Sunday at the Beach: Kovalam, Kerala

#1: Morning

Not yet 7.30am and this is a working beach. There are a few tourists around: families with energetic young children who wake early, that sort of thing. They pose for photographs with the lighthouse in the background or have a quick paddle in the sea.

Otherwise the beach belongs to the fishermen. They are pulling in a net. This is a slow, arduous process. There must be 40 men on 2 ropes, heaving and coiling. Stepping back and forward, arm over arm. I can count 5 men in the water: black heads bobbing on the blue sea, disappearing under the waves when they break.

 A gentle breeze wafts in off the sea, rustles through the palm trees and mingles with the smell of wood smoke from last night’s tandoori oven. The fishermen chant in time with the waves and the black crows stand in hopeful groups, waiting for what they can scavenge. Stray dogs run down the sand, across the ropes and into the water. They have no interest in fish.

The sun is still rising behind us but it is already hot. The beach vendors are setting out umbrellas and sun loungers. Soon the fishermen will finish work and the tourists and day-trippers will arrive.




#2: Afternoon

In early afternoon, I walk back along the beach. A crowd has gathered around a pushcart and people are walking away with orange and red ice lollies in the shapes of rockets.

The umbrellas and loungers are busy. They are for sun protection and resting, not for sunbathing. There are also boogie boards for hire. People are munching on snacks. The black crows still look hopeful.

The surf is now crowded with people. There are a few sari-clad women and a few girls in shorts and tops, but it is mainly the men who bathe in the sea. Everybody is clothed. There is shouting and cheering, jumping and diving. There is also whistling, from the beach stewards in their blue uniforms. This can be a dangerous beach, so the signs tell us.

I climb to the top of the lighthouse. The last part is up a ladder. A young girl is coaxed up by her father (pulling from above) and her mother (pushing from below). With bare feet and sweating hands I don’t feel altogether comfortable myself.

From the top I can see the waves falling on the beach and there seems to be an undercurrent there. Maybe the stewards have a point.


 #3: Evening

Everybody gathers on the beach to watch the sunset. It is low season, so there are plenty of empty seats on the balcony of a restaurant. In high season, I would have to book a day in advance to get this view.

Fishing boats are going out to sea from all along the coast. The boats still on the beach are being used by tourists: to lean on, shelter under, dry clothes on. The day is nearly over and children are being coaxed out of the water (ice cream appears to be the lure).

The stewards are still blowing their whistles, but with less enthusiasm now. Young men are coming out of the water, drying themselves off and discreetly removing shorts from under towels.

The lighthouse lights up at 6pm and the light begins to rotate. The fishing boats light up too and twinkle on the sea. The sound of the engines mixes with the noise of the waves. The smell of wood smoke grows stronger again and the crows are still here, still hopeful and still scavenging.

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