Being a zoo animal in India – a travel blog

Before I tell you about my recent weekend shenanigans I’ll let you into three of the more bewildering anecdotes Mitraniketan has offered me over the last few weeks.

Firstly, a few of the other volunteers and I have been holding English conversation classes. These were going swimmingly until one night we walked into the classroom to be told in no uncertain terms by three dinner ladies that the class had to permanently move to a different room. The reason? Their favourite Indian soap had just restarted and they had nowhere else to watch it. Safe to say when the Director was told he sided with the dinner ladies. This soap is obviously a cut above Corrie and Eastenders, so I’ll let you know if I get the opportunity to watch it.

Secondly, having gone to relieve myself during a football session I came back to find that building work had commenced on the pitch and the session had been cancelled. Apparently there was a political party conference the next day which subsequently meant that football would be cancelled for the rest of the week, only no one told me.

Lastly, having definitely ticked the ‘non speaker’ box on the attendance form I went to an ”International Seminar” on Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda was a spiritualist in the 19th Century and is revered in India having acknowledged the inequality prevalent in the country after walking from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, socialising with all the classes. His teachings helped form the ideas of the founder of Mitraniketan so I thought it would be interesting to learn more about him. Little did I know that having spent less than 2 months teaching English I was considered an expert on international education. In front of 80 teachers, professors and educationalists, wearing my shorts and stripy t shirt I had to give a speech which I apparently knew about…with less than 5 minutes to prepare, on something I knew very little about. I was even more surprised when the key note speaker used part of my speech to summarise the whole event, even if he did refer to me as Mr James Williamshurstson.

Now to my weekends. I revisited Cochin and again rented out a motorbike. My notion of Cochin and the surrounding area being quiet and less chaotic than mainland India was smashed to pieces as I got the ferry to Vypin Island and its pristine beaches. Pristine they maybe, but not in a torrential monsoon having had to fend off repeated attempts from buses to ram me off the road. The Eco warrior in me wanted to believe the bus drivers were just taking attempts to reduce CO2 emissions a bit too far, but I can’t help but think their just aggressive unsafe drivers driving the biggest vehicles on the road.

The next weekend I went to Varkala, an unashamedly backpacker oriented beach town. If you want tourist tat this is the place to come. The main drag, perched a couple of metres back from the edge of a sharp cliff runs for 2km between two beaches, rising sharply from the first before gently sloping down to the second. It is pretty spectacular. Being the off season it wasn’t too crowded and the ambiance (remember how key that is) was ‘bang on’. It may also have had a few places showing back to back Premier League games, so if I go back there for another weekend, you should have a good idea why.

Now as you read about my weekend in Alleppey bear in mind the title of the blog. Because being a tourist in India sometimes feels (at least how I imagine it to feel) like you’re a zoo animal. People stare at you, touch you, feed you, take pictures of you and say nonsensical things to you to try and provoke a reaction. When you don’t react they move on, checking over their shoulders just in case you suddenly do something ‘funny’ or noteworthy.

We (a group of volunteers from Mitraniketan and I) went to Alleppay to the see the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, a National race that takes place every second Saturday in August. Starting at 3pm we got there 2 hours early but already it was well over capacity. Even having managed to secure VIP tickets right on the finish line we had to push through the crowds to get a decent view. We should have realised it wouldn’t start at 3pm (even though it was a nationally televised event), so having stood there for 4 hours before the first of seven races finished, it was time to go. Taking into account the above paragraph it was mentally and physically draining as everyone was crushed together for so long. People were hanging all over the wooden stands, beams snapped and it would only have taken one person to slip and fall for a mass stampede to occur. In that respect it was like my experience in the temple in Bangalore, except it was twice as hot, four times as long with ten times the amount of people there. And the race wasn’t even that good!

Next time I’ll be blogging about my last few weeks at Mitraniketan and my time as I move back up north towards Bangalore.

P.S. I think all the stresses and strains of Indian life got to me last week…I grew a tash. To check out this unstable behaviour head to my twitter account @onlyonejaw.

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