Kovalam Beach Part 3 - Fishermen

Kovalam Beach Part 3 - Fishermen

The local fishermen in Kerala have a very interesting way of working; to be honest, it seems very inefficient, and has apparently been handed down from generation to generation, like so many other things in India. I read in the Lonely Planet guidebook that the fish catches used to be much bigger, but have become smaller due to large-scale commercial fishing offshore. Perhaps in the past this style of fishing provided a much better income for the fishermen; and even if the catches are smaller nowadays, it is undeniably hard work.

The fishermen go out in boats like this.


The boats are loaded with big, heavy nets and ropes. They leave quite early in the morning, one fisherman told me that he starts his day at about 4:00 am, and that they lay a total of about 4 km of nets and ropes. They carry the nets away from shore, and drop them. These nets are attached to very long sturdy ropes, which are brought back to shore by the boats while the nets remain in the water.


Then, men on the shore begin to slowly pull in the nets; this part certainly seems quite hard, and my guess is that 50 or more men help; it is a slow and labor intensive process.


There are ropes at each end of the net, so as the net is pulled into shore, it forms a very large U shape with the open end facing the shore.


Young and old all work together.



In the meantime, some men are in the ocean swimming in front of the open side of the net, splashing as much as possible with their arms, my guess is that they do this to scare the fish and drive them into the net, where they are trapped. This also looks like hard work, since they remain in the water for a long time, and the waves can sometimes get big.


Eventually, the net is pulled into shore.


The net is folded up to trap the fish, and pulled onto the sand.


Some wait expectantly for the catch.


But the catches are usually small.


This man approached me as I was taking photos and asked for money, saying that he has a hard time making a living, so I should pay a little for the photo opportunities.


I did not give him any, but we spoke for a short time. His name is Aran, if I understood him correctly. He told me that the catch is usually less than 200 fish, often under 100, and they usually get about 20 rupees per fish; so this is about 4,000 rupees on a good day. However, there are about 50 or more people working on the catch, if the money is divided evenly, this means about 80 rupees (about 200 yen) per day or less. This is certainly low by US, European or Japanese standards, but to put things in perspective, you can buy a good lunch in a local (non-tourist) restaurant in India for about 20 rupees. Aran also told me that there is only one catch per day, which lasts from about 4 am to 10:30 am, and after this they seem to spend some time maintaining the nets and ropes, so it is a long day.

I have also seem fishermen using smaller boats. These boats look very primitive and cumbersome, but they get the job done and seemed quite rugged.

The following photos were taken the last time I was in Kovalam in February of 2003 for Petri's workshop; I usually post only current photos on this blog, but this boat is interesting, so here are some old photos.

A local fisherman had a sign advertising snorkeling trips. My friend Junko Nakazono is an avid snorkeler, so we decided to give it a try. The price turned out to be 300 rupees per person for a two hour trip, which seemed quite expensive; in Thailand, we went on a 5 hour trip which included a good lunch, and the cost was the same. However the fisherman refused to lower his price, saying that it was too much work to set up the boat. At first, I thought this was merely an excuse to overcharge, but after watching the setup and helping to paddle to boat I felt more sympathetic!

The boat basically consists of 4 long, slightly curved and very heavy pieces of wood tied together by rope. There is space between the 4 pieces of wood so water comes in through the bottom of the boat; this boat does not float by trapping air inside, it floats only because the wood floats!


It is so heavy that the fisherman and his assistant have to carry each piece right to the water and assemble it there. otherwise the assembled boat is too heavy to move.


Once the 4 main pieces are lined up, a small piece of wood is held at either end, it is used to align the 4 main pieces and to provide a place to wrap the rope.


It took about 20 or 30 minutes to assemble the boat. With 4 passengers (me, Junko, the fisherman and his assistant), it was quite full and low in the water, some of the waves near the shore washed right over the boat.


The oars were also very simple: only a piece of bamboo cut in half along its length; there was no flat portion at the end, they seemed inefficient. Paddling was hard work!

The fisherman and his assistant handled the boat expertly, but it seemed difficult. The boat did seem very inefficient, but it must have some practical advantages, otherwise, the design would probably have been abandoned long ago.

If you can think of any advantages to this boat design, please leave a comment!

# by dcaplan | 2006-01-20 14:51 | Kovalam 3-Fishermen

Kovalam Beach, Kerala, Part 2

Kovalam Beach, Kerala, Part 2

On the way to Kovalam we saw that there are more christians in Kerala than around Mysore. Many houses, and even businesses such as banks, stores and hospitals, were decorated for Christmas. Many of the hotels here in Kovalam Beach also had christmas decorations, but maybe this is because of western tourism.

The most common form of decoration is colorful paper stars illuminated from inside; these look very pretty at night:


The hotel next to ours also had Chirstmas lights, and several hotels and restaurants also had nativity scenes.


Our hotel is the "Silent Valley" hotel, a little far from the beach, but very quiet and the the owners are very friendly. The rooms are small, but mosquito-free and comfortable, the beach and the yoga shala are only a short walk away, so I'm happy here. My room is on the top left.


There are two very distinct areas here; one is the beachside, there is a good beach for swimming, but especially at high tide, the waves can be big and the undercurrents can be strong.


The beach front is lined with larger hotels, shops and restaurants aimed mainly at western tourists.


Just walk a little inland from the beach, and the scene changes; there are many small paths winding through dense vegetation.


Here, the hotels, restaurants and shops are smaller; several of these restaurants and shops cater mainly to locals, and have much lower prices. Unfortunately, with the increase in tourism, these shops are slowly being replaced by more fancy expensive places that westerners like.

Many of the paths are also lined with tailor shops that make good and very cheap clothes to order; I had a shirt made for 200 rupees (about 500 yen). The shops are often very colorful.


One shop was owned by a Tibetan, Mr. Dawa, who claims to have the best selection of CD's in Kovalam. Mikko and I bought some from him.


Mikko and I sometime had breakfast at a restaurant which attracts mainly local customers. This man cooks parathas, indian bread fried on a skillet with oil. In the background, his wife works on the sambar.


Here is a local man enjoying his breakfast inside.


It is very good, but a little oily.


The cost of a breakfast for two (myself and Mikko), consisting of two plates of parathas with sambar and one chai for Mikko, was 21 rupees (about 50 yen)

I was suprised at how spicy the sambar was. This man, sitting next to me, laughed and said: "India food spicy, but Kerala food BIG spicy!".


Mikko was very enthusiastic about the food, and equally enthusiastic about his supplements!


Another alternative for breakfast was a seaside fruit salad, there are several women who make a living by preparing them. I had one made by this lady.


It tasted very good!


There are also several more expensive retaurants right by the seaside which are visited mainly by tourists; the local people cannot afford them, even though they are cheap by Japanese, US or European standards; a very good breakfast will cost about 100 rupees (about 250 yen).

For the first few days, we often hung out by the German Bakery, which has very good Indian and European food, and excellent cakes, and a fabulous view of the Arabian Sea.


This wall, with its ventailation holes, made an interesting background for a photo.


Unforturnately, both Mikko and I had problems with being overcharged at the German Bakery, and the staff were not too cooperative about fixing the mistakes, so towards the end of our stay, we stopping going there, and hung out at Swiss Cafe, which had excellent Indian and western food and cakes, or Suprabatham or Lonely Planet for Kerela style food.

How about Ashtanga practice? One of the reasons for coming to Kovalam, in addition to the sunshine, ocean, and good food, is that Lino Miele, a very senior Ashtanga teacher, is currently doing a workshop here. Lino is an excellent teacher, and like Sharath, has the ability to keep track of a large number of students at once and remember what everyone's levels and problem poses are. He teaching style is a mixture of strictness and good humor; he likes to challenge students to go beyond what we usually do, and make us work hard, but he is always cheerful and careful.


I respect Lino a lot as a teacher. Like Sharath and Guruji, he does not try to make asana practice too intellectual, philosophical or theoretical; instead, he emphasizes the flow of the practice. Just this morning, when I was having trouble with Mayurasana, he told me: "Daniel, you have to stop thinking about the pose, and just DO the pose!" This is my third time to study with Lino, the fist was in April of 2003 in Helsinki, and the second was in July of 2004 in Houskar, Finland, and every time we meet he seems to remember my practice quite well.

I hope that by practicing under such good teachers, I will become a better teacher myself!
# by dcaplan | 2006-01-18 19:42 | Kovalam Beach 2

Christmas in Kovalam

How I Spent Christmas - Kovalam Beach, Kerala, Part 1.

In Mysore, there were rumors that the shala would be closed for a few days around Christmas... unforturnately, there was no clear information about the exact dates... several people asked Guruji and we all got different answers, but it became clear that the shala would close for at least 3 days right after Christmas, so I made plans to head out to Kovalam Beach, Kerala with a few friends.

The first problem was how to get there. Travel in India can be slow and tiring. The planes were all full with people returning home for new year, and we had no luck getting a train reservation either, so we ended up renting a car with a driver for one week to take us there and back. Fortunately, prices in India are quite reasonable, the total cost of the car and driver for one week was about 12,000 rupees (about 30,000 yen, or 280 US dollars); dividing this by the 5 people in our group was not so bad.

On Sunday morning, Christmas Day, after Guruji's led class, we boarded the car. Our driver was Chendru, the same person who took us to Talakadhu and Somnathpur. He arrived a few minutes late, but we were soon underway. Our vehicle was a large 4 wheel drive Tata "Sumo", quite comfortable.



It was generally in good shape, but some of the rear lights needed work-Mikko doesn't look too worried, so it's probably OK!


We all fit in quite comfortably.


Driving in India can be scary... actually quite terrifying at times, but our driver was generally very safe and did an excellent job. We did have a good scare when we were overtaking a large truck labeled "Highly Inflammable"; another truck suddenly appeared around a turn but we just missed it, otherwise "Highly Inflammable" might have been the last thing we ever saw!


At one point we passed a group of people walking along the road with what looked like pillows tied to their heads. Chendru explained that they were pilgrims on the way to a nearby temple dedicated to the god brother of Ganesh, and the pillows were actually offerings of honey and coconuts wrapped in towels.


Soon we were driving through the hills in Bandipur National Park, where there are a variety of wild animals including elephants and tigers. The air was very cool and pleasant, and there were large bamboo forests. We stopped for lunch here. Fortunately, no tigers! Just bamboo, tall trees, shade and fresh air...


After lunch, before leaving the mountains and heading towards the flat costal areas of Kerala state, we had to pass through some scary mountain roads with lots of hairpin turns and some spectacularly steep drops; but everything went smoothly.


The above two photos were taken from here, see the red arrows:


The only setback we had came at about 5:00, we decided to stop at Danu's Bakery for an ice cream. As we parked, one of the rear tires suddenly went completely flat. The flat was no match for our ever friendly and efficient driver, Mr. Chenru, who had replaced the flat with our spare before we even finished our break. Luckily, there was a tire repair shop just down the road, so we pulled in.


This man quickly went to work; removing our wheel, finding the leak, and patching the tube.


This nail caused our flat tire.


In the meantime, Antonia kept herself entertained.


When the work on our tire was nearly done, a local man pulled in to have his scooter tire repaired.

No one knows why, but he suddenly decided to start demonstrating his Uddiyana Banda and Nauli to us.


His nauli was quite impressive; in Yoga, nauli is usually done side to side, but he was doing it with and up and down motion.

I asked whether he practiced Yoga, but it was very difficult to communicate; as far as I could tell, he said what he practiced was not Yoga or Kalaripayat (a martial art from Kerala); he tried to explain what he practiced, but we could not understand him.

He tried to get Mikko V. to imitate him, but without much success; Mikko S. seemed unimpressed with Mikko V's efforts:


We set off again at about 5:00 pm with a repaired tire and a new appreciation of Nauli; but we were shocked to discover that after about 6 hours of travel, we had covered less than half the distance from Mysore to Kovalam.

Wait! The travel agent had told us that this would be a 9 or 10 hour trip! How could this be? Apparently, our travel agent calculated the time based only on the distance, but did not consider the relatively slow roads we had to use; our average speed was probably only about 30 km/h. We had no choice but to resign ourselves to many more hours in the car. Fortunately, our driver still seemed OK, so we went on.

By about 10:00 pm, a little past halfway there, we yogis were totally exhausted; we had been up since about 4:00 am for morning practice. Far more troubling was that our driver also seemed to be tiring: he said he was fine to continue all the way to Kovalam but we decided to stop at the first clean looking hotel. A gas station attendant told us about a good hotel about 20 km down the road, which turned out to be the "Prince Hotel". No, not the luxurious Japanese chain, but a local hotel which was quite nice, with A/C, running hot water etc. We were delighted! The mattress was the best I have used in several months, and we all got a good night's rest!


The next morning, Dec. 26, we left the Prince Hotel at about 7:00 and finally reached Kovalam Beach at about 1:00 pm. The trip was relatively easy, since the roads in Kerala state are definitely better than those in Karnataka.
At Kovalam beach, we checked into our rooms, and went straight to the shala for a light practice. After spening about 16 hours in a car, we were happy to be moving again! I intended to do a light practice, perhaps standing poses only, because I did not know how much my body could handle after that car ride, but before I knew it, I had done the entire primary series, and it felt good!

After practice, eating lunch at a restaurant with a great view of the ocean, it truly felt like we had finally reached our destination!


To be Continued
# by dcaplan | 2006-01-18 19:16 | Kovalam Beach 1