22.03.2013 - 29.03.2013
We stay in an Indian Fawlty Towers in Thrissur, the hotel manager gangly, manic and omnipresent, hectoring the small mournful brylcreemed cook/waiter/cleaner/night watchman. Our room was about the size of a football pitch, and completely empty apart from a bed placed in the centre, like the viewing room of a mortuary.
Despite initial misgivings, somewhat reinforced by there not really being any other guests here, this turns out to be a lovely place. Manuel spends all day making us food and drinks and snacks, and Mr Fawlty asks us lots and lots of questions - what are houses in London made of, what is snow like, do we take tiffin to work etc. It's too hot to go anywhere so we spend all day happily sitting on the verandah eating and chatting and not really doing anything at all. If we do go out, he goes into anxious father mode - where are we going, what are we going to do, what time will we be back, don't walk around after dark, dinner will be at 7 so don't be late. Normally such paternalistic supervision would irritate me, but it was meant with such genuine kindness and care that it was impossible to be annoyed. We make friends with a German couple and decide some beer would be in order one evening, when the manager has gone home. Buying alcohol in these parts is not at all easy but fortunately there is a bar round the corner. You can tell it's a bar because of the people lying unconscious in the street outside. We get take-outs and hurry back to the hotel, feeling very illicit knowing the lecture we would get if the manager knew. (We are all in our late 30s and 40s.)
The reason for visiting Thrissur is the poorums - Hindu festivals - for which it is currently the season. The first one we go to has two elephants standing around munching their way through enormous piles of leaves and bamboo, a large blind man singing karaoke, and stalls selling snacks and tat. The rest is off limits to non-Hindus so we leave after about ten minutes. The next one is huge, lots more stalls selling lots more snacks and tat, the same blind karaoke man, lots more elephants standing around but this time with boys with cheerleadery pompoms prancing around on their backs. But still not quite doing it for us.
We reluctantly tear ourselves away from Manuel's wonderful food and Mr Fawlty's amusing interrogations and head to a small town called Ottopalam where we hit poorum gold. The town's main/only street is filled with a procession of religious floats, bands of drummers and men in baffling costumes and exuberant make-up, most of which it must be said look like the carnivalesque drag queens more commonly seen at Pride marches. A float with a giant multi-armed goddess seated on a lion is too big to pass under the power lines crossing the street so she is unceremoniously tipped on her back with her legs in the air in order to get past. Re-enactments of various Hindu myths take place on the back of haulage trucks. All the drummers are drunk (naturally). The drag queens pout and sashay and flock to have their photos taken. It's all wonderfully mad. Suddenly the skies darken, thunder rumbles and the heavens open. I am convinced it's the goddess's revenge for the undignified treatment of her effigy (India makes you think like this) and we dash for cover under the nearest shop canopy to escape the downpour. We are quickly joined by a crowd of drunken over-excited drummer boys, which whom we spend the next hour in extremely sweaty and rather too close proximity, as the rain and wind lash harder and harder. They are shy and giggly to begin with, but not for long. An older man runs through the rain from the next shop, shows us some freaky dance moves, inexplicably, then runs back to his shop. The rain eases from absolutely-torrential to just really-bloody-heavy and the drummers decide to send one of their number to the bottle shop for reinforcements - this is our cue to leave, so we squelch hastily back through the mud to our guesthouse.
From here we retire to the peace, cool and sanity of the mountains. Or so we hope...