Skin cancer costs an arm and a leg, man
People on the beach self-harming to get tanned
Laid out flat like an army of dead mans
Red necks, red bellies than expand
Like jellyfish on the wet sand
Very Engurlish, suncream and sweaty hands…

– Dizraeli, ‘Engurland’

When we were in Orissa, there was a sign on the wall with a quote from some wise ancient. It said, ‘A traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving’. This basically summarises our experience of trying to do anything in India… Don’t have a fixed plan, and don’t expect your vague expectations to materialise any time soon either. When you don’t try and do anything, when you spend your time eating fruit salad every morning, swimming in the sea, and lying on golden-sanded beaches, then you’re fine. But as soon as you start trying to organise anything, discuss going anywhere, plan anything, catch transport, in short when you try to achieve anything, it all becomes a bit difficult and stressful. Someone who said they’d email you back by Wednesday hasn’t contacted you by Tuesday the next week, the computer full of your data is broken and won’t be fixed until an unspecified date referred to most days as “tomorrow”, someone advised you not to run for the bus as there will be another “soon” only for you to wait a whole hour for the next scheduled bus which incidentally is running on time… I could go on. Speaking to our Mumbai CouchSurfing host (who we’ll tell you about in a later post), he just nods and laughs – it’s the same for him – and explains that it’s part of the joy (or frustration) of India.

Having basically travelled for six months without really stopping for a break, the stress was starting to mount. Since Josh recently cut off most of his hair, I was beginning to worry that he would start pulling out mine. His mate even emailed us suggesting that we “do nothing, literally NOTHING for a while”, so we thought we should take heed of that advice. So we did, and this is the first time that we actually achieved everything that we had set out to since we entered India.

Having left the hills, we made our way back into Kerala and plonked ourselves on the beach near Kannur. Retrospectively, it wasn’t the greatest of beaches, but at the time it was exactly what we needed. While it takes an hour to get there from town, if you’re after a basically empty beach (literally there must have been three other people on the 100m long beach most of the time we were there), no hassle when you’re there, white sands, palm trees but a rather rough sea, this is the place to go. Josh taught me how to throw a ball properly and I taught him how to do front crawl properly. It was a learning experience for all. One of the days we were approached by a bunch of Indian lads and instead of it being the usual perve-hassle, they joined us in our throwing game – they seemed surprised that I was capable of catching. That was basically all we did for a few days, which was more than pleasant.

Then we made our way to our next beach. Gokarna in Karnataka is definitely THE most touristy place we have been in the whole of India. We spent ten days surrounded by Westerners, which usually would have made both Josh and myself cringe, but it was a welcomed break before plunging back into the sometimes-organised chaos of the next three months travelling (we’ll be home on the 17th June for anyone who’s interested). There was a large contingent of dreadlocked, spiritual, circus-skills, alibaba pants (no Indian actually wears these) types. It was the first time in my life that I’ve ever heard a sentence like this: “Hey! Guess what? She’s an Aquarius with Scorpio rising!!!!” Someone actually said that.

When you choose to ignore such things, the place is lovely. As suggested by the introduction, we spent our days eating fruit salad and indulging in non-Indian food, swimming in the sea and generally chilling out. The most stressful thing that happened for the whole time we were there was that I stood on a sea urchin or something that’s built so that things don’t eat/stand on it, and spent several days trying to remove the splinters from my toes. One day we walked through some jungle to a beach a few beaches along, where we shared the 70m stretch of sand with one other person, and occasionally Indian tourists who would dash in in speedboats, stare at us swimming and then dash away again.

We had arrived at a pretty good time – at the end of the season, just before many guest houses pack up for the summer, so accommodation was brilliantly cheap.

It’s kind of part of the point, as Josh points out, that there isn’t much to say about our time there. It was a time of relaxation and of doing pretty much nothing, which I’d never really done before. I felt like I should balance out the total relaxation by stretching my mind a little, and read about Israel’s war on Palestine in Pappe and Chomsky’s Gaza in Crisis and Ghada Karmi’s Married to Another Man. Made me feel ever so slightly less indulgent!

Our only stop in Goa, the usual stop for beach-seeking India travellers, was a train change. We spent a luxurious few hours in the Air Conditioned waiting room – spend a pound for four hours in light, chill, with cable TV and a western toilet, which was a relief to my legs as I had an upset stomach (it’s never fun to spend long on a squat toilet).

Now we’re in Mumbai, experiencing the contradictions of India at their most obvious – the largest slum in the world, and the world’s largest number of millionaires in one city. We’ll tell y’all about it in the next blog.