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Phespirit goes to India
tour     February/March 2005

Where to scratch the surface of India? Easy access options included the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra; the regal splendour of Rajasthan; the laidback resorts of Goa; the Dravidian heartlands of Tamil Nadu; but Phespirit found himself drawn to the southwestern state of Kerala - self-proclaimed 'God's Own Country' - which is salubriously blessed with serene beaches and sedate backwaters. He was also drawn to venture beyond the state borders, to visit Kanniyakumari in Tamil Nadu - the extreme southernmost tip of India - and to take in the rich culture and landscapes of Karnataka to the north.

So, a six hour flight from London Gatwick to Bahrain, an hour of wandering around Bahrain International Airport, and a further four hour flight to Trivandrum got Phespirit to India. An overnight stop and an hour's flight from Trivandrum got him to Bangalore in Karnataka. This would be the starting point for a leisurely road trip back to Kerala, where he would rest a while before a final push on to Kanniyakumari.

The long and winding road to Kerala was punctuated with lots of daytime stops and overnight stays which gave Phespirit a broad picture of the land and its people. Most interesting and absorbing were:

The road heading south out of Coonoor, turning west at Coimbatore, was the road that returned Phespirit to Kerala. His first stop was at the magnificently evocative city of Cochin - a legendary trading port on the oldest and greatest sea route between east and west. While Phespirit flitted between important heritage sites such as the Chinese fishing nets, the Church of St. Francis, the Dutch palace, and the area known as "Jew Town", he spotted many similarities between the timelines of Cochin and Malacca.

As a break from his travels, Phespirit spent a week at the Isola di Cocco resort in the small fishing village of Poovar, set on the Keralan coast about 20km south of Kovalam. Isola di Cocco is somewhat isolated from the village, with just one long narrow undulating road to connect it with any semblance of civilisation. This was no bad thing, though, as a riot between Christians and Muslims had kicked off in the village just a few days before Phespirit arrived. Tensions remained at simmer.

From this base, Phespirit visited Varkala (surely the finest beach and most laidback community of these parts) and Trivandrum, and he attended the elephant-intensive temple festival of Paripally. It was also from this base that he visited the southern cape, Kanniyakumari, where he immersed himself in three oceans, washing away his sins, before watching the sun set sweetly from the Gandhi Mandapam (the last resting place of the great man's ashes before they were scattered into the sea).

Southern India is among the most wonderful places that Phespirit has ever travelled. Predictions that the food would not agree with him, and that he would end up motionless in bed looking like a broken sewage pipe, all proved unfounded. Western fare is widely available for those with a palate of nervous disposition. So, notwithstanding the exasperating Trivandrum Airport departure experience, it is a part of the world to which he would gladly return. It is a treasure trove of all life - in peace, warmth and glorious technicolour.

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