Two weeks later I fly to Kerala by myself. I am to meet Helen, Shirley, Jackie and her friend, Corrine shortly. I will stay at a place called Manaltheeram, a sister Ayurveda resort just 5-10 minutes from where they are staying.
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I stepped down the last stair and onto the flat tarmac to board a small bus to pick up my suitcase at the airport. A thick sheen of humidity enveloped me. It made my clothes stick t my chest and chage my underarms. But I didn’t care as I left the bus and strode through the double doors to collect my suitcases off the conveyor belt.
I’m in India!
Once outside again, I found myself swept into a delightful cacophony of movement and voices. The voices belonged to exhausted travelers mingling and bargaining with taxi and pedicab drivers’ voices…probably Hindi! In every direction I turned, I could hear the honking and blaring din that surrounded Kerala’s airport. A taxi driver approached me and in a matter of seconds, I was thrust into a taxicab and on my way. I didn’t have time to figure out if I’d negotiated a good deal or not.
Here I go!
My taxi driver sped through the murky, congested roads twisting away from the airport to Manaltheeram, the Ayurveda resort with the eco-friendly huts on the hill where I would stay for the next two weeks.
He gestured to the right, “Backwater, Madame.”
I had only a moment to guess at what he was pointing at as a huge semi seemed headed straight at us. I caught my breath and stifled the scream that threatened to erupt as my driver, unruffled, swerved to avoid the head-on collision.
The driver muttered something in his local dialect. Amazed to find myself intact, I felt the adrenalin pump into me to meet this new demand on me. But far from being afraid, I laughed out loud – that kind of laugh when you find yourself speeding down a roller coaster. In the same way you trust the operator is not going to let anything happen to you, I trusted this driver…
This is India!
After I caught my breath, I stuck my neck out the window, straining to see ‘the backwater’ the taxi driver had pointed out. ‘You can’t miss that!’’ People had been preparing me for India’s backwater areas since I told them I’d be visiting the country. ‘Make sure you book a tour to see the backwater!’ Now I’d missed it, all because of a maniac semi driver that almost clobbered us!
The phrase conjured up visions of boat villages and boat markets. Would the water be hidden, winding through villages…? I stared at the blur outside my window but the sky had turned too dark to discover the backwater. Boy! India sure gets dark quickly!
All along the route, I found the local men wearing dhotis, the traditional form of dress for Indian men. The majority of villagers wore white but we encountered a few sporting plain, dark or plaid dhotis as well.
Men carried torches to see the road better. They didn’t seem fazed at all by the crazy traffic. Instead, they stoically carried on burdened down by either their physical load or from the labor-intense life they led. I tried to imagine a life so accustomed to chaotic traffic that I’d just walk alongside without flinching. Would I ever stop feeling that roller coaster sensation? Would I always live the life of a tourist? Or if I ever had the opportunity to live in India, could I get used to this?
Just then bright, white lights appeared on both sides of the snaky road, strung up on scraggly bushes like Christmas tree lights.
“Temple festival.” My driver pointed to the temple as the taxi sped past and lurched down a long, steep hill.
A moment later, the lighted entrance of Manaltheeram, my beach village resort, sprung into view. After I paid the few rupees for my ride, the taxi driver swung out of view, no longer in such a mad dash.