Our vacation in Kerala is done and an excellent time it was. As you can see from these pix of Papanasam Beach, where we were, there were clear skies and ample beach with soft sand … just the thing for relaxation, by Salazar tastes. It was also a great time to see a slice of South India, in many ways the same but in other ways, quite different from the north, such as Pune in Maharashtra where we live.
For one thing, men everywhere much more are in traditional dress, specifically the lungi, or mundu, a long rectangle of cloth wrapped around the waist to make a skirt:
A pretty versatile garment, there’s several ways to go about in your lungi. You might let it drape down, which gives a cool, slightly formal look. Or, you might hold one corner, maybe as our airport-goer on the right is doing; this keeps the folds from binding your knees if you want to walk quickly – in fact many men sort of lightly flap their lungi with a kind of jaunty motion as they walk. Finally, you can grab both edges, fold them up, and knot them in front, as our beach-walker is doing – this is the way for walking fast or doing work.
I thought about trying the lungi myself. In the end, despite the clear comfort – it’s the tropics, after all – I decided against it. I think we westerners often look comical in Indian dress, and with the possibility of wardrobe malfunction from an improperly secured lungi, I decided to hold off, perhaps till another visit.
On to the beach itself. As I said in my previous post, Papanasam Beach is a holy place for Hindus. They go there to make a special puja, called karkidaka vavu. These prayers offer food for the dead, and also cleanse the sins from the living as well as the departed. A key part of the puja is to place an offering of food, spices and other items in a banana leaf, place it on your head, then go down into the sacred water, as this man is doing:
Once the water is reached, they will turn around and drop the offering behind. Then they will rinse themselves all over with the water.
It is late in the season and by talking to some locals we understood there were few people making offerings. In January there would be 100s of supplicants, and on a special day typically in August, 1000s of people will come to the beach. Still every morning there were 20-30 parties preparing for their prayers on the beach:
Which brings me to one of the most interesting aspects of the whole trip. Papanasam is indeed a holy place, but it is also a great beach, a place where tourists want to come and spend money. We saw many Indian couples on the beach like this:
So, there are two kinds of visitors: first the Indians coming to pray and/or relax, and then the foreigners, who come for many reasons, including praying, but also a great many non-prayerful things like drinking, shopping, swimming and sunning. On this beach everywhere you look you see this contradiction, like here:
Western women in bikinis, and Indian men in long-sleeve shirts and lungis and Indian women in saris or kameez. At Varkala both sides peacefully coexist, but the divide between the two worlds is as constantly glaring as the tropical sun itself.
As to the beach: Fantastic! Not at all crowded; it is the tail-end of the season after all. The sand was soft, and at both high and low tides there was ample gently sloping beach. The swells of the Arabian Sea really were modest, but as in the pic on the left, some of the breakers are head-high or more and if you’re standing right at the break-line, you can get knocked over and scraped along the sand:
The waves in fact support surfing; there’s a surf school and we saw some successful surfers:
The last thing I’ll say in this post is about the cliffs. The beach is about 1.5 km south to north, and to the east is all a high cliff of about 20 meters:
Atop these cliffs are guest houses, shops and restaurants. You can reach them from the beach via stairs – somewhat eroded and without rails for some places, the stairs are tricky to navigate in the dark.
Here I’ll end my first post about Varkala. Next time: Elephants, Waterways, Communists, some of the greatest seafood we have ever ate, and the Attack of the Keralan Beach Dog! Till then …
In just a few hours myself, Kim and Morgan depart for the southern-most state of India, Kerala, there to vacation for 5 days at Varkala Beach. As you can see from this Google Maps capture, Varkala is pretty far south – only 8.7 degrees north of the equator, it is at roughly the same latitude as Somalia, Ivory Coast and, in South America, Panama and Venezuela. Weather for our time there will be in the 90s F, clear and sunny. The beach is below a cliff; our hotel is atop the cliffs and looks out over the Arabian Sea.
From my reading, Kerala is an interesting place: It is the state with the highest literacy rate in India, and oddly also with one of the highest rates of alcoholism. There are a great many elephants in Kerala – which we plan to visit – as well as numerous lakes and waterways, which we also may visit but, truthfully, we Salazars are mainly looking forward to beach time and scanning the horizon for dolphins that are said to swim thereabouts.
Another thing we doubtless will learn more about happens on the beach itself:
The beach we will be at is called Papanasam, often called the “sin destroyer”, because its waters are thought to wash away sin. It is a tourist place, and one many foreigners visit, but the beach also has great significance to Hindus. There it is considered a very meritorious thing to perform a special puja on the beach with the ashes of the departed.
Soon we will learn more. Now, all I can say is, if the dolphins can take it, so can we.
Pictures and a full report when we get back.
Here’s the last pics of our London trip (and warning, there are a LOT of pics) from the Victoria & Albert where we spent a good 5 hours. Like the British Museum there are many antiquities here, but the emphasis on the V & A is more the decorative than the historical or archeological. (NOTE: If you are interested, I have made as many of these pictures as I can links to the V & A or other reference on the work.)
An interesting example is one of the first works you see at the museum:
This work, Peach Blossom Spring, appears as a large example of Eastern calligraphy but on closer examination, the characters are Roman; the work presents an English translation of the famous Chinese fable, the Peach Blossom Spring. (In the inset I think you can see ‘All Of A’…) This same theme is the subject of a wonderful outside garden:
There were a great many old Asian works, such as these from Japan (a favorite place and era of Kim and myself):
And India, Nepal & Pakistan:
Very dramatic is the Sculpture Hall, with examples from many times and places, but mostly from the great days of the British Empire:
From our SCA days and still today, Kim and I are much interested in Medieval Europe. The V&A is a treasure trove – no, treasure hoard – of such articles:
Lastly, the V & A has an unmatched collection of fabric arts of all kinds, a particular passion of Kim’s. These articles are challenging to capture in photos, especially encased in glass as they all are. I’ll start with some medieval examples, all priestly wear:
Three later period examples; the piece on the right was done by Mary, Queen of Scots:
Now, Kim’s great favorite of all needlework is blackwork, of which there were some tantalizing exhibits:
I know that’s a great many pictures … I hope if nothing else this conveys the immense breadth of what’s to be seen at the V & A. I took over 250 shots there, and daughter Alex took many more as well. Things we could show you include: Richard Burton’s costume from his Stratford-on-Avon Henry V (1951); The Valkyrie costume from The Producers (2004); the amazing “castings gallery”, where architectural works, some stories high, have been re-created in plaster; the ironworks collection; the 20th century design hall, including the Garden Egg chair; the Montefiore Centerpiece, 37 kg of sterling silver with as baroque a rendition of Moses, Ezra and David as you could imagine; plus paintings, jewelry, fabrics and every-day items beyond counting.
Pre-Raphaelite that he was, Rossetti was also a poet. For this painting he composed a verse of 14 lines, which ends:
Lo! Toward deep skies, not deeper than her look,
She dreams; till now on her forgotten book
Drops the forgotten blossom from her hand.
The thing museums make me wonder more than anything else is: Are we – people, humanity, all of us – different now than we were before? Does the sentiment of Rossetti, or the devotion of the embroiderers or chasuble makers, or the vision of the sculptors who chose gods as their subjects, does any of that still exist? Or have we become over-fond of the “realistic”, the cynical, the clever, the – frankly – small? If you tell me Rossetti’s painting is puerile, contrived, and shallow, I know what you mean. But I still like it, and I wonder what Rossetti really thought when he painted it.
Thus, finally, ends the chronicle of our London trip. I hope to get back to more India postings soon, such as the planning for our end of month trip to Kerala. Namastē.