A Brief History of Beach Time

Hello again. I’ve just arrived in the State of Rajasthan via a 15 hour night bus from Mumbai.  Rajasthan is known for its desert scenery, camel safaries, and fervent celebration of Hindu festivals; indeed there is a religious “camel festival” that starts tomorrow. Before I get swept up with everything going on here, I’d like to do a quick recap of the ongoings of the last couple months as poor internet connectivity and a busy schedule (festina lente as they say) did not allow me to blog.

I’ve essentially been spending a lot of time at the beach as I traveled north along the maritime states of Kerala and Karnataka. My first stop after the leaving the refreshing mists of the Western Ghats was the travelers' hub of Varkala, which, despite being the low season, was quite overrun with older European couples looking for a cheap resort vacation. I enjoyed walking along the dramatic cliffs and becoming reacquainted with continental food in the restaurants catering to tourists.

Varkala fisherman folding their nets.

My next stop after Varkala was Alleppey (aka Alappuzha), Kerela’s larergest city, which has been dubbed the “Venice of India” for the scenic waterways connecting Alleppey with nearby towns and villages.  Luxurious houseboats, staffed by a driver and chef, can be rented for $200-300 per day. As a budget minded traveler, I elected to take a canoe trip of the backwaters, inclusive of breakfast and lunch in a villagers home. The traditional meal of rice, sambhar (a watery yellow stew), poppadom, and mango-coconut chutney was one of the best I’ve had in India.

Villagers transporting rocks for construction through the backwaters near Alleppey.

Luxurious thatched houseboats can be rented by the day.

After Alleppey I proceeded to Fort Kochi (aka Cochin), a historical port city bearing the colonial vestiges of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. Kochi is also home to India’s oldest Jewish community, which is thought have originally been established by fleeing Israelites after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE.  More recently, the Paradesi Jews, also called "White Jews,” settled in Kochi after being expelled from Iberia due to the Spanish Inquisition.  While almost all of Kochi’s Jews have emigrated, and their synagogues and businesses sold, the quaint Paradesi Synagogue, established in 1568 and rebuilt in 2006, serves as a homage to the Kochi’s Jewish population and remains the oldest active synagogue in all of the Commonwealth Countries. Walking around Kochi’s Jew Town neighborhood, one can’t help but chuckle at the Hebrew names of the tourist-traps staffed by women in saris or men in Islamic dress. It’s obvious that the memory of Kochi’s Jews will outlive the remaining handful octogenarians residing in Kochi’s Jew Town neighborhood.  

Jew Town, Fort Kochi.

Kochi fisherman raising a shore operated lift net (known informally in India as a Chinese fishing net).

Catches of the day.

This man, who introduced himself as Yusef Khash, approached my friend and I on the street and offered to show us around Jew Town. This is typically in India. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell if someone is being genuinely friendly or merely engaging in glorified begging; I can't help but put my guard up. Although, as it turned out, Yusef fell into the latter camp, he did regale us with interesting stories about Kochi and his family lineage. Yusef's father was Jewish, a fact I didn't believe until I saw the Hebrew inscriptions on his father's tomb, which is located just outside Yusef's family's home. According to Yusef, his family was originally Hindu ("kings") and then converted to Islam, and then to Christianity, and then to Judaism.

A Ganesh temple ceremony in Kochi. Ganesh is an elephant-headed deity associated with new beginnings. This ceremony boasted 19 elephants.

I could only stay in Kochi for a couple days as I had arranged to meet a friend in Hampi for the Holi Festival, which was the subject of a previous blog.

Holi in Hampi.

The resident elephant of Hampi's UNESCO designated Virupaksha Temple. The elephant is trained to take donations (in the form of coins) in exchange for a kiss.

Hampi was really hot. Like REALLY hot (105 degrees everyday). So I absconded to the underdeveloped beach hub of Gokarana, where I stayed for three (or was it four?) weeks. Two of those weeks I spent camping on the not-so-aptly named Paradise Beach (I’m sure it was pristine at some point) with an English chap who goes by “Freets.” Freets and I set out to the secluded beach with the intent of investigating the implications of determinism on free will.  Freets is something of an incompatibilist evangelist (incompatibilism is the philosophical doctrine holding that there is no place for free will in a deterministic universe) while I’m more inclined to taking a middle-ground or compatabilist approach that there is a reduced or non-classical notion of free will that stands despite the implications of an universe rigidly determined by the laws of physics. Anyway, we had many fecund conversations on the issue, and others, that I will detail in a future blog. Freets is a really colorful guy — something of a Gnossos Pappadopoulis — deserving of an entire post itself — perhaps even a book, which, as Freets would ardently remind me, I have no choice to write or not write because it was always going to happen (or not).

The coastal facade of Paradise.

Paradise Beach used contain a several beachfront huts and cafes. The government demolished the businesses as they were built illegally on protected land. The remaining concrete foundations bear the graffiti gifted by travelers passing through the beach.

Graffiti in Paradise. Police and Coast Guard typically turn a blind eye to hammock-slinging beach bums coming for a taste of Paradise.

Freets and I established a daily routine of yoga, discussion, reading, writing, cathartic yelling,  jamming, swimming with the bioluminescent plankton, and various others sorts of hippy shenanigans. We also had to contend with the Rules of Paradise stipulating that every morning (usually between 9 - 10), a heard of hungry goats would come through our campsite. As a result, one of us would be required to be on goat duty, which could be combined with "cathartic yelling."

A baby goat got half of its face ripped off by a leopard in the mountains just above the beach; a stark reminder of the Rules of Paradise.

There was also Mahadiv (spelled phonetically) who, every morning, came to water the palm trees growing on the beach. The Rules of Paradise also stipulated that Freets had to give Mahadiv a beedi (a thin Indian cigarette) after he was done watering the trees. Mahadiv used to operate a guesthouse on the beach and contends that the land is his and is taking legal action against the government.  When twenty men came with crowbars to demolish his business, Mahadiv lashed one of them in the arm with a machete. The man turned out to be an officer in the forest service and Mahadiv received a two month prison sentence. (If I understood Mahadiv correctly, the reason the sentence was so short was because the man did not properly identify himself.) Such are the rules of Paradise.

Trapped for two weeks with this beach bum.

Getting the fire going...

Did I mention there were puppies!?