India 1: Kochin, Kerala

Kerala is the sound of crows in the trees at 3am. It's the smell of ayurvedic oils and incense. It's the sight of bats as big as gulls slowly flapping over your head amidst the bustle of a night market. It's masala dosas and chai for breakfast at 7am, drinking cold coconut coffee to the soundtrack of Freddie Mercury in a Kochin art gallery café, a thali platter and parrotha for dinner. It's persistent sticky heat and overhead fans, lazy mosquitos and inquisitive eyes following, the organised chaos of drivers, the precarious carefree pedestrians taking centre stage in the road, the honking of the car you're in, the honking of the motorbike that rumbles by loaded with a family of four. It's women wearing saris, the chatter of many school children, talking to your driver about arranged marriage, comparing cultural differences and learning never to get married on a 10th age (20, 30, 40 and so on). The word Kerala comes from "coconut", which you discover to your delight is in everything. Kochin gets its name from the Chinese, along with its fishermen's nets. Christianity landed here in or around 7AD and is embraced with the same colourful passion as Hinduism. Mother Mary, Krishna and 7pm evening calls from the Mosquie exist within metres of one another in peace. Kerala is green and gold, the contrast of life-giving colour and happy disrepair. Backwaters, sprawling jungle greenery and palm trees, beaches, street dogs, street cats and bats. Kerala is surreal and sublime.