Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wherein I Die and Go to Varkala

I sneeze and grin at Katie. India is fun! Especially when I get to ride in a wheelchair! And even more especially when I'm on opiates!

Katie uses the airport wheelchair to push me through Delhi's Indira airport. We are now on the last leg of our trip. *ahem* It's time to visit the backwaters of Southern India. But first, we need to take a plane to get there. Katie worries that I will be forced into a cramped seat on the plane or that the airline attendants will not help us.

"Look more pathetic," she commands just before we arrive at the airline counter.

"I have a broken foot and a head cold," I say. "I don't know how much more pathetic I can get."

"You still seem happy."

I rearrange my expression, trying to assume the wide-eyed pathos of little poor children in Victorian lithographs.

It is a cramped ride, as it turns out, and begins with a harrowing start as the tiny airplane we need to board does not connect to a gate. Instead, passengers must walk out on the tarmac and climb aboard the plane via a steep flight of moveable steps. Usually, this is my favourite way to board a plane. Walking down the runway to board an airplane, wind teasing your hair and sun warming your skin, has a slightly glamorous feel to it. But not when you're in a wheelchair.

Four men grab different corners of the wheelchair and carry me up the steps. One of the men is not as strong as the others. I can tell by the way the wheelchair, and I, keep slipping precariously forward and to the left. I make it into the plane, though, and we arrive in Cochi, and then go to our hotel in Varkala, without incident.

Our hotel is not the nicest place I've ever stayed. The bedroom is small and dirty. I shower by sitting on a plastic bucket and splashing icy water against my skin while a cockroach happily skitters around me on the bathroom floor. But there is one truly stunning thing about the hotel: the view. I spend most of my daylight hours not inside the hotel room but lying on the wooden planks of a hutch beside the river. Between a strenuous schedule of napping and eating and getting massaged, I write in my diary:

I've died and gone to Varkala for surely, this place must be heaven. . . . I close my eyes and all I can hear are birds calling, the rustle of their wings as they rise in the air, the low rumble of frog song, the occasional plish as a fish jumps through the water, and the steady ticka-ticka-ticka of the cook's knife as he prepares dinner. Sometimes there's also the sound of a rattan-covered houseboat's tinny motor or the quiet pull of a long oar through the waters as a lone boatman passes by on his canoe.

If, in Varanassi, I felt as though I'd lept into living pages from National Geographic, in Kerala, I feel I'm moving through a series of picture postcards.

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