Kerala: God's Own Country
My trip to India began with my arrival at Kochi Airport (in the state of Kerala), which is impressively powered by 100% solar energy. My boyfriend and I met some friends outside the terminal and we immediately began a 4 hour journey up into the mountains near Munnar.
Arriving in India at night sort of filters out a lot of the confusion one might encounter upon arrival in the day light. You can only vaguely make out the masses of people, the piles of garbage and the rundown buildings that house shops and restaurants.
What the darkness of night does not filter, however, is the anarchy of vehicles navigating the roads. Those first hours, sitting in the passenger seat (on the left-hand side) of our small car, were some of the most terrifying and seemingly life endangering hours of my life. After many hours in cars and on the back of motorcycles I would eventually learn that the anarchy was not actually a lawless free for all, but instead a very precise art of traffic weaving that must be mastered if one ever hopes to make it to their intended destination.
We had arrived in Kerala shortly after the monsoon floods had begun to recede and the damage from the rains was visible all along the cliff and mountain sides. Upon arrival at our hotel we found out that the rains had also affected the power lines and the supply of water to our sinks and showers. Our water was brought up to us in giant plastic buckets, and so began my introduction to the Indian Shower, as I like to call it. An Indian shower requires you to dump small amounts of (usually) cold water over yourself, lather up with a bit of soap, and then dump another few small buckets of water over your body to rinse off the soap. Washing your hair is such a tedious task that I often went a week straight without bothering to clean it.
I’m not sure why we made the drive up to the mountains in the first place, because we woke up the next morning and started the decent right back down. We stopped for breakfast at some little shack on the side of the road and ate a sort of rice soup that had almost no flavor. The others in our group loaded up the soup with chilies and an assortment of other spicy things, but I chose to eat the bland soup as it was.
After our breakfast Mohammed and I took a short walk through an Ayurvedic garden, which was really just an exposition of all the herbs available for us to purchase in the shop up by the road. We were more or less forced to take a look at the goods for sale, and in the end I did buy a little jar of Ayurvedic coffee which I discovered wasn’t so great for drinking, but works perfectly well as an exfoliant.
The next few days were spent driving all over Kerala, sleeping on beaches and acclimating myself to the overly spicy food that would characterize the next month and a half of my travels.
It is not easy to be a young, white female travelling through India. You feel like a walking target at all times and a simple walk from your hotel around the block can be an overwhelming and intimidating experience. Men will approach you, ask you for money, for you number, try to give you a ride to anywhere, and absolutely refuse to leave your side no matter how diligently you ignore their existence. You try to get used to it, and you do your best not to make eye contact with any human who might ask for some monetary donation from you, but in the end it’s not so easy. Being a foreigner in a new land is one of the most eye opening and invigorating experiences in the world, and trying to close your eyes to certain aspects of your new host country seems to take away from the overall experience. Furthermore, it gets difficult just ignoring other human beings. As a highly empathetic person I have the bad habit of taking on other peoples suffering and feeling it for myself. Walking past a beggar, shoving a hungry child off your arm is no easy feat. The guilt consumes you and your inability, or unwillingness, to help these people quickly catches up with you and fills your heart with an ever present sense of shame.
The greatest things about Kerala, in my opinion, are the sunsets. Every evening I was there, without fail, the sky would light up in an array of pinks, reds, purples and oranges presenting all those who spared the time to look up at the sky with a display of lights so divine that it would take your breath away.
The nature in this part of India is truly impressive and it stands as a stark juxtaposition to the dusty chaos that makes up the towns and cities in the area. The mountains, the fields, the forests and the rice terraces clean the air in the countryside and provide all those nearby with a luscious, thick, green expanse of mother nature’s finest creations. Passing from one of these paradises into any given city will rip your heart apart. For a state that values fresh, organic, holistic produce and ayurvedic approaches to lifestyle, the dirt and garbage of the
cities seems hypocritical.
I know the garbage is not the fault of the citizens, there is no waste management system in place that can handle, clear and process the trash of so many humans. Nonetheless, you cannot help but feel as though these people are suffering and wading around in their own dumpster. It's heartbreaking, and all you do is constantly wonder how you can help improve the situation. You can't of course. It's completely out of your control. You just have to take a step back, take a deep breath in, and surrender to what is.