Obese Hong Kong food writer sheds a chin on India weight loss trek

The tape measure is fast becoming Mischa Moselle’s best friend as he manages to shed another 5cm from his waistline, braving some erratic driving as he walks off the kilos along the roads of southern India

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 2:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2016, 2:00am

I’ve been all over the place – I almost went round the bend. Perhaps I started to let conditions in India get to me.

Doing a lot of walking means spending a lot of time looking at pavements and there seem to be rivers of muck flowing under so many of them. You look through the many gaps between the broad concrete paving slabs and there is a flow of black water with oil floating on the top and a host of unidentifiable objects – perhaps that’s a good thing – and the odd dead rat.

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In Kovalam I discover the alternative is even worse. The area comprises a series of small towns and villages that is rapidly growing into an adjunct to the city of Trivandrum. With plans to build one of the world’s largest container ports there, Kovalam could get a whole lot bigger.

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I find it quite scary walking between the towns and villages. I walk against the oncoming traffic so I can see what is coming towards me, but in order not to jar my back I also look down about a metre ahead to avoid stepping into big holes in the ground. On top of this, I have to try to keep an ear open for what is happening behind me, as vehicles are often on the wrong side of the road in a country that believes overtaking is a competitive sport.

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It is quite difficult to predict how the drivers of the auto-rickshaws, motorbikes, scooters, cars, buses and trucks will behave except that if they can overtake they will. That probably explains why there is so much hooting.

Sometimes there is a 50cm-wide patch of ground on the side of the road I can walk on and sometimes only a white line less than the width of my shoe theoretically separates me from the traffic, leaving me 20cm of bitumen to walk on. I’m very lucky that I have always been able to find a patch of ground to stand on when a wide goods vehicle or bus has gone past.

I suppose it’s good to test your nerves every so often.

After Kovalam comes Kanyakumari, India’s southernmost point and a low point for me. I make the mistake of measuring myself early, only to find I have lost very little. I’ve been sleeping badly due to sore gums and find myself being worn down by the aggressive touting in the pilgrimage centre.

That’s a pity – there are some beautiful monuments here – one to Mohandas Gandhi and a museum dedicated to the life of the wandering Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda, but the real highlights are on two small islands a five-minute boat ride from shore.

The first is a large temple dedicated to Vivekananda that from a distance resembles a dark Sacre Coeur, the Paris cathedral. The monk is celebrated for his attempts to bring Hinduism to a wider audience outside India, even having made it to the United States to speak at a religious conference in the 1930s.

On the adjacent island is a 41-metre statue of a Tamil poet and philosopher, Thiruvalluvar. Each foot of the statue’s height commemorates a chapter in his most famous work, Thirukkural. Together the two monuments are stunning, but by the time I’ve reached Madurai and have almost had a fight with a man who blatantly tried to rip me off for all of 50 rupees (HK$5.80), I’m so ground down I spend 36 hours in a hotel room cowering from India.

A few days in Rameswaram, another important Hindu pilgrimage site, bucks me up no end, as I manage a good walk and, although it’s as difficult to avoid carbs as ever, the pure vegetarian food seems lighter somehow.

By now I feel lighter, too. I think I’ve even lost a couple of my chins – there are a couple more to go – and I look as though I’ve only swallowed a single watermelon whole rather than two. Speaking of melons, my man boobs haven’t quite caught up and seem embarrassingly prominent.

However, the tape measure doesn’t lie. Having walked another 75km, it’s time for another measurement. Now for the moment of truth: I’ve gone down to 122cm, a loss of another 5cm.

Next stop is Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), a former French colony. There’s rumoured to be a French influence on the cuisine there still – what could possibly go wrong for a man on a diet?