The final leg.

Trip Start Dec 12, 2005
Trip End May 02, 2006

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Saturday, April 8, 2006

When we left our rather plush beach resort close to Callicut, we headed towards a place called Challakuddy. This was a place that we asked Raffi to include in the itinerary because it is the location of the "Divine Retreat". A few months before we came to India, one of the priests from the retreat visited Maire's church in Ilford and when he heard that we were heading for Kerala gave Maire an invite to come along to the retreat if she had the time. Father Joseph told us that we were welcome to stay the night or longer but Maire only really wanted to attend mass and take communion. I'm not sure quite what I expected but the retreat itself is huge and Christians come from all over India to visit. The retreat is able to handle as many as 25,000 worshipers at any one time and there are always prayer meetings or bible readings going on. The place caters for seven languages and visitors on retreat usually stay for a week. In that time they are given food and board....It really must be a huge logistical exercise when the place gets really busy. Although Father Joseph is a Catholic priest, the place is run along the lines of an American Evangelical operation. All the hymns are "Happy Clappy" songs and every sentence contains lots of "Halleluiahs" and "Praise the Lords" We were given a lunch and a room to rest in and told that mass was at 6.30pm and also warned that it would last for maybe over 3 hours! We decided not to take the offer of staying in the retreat....mostly because we wanted to get out as early as we could in the morning and did not want to risk getting invited to any extra prayer meetings. Raffi and I started to look for a hotel in the town.....but unfortunately Challakuddy is way off the tourist routes and the only accommodation available was extremely basic....Room, bed and toilet. The only saving grace was that it was very cheap (250 rupees per night).

Raffi took us back to the retreat and we made our way to the hall where the mass was held. True to his word, the priest (Father Xavier) managed to draw the mass out for over three hours and the congregation....(well most of them) lapped it up. There were "Halleluiahs" and "Praise the Lords" all over the place and every time he said "Praise the Lord," with his arms raised then the whole congregation also raised their arms too.....It rather reminded me of an ecclesiastical version of Simon Says.
Eventually the service ended with a long list of all the pilgrims who had prayed to the Lord to be healed from various ailments and who had their prayers answered. The list included just about everything from cancer to hemorrhoids and after each one we had to give a "Praise the Lord" Maire noticed that I was being less than enthusiastic in my praises after the first twenty or so and gave me a sharp dig in the side....I wondered if the Lord could do anything about my bruised ribs. As we left the service we were met by Father Joseph who insisted that we join him and the other priests for dinner before leaving and we did enjoy a very tasty curry, which was prepared by the nuns who work at the retreat.

I was not looking forward to spending the night at the "Premier Lodge" but we had a couple of beers to dull the senses and the night passed quickly enough. In the morning we shipped out as early as possible and headed for our last stop which was the beach resort of Cherrai, a few miles outside Kochin. I had heard quite a lot about Cherrai and how it is still an unspoilt beach but may well become the next big resort. On the way Raffi took us to a river with an impressive set of waterfalls. These looked quite spectacular but in a few months time, once the monsoon hits they will become truly awesome. Once again we were asked to pose for several photos with the locals visiting the beauty spot.

Arriving at Cherrai we tried several hotels on the seafront and finally opted to stay at the "Baywatch Hotel." Once again, this was a very pleasant choice clean, quiet and comfortable. As this was the final port of call on our journey, Maire and I decided to make it a two night stay and very pleasant it was too. Cherrai has a long sandy beach and sea front, (ideal for running on and swimming in) which is several miles in length. It was a most agreeable place to relax in with just enough restaurants and hotels to make the place interesting but not overcrowded. I can well understand why so many people in Kerala are looking to purchase land in the area in the hope that the value will quickly show a good profit.

On Friday we spent a few hours shopping in Kochin then on Saturday made the five hour drive back to Varkala. Our trip had been long but more than worthwhile....We certainly crammed a lot into the journey. I can certainly recommend the idea of taking a taxi on these trips. It is not as expensive as it sounds. I reckon that hiring Raffi and his taxi cost about 200 pounds for the sixteen days and on top of that we had to pay for our accommodation......but we both agreed that the whole trip was excellent value for money. I shall certainly fondly remember our trip up into the Western Ghats.
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