Saturday, November 25, 2006

I have moved back into the hills for a couple of days in the Wayanad region, known in these parts for the wildlife sanctuary that is the main attraction. A small group of towns, the two largest being Kalpetta and Sulthan Battery, make good bases from which to explore the sanctuary, jain temples and caves of the region.

The weather has improved a bit from the conditions further south while I was at bodhi zendo and we now have 27C, sunny and very humid. Haresh, a 27 year old slightly overweight chemistry MSc who I got talking to on the bus here tells me that this is definitely the best time of year to be here though. From April onwards as the monsoon builds humidity builds from very humid to stupidly humid. Even the locals are drenched in sweat some of the time. Mental note - always come to Kerala after July.

Leaving Kozhikode this morning, after catching a few soul destroying hours of the first Ashes test from Brisbane, the bus hammered along towards what looked like an enormous cloud bank, ominously grey and weighty. I assumed for an hour or so that we were in for a soaking. As we covered more ground, swerving dangerously along the main streets of small towns, the exhaust pipe of the bus emitting a sound similar to a large calibre machine gun particularly at mid-gear revs, the cloud bank resolved intself into the Western Ghats. Above, if one dipped one's head to look out of the side of the windowless bus, was the hazy washed out blue of the sky, and rising towards it was a sheer wall of foothills that began abruptly from the fertile plains on this thin strip of coast. The Ghats are narrow here and it was simply a few hairpin turns and 30 minutes before we were travelling across a plateau, now covered by a mixture of plantations from cardamom, vanilla, tea and sugar palm to rice paddies and bush clad hillsides. Monkeys scampered across the road ahead dodging road works and potholes as the bus barreled along. These bus drivers can pull some interesting overtaking moves.

My discussions with Haresh were proving fruitful. Apparently the reason for the apparent boom in North Kerala is not really to do with domestic economics. It seems that, like Philippinos for example, Keralans are big migrant labourers. Millions work overseas, mostly in the Middle East (West Asia as it is known here). It is the remmitances from the 3 or 4 million Keralans slaving away overseas that is now boosting local family incomes here. Still, lets not get excited. Haresh, qualified as he is, and his wife, with a similar education in Physics, together earn about Rs10,000 per month. GBP120. In addition, there is definitely some serious inflation in sectors of the local economy here. Commodity prices have risen inexorably around the world over the last few years, pulled higher by the combination of monetary pump priming in the US and Chinese hypergrowth. If your main expenses include cooking oil, bus fares and rice then your household budget may be more highly impacted by this than households with higher incomes and more diversified consumption patterns. Unsurprisingly Haresh would love to go overseas. Almost anywhere. To do almost anything. He talked about a local saying, 'Shining India'. An evocative phrase indeed. Aspirations here are high. For some they may be fulfilled.

No comments: