Every now and then Mrs Bongo takes me off to a far-flung exotic place where I am strapped to a sun lounger and force-fed spicy food. There I pretend that I would rather be on a cold and windswept hill, alone and shivering, looking for a sodden spot to pitch my tent.
A cheap flight took us to Kerala in India and couple of beach towns which we last visited on long backpacking trips 13 and 18 years ago. One of these was Varkala, which on our last visit was a string of bamboo huts along the cliff top. It is now a concrete jungle strung along the cliff top. The traveller vibe still remains, although nowadays that vibe is yoga and smoothies rather than cheap drugs and booze. Even the backpacking scene has become gentrified.
India has both rapidly modernised and remained in the past since our backpacking days. Just about everyone is staring at the screen of a smartphone, even whilst weaving their rickshaw through the chaotic traffic. Domestic tourists now heavily outweigh foreign tourists as people have more disposable income. Posh cars jostle for space with battered three wheelers and painted trucks belching fumes. However out in the sticks India remains as timeless and beautiful as ever.
Some photos taken away from the tourist spots:
Goats, auto-rickshaw and the usual piles of rubbish.
Fishing boats and mosque at the Muslim end of the village of Vizhinjam, half an hour walk from Kovalam.
Fisherman carrying the motor from his boat at the end of the day.
Mosque in Vizhinjam village.
Fishing boats in the Christian part of Vizhinjam village. This side of the village was much busier.
Fish market, I asked if I could take some close up photos but got a very firm no!
Big Jesus overlooking the harbour. I think that the women thought I was taking a photo of them as they stood and posed for me!
Jesus and crisps taken from the church at the top of the hill in Vizhinjam.
We escaped the coast for a couple of nights and headed inland to Neyyar Dam. There is a tiny little temple on a rocky hill overlooking the surrounding forest.
The hill is literally a giant rock with a few steps cut into it and handrails to lead the way. Some sections were very steep.
Neyyar dam holds back a very large reservoir with some wild surrounding forest. Being India you are not allowed to simply wander into the wilds which is a bit of a shame. Anyway it was far too hot to do very much.
Our bungalow near Neyyar was very secluded and we got visited by a large troupe of monkeys one afternoon.
Colourful rickshaw in the evening light.
Cooking up a treat outside a temple.
Balloon man pulling a pose!
Kathakali dancer inside the Manthara temple near Varkala.
Waiting for the temple procession.
No idea what this chap was selling inside the temple. People were buying these bundles of herbs though!
We were lucky to visit the Manthara temple during the Shivaratra festival. The temple was crowded with people to watch this giant tower be carried round the temple three times. Hundreds of men were involved and it was both awe-inspiring and a bit frightening. There was the possibility for lots of people to get crushed in the scrum!
Sunset from the cliffs above Varkala beach.
Lifeguards on Varkala beach. Their job is basically blowing their whistle at people in the sea and waving a red flag. It was pretty random when they would do this.
Sun and cloud at Varkala beach.
Sign opposite a restaurant.