Saturday, 10 March 2007
Day 4. Beypore
At Thrissur we called briefly on one of the Raja's relatives. Many months before in London, I had been asked by the Raja how he should fix a leaking tank.
These tanks, he explained are large stone lined tanks for bathing in, often associated with temples. I had discussed this with him, and made some suggestions, based on my construction experience. Over the intervening months, this had totally slipped my mind.
So it was with some surprise that I found myself being taken to see the tank I had "fixed". Anyhow its owner was very pleased with the result.
Making our leave of the Raja, we set off for Beypore. Having seen Dhows being constructed on the beach in Sharjah in the 1980's, and being aware that many of the craftsmen were from India, I was determined to try to see if I could find a working
shipyard in India that still made wooden boats.
North of Thrissur the road became far more pleasant, and we were out into relatively unspoiled territory. The fields were mainly rice, with the harvest nearly over. Many fields were host to beautiful Storks or Egrets that were obviously taking their toll of Frogs and other tasty morsels.
Feeling the need for similar sustainance, we asked Ramesh to find us a suitable place to stop for lunch. It was with a certain amount of trepidation that we entered the restaurant he had chosen. Even more when we tried to order, but we not have worried, because the food tasted really good.
At Ponnani, we expectedly came upon a very large and beautiful river. The steel bridge covering it, was a couple of hundred or so metres long. It was the sort of place that screamed out that it needed exploring. It was with deep regret that we had to push on.
As we neared Beypore it became apparently that we were entering a predominantly Muslim area, with relatively few Hindu's to be seen.
Travelling along the narrow road we encountered our first Elephant. Stopping in front of it, we allowed it to pass us, as we took photos. The Elephant, mahout and an assistant came past at a terrific pace. We were struck that it seemed to be the only traveller on the road with any road sense.
The last couple of miles down to the shipyard passed through a steeply cut valley, and was lined with many wood working shops, and small saw mills. At one point we were confronted with long "snakes" of incredibly thin strips of wood, sawn from a substantial log. This we were told was for making matches.
Arriving in an increasingly narrow street down by the river, we began to realise that we were amongst shipyards, that were still operative.
Not being entirely sure how we would be accepted, I walked into the yard, and up to the most senior looking man. He appeared to be a Muslim, so I thought I would see if my rusty Arabic would work.
Salaam Alekum... and it did. After a moment of puzzled hesitation, he replied.
There were about five or six men working on a substantial beam trimming it into shape, in the shadow of two vessels on the stocks. I was very surprised when one of the roughest of them started talking to me in quite good English. He had worked in Sharjah and Dubai.
It was fascinating to hear that they had launched over 40 ships from this one yard in the last 23 years. The current ships being built were about 100 tonnes burden, but they had launched ships of over 150 tonnes, with one 150 tonne ship being launched in 2005.
Together with my son we were able to climb up into one of the ships on the stocks.
The builders had erected a hoarding over the hulls to prevent the wood from splitting as it dried out.
Two men were inside the hull tighting up some of the thousands of hull fixings, who took great delight in extracting "tea money" from us for the right to have their photo taken.
Beyond the shipyard was the Beypore River, which was for many years the base for the Calicut rulers fleets. These sailors had from time been able to take on and defeat the Portuguese, and English shipping operating along the coast.
As we left the shipyard for the final part of our journey into Kozhikode, as Calicut is now called, it was clear that the area is experiencing quite a lot of political tensions.
Every mile or so up the road, there were lines painted on the tarmac, with the initals of the dominant political party behind them.
As we passed a Mosque it was discharging a group of party workers bearing a set of large banners, as they chanted slogans.
Copyright Nick Balmer, January 2007.