better deal. Set in a grove of palms, our “mansion” had a large porch and 2nd floor veranda, huge livingroom and kitchen, and several bedrooms to choose from. It was a 10-minute walk to a gloriously uncrowded and surprisingly clean beach, somewhere between the tourist jams of Colva and Benaulim beaches, and a 5-minute walk to the resort hotel where our embarrassed host arranged pool privileges. We even had the use of a cut-rate scooter to cruise around on.

Our days in Goa quickly slipped into the comfortable routines of rising at a civilized hour, breakfasting, snacking and dining at our own convenience, strolling to the beach in the morning and late afternoon, and to the pool in the heat of the day. We took a side trip to spice plantation, visiting several attractive temples and colonial Portuguese areas of old Goa. But really, we relished the slow-paced comforts of our temporary home, and time shot by much faster then we wanted. Then it was north, to Rajasthan.