Thursday, January 13, 2011

Last Day, Kanyakumari

Yesterday was my last full day in Kanyakumari. Today I take the train a few hours up the track to Trivandrum for two nights before catching a plane to Bangalore then a four to five hour taxi ride to Tiruvannamalai.

Not looking forward to the extra travelling and in retrospect I would have done this bit differently. In NZ if you want to go to say, Kaikoura, you hop in your car or catch a bus and you are there in two hours or so. Here nothing is quite that simple and a 180km trip could take anything up to nine hours, maybe more depending on conditions. Flying to Bangalore is one thing but then it seems it could take several hours to get to my hotel in Bangalore where I stay for just one night. This is where things get complicated. In the west you just assume you will arrive at an airport and within 30, maybe 60 minutes you will be at your hotel. In India you just have to slow down and take whatever comes your way. Just the other day I was talking to a woman who had endured a 17 hour train ride. That’s fine, you know how long these things will take, trouble was that the train was held up for a further 10 hours at the station before leaving and you can’t leave the train. They also didn’t say how long the wait would be or why, you just sit there and wait or go do something else….and that is India !

In spite of the sewer pit that is Kanyakumari I have made the most of my time here. I found a couple of places that were clean and fresh of air. Sunset Point, a bunch of big rocks out on a point about 2km away and probably, literally, the very most Southern Point of India. (Check out the photo) It’s where people go to watch the sunset, interestingly enough, but at all other times there is no one. I took that photo late this afternoon and on the way there people kept telling me that there will be no sunset tonight. It’s cloudy but I so wanted to tell them that really, the sun will still set. The other place is out on a very long breakwater down the other end of the beach and very few people seem to go out there so it’s very clean and the air again is beautifully fresh, a great place to sit and watch the little fishing boats come and go.

I am desperately in need of some good food. I’ve been feeling a little run-down and lacking in my usual energy since arriving in India pretty much, experiencing minor symptoms of a cold but without actually having a cold. For about five days there was a throat thing, not a sore or inflamed throat as such, just a “thing”. Then since arriving in Kanyakumari the nose has been running, not all the time but quite often, off and on. The pranayama has been really useful and since arriving I have been doing it two to three times a day and managing to keep on top of any real cold (touch wood) I remember last time in India, seven years ago, getting a “cold from hell”, they called it the “welcome cold” which was very common at the yoga institute. Really knocked me out for a few days (a lot of whimpy people would call it a flu !) The other thing I was wondering about, with regard to this running nose thing, is that the swimming pool here at the hotel is so heavy with chlorine that I think they add water to the chlorine rather than chlorine to the water. Opening the eyes underwater is asking for trouble, as I found out the first day, and you have to have a shower immediately after as it tends to burn the skin a bit. So I was wondering if the nose thing is a case of chlorine-up-the-nose-irritation but then the alternative to dangerous amounts of chemical additives to swimming pool water is a bit scary in itself.  Maybe it’s a further reaction to the constant stench around this place., something foul is getting right up my nose, so to speak. Either way, the nose is currently running and it will pass.

Anyway, they just don’t seem to have anything much here, food-wise, even in the hotel, very little fruit and not good looking produce at all, minimal vegetables and quite a bit of what they use here seems to be frozen muck. The food in general is mostly fried and quite stodgy Interesting to note that Kovalam Beach is less than 100km away and the food was very different. Kovalam is in Kerala whereas Kanyakumari is in Tamil Nadu. I can’t help but wonder if produce in general doesn’t move very far from its origin. We get used to having all sorts of foods in and out of season in the West. If something’s not readily available it’s flown in from Australia or the Islands or wherever. Those who travel will see NZ produce all over the world, flown in literally overnight from NZ right to those who are prepared to pay. This is India, most people don’t get to eat much at all, let alone have a choice of what they eat. This is all a part of what brings me down to earth and when people ask why I would even come to a place like this, well, this is all a part of the deal, whether I like it or not. You see, it’s not about comfort, if I wanted comfort and pleasure I could have stayed home, or stayed back on the beach in Australia. We have no real idea how easy our life is in NZ sometimes.

The other thing Westerners tend to do, myself included, is make comments like “why don’t they use toilets, you know, Port-a-Loos or something, or even just dig a hole ?” Or we say “why don’t they put their rubbish into rubbish bins ?” “Why do they have to spit all over the place ?” “Why doesn’t their council clean the place up ?” And on it goes, we just don’t get it. We think they just don’t get it and struggle to come to terms with this level of filth but I remind myself constantly that I am a visitor in their country, I don’t have to be here, this is my choice. Way over half of the population of India live way below the poverty line, that’s hundreds of millions of people living like this, who am I to be even thinking they should live up to my expectations of how things should be, how arrogant. I don’t like it, I don’t have to like it but I do need to respect that this is just the way things are, keep hop-scotching around the piles of shit, dry retching and whatever else I need to do, keep looking beyond the physical experience and see it as it really is.

This is Sunset Point, one of my little getaways

 One of a number of free toilets available....deserted ! What are the chances ??

These images are typical of the local fishing community, very poor people.

Just another crowded day

Could spend all day photographing the people, they absolutely love it, literally queue up

Images that show just how poor some of these people are and how they live