(Read part 1 here.)
The ground was still spinning and weaving before me as we moved on, as if I were still riding the Twin Flip Monster. My stomach churned. I’d only been at Veega Land for about fifteen minutes, and I already felt ready to leave. It had chewed me up and spat me out after only three rides, and we hadn’t even reached the main area yet – the water park and slides – the place I had actually been looking forward to.
While the kids jumped around on some swings and seesaws, I sipped carefully at a bottle of water and regained some of my bearings, focusing on the surroundings as best as I could. The green trees, gently swaying in a light breeze, their trunks as rigid, upright and unshakeable as I would become. The dark grey concrete pavement, consistent and swept clean, offering only a slight slope in challenge. Metal bars everywhere, bars that would guide my progress as the world stopped spinning at high speed and slowed back to normal. Park staff, smartly uniformed and often smiling, ready to help me up wherever necessary.
As my senses returned, I realised what all this meant. Veega Land was in fact a professional, modern amusement park in every sense of the word, and I finally cast off my last vestiges of doubt.
The main difference was in the crowd. Obviously, the vast majority were Malayalis, and my madama friend and I drew constant attention wherever we went – we were, as it turned out, the only pale-skinned patrons of Veega Land that day. There were groups of young men like I would meet on the train most mornings, pairs of giggling young women hiding behind their hands, and family units much like the one we were part of.
The most interesting thing about this crowd, however, was the way it was segregated, especially once we reached the waterslide area. Here, the women – almost all clad in saris, and many of them carrying plastic bags filled with food and snacks for their kids – peeled off to a small pool area designated ‘Ladies Only’, and us men (with one madama, of course) carried on to line up for the slides. Every queue was a parade of masculinity, replete with pushing, shoving and regular peals of high-pitched laughter
As we waited in the first queue for a jaunt on tyre inner-tubes through a series of pools, one young man peeled off from his mates and stood behind us. After half a minute or so, he left again, but my madama friend wheeled around in surprise.
“He just touched my butt,” she said.
In hindsight, I wish I’d strode up to that guy and his mates and given them an earful and one tight slap, as they say in Kerala. In those days, and in my still-woozy state, I was unsure of myself and so simply informed the other guys with us to make sure she was between us and protected wherever possible. For the rest of the day, another invasion of body space seemed imminent everywhere; all the male stares, which had previously felt more curious, became leery and perverted. Somehow we got through it without another incident.
Instead of dwelling on that unpleasant experience, we got on with enjoying Veega Land and all the delights it had to offer. With each new water attraction, my Twin Flip Monster hangover subsided further. We laughed, screamed, thanked God and splashed each other at every opportunity. Shibu kissed the Earth after clambering off the chute at the bottom of one particularly high-speed slide. My favourite was the Turbo Sphere, in which four of us sat in a large inflatable and careened down a human-sized, water-filled marble track.
After some time, we rejoined with the women and children. The ‘Ladies Only’ pool adjoined one of Veega Land’s major attractions, the Wave Pool, and Shibu and I headed off to the deeper water near the front, where the waves would appear from sinister-looking gates. It took some time to get there; the pool was packed. It reminded me of the crush of second class carriages on Indian Railways trains at night, but with the alcohol stench replaced by that of chlorine. Most of the men evidently couldn’t swim and so tottered about in the water, though it was surprising to note that virtually no-one appeared uncertain of themselves. I imagined the crush of bodies in the water allowed for everyone’s most gung-ho attributes to come to the surface, a combination response of safety in numbers and pure competition.
I was just about over the Twin Flip Monster when it was time to leave. As we walked toward the changing rooms near the park exit, we passed it again, and our teenaged companion sauntered up to go once more. By way of inquiry, he simply turned to look at me – and for a moment, I considered going again. I thought it might be easier the second time, or I might escape nightmares that night if I faced my fears once more. After a few seconds, the young man smiled and then turned to saunter onto the Monster. I watched him in a state of something approaching awe as he hurtled towards the sky, then the ground, then the sky again, wondering where I’d gone wrong in my life.
Our Veega Land excursion was over, and everyone was completely exhausted. The day out, however, was far from over. Between 5 pm and 8:30, when we would catch the last Super Fast bus back to Varkala, we had more tea and snacks at Shibu’s relatives’ house in Ernakulam and politely declined their ever-more-insistent requests that we stay the night. We had to work the next day, and even if we could barely do our jobs, we were determined to turn up... not to mention the appeal of getting back to your own bed at the end of a particularly long day. Our hosts were determined to make us stay, almost demanding that we call in sick for the following morning, but somehow we extracted ourselves and started for home.
As we barrelled along the national highways in an absolutely jam-packed KSRTC bus (we were very fortunate to get seats) and passed one, two, three serious accidents – the bus tilting to whatever side the accident was on as most of the passengers lurched to get a better view – the morning alarm clock seemed like eons ago. More than that, a mystery remained: why, and how, on Earth do Malayalis put themselves through these monumental day trips? They must have some secret reserves of energy, perhaps kept full and healthy by their ever-present family bonds. That was, after all, the key difference between my friend & I and the rest of the group: they were almost always around family, close and distant relatives, even when they were at work; whereas we were lucky to see just one other member of our respective families per year.
We finally reached home at about 12:45am, near-delirious with fatigue after being on the go for so long. Unlocking the front door was surreal; I had locked it 19 hours previously, and so much had happened in-between, it was hard to believe we had in fact made it back. “Never again,” we said to each other as we staggered into bed, meaning a full day of travelling and action – not Veega Land, a place I would happily revisit. Except that Twin Flip Monster, an endurance test I’m proud to have put myself through but will never willingly reattempt.
A Trip to India's #1 Amusement Park! (Part 2)
More surprises and lessons were in store as we ventured deeper into Veega Land.
(Read part 1 here.)