Welcome to Kerala Some photos from Southern India, January 2013
Page 3 of 4 - Calicut and the coastal plain

Edition of 15. February 2013 :

We travelled as guests of HF Holidays, represented in India by Muddy Boots

Calicut and the Coastal Plain

Our walking in Wayanad had ended at Muddy Boots' own Pranavam holiday house, where arrangements had thoughtfully been made for our ablutions before our long journey down from the Deccan Plateau (the escarpment is the Deccan 'Traps' to the geologist - click to look it up) to the coastal plain.

The road is spectacular, with many gravity-defying hairpins (you can see some in the middle distance), and our driver made liberal use of his horn.

A word about the horn in India. It can mean "get out of my way", of course, or "I'm coming past", "thank you for letting me pass", "you're past me and can pull in now", all the way up to "I'm forming a third lane on this single track road, and we are not all going to make it". You get the idea.

We arrived safely at our next resort, a superb hotel at Kadavu, near Calicut, in time for lunch on the terrace overlooking the river. Afterwards, a short ride took us to the unique boat-building yard at Beypore. This might not sound exciting, but it was fantastic. Wooden boats well over 100 feet long are still being built, by hand, using materials and techniques essentially unchanged for two thousand years.

OK, as Jude is pointing out, they have galvanised coach-bolts and electric drills, but the massive framing is still cut by eye from gigantic teak logs, and the planking formed from a kind of laurel.

We were privileged to clamber aboard one vessel nearing completion, 171 feet long and the largest ever built. It's for an Arab Sheikh, and will be towed to Qatar for fitting-out, at an eventual cost of over 3M.

The yard's owner, Ibrahim, standing proudly (as well he might) before another vast boat in its early stages

The craftsmanship is on a scale beyond belief, and the inside of the hull with its ribs and bearers is like an inverted cathedral (if you overlook the stench of fish-oil caulking). It was all rather special.

There followed yet another rather futile bus journey and walk to see estuary birds, which declined to appear for us.

There's only so much time you want to spend wandering around mangrove swamps, but here are a couple of pictures anyway

Day 9, Monday 28. January.
Breakfast was followed by a brief and quite amusing lecture on the history of Calicut (or Kozhikode - see the Wikipedia entry) from the distinguished Dr K Mohan, who guided us round S.M. Street and its environs.

S.M. stands for Sweet Meat, a confection known in the Orient as Halwa, the only thing the former (Persian?) rulers would allow to be sold there.

Nowadays the trade is as varied as can be imagined. Indians (especially Keralans) seem to be exceptionally entrepreneurial, starting tiny businesses in the most unlikely locations

Pradeep told us that the literacy rate is the highest of any Indian State, as is evident from the number of newspapers published here

After passing many shops, Dr M suddenly crossed the open sewer / gutter and turned into a very narrow alley, in which men were working on metal goods

He led us into some workshops where copper rice pots were being beaten into shape, and had patterns hammered into them before the inside was tinned, by hand, over an open furnace.

Not much emphasis on health and safety here!

It was so interesting to see this process that we bought a pot from Mr Fernandez, from an old Portuguese family, whose shop was nearby and (surely by pure coincidence) was an old colleague of Dr M.

Lunch was a good buffet in a nice cool restaurant, and then a small bus took us to Calicut station in nice time for our train to Alleppey

We were privileged to travel in air-conditioned class, in a carriage with glass in the windows...

...and comfortable leather seats, for our pleasant four-and-a-half hour ride through the beautiful Keralan countryside. There are even power points (the usual Indian five-hole combination ones) for laptops & cellphones...

...and chaps walk continually up and down the enormously long train offering tea, coffee, biriyani, 'cutlets' (don't ask), and fried savoury lentil doughnuts called vada

The gauge is 5' 6", since you do ask, with a wide loading gauge, so the carriages are spacious, and seat 5 across in first class and 6 in second. Our seats are allocated by name, listed on a printout by the door of the carriage, and an official came round to check that we were who and where we were supposed to be. The massive diesel locomotive emits spectacular sound and smoke ; the toilets are not the best, but on the other hand the entire journey, first class, costs about 2.50 a head.

Having driven all day since leaving us at Calicut after breakfast, our trusty bus and driver were waiting at Alleppey Station for our train, and we embarked for the drive to our next resort at Coconut Lagoon, where we were to spend two nights.

Now click for Page 4 - Coconut Lagoon and the Backwaters
...or back for Page 2 - Bison Camp and Wayanad Walking
...or Page 1 - Srirangapatna and Mysore
...or back to the Kerala Index

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