This stretch of our travels in India would see us travel the south-western coast from Mumbai, all the way to the southernmost point of the country at Kanyakumari.
We paused in Goa state at Agonda and Patnem beaches, a far cry from the hippy-heyday but an easy introduction to South India as the state attracts tourists in their droves. Tie-dye and techno beats fill the beach huts and restaurants with idyllic sunsets over the horizon.
The next state on route is Karnataka, our first stop Gokarna where pilgrims flocked to visit the ancient temple, wrapped in orange lunghi skirts and dutifully bearing offerings of coconuts, pink lotus flowers and butter lamps.
Moving inland we weaved our way into the hills to India’s highest waterfall at Jog Falls then camped amongst Malabar Hornbills and Barking Deer in Sharvati Wildlife Reserve. Emerging from the jungle and back down towards the humid coastal plain we visited Murudeshwara, the world’s second largest Shiva statue looming over the coastline, shimmering silver in the sunlight overlooking a bustling temple complex of devout pilgrims offering gifts and prayers at his feet.
We crossed into the coconut palm-fringed state of Kerala, the northern coastline is largely deserted with gorgeous sandy beaches backed by wooded hills inland. We were fortunate enough to witness the extraordinary event of Theyyam in the tiny village of Parassinikadavu. Before sunrise, in a modest temple on the banks of the murky river, elaborately-dressed priests become possessed by the Hindu God Shiva and enact a series of offerings through dance to the heady repetitive beats of white-cloth wearing temple drummers. The atmosphere is electric as the drum beats intensify and accelerate to a climax of trance-like movements from the priests wearing towering, decorated headdresses, thick orange body paint, with silver eye patches and jangling embellished skirts.
No trip to Kerala would be complete without sampling the intense dance-drama of Kathkali, one of the world’s oldest forms of theatre. In Trivandrum, a flamboyantly dressed actor leaps onto the stage, face painted thick with green paint twitching and gurning to the fast drumbeats, haunting chants and clashing cymbals.
Our final point on our southwestern Indian coastal voyage was Kanyakumari, the most southern point of India where the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean meet. Watching the sun set from this ‘land’s end’ point seemed a fitting end to this stage of our overland journey, as the moon simultaneously rises over the iridescent water we looked forward to our onward travels back North.
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