Sound of sea waves crashing against the shore. Their melody putting us to sleep and welcoming us to every new day. We're in Kuzhupilly Beach, just north of Kochi. The moment we arrived we knew it was a most fortunate decision to spend a full four days and nights here, relaxing, recharging, looking out to sea.
We're staying at Chameleon Beach Lodge, located right at the seafront. Two terraces upstairs offer a splendid view of the endless water. A ten-kilometer stretch of sandy beach begins from here, perfect for strolls and lazing around, all but devoid of other human beings. In the evenings, the horizon occasionally offers an exciting show of distant thunderstorms.
The Lodge is situated on a thin strip of land, separating the open sea from vast, tranquil backwaters, spread along Keralan shores. Very few people live here (relatively, compared to inland), houses are considerably spread apart from each other. There's barely any traffic. It's perfect. Lots of space, both physical and mental. We can write, we can read, or we can simply sit there gaping into the distance, with absolutely nothing on our minds.
Turns out we arrived here shortly past the tourist season. I never thought India had a “tourist season”, with the weather being always hot. Perhaps the monsoon season being an exception. But we were told that the Lodge is normally quite busy, just that now it's already too hot for the (mostly) westerners patronizing the place.
Chameleon Beach Lodge itself is beautifully relaxed. We took our shoes off the moment we arrived and keep them off unless we leave the compound. The place is owned by a local Keralan, who introduced himself as Dr Joseph. A psychologist, who spent some years back in the 80s and 90s living in Germany and traveling in Europe. He likes to speak German (on top of English) and still refers to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia when referencing these areas of Europe.
We met other foreigners and expats here—one American and two Germans, one of them working as the head chef of a restaurant in Lucerne, Switzerland, but spending the European winter season here. He's also the acting manager of the Lodge, on behalf of Dr Joseph, who in turn likes to sit back, sip whiskey, chat with us and generally enjoy life. In these surroundings, we can easily relate.
It's really pleasant to have people here to talk to, other than the four of us traveling. So far we only had contact with the staff of hotels and guesthouses, who even when they wanted to have a conversation with us, didn't have a sufficiently comfortable command of English. Now we share our thoughts and feelings and hear back from people who either live permanently or had spent a considerable amount of time here.
Our culinary education continues as we're exploring Keralan flavors. Tonight's dinner is supposed to be “fish Keralan style”. I have no idea what that means, but the staff asked us whether we want that or fried fish “European style” and we definitively liked the former better. We can eat “European” back in Europe.
Dinners are special events at the Lodge, when the whole staff and all guests sit together at the table. Dishes are prepared upfront by a magnificently kind lady named Khadija. She spends perhaps half a day cooking up the curries, chutneys, parottas and various forms of rice (with shredded coconut! yum!)—six to eight of them each evening for us to mix and match. Banana Curry! Pineapple Curry! Makes me act like Pavlov's dog just thinking about it.
There's a number of small, but very busy villages nearby, where we go for shopping, lunch and other activities. A local rikshaw takes us there, zooming through the narrow roads, streets, busy traffic and the crowds. These are perfectly air-conditioned vehicles, with no windows and the air blowing through freely at our cruising speeds of up to 40kph.
We spent one day doing some sightseeing in Kochi, slightly down south from here, but I'll cover that in a dedicated post.
Locals are extremely friendly. Just a minute ago, two men were passing on a scooter, down on the road, one saw me on the terrace writing, smiled and waved. Many people around here will do this. Greet us, stop, inquire about our names, country of origin. Kids and teenagers are the most amazing encounters. They'll ask me (seeing my camera) to shoot photos of them, or they'll take out their smartphones and ask for joint selfies. We're happy to go along.
Three religions mix in this region: Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, quite peacefully it seems. The dominating one differs from place to place. Slightly up north we saw a lot of mosques and emblems of Islam, down here we see a lot of Christian churches—some of them fancy, and a lot of them really, really kitschy. Think of a statue of Mary surrounded by and covered with blinking Christmas lights and you'll get a sense of the style. Nothing bad about it. Merely shows how any successfully imported religion will always adopt a local flavor.
We'll be moving away from the beach tomorrow, but staying on the backwaters of this region, accommodated on floating houseboats. We'll miss the sunsets, the sun slowly, almost vertically diving into the ocean, marking the finish of yet another rewarding day.