Two weeks ago my Mum and Dad (Simon) arrived in Fort Cochin, Kerala. It’s my Mum’s first trip to India but my Dad has been a couple of times before.
We’ve spent time travelling by train and taxi around northern Kerala. From Cochin we went to a homestay in Wayanad and visited Muthanga National Park where we saw wild elephants; we stayed on a houseboat on the deserted northern backwaters near Bekal; and visited a homestay on an empty beach in Kannur. We’re now back in Cochin and they fly home tomorrow.
I asked my Mum a few questions about our trip and these are her answers.
As the most different place you have been, how did you feel about coming to India?
I felt very apprehensive. Bearing in mind I don’t like curry, mosquitoes love me and I’m not good in the heat, I knew it was going to be a challenge. The only reason I really wanted to come was to see you.
You arrived into Cochin very early in the morning. What were you first impressions of the country?
It wasn’t as chaotic as I’d expected. My husband Simon had talked about the madness of Delhi but Cochin felt very civilised. We got a taxi from the airport at 4am and everyone seemed to be up and about already.
I was surprised by how busy the road was. There was manic overtaking which scared the living daylights out of me, accompanied by a constant hand on the horn. There were no pavements, the driver swerved from side to side to avoid potholes, dust was everywhere and I was staggered by how much litter was at the sides of the road.
But for all that, Fort Cochin had a magical atmosphere and reminded me of Sinbad the Sailor stories from when I was a little girl. We stayed at a lovely place opposite the Chinese fishing nets and I was relieved that the fishy smell didn’t pervade the hotel. I have certainly inhaled a lot of interesting smells over the past two weeks.
What’s been the best thing about this trip?
Seeing you! Also, the fact that both you and Simon have been to India and you’ve talked about it a lot. I can now understand why. I don’t really know what it is, but there’s definitely a magic to the place – the people, their smiles, their friendliness and generosity; and the beauty of the countryside. From walking along the beach of the Arabian Sea to the wild mountains of Wayanad. It’s been fantastic and I look forward to returning.
What memories will you take home?
My strongest memory will always be the friendliness of the people – so many groups of children approaching us wanting to shake our hands, ask our names, find out where we’re from and take our photos. Sometimes they’ve never seen Western people before and approached us shyly. At other times we’ve been bombarded and overwhelmed with cameras in our faces. This happened when a school teacher asked us to meet his students on a school bus in Wayanad.
It’s been such an insight to meet the owners of the homestays. They’ve opened their homes to us and we’ve been made to feel so welcome. They’ve sat with us at dinner and we’ve had the opportunity to discuss anything and everything about our countries – from Hijras to the UK’s austerity cuts, and from John the Baptist to the Hindu god Shiva.
What do you think of the food?
I’ve eaten all the food but it’s been rather spicy. I’m also very grateful for advice from a friend to bring some shortbread biscuits. I brought three packets and we’ve done the lot! I can’t wait to have a roast dinner and some fish and chips when I get home.
We’ve used a lot of different types of transport over the past two weeks. Do you have a favourite?
Auto-rickshaws without a doubt! They’re such good fun. Whizzing around the streets, avoiding potholes, buses, cows, goats and people.
Riding on the back of a elephant would have to come very close though.
Most definitely the poverty. I found it hard to see people living under sheets of tarpaulin. Also the dirt and rubbish everywhere. As a local litter picker at home in our village, that was difficult to handle.
We walked into Kannur station this morning and there was a little tot of two or three asleep on the floor in the busy ticket area. Mum was nowhere to be seen and she looked dirty. Commuters formed long queues and she was huddled at the back draped over a bag. It would have been so easy to step on her and it made me want to cry.
And has this trip changed you in any way?
Yes, most definitely. Previous to this holiday I had been to the US and Europe. The furthest east I’d been was to Egypt and Israel. But now I feel prepared to venture further afield. I’d like to visit China, Thailand and other parts of India.
And finally… what four words would you use to describe your time in Kerala?
Assault on the senses! The sights, the sounds, certainly the smells, the tastes.
Thanks Mum and Dad for coming out to see me. It’s been fun and very memorable. See you in London in three weeks!