South Tour: Trivandrum, Kanyakumari, Kovalum and Kochi – Kan-ya sea the paparazzi?

3 Dec

KOCHI: Sometimes, it seems like all of South India is just one big suburb.

There’s no apparent hub city from which all of these towns emanate, but it’s been impossible to go more than half a kilometer in this part of India without finding pockets of human life. I first noticed this on Tuesday (30 Nov), as we traveled from the backwaters of Alleppy to the southernmost town in India – Kanyakumari. As I looked out the window after the sun had set, I kept expecting the city lights to give way to darkness and the bustle of city life to disappear, but that never happened.

I can’t complain about the quality of the roads we drove on that day so much as the traffic that covered it. Our 80 kilometer journey down a two-lane national highway took about five hours to complete. I can ride my one-speed bike around Champaign more quickly than our 27-seater drove us through Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The highways, rather than weaving around the cities, cut through them, doing little to ease the heavy congestion.

I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the American interstate system as much as I do now.

In most cities on this tour, foreigners have not been hard to come by. Compared to Nagpur, Indore, and the other cities in which we’re being hosted, the sites we’ve visited have catered to tourists with ease. In general, the people by the temples, zoos, museums and palaces we’ve visited have all seemed comfortable in the presence of non-Indians.

Not so in Kanyakumari.

I’ve gotten very used to being stared at in India. As awkward as staring seems, it’s nothing more than looking. The initial unease I felt from the looks I’ve gotten everyday has disappeared. With other exchange students, the looks are distributed evenly, although we attract slightly more attention than we would alone.

The problems really begin when people start taking pictures of us.

Kanyakumari is the only place in India from which the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal can be viewed simultaneously. On clear days, Sri Lanka can be seen far off in the distance. Although the beaches are little more than walls of rocks, they’re great places from which to catch panoramic views. Ferries took us to three small islands south of the coast, which featured majestic seaside temples and statues. Naturally, many cameras were out, poised to take pictures of the surroundings.

Except were these cameras really taking pictures of the three seas? We were witness to several 360° videos that seemed to point towards us much longer than they were pointed at the sea. Cell phone cameras would be aimed just over our shoulders until thumbs clicked down on them – just as they swiveled in our direction. Most often people would just point and click without making any effort to be inconspicuous.

I looked behind us a few times, the optimist in me guessing we were blocking the views those pictures were trying to capture. Most often though, that was not the case – rocks, barricades and other people usually made up the backgrounds of pictures stolen of us. Only once do I think permission to take our picture was asked. Cameras would be poised as people stood in groups whispering to each other. Staring at us. Pointing at us. Laughing at us.

I think I can be forgiven for loudly singing Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi, although I doubt many of the picture-takers recognized the song. We devised several ways of dealing with our own paparazzi. Sometimes looking them straight in the eye would be enough for them to become flustered and turn the camera elsewhere. Sometimes we mocked their attempts at subtlety, holding our cameras in obvious places and clicking photos while looking away from them. At least twice, Jordan walked straight towards the picture-takers and told them flatly to stop. Our best (or worst) idea was charging people for pictures with us, but for some reason no one was willing to pay our Rs. 500 fee.

There’s a lot more I could write about being a foreigner in India, but I’ll save it for another entry. Kanyakumari, despite the day’s troubles, was still worth the visit.

For the first two weeks of this tour, almost every day was a busy day. Museums here and temples there. Botanical gardens left and spice gardens right. Hill stations in the morning and palaces in the afternoon. The incessant rain we’ve had since arriving in Mysore did little to ease the chaos.

Then we spent two nights in Kovalum, and we had to find the chaos ourselves.

All of our time yesterday was free, and a lot of it was spent on the beach, just as in Mahabalipuram. Although expectations for the beach were moderate, and rain tried to dampen our moods, Kovalum was too fun for us to have low spirits. The waves never exceeded a meter in height, but the slope of the coastline was so slight I could walk 100 meters through the water and jump off the ocean floor like it was the surface of the moon. I spent at least three hours on the beach, just enjoying the feeling of being in the water.

And for two days we were actually able to sleep in. This of course meant most of us chose to stay up late into the night, but for once most of my sleep came in a bed, not on a bus.

Today we did nothing. We spent six hours driving to Kochi, ate Western non-veg fast food for lunch and dinner, and watched TV in the hotel. Kochi, from my limited views of it, appears to be quite a modern city – I’ve seen more high rises here than anywhere else on this tour. The nightlife and modern amenities are like those of Bangalore and Hyderabad. I’m surprised I’d never heard of Kochi before this tour, save the loss of their IPL franchise.

Tomorrow, for the first time in two and a half days, we’ll be going sightseeing. It should be an interesting day.

🙂

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