Day 6 - Cycling in SW India - Guravayoor

After yesterday's long journey the pace has slowed down again and we spent the morning cycling around the environs of Guruvayoor, the afternoon hiding from the heat and resting, and the evening exploring the town and sampling street food.

Tootling through the suburbs was very pleasant.  Once we got out the city centre our progress attracted lots of attention from children and adults alike who shouted and waved at us, asking us where were we from and what were our names. They were all smiles and very friendly. 

Guruvayoor is a significant town for Hindus and its main temple is the fifth most visited Hindu temple in India.  The population of Kerala however is very mixed with roughly equal proportions of Hindus, Muslims and Christians.  Today the Muslim children were particularly easy to spot on their way to religious schools.  Both boys and girls were immaculately dressed: the boys in white with little round hats and the girls in darker clothes with head scarves.  Apparently all communities get on very well together.

Papadum factory
The mix between rich and poor was starkly apparent. The houses in the outskirts of town looked very lavish - large, well maintained and brightly painted. Some had garages attached with two or three cars. Alongside, almost cheek by jowl, were poor houses, including, near the coast, fisherman's houses made from sheets of woven bamboo leaves.
Roadside posters

A general election is just two months away and political activity is very apparent, particularly from the communist party Red bunting was strung across the road and the hammer and sickle emblem, along with Castro and Che Guevara images, was everywhere. The Communist Party is particularly strong in the state of Kerala which apparently is well run and has one of the highest literacy rates in India.
Traditional fishing boat
Hauling the boat up the beach
My hat please
Our first stop was at the coast and on the beach which looked great but is not good for swimming.  Large and elegant boats adorned the beach and a smaller one was landing as we arrived. The fisherman's catch was tangled up in the net at the bottom of a boat that was no larger than a canoe.  As soon as the boat arrived it was surrounded by local children who seemed keen to push it up the beach possibly in exchange for a fish, but seeing us there attention soon shifted. Grabbing our helmets, they marched around the beach acting out some Indian impression of a western cyclist, all very good humoured and we even got our helmets back.
A large wedding guest
Next stop was a strange sort of elephant zoo. Elephant donation to the Temple was thought to bring good luck (they now have more than deal with, 80 mainly bull elephants) - and to cover their costs the elephants are hired out to appear at weddings and other ceremonies.  We saw one heading off on the back of a lorry as we arrived. Each elephant is looked after by three keepers, but spend most of their time chained to a post.  Not nice.

More suburbs and then up a little hill to the Christian centre of the town. Legend has it that St Thomas (doubting Thomas) arrived here in the first century AD and set up a Christian community.  We even saw a stone with a cross on it on which he was supposed to kneel to pray.  Whether or not the St Thomas story is believed there was a branch of the Assyrian Church here long before the Catholic missionaries arrived in the 16th Century and 'revised' local Christian practice to fit in with western orthodoxy.  Interestingly when the Muslims arrived in the 7th Century Kerala was also their first foothold in the Indian subcontinent.

In the evening we visited the famous Hindu temple itself (non-Hindus can't go in) and witnessed the long queues of people waiting to go inside.  It was Saturday and everyone was dressed up in traditional clothes. Waiting in line for several hours seems to be what Hindus in this part of the country do for a night out.  They were smiling and looked like they were having a good time.

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