Kovalam

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'Arabian Sea', it sounded so exotic, I knew I had to go. A tuc tuc driver advised us to head for Kovalam as the others beaches were "for the young people".  But it was a chance meeting at Olive Brook in Munnar that brought us to the pleasant little resort hotel we were staying in.  Talk about culture shock, the whole place seemed to be occupied by Brits on a fortnights vacation   from Manchester at a cost of only 250 GBP.  Even the local touts had Mancunian accents which they certainly didn't get listening to the BBC World Service.  It made it difficult to remember we were in India when it sounded more like Blackpool
Lighthouse Beach


 
On lighthouse beach we watched for hours as boats came and went laying nets for the teams of fishermen waiting there to haul them in.  They chanted and sang as they pulled on the ropes and took a step backwards, as each man reached the coil he dropped the rope and went forward to haul some more.  They moved back and forth along the beach to coax the net around the headland.  It was so exciting for us to eventually see the white floats of the net come into view in the far distance and know that their labour would soon be over

 
They are paid 25 Rp (50 cents) for their hours of backbreaking work + a share of the catch
As the net came close to shore men leapt into the sea slapping the water to drive any would be escapees back into the net
At last the net rose from the water and was gathered up to reveal a paltry catch.  The smiles were gone and we were heartsick for the singing haulers on rope
An almost empty net, was all they had to show for all that work.   Other teams were still hauling, how many more would come in as empty as 'ours'

As the large boats which laid the nets return for the day

the 8 man crews manoeuvre to beach them
Early in the morning divers put together their balsa rafts and propelled themselves towards the cliffs with a bamboo pole.  At their destination they donned masks and snorkels and went in search of mussels
Market traders waited at the beach for their return.  With luck they earn 300 Rp for the mornings work.  Catch sold they took their rafts apart and dried them out in the sun until the next day

Nets to mend before morning

They also serve who only sit and stare



 
Stores staffed by Kashmiri salesmen line the beach. They lure you in with promises "looking is free Madam", they show you gorgeous jewellery and pashmina, made by their 'blind 92 year old grandmother' and pieces of the most exquisite embroidery you can imagine, representing 'two long years of labour' by their equally long lived 'grandfathers'.  (Embroidery is always done by men)

While you are busy envisioning Grandma and Grandpa hunched over their work in a village far away in Kashmir, they fix you with their limpid black eyes, flash a white toothed smile and swipe your VISA card faster than the speed of light.  I know because I bought two beautiful jackets for which I am sure paid too much
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