Elephant-sized adventures: Kerala Coast, India

Beach road: beautiful but not entirely practical

We started looking for somewhere to stay but everywhere was either “fully booked” or too expensive. Fancying a bit of an adventure, we went looking for camping spots and after no luck we resorted to asking locals if we could camp in their garden. No luck there either. Our only option was to ‘wild camp’ but we had to wait until people went into their homes so we wouldn’t be seen. To pass some time we grabbed some curry and chapatis. All of a sudden Hugo shouted “look look look“. I thought someone was stealing our bikes but no, it was just a humungous  elephant on a truck. Hugo pointed out that this was infact the third time I have failed to notice an elephant in front of my face.


Incredible elephant getting down off of the truck

There it was. In all its glory. One of the most magnificent animals I have ever seen. With my mouth wide open I watched the elephant step down from the tuck and walk straight past me into the temple. We were told that it’s extremely rare for anyone to be as close as we were as it is so dangerous and many people are killed every year. I was too amazed to consider the danger but thankfully this elephant was in a good mood. The elephant returns to Thriprayar Sree Rama Temple every evening to be visited by devotees which base their luck on the elephant’s mood. I was feeling lucky.


One of the bigger towns we passed

We cycled roughly an hour through the backstreets looking for spots to camp in the dark but found absolutely nothing. A group of kids spotted us and tried to lead us down an alley to a “camp spot” but we didn’t feel safe. Shortly after, a car with three men pulled up and they invited us to stay at their place 10km away. Now, I wouldn’t normally follow three men to their house but Hugo and I both got a good vibe. I wasn’t overly excited about cycling another 10km in total darkness without lights, but there was no other option so we followed.


Asif and his friends who kindly offered us his home

Just 10km “up the road” turned out to be a demoralising 20km back the exact route we had just cycled. A whole day practically wasted. Our luck changed (good elephant) when we arrived at the impressive grand house around 10:30pm. Asif and his family, from Oman, served us some homemade lemonade, fed us our second dinner of the evening and gave us a two story en-suite room to sleep in. They even sent us off with tea and biscuits in the morning – amazing!


Houses along the main roads in Kerala are like something out of Cribs

Sadly I didn’t sleep a wink due to the heat. There’s something not right about dripping with sweat while laying under a fan. I had no other option than to man up and power through the next day with an aim to cycle 100km. On the road, I saw my first glimpse of the caste system in India which I had yet to witness. The billboard advertising a marriage website said “find your perfect match based on caste“. Interesting.


Not a religious dance but the grand opening of a new supermarket

We visited Punnathurkotta, where around 60 elephants roam in the temple grounds. Unfortunately photography is strictly prohibited so I cannot share with you exactly what I saw, but what I witnessed was a little sad. This is not a ‘touristy’ thing or a means to make money but, I believe, religious and a way of “protecting” these sacred animals.


Cycling on Muzhappilangad Drive-in Beach

One of the elephants was most definitely sedated while he had his bath and another was being aggravated by two male workers throwing rocks. This got Hugo and I worked up and we didn’t hold back in expressing our feelings towards this type of cruelty. It certainly heightened my views on animal rights and was probably the reason why photography is not allowed in this “we look after elephants” camp.


Local ferry connecting the coast across the river mouth

Cycling between local towns I pass countless street food stalls, local restaurants and all sorts of shops and interesting establishments but when I actually NEED food, toiletries or somewhere to sleep I find absolutely nothing. This surprises me being in a country with so many people I can’t even take a non-public pee or stop to grab some water without someone asking for a selfie. After nearly an hour we finally found somewhere to eat and the next ferry across the river mouth. We asked how much it was – always check the price with everything in India! – and he said what we thought was 15 rupees. Ok, we paid 4-8rp on the other ferries but this one may be more expensive. No biggie. As we got across to the other side the man asked for 100 rupees. Now, we had already seen that the locals paid 10 rupees and although we hadn’t been charged extra for the bikes before, we felt 15rp was more than enough. Not much to us but in relation to the cost of living here, there was no way a two minute ferry crossing would cost more than someone’s entire food for the day.


“White tax” added to the unreadable bill

To cut a long story short, we were involved in a stand off on the ferry where we refused to pay inflated “tourist” prices and told them they can “bloody well take us back again and we will cycle around“. Once they realised they weren’t getting any extra out of us they gave in and let us go. Whether it be accommodation, milk tea or bakery goods, I’m nearly always charged “tourist prices”. “The menu we gave you was the old menu, the new menu (that they have yet to print) the prices are double” is a classic example. I can see on the guesthouse log book how the previous guests have paid half what we have but it’s something I’ve had to accept. As frustrating as it is, the generosity I experience and the free stuff people offer me far outweighs those who try to rip me off. Not everyone is out to get my lack of money. Remember that.


Another impractical beach road

I’ve noticed that every area I cycle through has a completely different feel to it. In some towns I’m a huge celebrity with absolutely everyone shouting “hello, how are you” “what is your name” and people running after us. In others, no one bats an eye lid. The cycle from Kochi to Kannur was tiring. No only had we clocked over 110k two days in a row, we were more famous than Justin Beiber. Maybe people in these villages were particularly bored that day or maybe it was because it was an Islamic area and I only saw a small handful of women, all wearing burkas. A far cry from the likes of me.


A broken pedal and (nearly) a broken hand

We got a tad lost in the backstreets again and ended up having to find our way across a busy train track. All of a sudden my whole pedal fell off on to the track. Great. Hugo tried bashing it back on with a rock but hit his hand instead -duh! Then I realised that the nut itself was missing. I pushed the bike to the nearest town to try and find a nut to fit. Everyone told me it was a left thread and that you can’t get them in India. Brilliant. I went to an “industry”‘shop, whatever that means, to try and get a left thread made but no luck there either. Gahh!


Desperately trying to find a nut for the pedal

As helpful as they were, everyone kept sending us to the shop up the road. Finally we found a couple of young lads who had a large a range of nuts (no innuendo intended!) and miraculously one with a right thread fit. They kindly let us have it for free. The only trouble was it was too big to tighten it completely as you couldn’t get the spanner between it and the pedal, so I spent the next 100km stopping every 30 minutes or so to tighten it. My wheels were spinning, that’s all that matters. We clocked 120km in good time and reached the town of Kunnar just before sunset. Another day, another adventure. On reflection, every day on this trip I have had at least one problem with my bike, been touched by the kindness of strangers and been ripped off by others but most importantly, I have encountered something new and totally mad. And so it continues……










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