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A Backwater Christmas

You’ve probably just woken up from your post-Christmas meal nap and are either waiting for the Doctor Who or Eastenders special to start. It has been an incredibly alcoholic/calorific day and you can’t remember a time when you weren’t at a dinner table or splayed out on a sofa. The jumper you are wearing has a snowflake or a reindeer on it and you don’t care a little bit. Your dad is probably still asleep, snoring and has forgotten to take his party hat off. This is what Christmas usually looks like. However, writing this in Allapay on the backwaters of the River Periyar in Kerala, I can’t say that we have had the most conventional Christmas.

They don’t really celebrate it here even though a significant number of people are Christian – however, the hotels containing tourists really do make an effort. I managed to pack a couple of Christmas jumpers in the vain hope that I could wear them without melting underneath. My thin “Chilling” jumper was just about bearable for breakfast before it got absolutely ridiculously hot. Considering the weather has always been freezing at home in the last few years, this was a much welcome change. In Greenwoods, there was a beautful treehouse that we climbed to peer over the town of Thekkady before we left for the final place, Allapay. Then I saw a turkey. A real live, gobble-gobble turkey and I raced down to see it. It was particularly grumpy, but it was huge and the irony was too strong for me to not take a picture with it.

Skipping ahead the three hour long car journey, Allapay was back towards Cochin where we started, and so it was humid beyond belief. However, this was mitigated by the fact that it was bang in the middle of the backwaters, which are like canals and very famous in the area, which cooled the land around them. You could see palm trees, paddy fields and so many house boats – it was almost like a Venice-themed set for Lost. To top it all off, the only way to get to our hotel was to get there by boat. Yes, a boat bus.

We jumped onto the barge and made our way across the lake to the Lake Palace resort. When my Mum said that she was going to organise a five star trip for my 21st I thought she was joking, but this place was literally like paradise in the middle of nowhere. Set up a serious of cottages straddling the river, the entire hotel was completely integrated into its surrounding environment. Our “room” is surrounded by a man-made lake, the centre of which stands a swimming pool. You have to get around here by golf cart and they offer free pottery classes. And when someone offers you claywork on Christmas, you would be an idiot to say no. So I’ve set up a class for tomorrow – go figure.

The highlight of the day though was the boat ride over the backwaters here. They are separate from the rest of the ocean and act like roads for the fishing and agricultural markets. One of the key features are the thatched house boats that were traditionally set by fisherman over week long campaigns where their family could stay with them. Now they are a cool tourist attraction and inevitably everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. To be honest, all of the other things aside, it was nice just having the tranquillity and the sunset behind us as I thought about how different it would have been in England. There wasn’t a television or Shrek re-run in sight.

With only a few more days left in India, it has dawned on me that this is the last time I am going to be here for a while. Having been here three times in two years and seeing over half the country, it is time to take a break. Saying that, it is going to be sad to say goodbye to this, and especially enjoying these last few moments with my family. I will be forever grateful to my Mum and brother for single-handedly putting this whole thing together. I am not a birthday person at all, but this is the best way to celebrate it.

I may not have learned anymore about Christianity this year (it has been difficult to do so with no wifi and few English-speaking churches out here) but I have learnt the importance of having my family around me. It is easy to lose a sense of that at university when you have been away so long.

I may have met turkeys, made pottery, climbed tree houses, swum in a pool inside a lake, ridden on a few boats, worn a ridiculous jumper in the crazy heat and eaten Indian food instead of Christmas dinner. Like I said, it’s been an unconventional festive season. If this is the last thing I get to say about South India, then all I can say is that it really is “God’s Own Country” as they advertise it everywhere.

I think they just have better tea.

What a sunset

Patted Down

Excerpts from Europe: Part One

We weren’t expecting it to be easy. In fact, I was hoping that it wouldn’t be. How else were we going to learn to cope? Having said that, we were hoping that our first night in Budapest would be free of unwelcome surprises. We were wrong. No sooner had we walked through the door, than I saw one of the boys throwing his stuff on the floor and furiously checking the pockets of his backpack.

The train reservations and some money had been lost. Stolen. At this point, we all instinctively patted ourselves down to check we were not in the same position – phone, wallets, cameras, money all accounted for – well, almost all of us. Luckily, the lady behind the desk understood and we had 24 hours to sort out payment, that bought us a little more time.

But the money was the least of our worries. The loss of the reservations meant that getting on trains and moving through Europe could become intensely more difficult, and a lot more hassle. And it was only the first night. We got to our rooms, which were in a different building, put our bags down, got straight onto the phones and started to think about how we were going to make arrangements.

At that point, it was extremely difficult to relax. I seemed to be consciously fishing through my pockets expecting to panic or get worried having lost something. There is a part of me that needs to relax, but another that remains constantly on alert. It was exhausting. But it was mixed with nerves of staying in a hostel with strangers, and excitement about being back in Budapest with a different vibe. I think we are all still a little tentative, a bit unsure about what is going to happen.

A couple of hours of phone calls later we realised that the guy who misplaced the tickets, let’s call him Idiot, had left them on his bed. We arranged a courier to pick them up at our next stop in Vienna. Panic averted. In the mean time, we had found a map and made plans for our time in Budapest, purely because we needed a distraction from the mess that Idiot had created. Let’s hope tomorrow runs a bit smoother.