Reaching the south of India was a relief.
The atmosphere was friendly, sweet, perfumed… The backwaters, Kovalam, Palolem, Arambol, Anjuna… More beaches, more coconut trees, more sunsets… Luckily we visited these little paradise sites when the end of the season was close, so there were no more “Full Moon Parties” or irrelevent hippy magic vibe events !
Kovalam… I remember spending a week bare feet at the Seaside Cottage on the lighthouse beach. Breakfasts were taken at the German bakery (!) next door, seating upstairs in the open air balcony, swept away by the cool breezes and overlooking the ocean and people watching down below.
This place was like an exotic dream.
I’ve just googled the beach to see if our accommodation still existed… I found it very difficult to recognize anything. The one floor cottages have been replaced by buildings. On the sand there is now a concrete promenade.
What I remembered was a beach village on the Arabian Sea which featured three spectacular crescent beaches and great views of the local fishermen at work. “Our” beach is apparently very popular now and one is advised to visit Samudra, a less crowded beach, with ample coconut trees…
Palolem: we stayed in a bamboo or coco hut with a ceiling fan, mosquito nets and common bathroom facility, arranged around a beautiful shady garden and palm trees. We could hear the waves from our bed at night and breakfast was all about Goan potatoes…
When I see what it looks like now on the internet, it takes after an island in Thailand!
Arambol: It took us 8 hours to travel the 60 kms separating us from this destination – several buses, a river ferry/flat boat, and a rickshaw! When we arrived, we discovered the magnificent wild looking beach was contaminated by an oil spill!
I don’t recall much apart from our isolated guest house in a colonial mansion. The room was really big. The pillows and mattress were padded with vegetal fibers like straw. Authentic! At night, we’d go back to the guest house with only the moon to light up the way.
There was a sweet lake on one hand of the beach. And I guess, due to the oil spill, local residents and tourists preferred swimming there. Well we did.
There are also numerous mythological stories linked to this lake: legends, beliefs and curious stories…
As you can see on the photo, It was a natural site, quite unspoiled and well preserved. But when judging by the recent photos I have found, it is now surrounded by bars and costly sunbeds for rent!
As I was exchanging some Indian memories with Gavin the other day, it reminded me of the episode of the Banana Tree… We had heard on the shores of the lake tourists mentioning what sounded like the Big Banana Tree. Our imagination (and maybe boredom) made up a magical story about this mysterious place and one day, we decided to follow the stream which apparently led to the Holy Grail! Let me remind you, potentially young readers, that Google or 4G mobile phone were sci-fi back then. Now of course, I would, in the same situation, type some key words and end up with something like this rather quickly:
Not knowing what we were really looking for or how far it was, we walked for a while in the jungle, hoping we would meet other tourists at one point, and we could follow them.
So when we heard voices coming from behind a bush, we got all excited. We smiled our best smiles, ready to be sociable French tourists for a change and, pushed the tropical luxurious flora out of our way and … discovered a couple of naked German male friends, sunbathing on the banks of the little river! Not the Big Banana Tree we had expected! No pun intended.
We probably turned round at this point, thinking there was nothing real to discover in the jungle. And I forgot about this story until Gavin mentioned his Mango Tree STORY! And it all came back to me.
Luckily, 18 years later, we do have Google and that is how I understood the crux of the matter! First of all it is not a banana tree but a BANYAN tree! And yes it was out there in the jungle. And it was in fact everything we’d been trying to avoid while in India!!…
Now here is the story: there is well-known banyan under which allegedly meditated the Beatles during their mysterious unconfirmed travel across India. This myth is used by enterprising locals. Now under the banyan it is always possible to find the elderly wise man spending time in a condition of a spiritual height. It is accepted to come to it with gifts – fruit and any trifles, to sit in a circle and to smoke “peace-pipe” waiting for comprehension of the highest enlightenment and wisdom. About the huge tree there is also a colony of hippie. (SOURCE)
I do find it exceptionally ironic and humorous to discover this story after all these years. But it makes me think about how different it was to travel in those days. I am not saying it is better or worst now. But one thing is sure, It was a completely different way to discover a country.