As my first visit to India enters it's final few days, I am reflecting on how it has been.
First, and it's easy to forget the importance of this, I have remained vigorously healthy. The food and the climate seem to agree well with me. This vital element has allowed me to enjoy my adventure.
I have seen and appreciated the breathtaking natural beauty here in Kerala. An even greater source of joy has been the population.
Contrary to predictions, engaging with these wonderful people has filled my heart with joy. When I close my eyes, I can see the bright eyes and wide smiles that greet me everywhere I go.
I am under no illusions about the stark realities these people face, I do not seek to glamourise the grinding poverty and terrible living conditions. But, even under these circumstances, there is a strong family ethic, a society which has pride and high moral standards.
The strong base for this appears to be a matriarchal system where, in every family, the mother holds absolute sway. There is a saying which goes something like:
First my mother
Then my father
Then my teacher
This is a system of priorities that appears to work.
Women here are always immaculately dressed in bright saris and gold jewellery, even when they wade into the river and begin to slap washing on rocks.
I saw a Western female tourist walking on the beach yesterday. I have become so used to only seeing modestly dressed Indian women that I felt a little shocked.
Travelling alone has brought me face to face with some of my more laughable traits. The admonishing voice in my head has become something to laugh at rather than jumping to attention for. I am letting go of many habits on this trip. Whether they get picked up again when I am home is another matter.
My driver is a poor man with little formal education who has learned Hindi, English and Arabic to add to his native Malayam merely by talking to his passengers.
I asked him about religion. He said that it was fifty-fifty in Kerala. Fifty per cent Christian, fifty per cent Hindu and fifty percent Muslim.
I asked him what the differences were.
He said "No differences, we are all human beings."
It's a simple expression of truth that has stayed with me.