What started as a thought over a thali under a tamarind tree has culminated in a nice tour, which incidentally ended three days ago. The thought was that, considering the diversity of food in India, would few Europeans be interested in travelling around parts of South India sampling vegetarian food? The only way we could do that was to come up with a probable tour and spread the word around in Netherlands. The probable tour programme included some eating and some cooking of S.Indian food plus sightseeing. All these were wound around the core travel concept of Daari (a fair travel organisation of my friend): visiting some rural and non-touristy parts of the country. The tour was to start in Trivandrum and end in Chennai would wind around Kerala, TN and AP for 28 days.
For few months there were no takers. Just as we were about to pull the concept from the website, two showed interest and then one more and soon in a matter of few weeks we had about 13 people. I then had to make multiple field trips to finalise the schedule and most importantly hotels. While we had to book at least 6 months in advance by paying the entire amount in Kerala, hotels in TN and AP on the other hand were zapped when we wanted to book so early. One in AP even said call after Sankranti.
After few hitches, which included a cancelled booking in Kerala, we were all set to usher in the group in Trivandrum and take them directly to Varkala.
Dusk over the cliff
Then disaster struck in form of my friend being ‘hit’ by a huge wave, while he was riding them. I cannot forget the image of him coming back from the sea with a bloodied face saying “I cannot feel anything”. I froze thinking, this cannot be real and my mind was going on an overdrive conjuring extremely bleak pictures of near future that only my mind is capable of. I said something like “Can you lift your hand over your head?” or some such silly thing. He slowly started to feel tingling sensation in his hand that in the next few days turned into such a nightmarish pain for him. The doctor confirmed a minor ‘whiplash’ and was prescribed some muscle relaxants and rest for few days. A short 5 min swim before breakfast has resulted in he having a horrid time for close to a week. This meant that I had to pick up the group at 3 AM and to aid me in this endeavour was a stupid placard saying “DAARI” (since I do not know anyone in the group). I guess being at an airport with a placard is the most ego-neutralising activities I did in a long, long time. Anyway, it was the easiest task to do once I managed to make myself put the placard up.
It is strange how defensive one can get about one’s own country. Although in my case it was more in thought than in speak. While bringing the group from the airport I was bit annoyed that the driver took a short cut to Varkala from the Airport instead of taking the new smooth highway. This road was through the industrial area and as is wont with any industrial estates in this country, it was filled with pot holes. I was more annoyed when the group members were ‘understandingly’ looking at each other each time we hit a pothole; and as they raised their eybrows to each other while inspecting the gaudy steel and velvet interiors of the mini bus.
I guess this experience was good because it made me think on how I was to present my country. Instead of taking a defensive approach, I decided to talk/show about as many sides of the country as possible and let the group think whatever they want to but then such things depend on the group members. Had some of the members been from an uppity lot, then I would have had a very difficult tour. Thankfully it was’nt! Anyway, after little over an hours ride we reached the hotel, where bruised RJ welcomed the group. After a short while, the group was told to meet in the evening for a welcome Onam-type Sadhya.