Our First Encounter with Kerala
It takes twenty-four hours by train to reach Thrissur from Hyderabad, perhaps just sixteen if it had not been for the dozen or so stations in between, where the train takes brief stopovers. This is my first trip to Kerala and I’m so excited about it.
Kerala is a southwestern coastal state of India. It is a region of great natural beauty.
Although isolated from the Indian interior by the mountainous belt of the Western Ghats, Kerala has been exposed to many foreign influences via its long coastline.
Kerala is known not only for its diverse religious tradition but also for its own language, Malayalam. Also notable is the high social status that continues to be accorded to women of Kerala, owing to the former strength of a matrilineal kinship system.
Agriculture is the state’s main economic activity. Its principal cash crops are rubber, coffee, and tea, which are cultivated in plantations on the slopes of the foothills, as well as cardamom, cashew nut, coconut, ginger, and pepper. The major food crops are rice and pulses.
The state is also a national leader in fish production.
Also, did you know that Kerala has one of the most advanced educational systems and the highest levels of literacy in India?
Our train ride from Hyderabad to Thrissur
The air-conditioned cabin makes the journey comfortable: clean sheets, blankets, and pillows; towels that look and smell fresh; electric sockets to charge batteries; electric fans; toilets with running water, hand wash liquid, and toilet paper; and crew that takes your meal orders. And most important of all, in my case anyway, is privacy.
We get the side bunk, which is my favourite when it’s just the two of us travelling.
We spend the day in the lower part, drawing the curtains to give us privacy while we eat or pray (the curtains are a convenience for Muslim women, like myself, who cover our hair). Masood climbs up the upper berth to sleep at night.
We spend the long journey looking out the glass window, competing who could first pronounce the names of the stations we encounter along the way, taking photographs, writing a journal (that’s me), reading a computer-related magazine (that’s him), talking, and arguing. With so much time on our hands, arguments over silly matters are mandatory.
The view outside the window for the first several hours is dull and brown: crops have been harvested, bridges over highways filled with cars and smoke, old buildings, cows grazing absentmindedly, dried-up streams.
After a light dinner consisting of vegetable curry and lentil soup, I draw the curtains; the rhythmic chugging of the train lulls me to sleep.
Silver-blue mountain that’s kissing the clouds, tall and strong palm and coconut trees, lush green vegetation, and rain–these are the elements of nature that we wake up to. I look out the window for the longest time to preserve the memory, then take a photograph.
The train arrives at Thrissur (formerly known as Thrichur) station at noon. It’s quite a small place as compared to Hyderabad’s busy railway station. The air feels fresh, cool and soothing. Within minutes, it begins to pour heavily.
A gentleman greets us at the station’s entrance and leads us towards a car. We drive through narrow roads and a few roundabouts.
Thrissur, the 4th most populous city in Kerala, is also the cultural capital of the state. We notice several churches, temples and mosques—both old and new. I feel the harmony between the people of different faiths.
The hour-long drive towards our destination reminds me of the Philippines; there has been a moment or two where I’d thought I am really there. However, I’m immediately reminded of my current location by the sight of men in lungis and women wearing colourful saris.
There are several impressive-looking houses along the way…
There are houses that have just the basics…
And houses that look like the ones we read about in fairy tales…
Have you visited Kelara? What’s your favourite place in the state?