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Monday, December 22, 2008

A visit to Kovalam Beach

Ended up going to Kovalam beach last Sunday with my friend and colleague, Christopher, and a couple of his friends. I thought we needed more time to get there and look at the place, but being less than 20 kms from Trivandrum it wasn't all that much of a big deal. In fact, the beach was small and beautiful, and wherever we looked we could see tourists enjoying the water, sun and sand, or locals trying to rip them off in the name of the water, sun and sand. It's sad, I know, but this "Great Nation" still has to wake up to the reality of offering tourists -- even those with tight budgets who the locals carelessly refer to as "hippies," or the paedophiles who unfortunately infiltrate their ranks -- a more pleasant experience. Well, come to think of it, the former should be offered a better experience overall, while the latter should be kept in jail and not allowed the opportunity to skip bail. But, as sad as it is for the victims, we're no closer to doing that than we are to making people in the system stop accepting bribes. But, I digress and these are different matters entirely.

Anyway, it all started with a ticket; a parking ticket for the bike that Christopher was riding. I find it interesting that everywhere you go in India and you get one of these pieces of paper, the first thing that catches my eye is the fact that they have to tell you it's never their responsibility to oversee the safety of your vehicle. Interesting, that...and take a look for yourself. Lots of other minor, "funny English" bits there, but that's just me being picky.

Once the bike was safely parked, or potentially unsafely as the ticket would indicate, we made our way to the little promenade that was lined with shops, restaurants and hotels. We were heading to the Vizhinjam Lighthouse to catch a gilimpse of the beach from high above. It was a lighthouse, and the view was supposed to be great, so "Why the hell not!" I thought to myself. Walking up the little bit of a hill to the lighthouse, we were greeted by another two-man, money-collecting team selling us tickets to climb all the way to the top of the lighthouse. Members of the crew, who shall remain nameless, scammed this dastardly pair with even more dastardliness and went up without paying the fee for the camera. More on this later... But take a look at the aesthetically pleasing ticket, folks. Again, some interesting pieces of information on it, but quite well done, I thought.

Cute ticket that, especially the part about the "Valid for 1 day for 1 Lighthouse" note at the bottom. Well, come to think of it now, there was a note painted on the side of the building, part of the two cement shack-like structures in the lighthouse compound that had some pretty detailed information for visitors. Please note the difference in rate for "Foreign Nationals." But why?Remember what I said about the "scamming" that took place? Well, when you see the next few pictures you'll get what I'm saying. And if you're wondering why I don't just come out and say it, well, I like to be overly cautious about these kinds of things. This is my country, and I don't know when someone or something will turn around and go "A ha!" Please, bear with me, I promise you this gets better.

So, where was I...oh yes, we were on our way up the lighthouse. In fact, we embarked on an endless climb up a winding staircase, and every time we looked up our hearts sank because we could see how much more we had to go. But, we trudged on, and in spite of the huffing and puffing, we finally found ourselves at the top, on the verge of taking a look at the World and Kovalam Beach down below us.

Stepping out onto the the little catwalk that goes around the top, I could hear myself go "Wow!" It was beautiful, and it looked perfect. The beach below looked like a quaint, coastal town, save for the row of hotels and shops, but the overall ambience of the fading light and the gently crashing waves on the grey-brown sand gave the image a sort of magical feel to it.

Looking out on the other side, the coastline dotted with the rocky outcrops, some of which had churches on them, others with some other example of human habitation or worship on them, provided a good sense of the overall outlay of the terrain. There was green everywhere, and the tops of trees, predominantly coconut, stretched back as far as the eye could see.

Using this opportunity to capture and savor this moment, we decided to turn to Vivek, armed with the camera to take the first picture. Going from left to right, that's me, Christopher, and his friend Ravi. If you're wondering about the half-gaulish, skin-and-bones look, well, that's what I've become...a shadow of my former self.

This next picture, taken by Christopher, features Vivek in his place. A happy bunch of guys atop a lighthouse in Kerala, wouldn't you say? It was fun, and some of the jokes being shared, not to mention the ones they were pulling on each other were brilliant that most of them cannot be reproduced here on this blog. Oh, not because they're vulgar, but because they would lose their wit and charm when translated.Soon enough, however, it came time to bid farewell to the lighthouse and its stupendous view. Well, I thought it was rather spectacular, anyway. If you didn't notice on the painted sign, the visiting hours were from 3 pm to 5 pm, and we got there around 4:35 pm, which didn't leave us with a whole lot of time at the top. Not with the huffing and puffing on the way up, anyway.

Walking back across the beach, I turned back to take one last glance at the scene that we had so recently been a part of, and here is the picture that Vivek managed to so expertly capture.

A nice getaway for the weekend, and I have to thank Christopher, Vivek and Ravi for making it a fun trip. Didn't take too much time. Happened to share a few laughs. And was able to get my mind off of all the things that seemed to be sending it into a tizzy in the week that had just passed me by. Thanks guys, the pleasure was all mine.

Before I go, I would like to share a last photograph taken by ace cameraman Vivek, who was trying to capture the rays of light as they radiated from the clouds. Looking at this scene, then, almost two weeks ago, I remember letting my mind wander briefly. Letting it drift off into the clouds, seeking out the light that was masked behind the billows of fluffy white, I remember feeling uplifted momentarily, with nary a care in the world. So this is what it's like to find peace. How strange it is to have visited this place so many times in my life, and yet to have forgotten how to get there when you need it the most. Letting this come to me, albeit for a couple of seconds, was just what the doctor ordered. But wait, please take a look at what I'm talking about. And if you can't see it, well, allow me to say, "You should have been there."

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