Beer Bars of the Western Ghats
Beer drinking is not tremendously popular here in India. I expect that it would be more so were beer easier to find and priced more realistically in accordance with the income of the masses, which it is not. We, my group and I, stopped recently at a small factory – and when I say small, I mean small – where jaggery* is made. The factory seemed to operate as a workers co-operative, and the workers told us that they earn three hundred rupees per day or approximately £4, US$ 6.60 or 139,288 Vietnamese Dong. That it is a workers co-operative, or at least seems to work as one, comes as no surprise as Kerala State, which is where I am now, is governed by the world’s only freely elected communist government. Interestingly the state is the pride of India, it has the highest literacy rate in the land, is relatively clean and every house has, so we are proudly informed, its own lavatory, meaning that the streets are, so I have observed, clear of human waste, a refreshing situation here in India. So the workers in the jaggery factory earn around three hundred rupees per day and can expect six months work per year. The beer that one drinks here, when one can, comes in at one hundred rupees per bottle give of take a bob or two. So, as you can imagine, drinking beer is done by those who are either very wealthy, or raving alcoholics who are happy to deprive their family of food and basic necessities in order to get them selves into a right royal pickle each evening in a bar that is inevitably a subterranean den of iniquity. The concept of a convivial atmosphere in which one can relax with chums and enjoy a few ales in convivial company has yet to catch on outside of such cosmopolitan metropolises as Bombay and Bangalore. This I find puzzling as India took from its colonial masters its legal system, the education system, the common language that unites the nation, the railways – which is incidentally the world’s largest employer – the tea plantations which make India the world’s largest exporter of tea, and of course, cricket. And yet they did not embrace that finest of British institution, that for which Britannia is most famed and warmly embraced, the pub. I find this both odd and sad.
This Redspokes tour of Kerala is providing some fine cycling through splendid countryside. One of the advantages of travelling through a land on an organised tour, aside from having me as a tour leader of course, is that you will find your way on small and seldom travelled byways that if travelling alone would be stumbled upon rarely and sporadically often with the result of becoming hopelessly lost or finding yourself at a dead end with no way out other than a thousand metre climb.
Leaving Kerala we enter, for a few days, the state of Tamil Nadu swathed in a rich sea of fragrant tea plantations. This is, in my humble opinion, the finest scenery we ride through. The bushes are low and with tea being picked by hand the hillsides are riddled with tracks and trails that would, that I feel sure, make for some wonderful non-technical mountain biking. I feel a plan developing.
*Jaggery is a corse brown sugar that is made by extracting the sap from palm trees, putting it into a huge cauldron and boiling it for 12 hours until it is reduced sufficiently to cool into solid lumps which can then be added to desserts, tea, coffee and tooth cavities.
THE VIEW AS WE DECEND FROM THE WESTERN GHATS TO THE PLAINS THAT LEAD TO THE SEA
GREEN TEA AND PURPLE TREES
PEPPER IS ALSO GROWN IN THE HILLS OF KERALA
A SELF PORTRAIT IN PEPPER
ANTS WITH A LIGHT SNACK