If I hadn’t have booked a ticket to visit Kerala in India in December 2011, there is no way that I would be travelling now. There are some trips that resonate so deeply with you, that they can completely change the way you think about travel, and make you assess parts of your own character as well. For me, that trip was Kerala. This state in the south of India is home to some of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever seen, and the most delicious food that I’ve ever put in my mouth – reason enough for a visit. But what made Kerala so special, was the kindness of virtually every local person that I encountered.
The incredible landscape of Kerala.
Take a stroll along the cute streets of Cochin, order a pineapple juice at a café in Varkala, or trek into the tea plantations of Munnar, and you will invariably encounter Indian people who want to speak to you for the sake of speaking to you. Because they are genuinely interested in your life, in your trip, and what you think of their home. In January and February of this year I was in Thailand and I found that people were mostly friendly when there was a commercial transaction involved. It didn’t give me a wholly positive view of the country, and consequently, I really don’t think I would return. But in Kerala, the people could not have been any kinder – and it made my trip the most special of my life.
Let me elucidate my point by providing an example. About three weeks into my Kerala trip, I decided to get ‘off the beaten track’ (gross) and stay with a family on a working farm that was quite frankly in the middle of nowhere. It took me 17 hours to get to this place from within the same state – that’s how far away from anything of note this place was. I spent some of my time chatting with the family, teaching a twelve year old boy written English, and taking long walks around the surrounding area. I love walking, I take real pleasure in just setting off somewhere on foot and seeing where it will take me. The problem with these countryside locations is that they are often home to animals that might not want to play nice.
I was walking at a slow pace along a dirt track, when I saw a smaller path that splintered off and decided to see where it would take me. There were a couple of country houses, and people outside would nod their heads toward me, and I would do the same in return. The path eventually came to a dead end and I had to return, but as I passed one of the country houses on my way back, two dogs outside had decided to become fiercely protective of their territory. Those growls of country dogs always terrify me, and I am sure it’s only a matter of time until I get bitten (I was chased three times in Thailand). There didn’t seem to be anyone else around so I shouted out ‘Help!’, looking like a total loon most probably. Three small kids emerged and chased the dog off with a stick, ensuring that I could peacefully walk past their home and get back to the farm.
My miniature sized Keralan heroes.
I was of course incredibly relieved and expressed my thanks to the group of kids. I walked on for about another five minutes and I saw that the same children were chasing after me. “What is it?” I asked, at which point they opened up their hands and presented me with berries that they had just picked. These kids had already helped me once, and then out of pure kindness, had decided to pick some berries to give to me. It was a genuinely heart filling moment for me, and I often think about those three boys and how I can learn from their example.
It seems so obvious to say that kindness is a virtue and that being kind to each other makes the world a better place, but it is equally easy to get swept up in our own lives, our own situations, and essentially, in selfishness. If I ever feel selfishness creeping up on me, and it regularly does, I remind myself of my time in Kerala and the kindness for the sake of kindness that I experienced during my month long trip.
What important lessons have you learned while travelling?