Beside the sea side

Chinese fishing nets
Colour scheme

The full of promise train ride away from the hill station dawned bright and clear. Well, it did somewhere, but not in Lovedale where we awoke to the insides of a cloud. Look, I can see ten feet, oh, not anymore. We had until the afternoon, maybe it would clear. The train itself was a relic from another age, five carriages of carved wood and hand painted minor glory pushed and pulled by a pretty but foul smelling engine.

Refreshment stop

Each carriage had a series of compartments, a bench each side, ten people per compartment. One side would get the view down and across the escarpment, the other; rock, scrub and trees in close up. Luckily we only shared our space with two young couples, and their enormous weekend bags. They began taking selfies, all angles, head out of the windows, both heads out, and another and another. Tash somewhat generously joined in.

The view

I recognised the steamy moisture laden glass, the grey blur beyond, the damp smells, the shaking progress; this was like a thousand bus and train journeys from my past. The view, where was the view? For an hour, as I strained to see beyond the selfie absorbed lovebirds, and the grey streaked glass, I caught glimpses of … grey. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway tracked it’s clanking path down through the clouds. Later, pockets of green bloomed in the distance, and as we descended further the rain stopped, the horizon appeared, and a sense of the majestic views we’d missed caught in our minds. One of the couples slept, nodding over their phones.

Syrian church
Lots of fishing needs lots of ice
The dullest relic

We were heading away from the Western Ghats, down to the coast of Kerala, to Cherai Beach. We arrived late in the evening via train, taxi, an overnight stay in Coimbatore and a lovely hour waiting for a train spent in the company of a half dozen or more teenage boys. On arriving our first impressions were how beautiful the place was, a lovely garden, backing directly onto a lagoon, a handsome suite of buildings, welcoming hosts, and located in the strip of land between sea and backwater.

Home for a week
Modern folk art
Chocolate is big business

The next morning the sun rose over the still waters beyond the garden, egrets, kingfishers, brahiminy kites stood and perched and circled, crows cawed their flat banter, and a puddle of plastic bottles, gathered together by the gentle tidal ululations, pressed their depressing forms against the bank.


Rubbish is everywhere. Sweet wrappers, the one rupee chews of the times, crisp packets, medicine blister packs, all manner of flimsy, garish, crinkled plastic waste. Bottles, both glass and plastic, like some variation on a paper chase, line every route, litter mixing with the fallen leaves, the boundary of debris – stones, ballast, broken bricks – merging into the plastic entangled undergrowth. Everywhere. City, town, village, road, path, track, wood, stream, pool, river, sea and shore.

Machine shop couture

In Lovedale, I spent a fretful night imagining smashing the daily empty beer bottle – the shattering noise, the repeated hammer blows needed to make dust of glass – when I realised that our rubbish was being disposed of in the woods behind the house. Thereafter we took our plastic and glass waste into Ooty and squeezed it into a bin. I passed on my problem.

Mostly there is no waste collection. It’s a costly municipal service, and what would happen to it? I realise I’m offended because here there is no throwing away, just throwing. So the random piles of bursting bags take root, the nuzzling teasing tongued cows worrying through their contents. Houses are swept, yards are swept, little fires made of leaves and anything else caught within the arc of the broom. The bitter smell of burning plastic seems never far away. And at home, where is away? Is something recycled because it’s sent far away to be buried?

Milk machine

So I look at the bottles nudging against the bank, and I look away, at the kingfisher perched on the fence, it’s strange occasional bobbing paroxysm, the amazing irridescence revealed as it takes flight, at the egrets standing awkwardly on a floating raft of weeds, across the flat calm of the lagoon at the brilliant architecture of the Chinese fishing nets with their spidery cantilevered structure. I look away and look beyond. It is a beautiful place.