Half-sleeping, we stumbled into the Delhi airport to catch a flight – run by a rather appropriate airline- for Kochi. It was the unearthly hour of 5 AM. If it wasn’t unearthly enough for my folks, who are accustomed to waking up at more sensible timings, it was absolutely depressing for people like yours truly who saunter into the drawing room for breakfast at half-past-ten on holidays (that is, when one even eats breakfast).
This airline lovingly gives its craft individual names. Ours was christened Cardamom and appeared to have been last refurbished when certain present politicians were infants. “We should have taken the train,” said my father. I had visions of sitting in slow-moving compartments for 2.5 days while the people of India did a synchronized Mile Sur Mera Tumhara exclusively for our benefit.
The plane halted at Mumbai as scheduled. Ten minutes into our break, just as we were stretching and beginning to curse the furniture, a disembodied voice announced that passengers bound for Kochi would have to get out as well. Apparently we were abandoning our dear Cardamom for a “technical reason”.
We trooped into the waiting area and, like lost sheep, waited for an appreciable time for some sort of guidance. Finally, a bright red crew member materialized and requested us to surrender our old boarding passes for new ones. The idea was to take us out of the waiting zone for some reason and make us walk back in through security. But they’d reckoned without the security ladies who looked balefully at our boarding cards and ordered us all to freeze. “You shall not pass!”
However, they finally let us through and we could join the Mumbai passengers in Dadar station, oops I mean Gates 1-6. The time passed pleasantly enough in trying to save oneself from getting elbowed and kneed by other people and we hardly noticed the delay.
Our new aircraft was called Sumac. It proved to be more well-behaved than the unfortunate Cardamom. As we descended, a sea of greenery rose out of the clouds, dotted with red roofs. The trees appear to be on the point of taking over the airport; grass comes right up to the edge of the runway. Clearly, plants love this place.
We headed for the entrance and were greeted by people waving cards at us and shouting slogans (“<Something Incomprehensible>, Zindabad !” ) with great gusto. Since Kochi could not possibly be so excited about the arrival of Rothinzil and family we wondered which VIP’s presence we had been blessed with on the flight. It turned out to be a film shoot. In case anyone watches a Malayali blockbuster with a Politician-Triumphantly-Returns-Home scene, I am in the blue Snoopy t-shirt in the background.
Thekkady is some 150 km from Kochi, on the edge of the Periyar Tiger Reserve. A grey ribbon of a road fringed with mango and jackfruit trees gives way after some time to winding mountain routes. Very winding routes : as the afternoon wore on Dangerous Curves Ahead began to sound distinctly unfunny.
We stopped at a tea stall with a beautiful view over the hills. My mother’s request for “pakoda” was met first with incomprehension, then with the appearance of a plateful of bananas fried in golden batter. It was sweet, crispy and oily all at once. Later we found out that it’s called “pazham pori” which partly explains the linguistic confusion.
Tea plantations, spice plantations, and tiny towns that appeared depopulated (actually, it was Easter Sunday) flashed past. We reached our hotel late in the evening, accompanied by a mellifluous orchestra of crickets. And so our first day in God’s Own Country ended peacefully, and lazily.