A Travellerspoint blog

Deep in Kovalam's Labyrinth

Also: Indian Junk Food Confessions

sunny 28 °C

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Kovalam's Lighthouse Beach, as seen from the top of the lighthouse

Dec 11-17

(Rob)

We moved a little south along the coast for one more relaxing week at a beach town in India. We are now in Kovalam, which has a completely different look to it when compared to Varkala. Kovalam is a series of four crescent-shaped beaches along a coast, bisected by a classic, red-and-white-striped lighthouse tower. The beach itself is, as advertised, not as nice as Varkala, but that's why we got a hotel with a swimming pool!

Getting door to door service from Villa Anamika in Varkala to Hotel Thushara in Kovalam proved technically impossible, because there are no roads wide enough for a car as you get closer to the beachfront in Kovalam. But, with only mild prompting, our taxi driver gamely got out, put on the biggest of our backpacks and started calling out "Thushara? Thushara?" and leading us along as various bemused locals pointed this way and that.

In a couple of minutes, we'd found our hotel, and thanked the driver. We'd also had an introduction to one of the fascinating features of Kovalam: the rabbit-warren of laneways that criss-cross the area between the beach and the western-most main road. They run in all directions, some like alleyways, with frequent ninety degree turns. Various properties are glimpsed as you go: small guest-houses, stores, homes...and the backyard of one may be the front of another, which could be across from the side of a third. On a later day, we actually set out to find our way back in a completely different way. Like rats challenging themselves in a new maze!

Despite all these buildings, hundreds of palm trees anchor the sloping hillside, rising up improbably between the densely-packed buildings. So, when we're lying by the poolside, we're staring up mostly at sun and palm trees.

The boardwalk is built up just three feet above the black-sand beach. These beaches are working fishermen's territory. Despite the umbrellas and lounge-chairs for rent, and the endless number of seafood restaurants that line the boardwalk, the characteristic sight remains the hand-fishing. Huge nets are paddled out to sea in wooden boats, then later pulled in from shore by a group of men in a tug-of-war formation. At times, call-and-response singing aids this work. As the net gets closer, some of the men hop into the water, and, from inside the net, slap the fish down! The boats not in use are brought right up unto the beach. Meanwhile, a huge crowd will gather around as the contents of a net is finally revealed. It's a variation on the "Chinese fishing nets" of Fort Cochin that I'll forever associate with being in Kovalam.

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Anica with one of the fishing boats parked on a beach, Kovalam

Meanwhile, the touts and hawkers continue to call to us. It's frustrating, but there have been a few purchases we took advantage of. Here, you can "rent" books. You pay the given price for a used book, say 250 rupees, and if you return it, you get back all your money minus 10 rupees per day. Kind of like a library run by people who don't trust anybody. Well, they're losing money on us. Jenn and I can read a book a day sitting by the pool, so we've been only paying 10 rupees (that's 26 cents) per book!

The pool here is lovely and clean, and the people staying here are quite nice, almost all British, here on package deals by the week. We've found a couple of restaurants that are a cut above the others. One is called "Fusion" and has a three page menu ("East," "West" and "Fusion"). The other is called "Waves, the German Bakery," which has Indian and "German" dishes. One night, at Fusion, we saw a couple who were in Kumily (staying where we did) and Varkala at the same time as us. It turns out they're Canadians, from Montreal. They're on a six-month trip, and our stops overlapped at these three locations. We'd never talked before, but the mutual feeling of "are we following each other" got the better of us.

On our last day in Kovalam (seeing as how we left at 4 AM the next morning), we walked up the 142 steps of the lighthouse, accompanied by Bev and Steve, an English couple also staying at Hotel Thushara. We were rewarded with a spectacular view - and it was a perfectly clear day. On the way back, all five of us tried to thread our way through untested laneways. We promptly got lost, emerging, laughing, just a few feet down the beach from where we started. The labyrinth won again!

Finally, before we leave India, I must mention "Kukure." We have become addicted to this Indian junk food (which, if you read the fine print is manufactured by "Pepsico"). It started in Goa, when I was buying a pack of Lays "Magic Masala" chips, and the girl at the counter cracked open a pack of Kukure "Masala Munch." They look like Cheetos (for you North Americans), but are much spicer! Jenn and I both have had Kukure throughout India since Goa.

Dec 11-15

(Anica)

"Another Beach"

We found a lot of restaurants in Varkala, but here we've only found two super good ones, called Fusion, which has fusion, west and east (yum) and Wave also known as the German bakary which has quiche for Mummy. For Daddy, fish fried in local spices. And for me, frankfuter susges with hot mustard (not very hot) and baggute.

The beach isen't very good but our pool is good!

There were no Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut bars or any Dairy Milk product in Varkala, only Mars, Snickers, Country (a sort of cocunut choclate bar) and Saifari a choclate bar with chocolate, marshmellow cream and wafer). And Mommy likes it here because they are.

"A List of Important Tips to India by Anica for Daddy and Mommy, Published 2007"

Tip #1 Always get Kukure Masala Munch whenever you can get them, not Lays!

Tip #2 Never give money or food to beggars because they might be faking it. Who knows if they are?

Tip #3 (This one for Mommy) Stop getting mosquito bites!

Tip #4 Do not go to Trivandrum; Mumbai is enough for big cities.

Posted by jennrob 20:53 Archived in India Comments (3)

The Cliffs of Insanity

Life on the edge in Varkala, Kerala (India)

sunny 28 °C

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Varkala Beach nearing sunset

Dec 6 -10

(Rob)

A beautiful drive down from the Cardamon Hills near Periyar (which unfortunately made Anica feel car-sick). Just six hours to cover 190 km! The Ambassador cab we were in had neither heating nor cooling controls on the dashboard. Of course, it got much hotter as we got closer to sea level.

On the way, we saw some of the pilgrims on their way to Sabrimala. We were still about 50 km away from it, but this is the second-largest pilgrimage in the world, so there was a fair bit of traffic. In a two-month span, over one and a million people (men only) will visit the Ayappan shrine. Whether they go by tuk-tuk, car, or bus, their vehicles are decorated for the journey, so the worshippers are very easy to spot.

We also drove by (more like through) a cattle market. We actually asked our driver to stop because it was such an incredible scene. There was cattle on both sides of the road, and hundreds in the gully below the road. Most of them had their horns painted to identify them, so, as it often is in India, the gathering was vividly colourful.

Our cab managed to negotiate the narrow laneways of Varkala and dropped us off right at the door to our guest-house, Villa Annamika. They have five rooms in their house, and ours was surprisigly spacious for just $18 a night. That even included an extra mattress for Anica.

A brief walk (less than 200 meters) got us to the "main drag" here in Varkala, which is a cobblestone sidewalk that runs along the cliff's edge. Below, down about 60 feet of red, volcanic rock is the beach. Very dramatic! And great views from anywhere along the cliff. All the restaurants line up, along with the usual souvenir stores, etc. for a view out the Arabian sea.

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[/i]Looking up at the cliff from the beach, Varkala[i]

Unfortunately, there's a sameness to these restaurants, in both menu and decor, which are pretty much just for tourists. Also, both the stores and the restaurants have their "touts" out front, trying to entice you in to buy. Especially with the souveir stores, this just annoys us. There's really no chance we're going to buy a cheap trinket and either carry it around for months or ship it home. So, as we stroll along the cliffside, we have to use our strategies for fending off touts and hawkers that we've honed these past four months. The best one is probably to just pretend you're deaf and say nothing at all. But what fun is that? Jenn prefers a strong, clear "NO," while I like to be more creative. But that sometimes backfires on me. From our time on Nathan Road in Hong Kong, I came up with a response to the calls of "Hello Rolex," etc. My response would be "Hello maple syrup," because that's a typical Canadian tourist product that's representative my homeland. It did tend to cofound them. Here in India, the hawkers often ask if you "like" what they're selling, as in "do you like wooden flutes?" And I'd say, "No, wooden flutes killed my brother." The first time I said that Anica said "You don't have a brother!" so I had to say, "yes, because of the wooden flutes." But soon she caught on and thought it was funny. Yesterday, out walking in Varkala, a man asked me if I liked small drums. "No, small drums killed my brother," I responded. Like a good drummer, he didn't miss a beat. "I have a bigger one," he said. Wow. That's persistent.

Anyway, down on the beach, there's almost no hawking, so it's a very nice scene. You haggle for an umbrella rental and then you're left to enjoy it. The water's warm and clear, but can be rough. The waves are quite strong, so we played near shore with Anica, and at times it took both of us to keep her from being knocked over. After a couple of very full days at the beach, we suffered our first sunburns of the trip. Jenn stayed out of the sun completely for a day, and Anica and I only went swimming in the early morning and at sunset yesterday. Every day, we've run into the same family from Switzerland, whose little girl, May, is a couple of years younger than Anica. May doesn't speak any English, and Anica doesn't speak any Swiss-German, but they've had a great time with the waves and the seashells.

Dec 6

(Anica)

"Car Drive and Villa Annamika"

Today we got up, had breakfast, and ran upstairs, grabbed our stuff and ran downstairs to get in the car. After about half an hour in the car I started to feel motin sick which was weird because I had taken my (adult) gravol (adult because every pharmacy that we went to didn't have it). So after a long time of (acuttly felling barfy) I said "Mommy I'm going to lie down." "Ok." But it actully made me feel worse, so I told Mommy and she said "It's probbley the turn turn every now and then." "Mommy?" "Yes." "Can I listen to the i-pod?" "Yes." "Thanks." So I listened to the i-pod, and made a on-the-go of 41 songs! These are the artists: Bruce Spingsten, ABBA, Eva Avila, Avril Lavigne. So when we arrived at a (very nice) Villa Annamika, we checked in , looked at our room, and went on a walk. We saw the (nice) beach, saw a restarnt ad had diner. Good Night!

Dec 7

(Anica)

"Varkala Beach Cliff"

Today we woke up, put on our swim-suits and walked down the beach for breakfast (at Cafe Del Mar). Then walked down the beach and played in the water for a bit before reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix. Then well we were playing we met this nice girl called May. So we played with her. Then we had lunch, went home, rested, had dinner. G.N. (Good Night)

Dec 8-10

(Anica)

Yesterday we played with May, a girl we met on our first full day, in the waves, which was very fun.

The waves were so big they knocked us over 3 TIMES!

Thers this one restaunt called Sea Queen, but I prefer to call it Monster restraunt because they attack us to come in there restaruant every time we pass!

The girl who owns Villa Anamika does paintings and owns a dog.

Posted by jennrob 21:11 Archived in India Comments (5)

Spice in Every Step

A "pure for sure" time at Periyar

sunny 19 °C

"Pure for sure" with a picture of the "okay" sign is seen all over India at gas stations. It's become a catch-phrase/motto for us!

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A Bamboo Raft waits to take us across for a morning hike in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Nov 30

(Anica)

Today (the last day in Cochin) we slept in really late. Then we went to look around Kochi for a bit before having lunch at Kashi Art Cafe. Which was a declious meal of Bean soup, cold pasta salad and garlic toast. Wed decidad to have chocolte cake for dessert, which was very yummy. Then after a quick trip to the playground, we decided to go home to rest! So we got our math, spelling, diary done before I played the Amazing tuck tuck! [Rob's editorial note - this is what Anica means by "rest"] Then we went to Dal roti for some of the decilous chicken and nan (lick)! Also the man there drew me a picture of him! Then we went back to our hotel and cause I got water on my p.j. top I slept half barnaked! g.n.

Dec 1

(Rob)

By Ambassador cab today, we made the (as it turned out) six hour drive to Kumily, on the edge of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, where our next accomodation was arranged. The distance is less than 200 kilometres, but we averaged 30 km an hour on the twisty, poorly-paved roads that wind up the Cardamon Hills to almost 1400 metres above sea level. We stopped once because we were over-heated and once because the car was over-heated. The latter part of the drive was spectacular: one of the three greatest drives we've had so far on this trip (the other two in mind being the drive from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and our first overland trip across Rajasthan). In the final two hours, the ascent became more noticeable, and we were treated to views across great valleys. Then the hills became greener, and more distinct in their crop: tea plants quilted the hillside, replacing the rubber trees, with their plastic-bag-and-cup appartus, which dominated the earlier part of the drive.

Arriving at Chrissie's, we were thrilled with this budget-to-midrange "homestay." Our room runs us $46 a night, and it's on a quiet street, with a view of the treetops and the mountains on the horizon. The rooms are in a building set back from the street, with the lobby and restaurant (veg. only and very good) in the front building. You walk up cooblestone steps to where the rooms are. And then keep walking! We're actually on the third floor (which is the fourth floor, really, right North Americans?), and no elevator. The hallway is outside, and the trees on one side of the building practically brush against us as we open our room's door. On the other is our generous balcony, rounded for better view, with two rattan chairs and table/ottomans to match. It's a new, spotlessly clean hotel. Perhaps the only catch is that there's no heating or ac or even fan. They're relying, I suppose, on the near-perfect weather at this elevation. All year it's between 15-30 celsius in the day, and cooler at night. Our first night was fine, except for the dog who barked all night long. Sorry, I'm exaggerating: he must have dozed off between 2:30 AM and 3:00 AM.

(Anica)

Today we got in a very long car drive to chrissie's (the view was great). when we arived we got checked in and looked around . theres an eco tourism ofice just down a stret so we asked them a couple quistions. Then we walked down to gt some kukures and lays! Then went home rested had dinner. Good night!

Dec 3

(Anica)

Today we got up at 5:30! I said "I don't want to get up (yawn). "But you have to!" "Okay!" So we had a yummy breakfast of horliks crackers and pinaple jucie. then we walked down the stairs and went outside and found a tuktuk and said how much to Peryair? 40. Chrissie had told us that 40 was a good price so we said okay. The tuk-tuk ride to Periyar was amazing! The tuk-tuk felt really breezy to! When we arived at Periyar, me and Mommy stayed in the tuk-tuk whell Daddy got tickets (which took a bit of time). t

Then we took the tuk-tuk inside Periyar! When we got to the boat landing which we asked the tuk-tuk to go to, we got some hike tickets. Meanwhile I'm running around with my pirate scarf on like maniac! Then this guy came over and said I will take you to meet your guide. "Okay." So we walked over to meet our guide. Meanwhile Mommy was talking to this girl about traveling and Daddy the same but with a boy. then I said Mommy I have to go the washroom. "HMPH!" So I told her "there might not be one anywhere else to go. "Oh!" So we went behind a tree :) Then we had to put these boot things on. Then this bamboo raft came over to bring us to the forest. So we got to balance! "Yay!" Mom: "boo." Then we got to the forest and the first thing we saw was tadpoles! Then we saw some tiger paw prints. Then we saw a giant squirrel, a spider, 1 wasp nest and 11 honeycomb nests. Then we did a lot more walking before going back to the bamboo raft. Unlukly all of us had at lease two leaches in our shoes (there not big!)

So we got a tuk-tuk back, had lunch, got a tuk-tuk back to Periyar and entered. Then we got to the boat dock and got tickets on the lowwer deck. then well Daddy was getting the tickets this monkey jumped up on the women. Then we got on the boat and took off. Then well we were on the boat we saw deer, bison, and lots more! Then we got a tuk-tuk back and had dinner. Good night.

(Rob)

Our "day in the park" today, which Anica covered well in her diary! Although we didn't see any of the "big game," on our morning hike (7-10), we saw the evidence: the tracks and the poo-poo (that's the scientific term for what's commonly called scatology). The smaller animal I found most fascinating was a frog that looked like it was wearing a leaf on its back as a stylish cape. But it wasn't a leaf; it was its camoflauge. We also saw huge termite mounds with tunnels carved into by monitor lizards, honeycombs high in bare treetops and honeycombs fallen and draped over bushes like discarded towels, and some really huge spiders. "Is it poisonous," I asked our guide of one spider. "Probably," he said with practiced indifference. I took that as a yes.

Dec 4

(Anica)

Today we got up and had a yummy breakfast of chocolate crepe with hot chocolate for me, toast with butter and jam for Mommy, and toast with butter and honey for Daddy. Then we went downstairs and asked Chrissie and Adel "How can we get to the spice plantaion?" "By jeep, tuk-tuk or van." "Okay, can you arrange a Jeep to come and get us?" "Yes." "Thank you." "Your welcome" "When will it be here?" "In ten minutes." "Okay." Then we walked upstairs, got ready, went to the washroom, and walked downstairs to the reciption desk and said is it here? No. So we waited for them to come. When they arivved we got in and went to the spice plantian! When we arived we met the tour guide and our group. the names were Anica, Rob, and Jenn (ha ha). We tasted and smelled every different spice you could think of! Then he took us to the viewpoint and saw really far away! Then we drove home, rested, had dinner. Good night!

(Rob)

Effortlessly, Chrissie (as in Chrissie's Homestay) arranged a Jeep and driver to take us to a spice farm this morning. The drive was about 20 minutes more of going even higher in elevation than we were already at. We were the only ones there (and it was a beautiful day, too!) and the owner of the farm took us around the field. Every step seemingly brought us to another plant. He would pluck its leaf, flower or fruit, explain what it was and then brusquely, but gently, command us to eat it or smell it or rub it on ourselves. And we went along with all of it, even Anica! It was great: Anica did her nails by rubbing tumeric, we ate mint leaf, cinnamon bark, allspice, pepper. There was aloe vera, lemongrass, and dozens more. A couple helped with asthma, but I was doing fine today. Another they used to make "hair oil," which is pronounced "heroin" by this farmer. That made Jenn and I exchange glances of "did you hear that too?" We knew it was illegal to cut down sandalwood in Kerala, but perhaps heroin was okay.

Then I had a cup of their coffee (meaning from their own coffee plants) and our driver walked us up the road to the promised "view point." This was such a beautiful vista, and again we were the only ones there. The whole town isn't even on the one road map of India we do have.

The view looked out over the state of Tamil Nadu from the border with Kerala. There is a vast valley, a mile below us, almost like a plain, except that there's another mountain range visible on the other side. In fact, the valley is nestled in a horseshoe of mountains and at the closed end is a waterfall that falls most of that height in a thin stream. It seems to take several seconds for the water to reach the bottom. Beautiful!

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What a view, high over Tamil Nadu!

Dec 5

(Rob)

Jenn's nursing a cold, so she had a quiet morning while Anica and I went on safari! Well, not safari, but we did ride an elephant through the jungle, heavily guided. I was pleased to see Anica not the least bit afraid of climbing on the elephant. She's been on an elephant before, and a camel, and her confidence has grown. We rode together on one elephant, saddle-style, not chairs, and the handlers were on the ground, not on the elephant with us. So it was different from Thailand. We also got to feed and pet the baby elephant, Carmen. During the ride, the handler took pictures with Anica's camera, so eventually we'll have those to post and share.

We've had every meal at Chrissie's, mostly because there's few desirable options. Also because the food is good. That's means vegetarian, no alcohol, and (oddly enough) mainly Italian food for five days. Sometimes we bring our novels, diaries and Anica's schoolbooks and stay at the table for two or three hours. The owners, Adel and Chrissie, are genuinely welcoming, and really seem to enjoy just chatting with their guests. Arranging the little outings we've done has been absurdly easy. And we've enjoyed our balcony view!

Latest reminder we're in India: live amplified temple music performed until one in the morning last night that echoed across the whole valley.

(Anica)

"Elaphant Junctin"

Today we got up and had brekfast. Then me and Daddy got in a tuk-tuk to the elaphant juction. When we got there and feed the baby elaphant named Carmen. (We feed him with palm leaves). Then we took a movie of me feeding Carmen. Then we took pictures of his mother and father and me sitting on this giant bamboo bench. Then we walked over to the ride place and bought tickets for this half-hour ride on an elephant, when our elaphant came we got in it and asked for its name and age. "Maria," that is her name...."Age?" "25." And that's her age . After our ride we took a little walk back to say goodbye to Carmen and went home, rested, had dinner, good night. (we also met this really nice family from Israel and had dinner with them and ran around outside. They had two girls, Lea (same age almost) and Ona, younger

Posted by jennrob 04:32 Archived in India Comments (5)

In "God's Own Country"

A Week in Cochin, Kerala, India

sunny 30 °C

Nov 24

(Rob)

Now this is South India. We landed today, only 50 minutes after taking off, in Kochi (previously Cochin) in the state of Kerala. Kerala is famous for its "backwaters," which in Ontario would be a put-down, but here is a good thing. After seeing Mysore, though, we were worried as we drove for over an hour through the sprawl that is Kochi. Mostly, we were on busy, commercial thoroughfares, lined with huge billboards advertising waterfront condos. Blissfully, however, our stay would be in the part of Kochi called Fort Cochin. It's charming, calm, and a marvellous blend of historical influences. Our homestay, "Delight", set the tone. It's a lovely, white-picket-fenced property, with several rooms in a large, Portuguese-style heritage house, with a little annex and cottage added on the front. a "home stay" here is not like being billeted in someone's home, it's more like a "guest house" or "bed and breakfast." The small gardens are immaculate, and the owner, David, was warmly welcoming. He suggested (practically insisted) we get our lunch at Dal Roti, just around the corner. This made us suspicious, but Dal Roti turned out to be a wonderful restaurant, with an outgoing owner who helped us not order too much food. It is mostly north Indian cuisine. We definitely plan to go back.

So, with a nice lunch in us, we set off to explore the rest of the neighborhood. We were only a few minutes away from the "Chinese fishing nets," which line the waterfront.

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Chinese fishing nets in Fort Cochin, Kerala

They're raised and lowered from the shore, using weighted ropes, meaning this group of fishermen don't even go out in boats. The frame for the nets is quite high, so they make quite a sight along the shore. As soon as the fish are taken out of a net and sorted, a crowd surges forward to buy them.

All this, however, paled in comparison (in Anica's eyes) to the playground in the village green, right in front of the fishing nets. There's a high slide, built to look like a giraffe, that is really cool. So we'll be going there each day, too! We have to keep a close eye on Anica, as this is the playground equipment of forty years ago: instead of being built with safety in mind, it seems designed to "thin the herd" of society using trial-by-playground during those formative childhood years.

After cooling down from the playground, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner - expensive by local standards - it ran us almost $15!

Nov 25

(Rob)

We saw more of Fort Cochin today, and decided to stay on for a full week. It really is a nice place to spend some time, including spending time in our bright, spacious guest-room.

When Vasco da Gama arrived in Kerla, 500 years ago, "discovering" it for Europeans, there already were Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus living here. Five centuries later, in these two little villages of Fort Cochin and Mattancherry, all of these groups are still here. There's a Syrian Orthodox Church, a Catholic church, an Anglican church, a synagogue , a mosque, and places of worship. No wonder their motto is "God's Own Country!"

We had a surprise tonight when we heard a choir rehearsing Christmas carols! This was doubly surprising because, not only were we in India, we'd had no other reminders that it was Christmas season. And one month from today is Christmas!

Dinner tonight was a return to "Dal Roti." He had the Tandoori oven fired up for the dinner service, so that meant kebabs and Tandoori chicken on a big platter for us. We talked with the owner and his wife off and on throughout the meal. This is now officially one of our favourite restaurants in the world! The food, atmosphere, price and location combine here to create something that's quite rare. We'll be going back a couple of times this week, I'm sure.

Nov 26

(Rob)

Today we toured the backwaters by eco-friendly, non-motorized boats. Unfortunately, we had to take an hour-long van ride to get to the backwaters. I guess Fort Cochin is the frontwaters. The tour was otherwise very well-done. The guide, Tombi, seemed stern at first, but ended up good friends with Anica, able to play and tease her without scaring her.

First we went on a small, dug-out canoe that was poled down very narrow channels. On either side were peoples' homes. Women bathed in their saris or washed laundry on rocks. At times, with it being so quiet, it felt like we were sneaking past them in our boats.

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Anica on our backwaters cruise

All the little stops taught us about the plants around us. There were "touch-me-nots" which withered under the slightest touch of our fingers. There was grapefruit, and the boatmen tore off strips of leaves as foot and arm grips, and scaled the palm trunks to throw them down. Tombi used a machete to crack them open and we sampled the grapefruit. Same with the coconut. We drank the milk, then ate the fruit, right from the freshly-dropped coconuts.

At the spice plantation, we learned that the green pepper berry on the branch could be made into black, white or red pepper, depending on when and how it was used. Anica was the first in the group to try cinnamon bark, which Tombi cut and peeled right off the tree trunk. We saw women spinning out coconut coil (rope) by hand. There were many other spices being grown in the plantation, which was part of a cooperative society. At one point in the small boat journey, we stopped to watch an elephant be bathed in the river by its handlers.

Lunch was a surprisingly authentic affair. We ate on an island, from banana-leaf plates. Spoons were available, but we tried to practice our Keralan skill of eating with just the right hand. You've got to get your whole hand involved to do it right. It never looks pretty, especially when done by unskilled Westerners, not to mention that I'm left-handed.

After lunch, we cruised a broader river in the larger, covered boats that can also be converted into houseboats.

Nov 27

(Rob)

We took the public ferry boat from the jetty in Fort Cochin across the water to Ernakulum. This busy urban centre held little charm for us, but we put in a few hours and got a few errands done. It seemed really hot on those busy city streets though!

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Christmas star decorations for sale in the local bazaar in Ernakulum

Back in the tranquil village laneways of Fort Cochin, we ate at a restaurant down by the Chinese fishing nets that seemed popular. As I looked around, I noticed most of the other tables had teapots on them, with people drinking from coffee mugs. That seemed a little strange until the waiter asked me if I'd like a beer with dinner. Beer wasn't on the menu, though, nor is it anywhere in Cochin. Then I remembered what the guidebooks say about beer: it's served surreptitiously from teapots!

I had a coke.

Nov 28

(Rob)

Today we set out to see more of the cultural and historical sites in Fort Cochin and Mattancherry. The"Dutch Palace," actually built by the Portuguese to placate a local Raja, didn't take long to explore, but there were a couple of interesting features. Aside from the ubiquitous Ramayana murals, the lower level featured some decidedly more eroticized murals. Mostly, it was the animals enjoying themselves. From rats to deer to elephants!

Then there was the giant swing (no, nothing to do with the erotic art - that's why this is a new paragraph) where the Raja used to sit and receive public audience. I had a lot of questions about that: did he sit still? Did someone push him? Wasn't it hard to take his royal authority seriously when he's playing on a swing?

But, since large parts of the Palace were closed, we moved on to the Jain Temple, fending off a few tuk-tuk drivers. The temple was a nice place to wait in the breezy, shaded courtyard. We were made to feel very welcome, and I sat in on the devotions of a couple of women singing to the accompaniment of a temple drummer-boy.

Jainism is an offshoot of Hinduism, whose numbers are fewer than ten million, almost all in India. It is a very peaceful faith, whose most strict adherents harm no living creature, not even a plant. That makes eating a challenge!

As a symbol of their respect for all life, pigeons are feed daily at noon. We made sure we stayed for this. At the sound of the call, pigeons swirled (clockwise, I noted) around the main temple and descended to the side garden. There were perhaps a thousand pigeons. There were a few other people there, including a couple of Indian families with young kids, and we all were given birdseed. The men in charge commenced the feeding with a little song and prayer and then we were surrounded by birds, pecking gently from our hands, until the ground was thick with birdseed and we weren't needed anymore.

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The proverbial "bird in the hand" at the Jain Temple in Cochin

The temple is in the Mattancherry area, and we had lunch at a former ginger warehouse (or "godown") on the waterfront. Mercifully, it was canopied. Mid-day here is very much "siesta" time because of the heat. They keep referring to "winter," but that's just confusing to us Canadians!

There was a blackout at dinner at Dal Roti's (power failure). They had no generator or inverter, so we were plunged into total darkness until they brought out three battery-powered florescent lights that looked like bug lights. There were only three so they kept rotating them, seemingly without any reason, among the six or so tables on diners. Oddly enough, it didn't faze us at all and we happily continued eating until eventually the power came back on.

Nov 29

(Rob)

This evening we attended a "Kathakali" theatre performance. Kathakali is the traditional performing art of Kerala, and is perhaps the world's oldest continuously-performed theatre form. It tells the stories of gods and heroes using a language of hand-gestures, movements, costumes and makeup. Traditionally, it's performed at length (sometimes all night long) in temples. Like Elizabethan theatre, the female roles are all played by men. The version we saw is admittedly, watered down for tourists, but still performed by the artists who have undergone years of rigourous Kathakali training in pursuit of this calling.

The makeup, in particular, is elaborate, and the audience is invited to arrive 90 minutes before the play begins to watch the process. That may have been a lot to ask of Anica. I myself vacillated between fascination with the process and the discomfort thought that we were literally watching paint dry.

Following that was a demonstration of some Kathakali conventions. You couldn't help but get a kick out of the nine emotions of the face being demonstrated (love, sarcasm, fear..). It was basically making faces elevated to a nearly religious ritual! The gestures were also universal; body language was demonstrated to communicate yes, no, come here, go away, etc. Less universal were the hand signals, which is a language of its own (although I swear I saw "ok" and the sign for stealing third in there).

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Kathakali performer

That made the play itself hard to understand. Luckily, we had our one page English summary they gave us. It still was a long night for Anica (especially because we couldn't get dinner until after the show), who was just as interested in the antics of two kittens who'd climbed into the bamboo-walled theatre. But she was very patient, and when the show ended we went back to the "Upstairs Italian Restaurant" and had a nice meal (only marred slightly by the amplified, outdoor Mass being conducted in the Malayalam language across the street).

Nov 30

(Rob)

Today we ate, read, wrote postcards, updated the website, walked around and helped Anica with her school work, played outside with Anica. One of our typical quiet days. And, typcially for here, we now intend to go have one more meal at Dal Roti!

Nov 26

(Anica)

Today we went on a tour with a 1 hour long drive (no Gravol!). So after that we got to our boat and met our local guide (very nice). Then we got to the spice plantian and I tried some ciammon bark! Very spicy! On the way back we had cocunut milk and fruit. Then I picked up some palms, dipped them in the water and whacked the plants. Then we had Thali for lunch and the tenagge boys on our tour played coconut-ball soccer with me! Then we went home and had dinner. good night!

Nov 27

(Anica)

"Ferry, City..."

Today we got up and went to have breakfast. For breakfast we had pinapple, toast, butter and jam (Daddy also had coffe). Then we walked outside, found a tuk-tuk and said "how much would it be to go to the jetty?" "Fifteen rupees." "Okay." So we had a very nice driver, he told us that he had a 10 year old boy and a eight and a half year old girl. He also told us that a couple from Chicago who came here for the last six years bought him a two thousand doller (canadian) tuk tuk! When we arived at the jetty we found tickets to Ernaukulam quickly. After a fifeten minute ferry we arived in Ernaukulam. We dicedid to go to MG road but Mommy and Daddy had a fight (but just to keep things easy I kept out of it) :) We found a cloth shop and bought me two shirts. one said fun in the sun, the other futre princess! Then we went to an internet cafe (I'm french ha ha), then went to a coffe place. Went to the jetty, got tickets home, had dinner. Good night!!!

Nov 28

(Anica)

"Hello Sari, Hello Tuk Tuk No! Yes!"

Today we got up and had breakfast. Then we walked out and got to the Duth Palace. When we got there we took out our cameras and walked inside. After we came out we were very disappinted. NOT VERY INTRISTING! Then we walked down to the jain temple. I feed the pigens at 12:15 but I got bird poop in bettwen my toes!? Then we had lunch, went home, rested. Had dinner. GOOD NIGHT! P.S. (now listen up!!!) we had a blackout during dinner but they kept on stealing lights from people.

Nov 29

(Anica)

"We Shoped and bought a WALL HANIGING"

Today we got ticketsfor Kathakali (yay). Then we tried to look for an ATM with cirrus. No! Then we went shopping. we looked in one shop and he had somthing we liked for a good price. so we said "we'll think about it." Then we went into another shop, they had somthing we wanted but not for a good price. So we had lunch. Then we went back to the oneguys shop and bought it!!!! Then we went home, rested, saw a really long kathakhali show and had dinner. GOOD NIGHT.

Posted by jennrob 05:24 Archived in India Comments (4)

India Lite

A Breather in Bangalore

sunny 21 °C

Nov 21-23

(Rob)

Bangalore is known as a high-tech and airpline hub, and we were ready for a dash of this promised "new" India. Luckily, Bangalore really did the trick. We were able to enjoy some modern conveniences and shopping before we headed further south. We found a hotel right in the thick of the shopping junction of MG Road and Brocade Road, the Empire Hotel on Church Street, which was much cleaner than the hotel we'd left behind in Mysore (though far from spotless).

We enjoyed browsing (and restocking our reading material) in the many English-language bookstores in the neighborhood. We ate mainly Western food, even the dreaded KFC and McDonalds got their due, I'll admit. We went to a couple of malls, including one that had free wireless everywhere in the mall. Luckily, we had our laptop with us. We went to a couple of coffee places, used the internet, got laundry done, etc.

We also succeeded in seeing two Bollywood movies in vastly different theatres. The blockbuster "Om Shanti Om," we took in at an old-fashioned single screen theatre, where we sat in the respectable balcony seats. The (mostly young, male) crowd in the "stalls" (i.e. the first floor seats) cheered and whistled with the entrances of Shah Rukh Khan and their other favourites. The ticket-taker was nice enough to tell us the movie was an "Indian film" Yes. "In Hindi." Yes, we said. "With no subtitles." Yes, we said, thank-you. It was really easy to figure out the story, and even easier to enjoy. In fact, "Om Shanti Om" was the most enjoyable Bollywood film I've ever seen.

Not so with "Saawariya," the other Bollywood film we saw, this one in a mall multiplex - very modern and clean, almost as nice as Hong Kong, actually - but the movie wasn't as good nor as easy to understand.

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Anica with "Om Shanti Om" display outside movie theatre in Bangalore

Nov 21st

(Anica)

"Om Shanti Om"

(Warning: SPOILER ALERT, Aunt Stevie and other Bollywood fans - editor Rob)

Today we went on a long drive to Bangalore empire hotel, after a 3 hour drive we arrived in Bangalore empire hotel. Got checked in and saw our room. Very nice big bedroom and bathroom. after that we went and had lunch at ruby tuesdays (sort of like TGIFs) Then we were just walkind down when we saw a movie theatere playing Om Shanti Om in 20 mins! So we got tickets and popcorn and saw it. very good. there's this superstar and his girlfriend shanti. But then when shanti gets pregant, Om who likes her tries to save her because her boyfriend set fire in a building. Om dies in the hospital but shanti dies in the building so her ghost stayed in there (you may not guess why a ghost has to do with this but your wrong). Om though dies as soon as the man who killed him (his wife) had a baby. so Om got reborn! the man who killed Shanti was still alive and they wanted to spook him so they took this girl who looked like Shanti and wrote a SMS to him then girl looked up and she was evil! Then they wanted a girl for the song or movie Om Shanti Om and the girl who looked like Shanti took the job! Then they had a party at the place where Shanti got killed. The ghost though apeared, this time invisible, and set fire! Luckily they got out okay thought and then they showed movie he made before he killed Shanti but when the girl looked up it wasne't Shanti. Then they had a big party and the ghost of Shanti appears and kills the man who killed her! the fake Shanti apologizes for what she did and they married. The End. Then we went to Pizza Hut and had dinner. Good night.

November 22 "Two Malls and Another Movie"

(Anica)

Today I woke up very late, so late we had go have breakfast at a cafe coffee day! :) Then we took a tuck tuck to a mall. Went to their movie theater and got tickets for Saawirya. After that had lunch at MdD then we got candy for the next night. Then we headed up to movie theatre but we had to leave our laptop! No! GIVE US A REFUND! Okay! So then we went home, had dinner. Good night

November 23 "Another Mall and Saawirya!"

(Anica)

Today we went to another mall to by movie tickets to Sawirya. Then we bought me a new t-shirt that said Girls Rock on the front. then we had subway for lunch and went to a bookstore. after that we saw Saawairya. really hard to understand though. After that we went to our Epire hotel reastrant, gross men staring at me and mommy and no good food, then we looked at Cocoa grove, nobody three, then we went to a rolls place, just pop. so then we finally just went to Ruby Tuesdays.

Posted by jennrob 03:28 Archived in India Comments (2)

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