"God's Own Country" - that's the catchy strapline thought up by the clever marketing department of Kerala State Tourism, and it seems to appear on almost every street sign and advertising billboard around the province. Kerala is so very much the acceptable face of India; clean(ish), relaxed, gentle, and endowed with those 'boutique' hotels that we all seem to be so mad about. Ask anyone if they'd like to go to India and they hesitate (as most peoples' image of India, with much justification it must be said, is that of a chaotic hell hole) then say "Hm, well I'd like to go to Kerala".
And good luck to Kerala - it's a lovely place - but I would confidently say that none of the sites here (including the much lauded backwaters) would make it onto my India Top 30 - hey, even top 50. If you only ever visited Kerala and nowhere else in India you would not have experienced this country's magic by a long, long way. Having said that, within this one state you can visit beaches, hill stations, wildlife parks and historical sites (see image of the Santa Cruz Basilica in Fort Cochin, right). And although none of them alone are as good as you can find elsewhere in the country, you can see them all within a relatively small area and without the inconvenience of long journeys or arduous travel. And culturally it has tons to offer with its Kathakali and Theyyam dancing.The highlight of Kerala is the famous backwaters and this 900km network of waterways that fringe the coast is one of the main reasons for coming here. They are truly beautiful (see image left) and cruising through the shady canals can be a real pleasure. It really pays, though, to think about how you are going to do it. An overnight houseboat was unfortunately out of our budget; it's around £25-£30 per person per night for even the most basic type of boat (although you do get all meals and mosquitoes included - more of the latter than you can wave one of those fantastic electrified bug killers at) but for a private AC boat this will rise steeply. Given the climate and location, anything other than AC would be pretty unpleasant. Our own experience of the backwaters involved being herded onto a smallish boat with about 20 others, to spend 3 hours drifting very slowly down some waterways in a rather strange uncomfortable silence (until they cracked open the Kingfisher beers that is). Fear of being considered an oik notwithstanding I will say it - it was boring! The guy sitting in front of me on the boat was clearly much more at ease with his personal image - he got his book out after about 30 mins of cruising and started reading. Although this was initially greeted by tutting from his girlfriend, the reality of the situation soon dawned on her too and within another 15 mins she had her own book out. She was reading a text book for her law degree - enough said... As always, though, India delivers the goods when it comes to the weird. Just when it looked like our time in Kerala was destined to be lost in the 'rather forgettable' file something a little bit great happened... One morning I found Rich at the hotel reception speaking to the guy on the desk who was looking for a foreigner to do a voice-over for a movie. A bit part in a Malayalam (the language of Kerala) film had been played by an Australian, who had now left India, but there was a problem with the sound and the local film studio was looking for a native English speaker to speak a few lines as a dubbed voice-over - or so we thought, it was all bit vague and there's always the language barrier to take into account. And what was in it for Rich? A thousand........rupees! So, there we are in a car sent by the studio and the director calls to brief Rich before our arrival. I can only hear Rich's side of the conversation which went something like this: "You want me to what?....I'm supposed to be drunk getting out of a bath?...a bar! Then drive a cycle rickshaw around Cochin. OK"
Our fears were put to rest somewhat when we arrived at a bona fide recording studio and to find neither baths nor booze in sight. It truly was just going to be a voice-over. Big sighs of relief all round, although Rich did admit later to a slight disappointment that his freshly shaved mug wasn't going to be on the silver screen. My movie star husband performed very well - trying to imitate a drunken Australian from a mainly ad libbed script - and his new film studio buddies Sonny and Benny were very patient as he pronounced "Quadruplets...can I see them?" for the 20th time. The film is about a Keralan couple who can't conceive, then have 4 babies at once - and the film is fittingly called "4 Babies"... coming soon to Leicester Square!!!
And the thousand rupees? - we blew it on a slap up meal and some yummy milkshakes.
Before we set off on this trip and I had experienced the hounds of Sri Lanka, I always imagined that people, the sheer volume of them, would be my main hinderance when it came to setting up the tripod. However aside from the odd "Madam what are you doing?" I was mostly left alone. This picture is taken in Varkala, a charming beach resort on the south Keralan coast. The village is set along a cliff top with the beach down below. It's the only beach I've ever been to where instead of someone selling cold drinks there's a chai man. God, I love India!The image was taken at f/20 with a shutter speed of 15 secs. The small aperture helped keep both foreground and background in focus and generated the long shutter speed I needed to blur out any passers-by and create some movement in the trees. A 2 stop ND grad filter was used to balance light levels in the sky and foreground.