Amsterdam Sketch

amsterdam, canal, townhouse, bicycle, netherlands, holland, watercolour, watercolor, painting, sketch, sketchbook, art, drawing, urban sketchers, boat

I recently went on a day trip to Amsterdam with the intention of sketching the classic townhouse, canal, boat and bike combo.

Job done!

It was a showery day so it took me a little to find a dry place to sit with the right view.

Lovely to wander around this beautiful city, even in the rain.

Retro Caravan Sketch

eriba touring, caravan, retro, retro caravan, camping, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, sketch, sketchbook, art

This delightful, tiny 1987 model Eriba Touring caravan was parked up for a few days on the same campground as us.

The van’s been in the proud possession of the same woman for thirty years and her father painted the floral designs on the sides.

Cute as a button!

Lighthouse Sketch – IJmuiden

pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, sketch, sketchbook, art, lighthouse, IJmuiden, Holland

I made this little sketch down at IJmuiden Harbour in North Holland.

It was a hot, windy day so I had to be very quick.

Merman – Do Not Resuscitate

merman, fish tail, portrait, watercolor, watercolour, painting, sketchbook, tattoos, tattooed man, do not resuscitate

Here’s a photo collage of a recent pen and watercolour portrait I made of Rob (who likes to think of himself as my muse…he might be right!)

I worked from a photo I took of him lounging, the perspective was such that his enormous feet on the end of his crossed long legs reminded me of a fish tail so I drew him as a merman.

I took the liberty of editing his tattoos, which in reality cover his whole torso, because I wanted the focus to fall on the “Do Not Resuscitate” text on his chest. That’s my favourite.

Apple Blossom – Essex

apple blossom, flowers, springtime, essex, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, illustration, leaves

Back on home turf, quite literally, I was moved to try and capture the springtime beauty of the apple blossom on the tree in my mum and dad’s back garden.

apple blossom, flowers, springtime, essex, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, illustration, leaves

apple blossom, flowers, springtime, essex, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, illustration, leaves

Artwork in India (12) – Himachal Pradesh

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, india, collage, airmail, pen and wash, watercolour, landscape, travel blog, travel illustration, river, mountains, rocks, watercolor, sketchbook

Himachal Pradesh was on my wishlist from February but the weather was just too cold to make the trip pleasurable until spring finally arrived halfway through April. 

I kept seeing gorgeous photos on Instagram and eventually booked two sets of accommodation in the Tirthan Valley. It was still damp and rainy when we arrived but we had a wood burner and electric blankets in our room to turn the chill into cosy.

To reach Himachal Pradesh from West Bengal we took a taxi from Siliguri to Bagdogra, flew to Delhi then on to Chandigarh (both steaming hot), then hired a car and driver to drop us in the Tirthan Valley.

Flights from Delhi to Kullu Manali (Himachal Pradesh’s airport)  are extremely expensive and unreliable due to the weather conditions, and while night buses from Delhi to Kullu are cheap, they take about 10 hours and don’t have proper sleeper berths (just reclining seats).

So that’s why we opted for the car and driver; door to door convenience, comfort and a reasonable price. Salman the driver loved the trip too, it was his first visit to Tirthan and he was mightily impressed by the phenomenal landscape.

A landscape which I found impossible to capture well in watercolour. I made one attempt which ended in frustration so I covered the mess with a collage and did a simple sketch on top. Life is too short to labour over landscapes when you can simply admire them.

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, himalayas, mountains, india, travel photography, wanderlust, travel blog, springtime

Still with an eye on the weather in desirable destinations like Manali and Mcleodganj (the Dalai Lama’s base in India) at higher altitudes we decided to stay put in the Banjar region until we had to return to Delhi and then to London. Comfort won out over curiosity; a sign of age perhaps.

Himachal Pradesh is a fantastic place to finish my trip. The weather is gentle as are our generous hosts here in the Tirthan Valley. 

I also found this epic book in our guesthouse and was immediately hooked.

India had been a profoundly wonderful and confusing experience, there were many points when I felt like I’d had enough but then something amazing would happen and I’d bounce back. 

Arundhati Roy, perhaps as only an Indian woman can, weaves a beautiful tale entwining the tragic, seemingly eternal (and universally human) threads of sexism, racism, classism, religion, corruption, exploitation and violence in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. The book is mostly set in Kashmir and Delhi but encompasses the whole of India.

“They aren’t very good at other people’s pain. But then who is? … What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt.”

A sad but funny and fascinating read and a great Indian history lesson.

Europe will undoubtedly seem pale after India but I will be happy to dress and express myself as I wish again without worrying that I’m offending anyone.

That’s a huge luxury, as is white privilege – being born in a relatively rich, secular and democratic country.

tirthan valley, himachal pradesh, himalayan foothills, kullu, india, springtime, countryside, flowers, mountains, cactus, slate roof

Himachal Pradesh is so beautiful in the springtime and the people of the Tirthan Valley are so warm, kind and hospitable. We climbed up a really big hill today; up a dirt track, stone steps, through flowery meadows full of butterflies, we passed a waterfall, a few slate roofed cottages and a tiny school. Near the top a dog started barking at us quite enthusiastically; his lovely family gave us a glass of cold cordial and invited us in to see the temple in their new wooden house. We had very few words in common but they worked.

bidi, beedi, leaf cigarette, indian cigarette, bundi, rajasthan, india, travel illustration, illustration, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, collage, packaging

Little sketchbook homage to the humble bidi (or beedi) a cheap but tasty India smoke. Basically it’s a leaf rolled around a tiny bit of tobacco, secured with a string. There was a bidi factory in Bundi, a beautiful town in Rajasthan that I visited in January. The bidies in the image above are painted, the rest is a collage of beautiful bidi packaging.

Artwork in India (11) – Sikkim

banana, banana split, banana plant, ice-cream, watercolour, watercolor, pen and wash, watercolour portrait, portrait, painting, drawing, sketchbook, food illustration, illustration, travel blog, travel illustration

The inspiration for this watercolour portrait / food illustration actually originated in Kalimpong, West Bengal but since I completed the painting in Sikkim here it sits.

Of course our travel plans for Sikkim originated in Kalimpong too. While we were waiting for the unusually long winter to turn to spring we’d both finished reading PG Tenzing’s very entertaining account of his Royal Enfield motorcycle trip around India ‘Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke For Directions’. Rob wanted to go and see Gurudongmar Lake, the highest in the world – a sight which had moved Mr Tenzing to tears.

A bit of research into the permits required by foreigners wishing to explore Sikkim revealed that that would not be possible; the farthest north we were allowed, even with a restricted area permit, would be Zero Point – some 15km south of Gurudongmar.

Armed with warm coats, half a dozen passport photos each and the same number of passport and visa photocopies we left Kalimpong in a shared jeep (having purchased two seats apiece for the sake of comfort). We disembarked an hour or so later in Rangpo, the closest Sikkimese border town.

 It took about half an hour to swap some photos and photocopies for an inner line permit which granted us permission to stay in Sikkim for two weeks.

Sikkim was an independent kingdom until 1975 when it became part of India. It is bordered by Nepal to the west and by Tibet to the North and East. China’s invasion of Tibet has made those borders extremely sensitive so access is carefully monitored.

We continued our journey from Rangpo to Gangtok, the Sikkimese capital, in another shared jeep; the vehicles were lined up and waiting for passengers in the market square, a short walk from the foreigner’s permit office.

gangtok, sikkim, sky, clouds, mountains

No smoking, no spitting, no cows, no dogs, no littering. Such are the rules in Gangtok and the benefits are palpable. It’s the cleanest and calmest city we visited and seemed very well off too. Of course we disregarded the no smoking rule but only in secluded places.

gangtok, sikkim, travel blog, travel photography, rumtek monastery, buddhist, monastery, chorten monastery, banjhakri waterfall, west sikkim

We took the advice of the guesthouse owner and booked three tours; handing over all the remaining photos and photocopies to get the required permits. We explored the area around Gangtok on our first day, visiting the beautiful Rumtek and Chorten Buddhist monasteries, and the Banjhakri waterfall, which is touristy but lovely nevertheless.

tsomgo lake, frozen lake, west sikkim, sikkim, india, ice, yaks, prayer flags

The following day we took a six hour round trip with a driver and a guide to the frozen lake at Tsomgo. Complete with yaks, snow fall, stunning mountain views, a trip in a cable car and stops for steaming tea and momos – it was a glorious day out. 

lachung, lachung valley, himalayas, mountains, sikkim, north sikkim, india, travel photography, travel blog, wanderlust

Our third tour was only three days and two nights long but it felt like an epic adventure. Again we had a driver and a guide (above centre) who made the six hour journey up to Lachung very comfortable. We made several stops to admire waterfalls, drink chai and make use of roadside toilet facilities – 5 rupees for a pee, 10 for a poo!

We passed through a couple of military checkpoints, each beside big army camps, where our permits were inspected and our details noted. 

The Lanchung Valley is absolutely stunning; with little farm cottages nestled on plateaus between huge mountains above and cliff drop waterfalls down to the Teester River bellow…billowing clouds gave it a timeless, mystical air. Enchanting.

lachung valley, lachung, sikkim, north sikkim, india, travel illustration, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, sketchbook, mountains, valley, springtime

We stayed in a little wooden cabin with a balcony overlooking the valley (view above) and were provided with a very efficient heater and plentiful, simple food.

It was dusk and raining when we arrived (a delightful sound on a cabin roof) so the snow capped mountain view that greeted us at dawn was hugely exciting if not totally unexpected.

We were a bit surprised that we had to be supervised if we wanted to leave the property grounds, even for a stroll around the tiny village.

The following morning we took a trip as far up north as the recent avalanche allowed. Nature trumped our Yumthang Valley permit, the road was well and truly blocked and the clearance effort would take several days to open it again. 

A friend looked up our location on Google Earth and sent it by WhatsApp…we may have been way out in the sticks but the telecommunications were 21st century!

We returned to Gangtok elated by the mountain views and took a few days rest before leaving Sikkim by jeep; handing in our permit at the Rangpo office before we re-entered West Bengal.

 

Artwork in India (10) – West Bengal

kolkata, calcutta, city, west bengal, india, travel blog, travel photography, anti-war protest, wanderlust

Next stop Kolkata, West Bengal (3 hour taxi from Khajuraho to Satna then 20 hours on the train to Howrah Station), which we approached with some trepidation.

For a huge city it was, however, a revelation: friendly, fairly relaxed, fairly clean, really beautiful and easy to negotiate on foot.

kolkata, calcutta, city, west bengal, india, travel blog, travel photography, street food, taxi, howrah station, eden gardens, hooghly river, wanderlust

With cheap, delicious street food to boot; Kolkata is famous for kati rolls – egg dipped flat breads which are fried and rolled around the tasty filling of your choice.

We passed a few fun days wandering around the Park Street neighbourhood, exploring the city’s green spaces and crossing the Hooghly River by ferry.

Our next target destination was Darjeeling the famous tea town. I had a romantic idea of Darjeeling – quaint and charming, nestling up there in the Himalayan foothills and the opportunity to arrive there in the heritage ‘toy train’ was irresistible.

darjeeling himalayan railway, heritage train, indian railway, himalayan foothills, narrow gauge, break down

We flew to Bagdogra, spent the night in Siliguri and the next morning promptly arrived at New Jalpaiguri Station for the advertised 8:30am departure of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway service from the narrow gauge platform.

At least an hour late, the tiny engine pulled up with three little carriages in tow. It took at least another half hour for the engineers to prepare the train for the trip up the mountain.

darjeeling himalayan railway, toy train, heritage railway, indian railway, route map

The journey (scheduled to take seven hours in total) was indeed picturesque; the little train pluckily chugged upwards taking several fascinating ‘z reverses’ to accommodate the incline. 

Then, 15km short of Darjeeling a piece of the engine fell off, the train stopped and it became apparent that we would have to make our own arrangements to finish the journey by road.

hitchhikers, darjeeling, west bengal, india, travel blog

Luckily, at dusk, after an hour or so of flagging down vehicles with little or no space for hitchers the lovely man (second right) in the photo above pulled over. He breezily packed us and our new German friends and all our luggage into his warm, comfy car and expertly drove us the hour to town.

himalayas, mountains, kangchenjunga, darjeeling, west bengal, india, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust

The first first thing that struck me was the cold. A see your breath in the house cold. A wear all your clothes in layers, in bed, cold. Luckily our homestay host provided a heater and hot water bottles and the view of Kangchenjunga from the balcony (at 6am before the clouds rose) was stunning.

puri sabji, indian food, indian breakfast, vegetarian food, aloo gobi matar, potato, cauliflower, peas, watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, food illustration, travel blog, travel illustration, eat like a local, food art, watercolour food, pen and wash

The food was fabulous too, inspiring me to immortalise this delicious and typical Indian breakfast of puri sabji. The puri are fried flat breads which puff up and are chewy and crispy at the same time. Sabji or sabzi is the generic word for cooked vegetables, usually in some sort of gravy.

We met up with our new German friends in a local Tibetan style restaurant to reminisce about our toy train misadventure and feast on momo and wanton (both dumplings)…a meal so delicious I was again inspired to capture it in paint.

kunga restaurant darjeeling, tibetan food, wanton soup, momo, vegetarian food, vegetable spring roll, steamed momo, watercolor, watercolour, painting, drawing, sketchbook, food illustration, travel blog, travel illustration, watercolour food

Of course we drank some excellent tea in Darjeeling too and took the obligatory tour around the Happy Valley tea factory. But Darjeeling is not the charming hill station town of my imagination; it has a few pretty parts but is generally damp and dank, congested with traffic which makes the air foul with fumes and suffers from cascades of rubbish dumped down its sprawling labyrinth of terraces.

darjeeling, west bengal, india, travel photography, travel blog, prayer flags, market, hill station

We spent our last Darjeeling days at another homestay, the beautiful Little Singamari and were treated to yet more fantastic home cooking.

thali, watercolor, watercolour, painting, pen and wash, drawing, sketchbook, travel blog, illustration, food illustration, darjeeling, west bengal, dal fry, papad, saag paneer, spinach, cottage cheese, eggplant fritters, beguni, patta gobhi sabji, sabji, aloo sabji, homestay, little singamari, eat like a local, indian food, vegetarian food, home cooking

This is a fantasy amalgamation of my favourite dishes cooked by Ramila, our hostess.  

kolbong, west bengal, india, karmi farm, farmstay, orchids, goats, pigs, organic farm, countryside, travel photography, travel blog, prayer flags

We set off for a few days in Kolbong and stayed on an idyllic organic farm. The two hour jeep ride to reach the farm was a bit of a roller coaster ride, one local lady promptly threw up as soon as she exited the jeep at her stop.

Luckily the driver made a slight detour for us so that we didn’t have to drag our luggage up the last kilometre of track to the farm.

The weather was warmer, the air cleaner, all our food was home cooked, mostly homegrown and organic. Our hosts were delightful but could only accommodate us for a few days as they were busy with another project. It was hard to leave.

karmi farm, farmstay, west bengal, india, organic farm, travel blog, travel illustration watercolour, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, travel illustration, vegetables, cabbage patch, himalayan foothills, landscape, trees, mountains, mountain view, kolbong, sikkim, farmstay

We decided to head for Kalimpong, a chilled out town with a similar climate to Kolbong where we could wait for the weather to warm up before we set off to explore higher altitudes without freezing.

kalimpong, west bengal, india, buddhist monastery, himalayan foothills, prayer flags, river teesta, mountain view, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust

We both succumbed to bugs, one respiratory and one gastrointestinal, nothing major but enough to make us grind to a halt. Luckily we were in safe, comfy accommodation with a nice view…a good place for rest and recuperation.

portrait, watercolor, painting, drawing, sketchbook, food illustration, travel blog, illustration, watercolour, pen and wash, tattoos, tattooed man, true love, lassi, orchids, flowers, leaves, glasses, bald head, clouds, pink drink

I was inspired by the gorgeously bright colours used to paint the murals in the prayer rooms at two of Kalimpong’s Buddhist monasteries when I made this portrait of Rob. I also love the way they include the cloud and flower motifs. Kalimpong is well known for its orchid nurseries hence my choice of flower.

Artwork in India (8) – Hampi

hampi, unesco, heritage site, karnataka, india, travel, blog

So the day I set off for Hampi I see this on Instagram! It’s going to be worth the effort…

An early morning taxi from Varkala to Trivandrum, two domestic flights: Trivandrum – Chennai – Hubli, another taxi from Hubli airport to Hubli Junction railway station, a train to Hospet, a tuk-tuk to my guesthouse, an overnight break and then a local bus from Hospet to Hampi!

hampi, unesco, heritage site, karnataka, india, travel, travel blog, wanderlust, solo travel, rocks, temples

And Hampi (this link can explain the history better than I can) proves to be a delicious and mind bending mix of surreal geological accidents and logic defying Flintstone style construction.

Of course with my meticulous research (not) I was well aware (not) that the day of my arrival coincided with the Makar Sankranti festival so the bus from Hospet was packed to the gills and Hampi was swarming with visitors.

hampi, karnataka, india, hampi rocks, rocks, travel, illustration, pen and wash, watercolor, watercolour, painting, drawing, sketch, sketchbook

hampi, karnataka, india, hampi rocks, rocks, travel, illustration, pen and wash, watercolor, watercolour, painting, drawing, sketch, sketchbook

Here are a couple of pen and wash sketches…impossible to capture the mad grandeur of the landscape but fun trying.

hampi, karnataka, india, UNESCO, heritage, rocks, temples, travel blog, wanderlust

The site is vast and I’m staying in a guest house (Funky Monkey – friendly, nice food and music, bathroom prone to flooding through the ceiling a couple of times a day but no drama), which is in a sort of shantytown in the centre.

I’ve taken to rising just after dawn (6:30ish) and going out for a wander in ever increasing circles then returning for breakfast a few hours later. That way I have the place virtually to myself and it’s fairly cool.

This morning I got up a bit earlier and since I was fully covered decided to visit the imposing Vishna temple next to the guest house. I left my shoes at the entrance and didn’t take any photos inside.

A friendly man showed me around, with the unspoken agreement that I would pay him at the end of the tour. He took me to the inner shrines, demonstrated a 700 year old camera obscura which projects an image of the huge tower (top left and bottom right in the photos above) onto an interior wall at sunrise, pointed out some stone carvings of Vishna in his various animal forms and some others which were frankly pornographic (unexpected, given the sacred nature of the site and the Hindu’s prudish attitude towards sex).

Just inside the entrance, to one side there was an elephant chained by his feet to the floor. His face and ears were painted with the red, yellow and white markings of the blessed. As I went in I noticed him pacing, as far as the chains would allow, in a rhythmic way reminiscent of a depressed person rocking. On my way out I saw two women offering him food, he knocked them to the ground with his enormous trunk. Shaken, they got to their feet with a laugh and left. Another woman sat to the side and spoke to elephant; I think she asked why he was so angry. Aptly he threw rubbish at her. I’d be well pissed off under similar circumstances but in the absence of industrial strength chain cutters and a PETA intervention order I left the sad scene.

hampi, sunrise, mountain, view, temple, wanderlust, solo travel, travel blog, banana plantation

On my first day in Hampi I’d noticed some people on the top of a huge crop of rocks but, tired and disoriented I wasn’t able to find the way up.

This morning, quite by accident I stumbled (not literally, I am quite sure footed for an old bird) upon the stone staircase around the back of the rocky mountain. I scaled it…admittedly not without misgivings, bouts of gentle vertigo and a few rest stops…

kathryn hockey artist illustrator

But the view! And the sense of calm…and achievement…and awe at the vast beauty of the landscape juxtaposed with the crumbling buildings. I’m so happy to share that view with the squirrels, birds and lizards.

hampi, climb, mountain, ruins, temples, rocks

Luckily I found an easier way down, although I did shuffle part of the way on my bum.

hampi, karnataka, india, sunrise, mountain, river

So I’m quite chuffed at this point, imagining the delicious breakfast I’m going to have when I get back to the guesthouse…when a cheeky monkey bounds over and robs me of the bag of bananas I’ve been carrying since I left the first temple. No way I’m arguing with him, ha!

indian dancer, woman, stone carving, hampi, pen and wash, watercolor, watercolour, painting, drawing, sketchbook, travel, illustration, travel blog

There are centuries worth of stone carvings at Hampi; some of them crude and some so skillfully intricate it boggles the mind. Obviously the surviving carvings exist in various states of dilapidation and most are fully accessible to examine at close range with eyes and fingers.

I saw many, many examples of the woman above, all unique. I love the way her arms are entwined with the stone archway so I decided to paint a version of her.

stone carvings, hampi, karnataka, india, ancient civilization, ruins

Artwork in India (7) – Kerala

Fort Cochin, Kerala, Kochi, India, biennale, art festival, street art, murals

I headed south to Kerala from Rajasthan on 23rd December via three connecting Jet Airways flights: Jodhpur, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Cochin then I got a bus from Cochin airport to Fort Kochi. The whole trip took about 16 hours and was pretty smooth but also pretty exhausting. In retrospect I could have perhaps split it up.

I had been hoping to avoid Christmas as I thought that the only Christian stronghold in India was Goa. It turns out that a significant number of Keralans are Christians (a leftover from the Portuguese, Dutch and British invasions) so I was greeted by plenty of Santas, Christmas decorations and nativity scenes.

I lodged at Casa Feliz homestay with a very sweet family and enjoyed a huge and delicious homecooked Kerala style breakfast every morning. 

I met up with some lovely friends in Fort Kochi on Boxing Day and we spent a few days and evenings exploring the impressive exhibitions of the biennale art festival and eating well. (It was strange to see so much meat and fish on the menus after largely vegetarian Rajasthan and I didn’t fancy it at all).

kerala, food, cooking, class, flavour, fort kochi, chapati, dal fry, masala, coconut, rice, travel, cookery course, keralan, indian, food, india

We even took a cookery class! Delicious, fun and interesting…it really took the mystery out of Indian cooking.

We learned how to make tomato masala curry, carrot and beetroot thoran (spiced, no sauce), dal fry (my personal favourite), coconut rice with dried fruit and nuts, and chapati – the dough is simple enough but getting them rolled out round is a different matter!

The humidity and  sultry nights were a bit of a shock to my system after the dry heat and cool nights of Rajasthan so I was relieved to take a tour to the hill station of Munnar to look at the glorious tea plantations.

Munnar, Kerala, hill station, tea plantation, tea bush, travel blog, India, mountain

I found a room with a mountain view (lower right) in which to sleep deeply and wake refreshed on New Years Day.

The scenery was absolutely stunning and I regretted slightly not taking more time to explore on foot.

alleppey, kerala, india, backwaters, canal, boats, general strike, communist

My next stop was Alleppey (two hours by bus) where I stayed in the lovely Kalappura Homestay and planned to take a boat trip along the famed Keralan backwaters.

But that day a general strike was called in Kerala by Hindus insulted at the supreme court decision to allow women entry to the temple of a ‘virgin’ male god as part of gender equality laws.

sabimara, temple, supreme court, women's rights, equality law, india

Alleppey was deserted…no tuk-tuks, no buses, no boat trips, no shops, stalls or restaurants. The Kalappura Homestay people made us a delicious breakfast and then I took advantage of the lull and made a sketch by the canal. 

Kerala, India, Alleppey, canals, backwaters, boats, general strike, new year, pen and wash, watercolor, watercolour, sketch, sketchbook, drawing, painting, illustration

It was later explained to me that the right wing BJP, who have an overall majority in the national parliament of India, want to undermine the  Communist party which has a majority in the state of Kerala. The BJP is escalating unrest in the Hindu community over the supreme court decision and inciting the Hindus to protest more aggressively. During protests about 150km from Alleppey one man died and 45 buses were destroyed.

They do say thay you should never discuss religion and politics and in India (and almost every where else) the two are entwined with a deeply patriarchal class system but I do wonder if tradition is the enemy of evolution.

I recently saw this on a tee shirt: “God has no religion” – Mahatma Gandhi.

The following day dawned peacefully…

kalappura, alleppey, kerala, india, backwaters, boat, tour, trip, ferry, canoe, kayak, canal, flood, palm trees, house boat, travel

…and the backwaters tour was on!

We caught the ferry from the main canal in Alleppey (about 5 minutes walk from the Homestay) and headed out to a village about 40 minutes away where a lovely family fed us a traditional Keralan breakfast of creamy potato curry and coconut. Then we boarded a kayak and explored the beautiful, peaceful side canals…watching the daily life of the locals play out on the banks.

One of the kayak boatmen told me that his house had been completely destroyed in the floods of 2018 and that it would be about 10 years before he could afford to rebuild it. In the meantime he was staying in one room at his family’s home.

We saw men repairing the flood damaged walls of the canals and the wreckage of ruined houses just beyond. The main industry in the backwaters villages is agriculture; there are huge rice paddies, fishing and tourism are secondary.

After four hours of gentle paddling (hard work for the oarsman nevertheless) we ate a fine thali lunch where we’d had breakfast and caught the ferry back to Alleppey.

Jose the Kalappura Homestay host met us and whisked me off to the railway station on the back of his Royal Enfield in good time to catch the train to Varkala (a 2+ hour trip which cost less than 60p).

royal enfield, bullet 350, royal enfield india, motorcycle, motorbike, drawing, pen, fine liner, kerala, india

The Royal Enfield 350 Bullet motorcycle is a design classic, a truly beautiful machine with a distinctive rumbling ‘dugger-dugger-dug’ engine sound. It has the longest unchanged production run (in IndiaI since 1948) of any motorcycle and was originally made in Redditch Worcestershire from 1931. The bikes are now manufactured in Chennai (previously known as Madras) and particularly ubiquitous in Kerala.

varkala, beach, kerala, india, sun, sand, surf, palm trees, cliff

Bathing in the Arabian Sea at Papanasam beach Varkala is said to wash away the sins. It certainly feels like a blessing to be here – so relaxed – I extended my stay by a week.