|Google Earth image of the beaches of Karnataka, Southern India. Anticlockwise from top left: Gokarna Beach; Kudle Beach; Om Beach|
It is tempting to regard travel in terms of physical movement, but when one travels it is through both space and time. One does not merely visit a place, rather one experiences a unique combination of time and place. When I did most of my travelling in the late ’90s and early ’00s my experience was very different to the accounts that I had read of the golden age of backpacking in the ’70s and 80s, a pre-commercial age when travel was real travel and travellers were real travellers, before gap years became the norm, before travel became yet another bland, off-the-shelf transaction, before local people became so inured to backpackers that they stopped seeing them as people to interact with and started to regard them as units to be processed for profit.
I was lucky enough to get a bit of the real deal myself, proper down to earth, sub ten dollar a day, shoestring travel. One of the places that sticks most in my mind is Kudle Beach, to the south of Goa on India’s Arabian Sea coast. There was no road, access to the beautiful sweep of wave-lashed sand was on foot over a headland of red laterite rock. Amid the palms that fringed the beach were a handful of complexes of thatched huts where discerning skinflints could avail themselves of very cheap but extremely basic accommodation. So basic in fact that there were no toilet facilities, the procedure was to do one’s business in an adjacent, sun-scorched field, where a hungry cow came along and ate it up. Yes, you read that correctly. The cow ate the shit, all of it. I spent a happy fortnight there, swimming in the crashing surf in the mornings and evenings when the sun was low, sheltering in the shade of the palms during the baking, pre-monsoon heat, practising Tai Chi and relaxing in my hammock.
It was there that I wrote ‘The Cow-Toilet of Kudle Beach’ a hilarious travelogue which is linked on the sidebar of this blog. That piece was lifted directly from my travel journals, which I was keeping assiduously at the time. Recently I took a journal from the shelf and read it for the first time in ten years. I was writing well and prolifically at the time, with the passage of a decade I could tell that I had succeeded in capturing the essence of the place and, more importantly, of the time and of its people. The text brought to life memories that had lain dormant for a decade and restored others that had slipped completely through the mesh of my mind.
|Google Earth images reveal changes to Kudle Beach, 2004 – 2011. I stayed at the Spanish Place, marked in red. In 2002 there was no plumbing and the toilet was a cow. Between 2010 and 2011 a swimming pool appeared.|
When I had read those same accounts back in 2002 the memories were still fresh; the account seemed unremarkable, no more than could have been written by any of the backpackers who had stayed on Kudle Beach over the years. The passage of time has made them so much more. As the Google Earth images above show, Kudle Beach has been developed significantly in the last decade; where previously there were only thatched huts there are now large numbers substantial buildings, even swimming pools. My writing from 2002 has now been elevated from generic backpacker ramblings to a poignant portrait of a combination of time and place that has been swept aside by progress, one that no longer exists outside the pages of my journal.