Wednesday 28th November 2007 by C. Freeman
Majestic tea plantations and monsoons were highlights of a trip to the Indian state of Kerala. Mr Primmett, careers adviser at Brooke Weston spent 12 days in the southern Indian state. He said: 'Passing through a small village I could see people sleeping under tarpaulins or selling coconuts by the road and there'd be a huge billboard advertising luxury floor tiles. I've never seen such extremes between rich and poor.'
Kerala became a hub of the spice trade after Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, landed there in the 15th century, opening up trade routes between Europe and India. Its name means 'land of the coconut' and the air is heavy with curry spices and the incense offered at local ceremonies.
Mr Primmett visited museums, celebrations and even rode an elephant in the jungle. He watched a religious festival at a small village: 'Buses would arrive and people would get off wearing all sorts of garb. Some were semi-naked, some would then start their own ceremonies outside the bus, lighting fires and candles before moving down to the main religious festival; a great covered area with all sorts of small shops either side and this mass of people flowing into the temple.'
As the location is not normally frequented by tourists, he was the only white person in the area, and many of the locals would gather round him to ask questions. He'd just visited a museum when he was surrounded and had to ask questions posed by 20 inquisitive students. The only other white person he saw was an Alaskan woman whom he met while paddling in the Arabian Sea!
Other memorable locations include the plantations where tea plants grow on near-vertical terraces. Every 12 to 15 days the crop is picked, processed and graded before being auctioned to tea merchants who blend it to their own recipes. When cashing traveller's cheques Mr Primmett was escorted to the bank manager's office. There were constant interruptions by customers and staff and the whole transaction took about 40 minutes to complete under the baleful stare of two guards armed with old fashioned rifles! He also spent 24 hours as the sole passenger on a rice barge, moving slowly through the backwaters. Here he saw the river being used in all aspects of daily life with villagers, bathing, washing dishes and cleaning their teeth in the water, while others fished for their evening meal.
Rain falls in Kerala for 175 days annually and Mr Primmett visited at the end of monsoon season when torrents fall for hours each evening at dusk. His recollections of India are tied up in the spectacular colours and landscapes. He said: 'Every square inch of land that's not built on has some kind of greenery, it's one mass of lush vegetation with poinsettia bushes and salvias growing in the wild. There were all sorts of flowers I'd never seen before in vivid colours. My abiding memory is the monsoon evening, sitting on my balcony drinking tea and watching the rain for three hours, listening to a solitary bird singing.'