Raging white horses and sleeping lions

November 30, 2006

Just killing some time in an internet place before we leave Kerala. It’s been good; Kovalam has grown on me a lot, as has our somewhat unpreposessing hotel.

We’ve been in Kerala about eight days now, so it’s probably time to move on. Though with a decent book I’d be happy to spend more time on the beach it must be said. (I’ve finished The System of the World; I’d recommend that trilogy by Neal Stephenson to anyone who’s not afraid of vast amounts of text, and is interested in history, intrigue, philosophy, and the transition to a world of British imperial power based on new technology and financial acumen. Oh, but while being smart and dense, it’s also somewhat pulpy and has plenty of adventure.)

The past few days, the bellies have settled (though not to the point that we want spicey food every meal; seems a bit shoddy to eat pizzas here, but what the heck) and we’re had a chance to relax. Although sitting on a beach, or walking the promenade, in Kovalam is never entirely relaxing due to the frenzy of touts calling out and accosting you – especially the persistent fruit sellers. “You want fruit?” “No thank you.” “Banana?” “No thank you.” “Papaya?” “No thank you.” “Pineapple” “No thank you.” “Fruit salad?!!!!” “No thank you.” At which point them bring out their secret weapon: “Mango?!!!”. “No thank you.” “You not like fruit?” “No. Thank you.” Repeat this exchange every five or ten minutes. Bless em. And bless their hygience standards.

Still, the beach is nice – or more precisely, it’s a nice place to hang out when it’s sunny, and the surf is a lot of fun. I love playing about in waves. I’m not sure I feel the need to learn to surf but you can’t beat mucking about in good breakers, body surfing, aka getting bashed about. My body-surfing technique is probably very rudimetary (front crawl fast as possible, make a torpedo shape if the wave takes you), but hey, I enjoy it.

On a very different note, we went to Neyyar Dam yesterday, which is about 25km east of Kovalam. Our very friendly taxi driver showed us rubber trees, cotton trees, pepper plants, tapioca plants, which was a rewarding botanical education, but the main point of the trip was to visit a tiny lion “park” on the shore of the dam’s lake. Really, it was just an acre or two of fenced in forest, but it is home to eight Asiatic lions. This sub-species of lion is a little different to the Africa lion, its males have less mane and are slightly smaller I believe. They’re also very race – after turn of the 19th century, they’d almost become extinct, with very few left. Although it’s now extinct in the Middle East, the populations are slowly improving in India I believe, with a few hundred in a reserve in the Gir Forest in Gujarat. (They’re still on the Critically Endangered list.)

Our wee trip highlighted a problem with animal conservation – it involves people. I often think with nature documentaries, the logistics of chasing animals around, flying all over the globe, humping around equipment etc, is hardly very green, in terms of aviation fuels etc etc. But the pay off is documentaries bring awareness and interest in the issues. As tourists, we choose to vist lions in a mini park out of interest, even concern, but it’s decidedly dodgy when the guys driving you through the park get out and throw stones at the slumbering beasts as they assume a photo opportunity is most important to you. Very bizarre situation.

We saw a male and a female in the underbrush, but they were mostly obscured (and only roared and shifted slightly when pelted). Luckily, we then saw a large male, who was – in typical cat fashion – largely uninterested in our group’s nonsense of snapping cameras and banging doors (another sophisticated technique used by the guides to wake them up a bit). Got to love cats.

The guides insisted on driving round and round to find more of the beasts, who were obviously hidden and slumbering. At one point, the men even got out of the mini-bus to clear a fallen branch, leaving the door wide open.

Still, seeing a few of these important beasts was good. Even if we were responsible for burning yet more fuel and culpable for the blokes throwing stones at the sleeping lions. (Pics to follow; can’t face trying to do it now. Maybe it’ll be whizzier in wealthier Singapore).

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4 Responses to “Raging white horses and sleeping lions”

  1. the doctor Says:

    phew, very glad to hear you’re doing good doo-doo at last. now you can get back to the serious business of necking curries at every sitting.
    those lions sound amazing… nice to know those domestic moggie tendencies have such stately provenance. shame on those door-slamming, stone-throwing taxi drivers, though…


  2. Yes, it was great to see the lions. I do wonder how many of these really notable species will be extinct in our life times, or if we can save them. It might sound callous, but it’s harder to get upset if an endangered insect is lost, but if it’s a big cat or a great ape (of which there are so few species), it’s such a monumental, horrifying prospect.

    Was kinda hoping to see some orang-utans, but we’re not going to the right part of SE Asia. They’re another species that’s in a pretty precarious state.

  3. Helen Etherington Says:

    All sounds wonderful Dan. We are much enjoying keeping up with your adventures. In Blackheath at the moment with Juliet and Dick who send their love. Cats make me think of Oedipus! Hope all continues to go well.

  4. samjordison Says:

    They threw stones at them! Damn!


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