Sunday, March 4, 2007

Backwaters, Alleppy to Kotayam

We rise early to get the local ferry to Kotayam but 5 minutes before we leave our moody guesthouse owner decides we must move rooms! We’re mad!! But no time to argue, we rush to pack everything up for him to move to a new room while we’re on the boat trip. This beautiful colonial house was his family home and we wonder if he resents having to ‘share’ it? Around the walls he’s painted some interesting murals of meditating ½ naked gurus, fighting kalari warriors and dancing bare-breasted women. But there is something decidedly odd about these murals….although they look like ‘devi’s’ they don’t seem to be any of the usual Hindu gods or Mahabarata stories. The cartoonish faces and large limbed figures almost seem like westerners ….big thighs, big breasts, big noses! Is there some subtle caricature going on here? Perhaps he’s making fun of the hand that feeds? But the strangest thing of all is the little white ball of fluff that scurries around chewing on people’s toes! A yappy Indian lap dog? But all the boys who help run the place adore him, cooing and peering into his ‘baby bear face’ …. Jingi ! Jingi!
As we race to the jetty, annoyed at having to move and anxious we’ll miss the boat, we dream up murder mysteries about this strange man and his ancestral home, an Agatha Christie opportunity in Alleppy! Must have been a family feud …. drowned his ½ foreign step mother down the well?
The jetty is crowded, we clamber through a boat to get to our ferry, no seats left …so we perch on the boats edge. Some crazy gringos squeeze their big backpacks and fat first-class baby in designer buggy onto this local boat…. they must be insane!
Heavily laden, we lumbers up the canal past large houseboats made of coir, into the mist covered morning lake. The ladies behind us smile and nudge each other as we turn round, delicate gold earring chains shiver as they giggle at the gringos. Soon a flood of coloured saris sashay by us to get off the boat. They’re teachers at a local school, the one permissible profession for the respectable, educated girl .
We get a bench to ourselves and our cares begin to drift away as the ferry chugs along across the lake, by long boats, houseboats, little fishing vessels with sails made from re-cycled rice bags, swathes of green water hyacinths with long beaked birds nibbling at the edges. At one point we spot a large clump of floating weeds in the distance, as we draw close they magically transform into hundreds of ducks huddled together in the middle of the lake
As we head down the smaller back canals into the remote villages we witness life on the waterways. At the lake’s edge fishermen stand waist high in water spearing fish, boats laden with breezeblocks and red-turbaned laborers head down the narrow canals. We pass a village temple … arches of fluttering white paper and clangy music blaring from load speakers! Then a majestic white church, with blue arched windows surrounded by gracious palms.

On wobbly jetties children stare out through wide kohl-lined eyes, yellow turmeric smeared on their foreheads, while women beat brightly coloured laundry at the water’s edge, laying it over nobbly bushes to dry. A baby goat is tethered in a brightly flowered garden with red communist flag,….a lady rushes out to hand the ferryman a bundle of letters to post, these remote dwellings rely on the canals as their only mode of transport.
Between villages we glimpse brilliant green paddy fields dotted with white cranes, and occasional clumps of people planting rice. Wind blown palm trees lean precariously next to twisted telegraph poles and tangled power cables, proof that electricity, albeit intermittent, has arrived here.
We are quietly able to watch life as it floats by, and on the boat a constant ebb and flow of locals, mothers with children in fluorescent orange dresses or babies gazing over their shoulders, crisply ironed men in smart checked shirts and lungis going to work, old men, knarled faces resting on leathered hands as they doze. A series of little draw-bridges, with CMP slogans and communist flags flying, must be manually hauled up for the ferry to pass Nearing Kotayam, there are some soft saffron coloured houses with Portuguese roof tiles and outdoor porches. The afternoon lulls into the evening and on our return journey, dusk hovers over the lake as large 5 star caliber houseboats head home laden with their luxury cargo of wealthy tourists. We leave the sun setting over the stillness of the lake and head back to Alleppy and the ‘murder mystery’guest house! Our new room is in the back, a large garden area surrounded by a porch and chairs to sit outside. As we’re sipping chai, surprisingly our moody guesthouse owner cautiously befriends us! He explains he’s redesigning the back garden, there’s a tree house and some shaded benches and tables to eat outside, and there’s a large well! (oh no!) …. But we warm to him, he seems much friendlier tonight, or perhaps we’ve mellowed after our day on the water. His name is Schaffi and the miniature white ‘bear-dog’ at his heels is Jingi. He grew up in the house, his father is a well known Malayali filmmaker. He definitely seems a bit eccentric as we sit in the garden and he fries mosquitoes with his electric fly swatter! What a device! And what a turn around, from mean and irritating this morning to chatty and charming this evening. But before I head for bed, I can’t help my furtive glance at the large and deep well in the garden , wondering!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Alleppy At Last!


Finally after Rajive’s morning bath, we make our escape from Varkala. Hard to leave him and his mahout, and the boys at Dolphin Bay, but the party is over… it’s time to move on to Alleppy, the ‘Venice’ of India, with it’s lazy backwaters and network of canals.
At Vrindhavanam Heritage home we find a beautiful inner courtyard streaming with purple bourganvillia and potted palms, a bursting oasis of green contained by the white washed walls and terracotta roof tiles of this traditional family home. We are reminded the Portuguese colonized Kerala long before the British ever laid foot in India with their afternoon tea and cricket.
A short walk to the nearby canal, under shady trees, past aromatic gujarati sweet stores and a Jain temple brings us to the city beach. No bikinis here, but it’s quite beautiful … big waves, a few fisherman’s boats and boys, trousers rolled-up, ankle deep in the water. No cafes, no stalls, but as we walk, a simple raised platform, with some chairs and tables overlooking the waves. A little lad in full length pants and buttoned up shirt runs out to us. … “whatsyournamepenplease” … he looks awkward with his laced up shoes in the sand.
“Hellooo” a voice greets us from the platform, ‘ Come, please come!’ so we scramble across the rocks to the tall young Indian man , beckoning graciously with his long lean hands. His name is Anil, he runs the small guest house of four tidy bamboo huts, his only guest, a spaced out, bleary-eyed Brit swings in the hammock below. As we sip Anil’s ‘Special’ …. A mouth watering, milky concoction of tender coconut, a curious little 4 year old appears, scrambling onto the platform, wide-eyed, confident, bangles jangling as she fearlessly reaches for my drink…’ no Alleena!’ Anil says as he scoops her up on his lap. She wriggles and squirms, her shiney short pageboy hair getting in her face. Your daughter we ask? No, my neighbour’s’ Anil tells us….. he’s not yet married. His father, a fisherman was injured when Anil was young and since he has 2 sisters he must work 2 jobs, rising at 4 am to go fishing and returning to run the guest house, so his sisters might one day get married. He will have to wait.
Yes marriage is difficult here in India, where a girls family must provide a serious dowry and a young man needs to be well established with a responcible job in order to find a wife. Often people can’t afford to get married, or go into great debt to do so. Many a girl child is seen as a liablility here, especially in rural India where traditionally married women do not work, despite the fact women are seen picking tea, picking cotton and building roads all over India. Prostitution is a big problem, young girls trafficked or sold to the city brothels. And what are young men to do? sex before marriage is frowned upon, living with a woman is frowned upon, women are always covered up. …. that is, except for foreign women. No wonder there are gawkers and stalkers on the beaches, hordes of young Indian men eager to get a glimpse of tourist flesh. For us it is uncomfortable, irritating and sometimes offensive being the object of their incessant gaze, but who can blame them, to them it must be quite an opportunity ! It’s hard to imagine what they think of us, most self-respecting Indians would never remove their clothes to go in the sea, most don’t even know how to swim, they paddle at the edge of the ocean, saris hiked, lungi’s rolled racing away from the waves. Westerners must seem flagrantly immodest, perhaps they imagine we are all loose women inciting them to immoral behavior? As a result one spends most time at an Indian beach self-conciously dashing in and out of the water, watching for the next batch of ‘admirers’ to arrive on the horizon so you can wrap your sarong swiftly around you rather than suddenly opening your eyes to find some fellow standing a few feet away intently gazing in silence!
As the sun sets we listen to the mulla giving praise to Allah from the local mosque and Anil disappears to bathe and put on a clean shirt and mundu (white sarong) for evening pujas. He is very proud of the new Sree Munnodi temple nearby and invites us to join him. It’s a short walk, through chicken pecked back yards and down a ‘tunnel’ of fluttering silver paper streamers to the temple grounds. Sree Munnodhi is a large new temple with a chinese style roof and hundreds of votive oil lamps surrounding the outer walls.The faithful arrive and walk round the temple 3 times as the frenetic, jangling high-pitched music announces evening prayers. Anil must return to his clients after making his pujas alone, but he dips his finger in the cooling tumeric and sandalwood paste and smears it on our foreheads. He explains we can join the evening ceremony as long as we don’t go inside the temple. We wait, the sun goes down and mosquitoes start drawing blood at the ankles. A brahmin appears to lights the lamps with a long brass stick and people quietly begin to enter the temple, men bare-chested wearing white mundu’s and women in elegant and colourful saris leading children, all fastidiously groomed. We stand outside, hands folded in Namaste, peering into the shrine of Durga, tiger riding Goddess of Power. First there is music and a durge like chanting, then the conch sounds to announce the ceremony’s firey climax. The flaming torch is lit and the inner sanctum opened to reveal the golden image of the Goddess. To a cacophany of conch, jangling music and ringing bells, heads are lowered as the Goddess is circled three times with the firey torch, then the doors swing closed and she retreats into her dark and hidden alcove. We move next to peer into the shrine of Kali, the dark goddess, seen weilding a sword and wearing a necklace of severed heads. Some say she is the dark manifestation of Parvati, Shiva’s consort, or of all three major goddesses together, Lakshmi, Saraswarti and Parvati. The process is repeated, the bells ring and I try to sneak a look at Kali without being turned to stone! But amid the fire and the noise I sense only a wave of heat.
Finally, separate from the main temple is the shrine to Shiva, God of death and destruction… part of the great trimurti of the Hindu religion, Bramha the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, without whom creation could not occur. Inside the inner sanctum is the Shiva Lingum, a phallic representation of Shiva’s creative aspect.
When the ceremony has ended we all go to collect a (right!) handful of the delicious sweet prasad, or blessed food. Today’s prasad is a gooey nutty, honey, cocunut mixture. Everyone is curious but respectful of the 2 foreigners in their midst. Two little boys in short pants, who kept looking back at us during the ceremony, shyly wave goodbye as we leave trying to remember where we left our shoes, searching in the sand at the entrance of the compound.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007



The big night arrives, Ziraj has booked a Mumbai DJ for the New Year’s Eve party so we’re duty bound to go to Dolphin Bay. The first part of the evening is fun, we watch as hundreds of Indians swarm onto the far end of the beach paddling fully clothed in the sea. We wander over to Dolphin Bay where our elephant Rajive stands fully decked out in festival gear with glorious golden headpiece. We take our front seats watching as Indian families stroll by in their ‘Sunday best’ mixed with mottley gringos, some dressed up, some dressed down some dressed in drag ….. all seeming to have a nervous agenda. Our boys at Dolphin Bay are frenzied and distracted, all 5 courses arrive at once! We decide to take a stroll, the cliff edge is packed, there’s a nervous tension in the air, young foreigners in the bars drinking, Russian babouzchkas scantilly clad, young Indian men on the cliff edge oggling and knocking back hard liquor. I begin to feel uncomfortable …too many people, too much alcohol, too long a drop down the unguarded cliff edge!
Back at Dolphin Bay the mucic is pounding ….. instead of the Bangra and Bollywood disco we’ve been promised techno tunes at a deafening decibal pierce the air. Lots of european kids jostling on the dance floor, wielding bottles of beer. I’m not feeling up to this! I’m feeling like peace and quiet and reflection, I want to leave, but stay a while for my pals, Corinne is dancing with the boys. Midnight comes and goes …. It’s New Year and nobody knows! No acknowledgement, no Auld Lang Seine, no friends raising a cup of kindness, no remembering 2006, one of the hardest years of my life. Perhaps it’s best that it’s not remembered, but somehow I want to acknowledge it, the difficulties, the sadness, the loss. The speakers are bursting my eardrums, some young buck sprays beer over the crowd, the police arrive to extract a bribe … …. my cue to leave. I leave Corinne with a New Years hug before walking away to go bury my head in my pillow and make a new year’s resolution, never again! No more drunken New Year’s parties! From now on I will have contemplative New Years in remote and beautiful places.

My Ayurvedic Massage


Ayurveda was, of course the first kind of ‘Medical tourism’ here in Kerala, foreigners have been coming here for decades to experience this amazing alternative to allopathic medicine. Along with my new crown, for New Year I get a wonderful gift from Corinne of an Ayurvedic massage. The 11/2 hour treatment was partly keralite foot massage too. The whole process was an intense experience, all inhibitions should be left at the door!
My masseuse took me to a private room, where I was instructed to remove everything, clothes and ornaments, and sit naked on a stool infront of her, fully clothed in her salwar kameez. Loosening my hair she poured a green coloured, roasted coconutty oil over my head, massaging my scalp and ruffling my hair. Then I was instructed to lie on the rubberized floor matt as she spread copious amounts of sweet caramelly oil over my back and legs. Holding onto a rope for balance she expertly proceeded to massage my back in long strokes with her foot. She moved onto my arms then legs with firm confident strokes, repeating the proceedure on my front body. I was helped to my feet to lie on a massage table, a second masseuse appeared, more oil, and then in perfect synchronized rythem there were 2 sets of hands making sweeping across my body, over my breasts, down my legs. The rythmic rocking was mesmerizing, the strokes firm and fast. Although certain techniques were ticklish and made me laugh, much to their amusement! Still they did not break their silence. They made me feel at ease despite my nakedness, but I did feel very naked and very exposed in this land where I am always conscious of covering up, where women are habitually covered from head to toe. I marvel that such an intimate form of massage should have developed here in India where it is impossilbe even for people to bathe in the sea without clothes on.
As I sank into surrender that perfumed sugary smell of indian sweets seemed to waft through the air, I vaguely realized it was the bright pink cream she was using to massage my face. When the session was over both girls lead me to the adjoining shower room to wash off the oil and rinse my hair. This was perhaps my only uncomfortable moment, feeling like a maharani being bathed by her servants, I opted to wash myself instead. I left feeling supple, relaxed and squeaky clean and the next day, very tired! I couldn’t imagine having the prescribed treatment course of 10 days without feeling exhausted, and all from lying down and doing nothing!

Crowning Glory!


One day on the beach I spot some odd behavior among the gringos…. An older woman in a teeny weeny bikini, first smiling then snarling at herself, mirror in hand…strange?? She proceeds to lift her upper lip and examine her own teeth with intense interest…. Somewhat like examining the teeth of a horse (the analogy is not so far removed…. her chompers being exceedingly long and pearly!) … hmmm? Later in a cafĂ© on the cliff I see a similar display among to males of the species…. Must be a local custom, I thought… until the next day, climbing to the cliff walk by a different route the truth is revealed! A sparkling new dental surgery offering all mod cons in dentistry for the discerning tourist. There seems to be a new trend in ‘toothy tourism’ …. ‘come lie on the beach, soak up the sun, fix a few fillings and cap a few crowns!’ You can even have your entire smile re-designed at half the price!
As it happens I’m in the market for a new crown myself, having chipped a tooth badly before leaving….. I decide to check it out. I step into a squeaky clean surgery, recline in the chair, feeling a little unnerved by not one but two indian dentists gazing into my open mouth jabbering away in Malayalum. Eventually…. ‘ Yes Madame, actually you need three crowns not one! Oh no, no, no! Much to their disappointment I finally bargain it down to the original one, then have a choice of Indian or finest German porcelain. Well what would you choose?? Not that I’ve any way of knowing! They say they can do it in 3 days ….. and they do! Despite my childhood fear of the drill they tell me it won’t hurt…. and it doesn’t! They’re a little heavy handed but when it costs $120 (including an ultrasonic cleaning!) instead of $1000 I can live with that. I leave with a promise that if my crown drops off I’ll send it back for someone else J and as soon as the others need doing I’ll be on the first plane to Kerala!
Later I read more about this new form of ‘Medical Tourism’ savvy europeans and americans get expensive medical tests and treatments like MRI’s, angioplasty or even cardiac surgery at short notice and a fraction of the cost in Kerala’s well equipped specialist centers. Tours of the future could read “ 7 nights on a house boat, quadrupal bypass surgery, ayurvedic rejuvenation, smile designing, cataract surgery and wilderness trekking!”

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dolphin Bay Fire Dance/ The Little Maharaja

DEC 27 --- JAN 2
Varkala becomes ‘home’ for a week….In my need to unwind, I submit to the scene and fall into an easy routine. On my first visit to India in 1982 Varkala was so remote and unknown it was a nudist beach…. Now it’s very different but once I accept it for what it is the scene is quite curious in itself. Late afternoon the beach is crowded , scores of gringos lapping up the sun, playing frisby, buying carefully cut pineapple from the fruit sellers or sugary white poison from chai walli’s giant steel tea cannister. (sadly served in nasty plastic instead of the earthenware cups of yore) Around sunset, the dogs, who all look related, and have been lazily curled up on the beach all day begin to stir ….. ‘right chaps!’ says the Top Dog, ‘time for some grub!’ and off they trot in single file, to the clifftop. Pretty soon, but with less sense of purpose, the touristas follow suit. The clifftop restaurants display the most magnificent array of fish you’ve ever seen. … Swordfish as long as your arm, ‘ butterfish’ , Red Snapper and enormous tiger prawns. All vie with each other for your custom. One evening a tall self-assured Indian man in a brightly coloured orange shirt persuades us, with his big smile and friendly, easy-going manner, to take the front seat at ‘Dolphin Bay’. Ziraj has a big presence and a large wingspan, which he frequently uses as he waves his arms around to the music like huge albatrose in flight. It turns out this happy-go-lucky chap is the owner, and also, as he casually informs us, a film-maker too. As we wait for our food he bounces back and forth between soliciting new customers and seranading us with Malayalum songs! As we wait for our food he pulls up a chair which, like his english, he uses intermittently and by way of introduction tells us silly jokes about arranged marriage …. one can be almost sure this young man is dodging the draft! As we wait for our food, it’s hard to imagine what kind of films he makes? he seems committed, writing 4 hours a day in his native Maliyali, his last one was called ‘The Stranger’ and he admits it was strange!
As we wait for our food, we overflow our frothy Lime Sodas with a teaspoon of sugar, as we wait for our food, we are promised a Jamaican Firedance, yes dancer coming soon (like the food!) Dancer or no I am getting hypoglycemic and irritable and about to jump up and take a bite from the raw fish display when finally …. at long last the food arrives “so sorry, all fresh, takes time!” (did they catch the fish themselves?) “Yes my father is a fisherman” says Ziraj, whose family turns out to be in big construcion business! Of course it is mouth wateringly delicious, how could it not be, a fried roach would have been tasty at that point. Maybe it is all a ploy to keep us sitting in the front seats waiting for the “Fire Dance”…. Coming soon, (all the way from Jamaica?) A flaming torch is lit and stuck on the pathway dangerously close to the papier mache nativity scene. At around 10pm the fine featured, long haired, lanky young man standing behind the counter gutting fish and squering prawns disappears. Moments later the music pumps up and he re-emerges bare chest glittering with gold and sparkling red. He starts gyrating Michael Jackson style to the smoothe deep techno beats occasionally blowing fire from the torch stuck precariously behind him on the pathway….. I have visions of New York’s hip-hop boys in Times Square. He’s a nutty spaced out hindu kid called Dibou and he’s a good dancer, soon he’s joined by his muslim friend Shah, and the 2 of them dance crazily on the path infront of the restaurant as astounded onlookers try to get by, and their sensitive christian co-worker Thomas, picks up the slack. As with everything else, religion seems at ease here in Kerala, these boys all work side by side and are good friends. They’re all poor boys with aspirations, Dibou wants to be an artist and dancer, he loves Tupaq, although he’s never heard his music! Thomas is a writer and wants to act, Shah, well, he’d be the DJ.
We spend most evenings at Dolphin Bay …. I get used to waiting long hours for my food and playing with my lime sodas! Their cheerful company adjusts my attitude! I talk to Ziraj about the Gandhigiri project, he smiles when I mention Munnabhai but seems to dismiss the film quite quickly. I press him on it but he doesn’t have much to say and I realize he is more interested in his own Malayali films. I begin to see that here in Kerala where the native tongue is Malayalum they have a very strong culture of their own and the Hindi films of Bollywood are not seen as much. Nonetheless I still manage to get some interesting reactions to my project.


At breakfast one morning we are next to a table of well dressed young Indian men. I recognize the clipped sounds of Hindi and guess they are ‘tourists’ from Bombay, “here to watch the girls!” I joke…. the good looking one invite us to join them. His name is Omar, alias Mark, he’s young, dapper and very flirtatious with the self assured confidence that only the wealthy possess. His cousin lives in Tokyo, the friend lives in Bangkok and he is based in Paris, all in the family business, gems…. he is the boss of course. With a playboy’s casual ease he braggs about his visits to Buddha Bar on the Champs Elysees and with an eye on Corinne’s silky blonde hair hints at his adventures with western women! He shows us photos of himself wearing enough bling to sink a ship, the enormous heirloom emerald necklace is usually locked up in the vault! Yes his great grandfather was commissioned by the Maharaja of Jaipur to find gems for the Maharanis necklace and gems had been the family business ever since. Omar hints there is enough in the coffers for the next few gererations.
When I mention the Gandhigiri project it causes quite a reaction. He seems to vehemently dislike Gandhi! He tells us the story of Bhagat Singh and his 2 fellow freedom fighters who were hung in the 1920’s for lobbing a bomb into a British Government office, Omar and his friends seem to think Gandhi could have intervened to save their lives.( I make a mental note to investigate this further online.) He blames Gandhi for ‘hindering’ the industrial development of India by focusing on rural developement, he is intensely nationalistic and proud of the global recognition India is receiving today.But I can’t help thinking altough Omar (alias Mark) os singing the praises of this newly developed India, he does not live here! He lives Paris and wears European designer clothes and Swiss made watches. Even if he did live here he is a ‘King’ to whom nothing is denied, he is the decendant of the private jeweller of the Maharaja of Jaipur. I later remember that these ‘Princely States’ received special privaleges under the British Raj and had some of the worst poverty in the whole of India. Even today, Rajestan, home of the Rajputs, remains one of the poorest states with a literacy rate of only 38% almost half the national average. Gandhi fought to get them to join the campaign for an independent and unified India, but ultimately with Independence the Maharajas had to relinquish their extravagant riches and eventually lost their sovereign status, power and prestige. Or did they? perhaps much of their wealth ended up in a Swiss bank account....those riches never seem to reach the lower classes. What has been most evident to me on my return to India is that even today, although there has been a massive increase in vehicles, cell phones and technology in general, the poverty seems unchanged. The increased wealth in the cities does not seem to be signigicantly reaching the lower castes or classes.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Kerala Calling.... Elephantails....

27 DEC-- JAN
We catch our first white “Ambassador Classic” Kerala cab from the airport through Trivandrum to the rail station, passing street procession on the way, people body painted in yellow and black stripes with tiger masks, some in cages…. Later I find out this is called ‘Poolikali’ or ‘Tiger Games’ But we’re headed for Varkala, the beachof choice for India weary tourists to strip down to their bikinis , soak up the sun and eat ‘gringo’ food. Although ready for a beach, I’m also sceptical of this scene …. So unreal somehow, since we’ve only just arrived I don’t feel a burning desire to ‘escape’ India yet.
Varkala is a cliff top lined with tourist stores and restaurants, bungalows and bamboo cottages. Some 80 or so steps down below is the beach upon which the local lads can gaze from above at the scantily clad girls ….. a bit like being in a fish bowl really! All usual local sensitivities seem suspended here, especially at this time of year when young sun seeking Euros fly in for New Year and prices double. But still, these Keralans seem pretty cool and laid back.
Arriving just before the big New Year rush we manaage to snag a nice room with balcony breeze included, at Oceanic. But by far the best part of the deal is the elephant outside our window!.His name is Rajive, and although he’s a working elephant he’s here with his mahout Sunil for a month to give rides to the gringos. Each morning I eagerly await the soft padding gentle swaying step that lands Rajive beneath our window. It’s shower time….the hose is turned on, Sunil gives instructions in his lilting Malayalum …. ‘Step back, right, a little more! Over here, back a bit' “aleyaleyaley” the splash of water as it drips from the leathery skin, the flapping of happy ears and swishing tail. As his trunk is filled with water the elephant swings it up and sprays all over his back, a process that’s gleefully repeated several times until shower time is over and breakfast begins. I sit on the balcony watching mesmerized as he chomps his way through large piles of palm fronds and occasional banana treats, delicately manoevering them with his curling trunk. I’m amazed at how man and elephant seem to speak the same language, and how this huge wild beast seems so calm and placid even around children who want to stroke him or climb unsteadily onto his back. On our final morning in Varkala, the second day of the New Year and Rajive gets a serious bath! This requires 2 men, one to hose and one to scrub! I watch as he lowers on one knee making a step for Sunil to climb up on his back and scrub behind his ears and down his forehead. Rajive patiently lols from one large padded foot to the next for his pedicure, turns around for a tail splash and around again to allow his trunk to be scrubbed clean and around his solumn pre-historic eyes. Even his tusks are scrubbed clean and the big brass rings around them given a polish. I find myself wondering if he enjoys such pampering like a human would? or is it just a longer wait for breakfast!