I went to Kovalam this weekend, for a weekend of relaxation and pampering. And where better to do this than in the luxury of a 5* hotel listening to the roar of the wind-frenzied Monsoon sea and delighting in the drama of the waves turning and churning as they neared the shore. The waters, whipped up by the Westerly winds, crashed tumultuously against enormous boulders and the rocks protecting the promenade, sending up clouds of salty, but refreshing spray. Dark, threatening clouds cast a bluey greyness over the water which only dispersed with the heavy rain showers. The golden winter beach was covered and submerged, leaving just a narrow strip of sand on the popular Eve’s beach, in front of the lighthouse. The ripple-free blue expanse of the winter months metamorphosed into a fun-inviting, yet perilous, playing field for local tourists on a National Holiday and a day off work. Saturday saw the celebration of Eid, the end of Ramadan when Muslims break their fasting with an abundance of food and, of course, a certain measure of alcohol.
But by Saturday night the idyllic holiday scene had turned into a nightmare as five young men went missing. They failed to return from a dip into the sea at nightfall, possibly after too much merriment and alcohol clouded their judgement. Although during the day life guards are present to warn tourists away from the more treacherous areas where jagged rocks stick out into the sea enticing the more adventurous to explore and climb to get even closer to the violent waves, their duties finish at sun down when the five men went for a swim. One of the bodies washed up just after midnight, but on Sunday, the coast guard scoured the coastal area with small aeroplanes, supported by local fishermen and the navy.
Coast guard using small aeroplane to look for bodies (only a small dot on the photograph…)
Western tourists tend to be more cautious and take the dangers of the seas more at heart. Maybe we are more accustomed to seaside outings and have read our guidebooks and are warned about the perils of the undercurrent of the sea in Kovalam. But for many Indian families a trip to the seaside is a luxury they can only indulge in on special occasions. And as for swimming lessons, those are only for the rich and few. The absence of affordable and accessible swimming pools for a bit of harmless frolicking means the sea is an easy and free source of well deserved fun and reprieve from the summer heat…
Sunday… fly fishing balancing on a rock near the seething sea.
And on Sunday, the beach again attracted visitors, clearly oblivious to the tragedy of the previous day and unperturbed by the seething sea. As for the fly fishermen on the rocks and promenade, they had a living to make and bad weather could not be a deterrent.
I also had my bit of seaside fun on Saturday, but I only dipped my toes into the water and was mainly an onlooker. I have only once braved the waves around Kovalam in early March when the sea was tranquil and serene. I found a secluded area where the surge was gentle and I swam in the deep blue water… but even then as I made my way back to the beach, I had to fight the vigour of the waves, trying to pull me back… The peacefulness and safety of the sea was deceptive, even then,
The black sand of Kovalam beach