Photos from the Shoebox: Kovalam Beach, India, 1991
If you had a 35mm camera you probably have a shoebox full of pictures that you never got around to sorting and putting in an album. In this series “Photos from the Shoebox” I take them out of the closest and shine light on them once more.
My shoebox of photos sits under my desk. Lately, it’s been calling me. I know I’ve neglected it so I guess it’s about time to let a few of the photos out again. Back in the 90’s it was easy to detach yourself from everyday life. You could traipse half way around the world and lose yourself in adventure without distraction of the internet, e-mail or text.
My friend and I had travelled for over 3 months. We made our way from Kathmandu and had travelled down the west side of India passing through New Delhi, Jaipur, Bombay (now Mumbai), and Goa until we got to Kovalam, a beach town at the southern tip on the shores of the Arabian Sea.
We arrived worn out after another epic bus ride. Before we could get ourselves oriented an enthusiastic group of guys pounced on us wanting to show us rooms. Since we were hot and tired and Kovalam was pretty spread out we decided to use their services. It turned out to be a pretty good investment as we got a clean room at a brand new place.
Our timing was impeccable as it was the first day of Sagara ’91, a sea-side festival of folk arts and crafts of Kerala. On the way home from a beach-side dinner of garlic mussels, vegetable curry and chappatis we watched as musicians performed traditional Kerala songs and dances.
There was also a demonstration of Kalaripayattu, a unique system of martial arts which embodies and synthesizes elements of the ancient sciences of war and medicine as well as indigenously developed aspects of weapon practice. The festival lasted for 7 days and it was all free, the best ‘F’ word a shoestring traveller could hear.
Ofcourse there was also the beach life. Every morning the fishermen would assemble their unique three-piece dugouts and take them apart after returning each night.
During the day we would sit on the beach and ‘people watch.’ It was amusing as we observed a topless woman contemplate buying a skirt from a roving vendor as three boys stood ‘contemplating’ her.
The influx of westerners hadn’t radically affected the lifestyles of the people. It just meant extra income by selling fruit and other produce to the beach worshippers. “Hello, Baba. Mango? Papaya? Banana? Coconut? Pineapple? Jamfruit?” Besides fruits the roving vendors also sold lungis (similar to a sarong), sunglasses, mats, shoe repair and polish, and even chocolate cake!
We were lucky to experience a beautiful sunset on the first night because the rest of our stay was mostly overcast and grey.
My friend inevitably got a bad case of ‘Delhi Belly’ that warranted a trip to the local clinic for some tests. ” While we were waiting for the results a Finnish guy came in complaining of a sore ear. He said he had it cleaned in Delhi. I don’t know how anyone in their right mind would let anyone clean their ears, especially by the guys around Connaught Place. He was cute though saying he was afraid he might have some ‘dirties’ in his ear. Soon my friend was called and as the doctor put it, she had lots of Giardia!
Walking back to our place at we followed a boy with his tiffin box. Occasionally he would glance back at us to see what we were up to.
On our last day we pay ‘our’ chai wallah one last visit and watch him in action. His tea was excellent and his ‘mind reading’ skills helpful. He provided us with information on our desired bus without us even asking. Soon my friend and I would be parting ways and I would be travelling solo.