There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Friday, 11 March 2016

Marari Beach, Rest, Recreation and Refuse: Part 15 of India's Deep South

9th, 10th and 11th of March 2016

The village of Mararikulam is only 11km north of Alapuhzza so we arrived before midday.

Mararikulum  is too close to Alapphuza to mark on a map of this scale
The area was new to Thomas and in finding the Xandari Pearl Resort he was quick to seek directions from locals. Lynne pointedly approved; ‘so unlike your idiotic self’ being the unspoken implication.

The village is a ribbon development with a school, a couple of small shops and several well separated resort hotels.

The Xandari Pearl opened last year and while leading us to our bungalow the receptionist told us proudly of their green credentials. They grow all their herbs and vegetables, source fish from the local fishermen and have their own drinking water supply. The grounds contain 600 coconut trees and numerous mangoes and cashews.

Cashew nut, Marari Beach
‘We are very health-conscious,’ she continued, ‘so we serve fruit juice, tea and coffee but no alcohol.’ She tried to sell this as a plus, but whether as a consequence of Kerala’s semi-prohibition (we had met the same problem in another new hotel in Munnar) or of a Muslim management’s conscious decision, it was bad news to those who feel that hot days by the seaside without cold beer are like idlis without chutney. The nearby alternatives amounted to… well… nothing, so we would have to suck it up – or, more precisely, not suck it up. Fortunately enough rum had survived for pre-dinner drinks or night caps - or both on the last day.

Our bungalow was like a small Portuguese villa, painted white inside and out,.....

Our white painted bungalow, Xandari Pearl Resort, Marari Beach
 ….with a curving white wall enclosing a private garden.

A glass or rum in our private garden, Marari Beach
The interior was light and spacious with a door through to the outside bathroom; the toilet and washbasins under cover, the shower (and a small garden) surrounded by another curving white wall. I love showering in the fresh air - and the shaving mirror never mists up - but this was the finest outside shower we have yet encountered. The only drawback is that when visiting the bathroom at night, the step from the air conditioned interior to the hot bathroom (and it remains hot even in the hours before dawn) takes your breath away, while the return resembles entering an ice box.

Looking from the covered section of the bathroom to the outside shower, Marari Beach
I shall not bother with an hour by hour account of our three night stay as much of it involved lazing by the pool,...

Lounging by the pool, Marari Beach
…or wallowing in it.

Wallowing in the pool, Marari Beach
We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel restaurant; there was nowhere else within walking distance and no tuk-tuks in Mararikulum. It seemed expensive at first – a single chapatti cost more than a ‘pure veg meal’ outside - but it was appropriate for the standard of the hotel and cheap enough by international standards. The menu was not long with full meals and lighter bites, and there was little that one or other (or both) of us did not sample. Seer fish in a masala crust, spicy tomato and vegetable soup, Kerala fish curry with tamarind and coconut, chicken salad with papaya dressing, chicken stuffed with nuts, vegetables and lime, lamb in yogurt gravy with hot pepper sauce and desserts of ice cream or vatalappam (coconut custard with jaggery, cashews, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg) were all elegantly presented and straddled European and Indian traditions without insulting either. The Indian mackerel, selected from the fresh fish trolley, filleted then fried with a masala crust and served with ‘English’ vegetables was particularly good.

We drank lime juice or water (though cold beer would have been better). Carafes of the hotel’s spring water were set out an hour or more before serving. Sitting by the pool a raised arm would bring a carafe of water with floating lemon (good) and cucumber (not so) but that was never chilled either.

Breakfasts were good, there was a buffet but Indian breakfasts could also be ordered. My dosa with chutneys and sambar looked as good as it tasted.

Dosa with chutneys and sambar
We walked down to the village, the road was narrow and busy and there was nothing to see. At what we took for the centre we turned towards the beach passing a Hindu shrine,….

Hindu shrine, Marari Beach
… a Christian shrine….

Christian shrine, Marari Beach
…and a pool where one man cast his net, though there was an ocean less than 100m behind him.

A pool where one (eccentric?) man chose to fish, Marari Beach
We returned along Marari Beach, walking two of the ‘eleven kilometres of golden sand lapped by the warm blue Arabian Sea’ to quote the brochures. It is the home of fishermen and, around the water mark, as many small crabs as I have ever seen. Largely undeveloped, Marari Beach is in its natural condition, which unfortunately means covered in the detritus of our civilization, plastic bottles, single sandals, floats, pieces of rope, and more than a few things on whose origins I would not care to speculate. There were also ample dog faeces and a dead waterfowl, its decaying corpse being rolled in the shallows by the incoming waves. It is not the beach that dreams are made of, though it could be if the hotels cooperated to clean it up.

Marari Beach, Kerala
The white objects standing on their ends are polystyrene fishing boats (see below)
We spent a little time on the beach every day, accessed through the coconut palms and past a hut where a security guard ensured no undesirables found their way into the hotel's somewhat exclusive version of paradise. He gave us a cheery wave as we came and went, few of the other guests ever ventured out and I think he was glad to see somebody.

As we walked one afternoon a child appeared from the trees. 'Hello, where do you come from?' she asked. Lynne told her. 'What is your name?' She told her that too and, just as in the schoolbook this conversation comes from she asked 'and what is your name?' It was long and complicated as so many names are in southern India. Then the girl said 'Money.' 'No,' Lynne answered and she went away. She did not look ragged or poor, she was just trying it on. Tourism brings jobs and development, but not all its effects are benign.

We sat and watched the crabs popping up out of their burrows and scuttling along the sand. We watched the dogs too who seem to live on the beach, chasing the crabs every time they put in an appearance. Perhaps the crabs are part of their diet - maybe most of their diet. The time spent pointing my camera at crabs who scuttled off as I was focusing was eventually rewarded with one decent photo.

Ghost crab, Marari Beach
There are 22 species of ghost crab. This is (probably) Ocypode Brevicornis or Ocypode  macrocera
I snapped a couple of birds as well, a stint or sandpiper of some description...

A stint or sandpiper of some description, Marari Beach
 …and an Asian dowitcher. I know little about birds and if anybody challenges my identifications I will quickly back down.

Asian dowitcher (I think) Marari Beach
 Of the fishermen, some threw their nets while wading in the shallows, others unfurled them from the usual local fishing boat…

The standard fishing boat along this coast
….while others pottered along on the polystyrene craft that can be seen all over the beach. Light and cheap they are popular with poorer fishermen, but although the boats are not very durable their constituent parts are almost indestructible and add yet more to the refuse on the beach.

Fisherman on a polystyrene boat
Lynne was happy to paddle in the warm water but regarded the steeply shelving beach and occasional waves with alarm.

Lynne paddles in the Arabian Sea, Marari Beach
Unlike Lynne I am naturally drawn to water, but I inspected the waves warily.

Watching the waves warily, Marari Beach
I had seen the filth on the beach and suspected the water might be the same. I could not see any floating turds or rotting cadavers, so I took my shirt off and waded gingerly forward. But the danger does not come from what you can see; was I walking into a broth of cholera, diphtheria and a dozen more deadly diseases I have never heard of and have no immunity to? I was still debating with myself when a sudden wave took the decision for me.

The wave makes the decision for me, Marari Beach
After that I might just as well swim. I did not stay in long and I kept my mouth shut tight, though doubtless there are a dozen other ways for death to gain entrance. [update June 2017. I can confidently say I came to no harm. I can also say I have swum in the Arabian Sea.]

Floating in the Arabian Sea, Marari Beach
Each evening we went to the beach at sunset. This has been a theme throughout this holiday, indeed in the whole blog, and our failures continued on Marari Beach. Since we reached the west coast the sun has regularly disappeared not into the sea but into a band of clouds above the horizon.

The sun about to sink into the clouds, Marari Beach
That is all I have to say about the Xandari Pearl Resort beside Marari Beach. It is a lovely hotel, the bungalows are all you could want, the surroundings are beautiful, the staff friendly and efficient - pity about the lack of a drinks licence. And why do Marari's collection of upmarket hotels not get together to clean up their shared beach - it is a disgrace.

India's Deep South 

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