Talking to a friend this week about her upcoming trip to Kerala reminded me of my time on Kovalam Beach in 1977 and thought it time to get some notes written up about those days.

That was the year I travelled overland from London to India. Digital cameras were not even thought of back then and all i had was my little kodak pocket camera and a few rolls of 127 film. Most of my photos have survived but are now aging gracefully and thanks to the digital age i am able to preserve them by taking photos of the photos, upload them here and show “How it was” nearly 40 years ago.

Map of my travels in India

Map of my travels in India 1977

  • The only way to travel to Kovalam  was by taxi or by the late afternoon bus from Trivandrum. Since i had arrived in Trivandrum just after dark I had no choice but to take a taxi. This was my first taxi ride in India. The one thing i remember about this ride was the pitch black darkness that surrounded us when the driver kept turning the headlights on and off. When i asked him why he did it, he replied that it was to save electric………..  🙂
  • I took a room in a house that was popular with backpackers, not far from the sea. In my room was a huge wooden chest. The woman of the house asked me not to touch the chest and left the room without giving any explanation.
  • Kovalam Beach Homestay

    View through the coconut palms to the house that i stayed in on Kovalam Beach

  • It was at breakfast the next morning i found out all about the wooden chest. There were about ten of us sitting round this table when someone shouted “Heads Down” while a million or so cockroaches flew over our heads and out for their morning exercise !!!! An hour or so later they returned to the chest. This was repeated about sunset time each day.
  • I decided after that event to continue to  rent the room so i had a place to leave my backpack, but i would sleep outside on the beach under the stars which proved very enjoyable. Going to sleep to the sound of the waves as background music. I dont remember it raining either
  • Those days on Kovalam Beach turned into weeks. Life was so idyllic. We pretty much had the beach to ourselves. There were only a few fishermans houses scattered along the beach.
  • Christmas Dinner Kovalam Beach 1977

    Eating Christmas Dinner from a banana leaf Kovalam Beach 1977

  • We wore minimal clothes on and around the beach.  Either a pair of shorts or a sarong wrapped round my waist and in the evening a t-shirt as well.
  • The Kovalam backpacker community was small, around 20 to 30 of us. We got to know each other and developed a good cameraderie between us. Books were exchanged, surf boards were borrowed and at night we would sit around talking and planning travels.
  • The house i stayed in was made from wood and coconut leaves. The kitchen was outside at the back, as was the open air fenced squat toilet. For bathing we would wander along the beach and queue up at the well, taking it in turns to pull a bucket up, tip it over our head before sending it down for a refill.
  • If we wanted to spend a day in Trivandrum we would either take the early morning bus or find enough people to taxi share. Once in Trivandrum we would drink a delicious coffee in one of the coffee houses lining the main street, do some shopping for supplies and have a Masala Dosa before heading back to the beach.
  • There was a Hotel at the top of the cliff and on my birthday I decided to treat myself to a birthday beer. So I invited a friend to join me and up we walked to the hotel. I remember entering through the main door and feeling instantly out of place. Dressed as i was in my sarong and shirt all eyes in the hotel lobby turned to gaze at this hippy intruder. We ordered our drinks at the bar, and promptly left, returning to the beach for an evening swim.
  • Ganja Boy Kovalam Beach

    One of these boys on the left is the one we knew as Ganja Boy. I forget which one. Does anyone know if he is still there?

  • One of the young boys of the family i stayed with would run errands everyday. He would bring us anything from fresh coconuts to Ganja. After a while he was known as the Ganga boy.
  • A couple of names from that time in Kovalam stick in my memory. There were Guy and Pamela Skipwith  from Market Drayton in Shropshire and an Australian called Chook Chilcott from Queensland who believe it or not carried his surf board all the way from London to India, only for it to disappear from the roof of a bus we were travelling on, on the way to Rameshwaaram. Anyone recognise the names or know their whereabouts these days?
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