Tales from India – The Big Banana Tree

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 The one floor cottages have been replaced by buildings.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!

This was the view from our guesthouse.

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!

Arambol Sweet lake, 2001

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:

There! The Banyan Tree!

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.

25 thoughts on “Tales from India – The Big Banana Tree

  1. It’s amazing how we managed without 4G & Google hey? 😊 Such great memories for you & a few fantastic experiences along the way. I do wonder if your experience of the Banana, or Banyan tree was made more memorable because of the lack of current technology? A lovely post 😊

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    1. Thank you. I can see how Google & co are changing the game rules. I felt totally at home while in Japan last October thanks to my “pocket wi-fi” device. I knew where to go and had no communication problems whatsoever. But if I had been to Japan 20 years ago, it would have been a completely different trip!

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    1. I don’t mind modernisation. Extensive wild building all over the coasts on India is more of an issue. Will there still be little fishing villages?

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  2. Lovely piece again Véro. The photos really help with dating the story. I am inspired to write about India, but there is something I want to finish first. My little fiction project. It’s hard to think how much we did without any technology. Not even a mobile phone. But the thing I think was best, was that the word selfie didn’t exist. We took of things and people, not ourselves! Loving your India stories!!!

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    1. Yes can you believe we managed without mobile phones..?! While we were in Palolem, Fred became an uncle. We were checking our hotmail box at the internet cafe on a weekly basis (weekly!!!!!). There we were, slowly downloading the latest messages when appeared the face of a little baby on the screen. Fred’s sister gave birth 2 days before to her first daughter. And my first niece!!! 💛
      It is quite extraordinary to imagine that now, when messages can arrive on our phones’ screens instantly….

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      1. Exactly. I would go weeks without talking to people. I was away so long. It was part of the adventure though. Now adventure is measured bu how cool you look on your instagram profile! Nothing to do with what you do, just how you look.

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      2. It is really sad… I feel for this generation who will never now this feeling of doing things for yourself, with no mirror to compare to.
        Actually, being cool for us was probably to write to best letters, the wittiest stories, the richer descriptions…

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      3. Exactlly. I beavcme who I am because of the way I travelled. Being stuck in a bus stop in the middle of Nepal on a rainy day, trying to work out where to get a bus to where I needed to be, that type of experience where you fell low and alone and then find your way and gain empowerment from it. Know what I mean.

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  3. Lovely post, Vero. I have only been to North India and I have heard that the south is lot more laid-back, cleaner and safer.. Sadly, not that many good impressions from northern India for me. Oh it was so lovely reading about your memories from all those places. Maybe you would have met the meditating man if you had actually made it to the Banyan tree back then? 😀 The beaches look so beautiful, and all those palms trees, ah I so love them. I can imagine it must have been very different traveling before the tech era, now it’s definitely a lot easier but also a lot more detached? Thinking of those catered all-inclusive holidays and the big concrete hotels everywhere.. To get those similar experiences now it’s important to travel wisely and with a lot more research beforehand.

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    1. Thank you Pooja! I found Northern India difficult and tiring mainly because of the people. It was almost impossible to exchange with the locals, the constant staring was seriously getting on my nerves, the attitude towards women (me included) was unbearable… So yes the South was much more pleasant.
      About missing the mediating crowd under the baby tree, I have no regrets! I spent 5 months avoiding the mystic searching Western tourists involved with pseudo gurus and sadhus! It was not the India I was interested in.
      Thank you for dropping by. I’ll post some photos from Nepal soon 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh what a funny story of what you discovered in the bushes!!! 🤣🤣🤣
    2001 doesn’t sound that faraway to me, I remember it well. But when I think of my own traveks back then, oh yes times were different! I think we are quite lucky to have experiences from that travel era, in a way more idyllic than now… before #yolo and #fomo created a disruptive mass hype of “I’m a traveler not a tourist”…. 🙄
    Great post Véro!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were definitely more freedom and spontaneity in traveling the way we did.
      I’m really happy to share photos instantly with my friends (like we did yesterday) but sometimes I wish I could force myself to leave the mobile phone behind 😉. It is a mix feeling really.

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    2. And I can’t help sharing my photos instantly not just for the sake of it. It’s more to bring friends along with me. To show them I care and want to show them everything around me!

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  5. How lovely to read your memories of travelling in India back then! I remember the days of no mobile phone, and indeed no internet at all. Back then it seemed normal to be completely out of touch with home for several weeks. If you want to relive those days I recommend a trip to North Korea, where internet access is impossible and phones only useful as back-up cameras 😆

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