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Discovering India's culinary delights away from the tourist trail
Food glorious food, there really is nothing quite like it especially when you're visiting the land of spice and all things nice.
It's taken two weeks but my appetite is back and what a place to renew my passion for Indian culinary delights.
North Kerala, home to boiled eggs with spicy fried batter around, bread that tastes like pancakes (brotta), rice meals shaped as cakes, hot pea curries, deep fried bananas, rice in coconut milk, pickled beetroot and much, much more.
It turns out I just don’t like curries served in the very tourist areas. As soon as we left the tourist trail the food suddenly became a lot more appealing.
We are volunteering at a project near Kalpetta. The scheme aims to educate local tribes, spread environmental lessons across India, provide water and sanitary systems for locals and empower women.
We are staying with an Indian family who run the charity, plus two Indian social worker students. This bubbly family is headed by Omana, a 4ft 6in lady, who's devoted her life to helping people less fortunate than herself. It's down to her infectious determination and passion for change that most of the local villagers have toilets. When she arrived the majority of residents had holes in the ground, riddled with bees, mosquitoes and other insects spreading disease.
She lobbied for funding to anyone who would listen. But with the loos in place she hasn't stopped there. This smiley little Indian woman, who hangs a picture of Gandhi in her make-do office, with dial-up internet, has set up education centres, helped tribes secure funding and supported widows - who can't remarry because of the local culture - find money to feed their children.
Needless to say she is quite some lady; very talkative, witty, friendly, and cuts to the chase.
Her home and charity is called Rasta. I don't know if she is aware of Rastafarians, but the two share at their heart an appreciation for the rhythms of life.
Volunteers pitch in, in whatever way they can. I have been helping with the project's PR and with lessons for the children.
Sam and me have hit it off with the kids as they have a weak spot for games on our kindles.
The surroundings feel quite similar to my old home in North Yorkshire with rolling mountains fencing our two storey apartment in. The temperatures mirror the heat of one of Britain's hottest summer days.
It's great living with a local family as they introduce us to everyone, know what local events are on and show us all the sights.
We went to a flower show which had most of the elements of English country show, only with an Eastern twist. There was a vegetable and fruit tent, showcasing tropical masterpieces such as pineapples shaped as ducks, watermelons carved into towns and lots more creative sculptures.
The girls we are living with invited me to join them on a fairground ride which spun for about 20 minutes. They laughed the whole way round.
India is a country of artists. Everything is made to look beautiful from the rainbow colours of homes, to people decorating their rickshaws and buses, padding them out with colourful materials, tinsel, flowers, paintings, slings, tapestry and posters. This brightness is embodied in the country's national beer - a Kingfisher which also appears on water bottles and t-shirts.
Sam, or Twiggy as I now like to call him, has dropped about three clothes sizes after picking up a virus but refused to see a doctor for a week. He finally went to hospital yesterday so he's on the mend now but he's mainly bones at the moment. Yesterday I had to open a bottle of water for him because his strength has gone. Like all good men though he's hardly mentioned it.
There have been some subtle differences between the men and women in India. The first being the obvious one, women not showing their shoulders or knees. This has meant I've been boiling over while Sam wore whatever he liked.
On buses there are women-only seating which has meant I have had to sit in an old man’s seat at times, despite pleading for him to sit back down. Thirdly, women don't seem to do any customer service jobs, so at bars, restaurants, shops and buses it's only the men we speak to. Normally, as well, they will mainly speak to Sam.
Finally it seems frowned upon or just not allowed for men to show women any public affection; holding hands or putting arms around each other. But men do this with other men all the time so it's quite normally to see men walking down the street with their arms round each other or a man resting between another man's legs, but that's never seen with a man and woman.
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