Monday, 20 December 2010

The Portuguese pimple on the face of mother India

In India of course there are cows on the beach!

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Portuguese explorers definitely had an eye for gorgeous coasts and only ever seemed to arrive in paradise – Brazil is stunning, former colonies in South East Asia always come with picturesque beaches and fishing villages, Mumbai is set on the calm blue Arabian Sea and then there’s Goa which again definitely doesn’t fail to impress the sun, sea and sand loving kind.

Before heading straight to the beaches we spent a day or two in Goa’s little capital Panaji where the International Film Festival was in full flow bringing in big names of Bollywood from Mumbai. The town had a nice buzz about it as we strolled along the river front and admired the Portuguese architecture.

Apparently 14th century sailors from Lisbon would clamber up to the church on arrival
in Goa to say thanks for the safe crossing
Statue of an 18th century Goan priest, Abbe Faria, "the father of hypnotism"


To start winding down the trip we headed to Palolem beach for a few days (popular with Russians) as well as spending a day on both the quieter Agonda and Patnem beaches. Goa does feel very different from other parts of India and the most noticeable difference is the food. Tucking into fresh fish and coconut curry was delicious.

To continue our whistle stop of southern India we continued into Kerala, one of the most prosperous states in India and the first place in the world to freely elect a communist government (which for once seems to have worked!) Fort Cochin has a totally mixed history of Portuguese spice traders, Chinese fishermen, Jewish settlers, Syrian Christian and Muslim residents. Fort Cochin is still an important spice trading hub of India and wandering through the back streets there were huge sacks of spices ready to be exported.

Ancient Chinese fishing nets

A little further south Alleppey is the starting point for tours into the Keralan backwaters – a huge network of rivers and canals that feeds the rice paddies inland. We decided to skip the expensive and touristy house-boat option and stayed in a home-stay on the banks of the backwaters. Our hosts were Matthew and Beena, an extremely welcoming couple who have lived in the backwaters for most of their lives. We took a couple of bikes for a morning to explore the villages – it was so peaceful and for a change people were moving at a steady, relaxing pace. With Christianity being the main religion there were small churches dotted all along the river banks.

The government in Kerala has long been communist and most people within the state attribute Kerala's impressive stats (highest literacy rate in the developing world, lowest infant mortality rate and highest life expectancy in India) to the democratic-socialist blend of its politics 

Tom catching dinner with Matthew

Modern farming makes things a bit easier in this part of India. In other places around the country we've seen people doing this kind of work by hand (or with a water buffalo if lucky)

Feeling well and truly relaxed (and well fed thanks to Beena’s home-cooking) we headed a couple of hours south to Varkala, one of Kerala’s well-loved beach towns. A few days of yoga, time on the beach and good food in Varkala we embarked on our final mammoth train ride across the country to Chennai. Unfortunately a late in the season cyclone set in on the day we were travelling which resulted in a panicked scramble to catch our overnight train from its new departing station three hours away leaving in three hour’s time. We weren’t terribly optimistic that we’d make the train as the bus we were travelling on drove past totally submerged villages and temples with only the tops of the roofs poking up from under the burst rivers. Finally we did make our destination and with a rickshaw driving at full speed we reached the train a few minutes before it departed the platform. 16 hours later we arrived in Chennai, our final city before the Andaman Islands and home!
The sunset at Varkala


  1. You do realise - at least I hope you do - that the photographs here are, for the most part, stunning. I'm a photographer myself - or let's say, for the sake of (sheepishly admitted) precision, that I'm a wordmongering journalist who also takes photographs - and I see some here that are competition podium material. I'm sure you've shot thousands more: There'd be no harm in submitting some for consideration in competitions (crass though this sounds when I put it so baldly). You've brought my country alive, not just through your casual compositions but through a seemingly unforced melding of colour and light; I just wish there was some way to herd those who lug around a notion of India - that it's transcendental or that it's the absolute bloody pits - to your blog. I'll certainly give it a shot.

    I'd dearly love to see the other photographs you've taken on your odyssey. Are you on Picasa or Flickr or some other image dissemination site?

    Did you use image enhancement software at all? Some of the photos are clearly zoom shots but I notice no bluing or vignetting at all. What lens did you employ for far shots?

    Far too many and far too presumptuous questions, I know. But this is what happens to me when I'm confronted by something that takes a good whuff of my breath away: I morph into Eddie Murphy in 'Shrek'.

    Thanks, again, for making my day.

  2. Thanks so much for your message. We're so pleased to hear that you think our photos capture India in a fitting light - what an incredible country! The camera is a Canon EOS 450 with 75-250mm zoom. Would be cool to see some of your work if you have it online?