Back to India for block 5 of this epic series (we started filming in May and don’t finish till November!) and I have to say, I did set out with a sense of trepidation. Last time we came out filming here it was in the middle of India’s biggest recorded heatwave and, as we constantly remind anyone who wasn’t there, it was 51 DEGREES. It destroyed us. Now we’re heading South and the monsoons are, allegedly, just coming to an end. But if you look at the weather forecasts it still looks like a TV crew’s nightmare, thick with rain clouds and lightning symbols!
My feeling of foreboding wasn’t helped by our journey via Adu Dhabi that got us into Kerala around 3am. Then, what with some bags getting lost and the journey to our hotel taking longer than scheduled, I finally crawled into the bed of our tastefully designed hotel on the edge of a sleepy town square in Fort Cochin at around 9am. My new ‘All Over The Place’ co-presenter Inel Tomlinson must have been wondering what had hit him.
With only the rest of that day to get over the inevitable jet lag I wasn’t exactly looking forward to today, but I woke up feeling surprisingly good. With no sign of our bus driver we all walked the 5 minutes down to the coast, through a crumbling street with mould streaked buildings where the humidity of this place seems to take its toll. At the junction we were greeted by a bustling but quite rural feeling promenade, with blokes pootling round on scooters and huge trees with trunks like vines dotted about. A very thin rubbish strewn beach peppered with parked up rowing boats ran alongside the sea, along which were dotted huge wooden structures. These were Chinese fishing nets.
Yes, I know we’re in India, but though they were invented by the Chinese they’ve been using them here in the South since the 14th century. We were introduced to our contributor, James, who has been working on the nets for 25 years, and in no time Inel and I each had a rope in hand alongside 4 other guys and were hauling 100kg of rocks into the air, the counterweight to the huge spindles made of logs between which are strung the net. It lies at the bottom of the sea and while the tide is up the net is hauled every 5 minutes, capturing dozens of fish at a time. Once we’d done that a few times we retired to a nearby street cafe where we had some freshly caught red snapper cooked up with a smattering of spices. I’m not a big eater of fish, but it was DELICIOUS. Shortly afterwards a storm whipped in and gave us a dose of the monsoon we’d been promised, but if they’re all about 20 mins long like this one then we’re going to be laughing.
Unfortunately our filming location for the afternoon (a Keralan washhouse) fell through, so instead we piled into the van for an hour and a half’s drive to what was supposed to be tomorrow’s location. The scenery may be more lush and tropical than the north, and the people more relaxed around us due to there being a lot more tourists in this neck of the woods, but the driving seems to be the same – crazy. Motorbikes (sometimes laden with children) and cars weaved all around us, with liberal honking of the horns seemingly considered to be perfectly adequate to prevent disaster.
After winding down a twisty little dirt track in the bush we came out by our next hotel, right by Lake Vembanad. It has a lovely garden which was perfect for us to film in for a few hours and pick off a few scenes from different scripts which should save time on later days and make up for losing our slot today. It also has a little swimming pool under the palm trees which I plunged into at the end of the day and paddled up and down while thinking to myself that Kerala seems to be a different kettle of fish from the dusty conditions up North. I should have known really. I came on holiday to Goa 10 years ago and it’s not too different from all this.