I’m halfway between Fort Cochin, Kerala, and Gokarno, near Goa, India at the famous pilgrimage town of Udupi. A lot has transpired since I left my daughter, Cary, in Delhi, on December 30 and boarded a plane for Cochin in the hot, humid Kerala region. Guidebooks tell you how relaxing and charming and peaceful it is. Don’t believe a word, unless you’re on a backwater canal and lake cruise. Interesting, always, but brain-numbing with horns honking in high-pitched decibels, and garbage strewn everywhere. It’s as dirty and chaotic as Delhi, with cars, tuk-tuks (auto rickshaws), huge local buses, and trucks all spewing forth black clouds of exhaust. Hey, folks…this is India. I’m not judging, just observing. And I might add that there are many Indians with whom I speak who are very upset about the growth problems of their country, and are trying to find solutions, for the sake of their people and the environment.
I found a quiet homestay, the Kovil, run by a delightful couple, in Ft. Cochin, 1 1/2 hours by cab from Cochin. It was nestled away from the riotous New Years celebration, and next to a Moslem minaret that woke us up in style at 5:30 every morning. I stood outside as the new year was greeted with fireworks and dancing in the streets. This was all done by men, while the women stood on the sidelines. Someone started a bonfire near the temple, and someone else threw an old bicycle into it, tires and all. Imagine the smell. But no one cared. They were having too much fun! The celebration continued the next night at fever pitch, with a million people invading the small town. To walk anywhere or try to cross a street was life-threatening…and, at times, rather humorous. We just laughed, shrugged, and pushed on. I consider that my biggest accomplishment in this Indian journey is staying alive. Sidewalks are all but unknown in most small towns, and pavement near the shops is upended and crooked. Even small children have to wend their way through the maze of vehicles as they return from school. With it all, however, the people seem calm and are most friendly and welcoming. More about my five days in Ft. Cochin later, when I can upload photos.
My friend from Whidbey Island, Lee Compton, arrived New Year’s Eve after an eighteen-hour ride in an open-air bus from Tiruvannamalai. He collapsed for two days with the malady most prevalent among Westerners, cured only by the miracle drug, Cipro, which is readily available in India for 1 rupee a pill.
Two days ago on the night we left, we had dinner in a small dosa shop with a Dutch couple, Bas Brackhiuze and Susanne Gabrieel–he a massage therapist, photography teacher, and avid Scottish fiddler, and she a nurse, who is preparing to open a bed and breakfast in The Netherlands. They’ve been traveling in India for several weeks and tempted us with tales of an ashram they had visited. But that meant going south into more heat. No thanks. I elected to go north, so we reserved on a train leaving at midnight from north station, with third class tickets for an AC sleeper to Mangalore.
Just before boarding we ran into Christian Fischer and Renata Rossbach, a delightful young German couple from Cologne. He is a film and TV producer, having studied at NYU, and she is a psychotherapist. We had spent several hours together during their stay at the Kovil and I had gone with them on an interesting country boat cruise through narrow canals and village backwater areas, ending with a houseboat ride on Lake Venbanad.
Our bunks were in the third tier near the ceiling, and our luggage had to be placed at the end, giving us only enough room to curl up like snails, until 6:30 A.M., when our compartment mates left the train. It seemed smart to transfer to the bottom bunks and get some sleep before we arrived, but since my luggage was blocking the ladder I decided to swing my legs over the side and slide down. Not smart! My right leg got caught in one of the holding straps on the opposite side and flipped me upside down. I heard a terrible ripping sound in my knee. Fortunately, Lee caught me before my head hit the floor. Now what? I could see the end of my trip, of my trekking, of my ability to walk at all. My knee swelled and ached…but at least I could walk!
We found Christian and Renata and together we took a cab to Udupi, since it’s a big Hindu pilgrimage site that sounded interesting and restful to all of us. Yesterday, I visited the local hospital’s emergency room and was examined by an orthopedic doctor, who said that I was really lucky not to have detached the medial collateral ligament. I had only stretched it. He put on a flexible cast and told me to rest for a couple of days. Total cost: 200 rupees, about $5.00. Is my guardian angel working overtime, or wot? I’m overjoyed!
When I returned to the Vyavahar Lodge opposite the Sri Krishna Temple, where we’re staying (on a quiet pedestrian square), Lee informed me that he had just seen an ear doctor and would need to go to the hospital and have the remains of a silicone earplug removed from his ear. He had pushed it down too far ten days ago and it was resting on his ear drum. I told him this was the kind of thing I expected of a five-year-old and asked him when he was going to grow up! The cost of the surgery, pre-op tests, blood work, medications, anesthesiologist, surgeon, scads of pretty nurses, and operating room came to under $100. This took most of the afternoon, but all’s well that ends well. We decided we are quite a pair. I had to buy the equipment at the hospital pharmacy to replace what they used on Lee, such as the IV drip, syringes, and anesthesia. It’s a whole new system to me and there seemed to be way too many people doing the various jobs, but this is India and very labor intensive. That hasn’t changed since I visited a hospital in Udaipur in 1987, but the hospitals sure have. I was duly impressed by the courteous and thorough service.
At the moment we’re scrambling to find another hotel, since a huge celebration is being prepared for tomorrow in the square. Last night we saw dozens of young boys with shorn hair, bare chests, and colorful dhotis parading into the temple. The giant ancient chariots are being decorated and grandstands erected. Everywhere a spirit of excitement pervades.
I apologize for the sporadic and incomplete posts on this blog, but cyber cafes are few and far between, and I am hobbling a bit at the moment, confident, however, that I’ll be up to speed soon.
A belated Happy New Year to all of you. Enjoy your snow. It’s hot as blazes here.