We stayed in Kovalam for New Year. We knew from a visit in 2003 what was likely to happen and sure enough we saw the signs of impending mayhem. Tall bamboo platforms appeared on Lighthouse beach, to which were attached enough floodlights to ensure that the beach would be visible from outer space. A marquee popped up in Hawah beach car park, apparently to be used as some kind of police HQ. Large JCBs were parked at the side of each road leading down to the beach, ready to block traffic. Truckloads of horses made their way down the steep hill to the shore – goodness knows how the poor things managed to stay on their feet.
On 31st December the crowds started to build up from mid afternoon. In contrast to Christmas, there were no children and few women – teenage boys and young men predominated. The police had set up a checkpoint with metal detectors at the bottom of Hawah beach road, but it was fairly pointless really – anyone who knew Kovalam could easily have slipped through the network of alleyways to circumvent it.
In 2003 we had been with a group of friends and had joined the 20,000 others thronging the beach, and some of our party had contributed to the pyrotechnic mayhem with fireworks acquired from Trivandrum – but I had found the crowds of drunken men eager to paw at western women (with rather too lingering handshakes) and the random gunpowder explosions an unnerving experience that I didn’t feel the need to repeat, so we ate at the little Bethel restaurant close to the hotel and retired to enjoy the aerial bombardment from our poolside terrace with a bottle of sparkling Sula.
The next day we stopped taking malaria tablets, as we’d crossed into the low risk area once we got to Kannur and 4 weeks had elapsed since then. 2 days later I had my first dose of traveller’s diarrhoea. Coincidence? Maybe, but a reputed side effect of doxycycline is aclower incidence of tummy troubles. It was unpleasant but not serious, but did mean that Mr Vagabond had to have an ‘official’ birthday a couple of days after his real one.
Once I had recovered, we trudged up the hill to Kovalam junction one last time, to post home some surplus belongings – my tough Craghopper trousers that were just too hot, my new Clarks shoes that I hadn’t worn since the night we arrived in Mumbai, Mr V’s camera jacket, and a few odds and ends that we hoped would lighten our backpacks. Not cheap at around £20 for postage, but they were not things that we wanted to throw away – we were assured that delivery to Derby would take 7-10 days. I assumed it would take at least a fortnight – in fact it took 7 weeks, by which time we had pretty much given up hope of it ever arriving.
I still like Kovalam. It’s grown along the coast since our first visit in the 1990s, but behind Lighthouse beach it looks pretty much the same as it did then, and the lack of roads keeps it reasonably quiet. Most of the time.