Bucket List: The Kerala Journal
Day 1: The Journey
The glorious backwaters of Kerala have been calling me for years.
In 1995, I saw a beautiful poster of the state of Kerala, India in a Shatabdi Express train on one of my trips to visit our older son in Dehra Dun. The tranquil waters, the coconut trees, the beautiful kettuvallam (houseboats). It truly seemed like God's own country, and immediately made it to my bucket list!
This March as I register yet another year, my husband lectures me on QTR (quality time remaining) and encourages me to 'just do it.'
So, I take the plunge. On a beautiful day in Falgoon. I book a two week vacation in Kerala, on the southwestern tip of India. To rejuvenate, meditate, do yoga and indulge in photography. What more could my soul want? Be face to face with my inner self. I pack my bags and most of my camera equipment and set off for Kochi.
At Dhaka airport after scanning my luggage at the entrance, the security guys want me to open my suitcase; something that has never happened before. Two guys in brown uniforms call me over. One asks me to come around behind their scanners and identify the strange long object inside my pink hard-top suitcase.
"It's a tripod," I say.
Quizzical look on Guy Number One's face.
I explain, "You know…that thing you put your camera on and take pictures."
"Where is your camera?"
"In my hand luggage," I offer nervously. Along with all my precious lens that I care for like my babies.
Guy Number Two says, "But there are lots of other things. What are those?"
I explain, "They are my external hard drives."
Excuse me again? Quizzical faces question me without uttering words. "Why do you have these? Where are you going? What do you do?" He sounds like a stern uncle.
I patiently explain, "I am going to India, to Kerala to take photos."
"Where are your papers and identification?"
Again I say, "Please, if you want to open my bags, go ahead...I am not a professional photographer. It's my hobby."
Some more questions. Some more nervous replies. And in my head I am thinking: oh dear, has my driver gone already? Should I call him back and just send it all back home?
Guy Number Two gets impatient with Guy Number One, "Let her go. It's ok. Go, go."
The staff at the lounge promises they will announce my flight departure. They don't. I suddenly hear my name being announced and I run!
I am late in reaching the boarding gate, and as I hand in my passport, I hear someone say, "Okay, okay, don't take the bags out. No, no, it's okay, don't take it out, no need to offload..." I pray they are not talking about my bag!
As Jet Airways announces its landing in Mumbai, the reassuring lyrics of "It's a Wonderful World" calm me. I thank God for everything. Reaching Mumbai airport, I go through immigration smoothly. I sit nervously on my trolley, waiting for my pink suitcase. Did it get off loaded? Did it make it? I keep praying...
Forty-five minutes pass. Still no sign of my pink baby. All the other passengers leave. The sign now says the last bag has come through. My throat dries up and my stomach starts to churn. Panic hits. I rush to the nearest Jet Airways Lost and Found counter.
"My bag didn't make it." I manage to say in a dry voice. A smart woman dressed in blue comes to my rescue. She's efficient. She makes some phone calls. A few minutes later a pink beauty shows up.
"Is that your suitcase?"
"Yes!" I haul it on my trolley. A nail breaks in the process. Note to self, trim nails really short before I fly again.
I rush for customs clearance, and I am asked to put my bags on the scanner. Now I know why it took so long! My pink baby has cross marks in chalk all over it!
Another round of questioning follows. This time by white uniformed customs officials which always scares me and makes me feel like a gold smuggler even though I never smuggle gold, honest! This time I have to open up everything and show them.
"Why are you carrying these? Why didn't you declare it? Didn't you know these are dutiable goods?"
Seriously? Even my personal camera and equipment? I feign ignorance. I pretend to be a dumb woman who knows nothing. I offer to go back and declare. He takes pity on me and lets me go but not before giving me a warning for future.
Again I rush to check in at the Air India counter. Then I run to catch the bus to the domestic terminal. I finally get to sit down and catch my breath. The sun is shining and there's a pleasant breeze. And it indeed seems like a wonderful world.
The Air India flight from Mumbai to Cochin, or Kochi as it is now called, is smooth. The best surprise for post International Women's Day is to discover a smart salt and pepper haired woman as the pilot. I have a fear of flying, and therefore have great admiration for female pilots. They are my 'Sheros'.
The essential Tagore comes to my mind, "elem notun deshe". Land of kanchipuram, uttapam, dosa and idli.
My car transport to Coconut Lagoon Resort in Kumarakom is waiting. We take off at top speed. I try to tell the driver to slow down. He refuses to say much beyond his name and that it will take an hour and a half to reach the resort. I tighten my seat belt and say a prayer. It's 10 o'clock at night. He must be tired.
I take in everything around me. The two-day-old full moon is a brilliant orange hue and just rising over the coconut groves. The road is smooth and the sides are punctuated with huge billboards advertising gorgeous saris and jewelry. Men are sitting at roadside restaurants eating dinner. The signs for shops and restaurants are at least seventeen to twenty letters long, names that I could never pronounce. Kochi metro work is underway. One sign says, 'Men at work go slow'. Punctuation is important.
At 11:15pm, I reach Kumarakom. Wow!
I am led to a motorized boat which takes me through rivers and canals. At the resort, I am given a private bungalow. The bedspread has intricate patterns of flowers and the room smells of lemongrass. The only thing I am not comfortable with is the bathroom with its partially open roof. It seems to invite bugs. But the front veranda faces the lake and I am
told I can see the sunset from there.
I fall asleep almost immediately. Tomorrow is another day.