(For Real!) Pondicherry/Puducherry

(Oops, accidentally clicked ‘publish’ instead of ‘save’ earlier, and then the Internet has been dodgy ever since. Here is the finished product, finally.)

This is a city with a rather interesting and diverse past, a past that is partially reflected in its varied architecture, although I can’t prove that since my viewing of the city was done from the back of a bicycle-powered rickshaw over uneven roads: all my photos of buildings are blurry and/or askew, dang it.

Pondicherry also a beach town on the Indian Ocean and the site of the enormous Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Life of Pi is partially set and was partially filmed here. Elephants walk down the street, and people make donations in order to be “blessed” by one.

On the way there, there we visited a beautiful temple at Kumbakonam, with its bas-reliefs and stone carvings of ancient daily and fanciful lives. We had to wade through water to enter, courtesy of recent heavy rains.

During the drive, a crocodile was lurking in one of the many rivers we passed over. Not too far from it, humans (kids!) were also in the water. Yikes.

Yes, a very interesting place.

Tanjore Sightseeing

Today I’m sending two posts: one with the day’s explorations and then a separate one of a specific nature for anyone interested.

Before I forget, here is the name of a church I passed: Evan G. L. Cal.

First stop today was the Brihadeshwara Temple, which, I learned, is quite similar to Angor Wat, which dulls the pain somewhat of not having been there in person. I also learned that originally all the Indian temples were this same rust color; the colorful ones, as in Madurai, were only given their bright colors 350 years ago. I like ‘em both ways.

Also on today’s agenda was the Thanjavur Palace, which contained a lovely collection of Chola bronzes and over 30,000 fascinating manuscripts. (Chola: a long-ruling South Indian dynasty.) I’ve included one photo of the graceful bronzes below; if you’d like to see more, check out today’s other blog post.

Lastly was a visit to a family business creating beautiful art and lost wax statues. See the process below. So cool! Enjoy!

Filming a Bollywood movie! The street was choked with gawkers.
Optical illusion!
Forming the wax.
A wax arm!
Fashioning the fingers.
Ta da!
Finished form inside sandy mud.
Pouring molten metal inside.
Smashing the hardened covering.
Drop in bucket of water to cool the metal.
Et, voila!

Madurai to Tanjore/Thanjavur

Another long day of road-tripping. India certainly is a never-ending feast for the eyes. We got close to Sri Lanka, but no side trip included.

We did stop in a neighborhood that sells antiques and then visited a few giant old family homes that are open to paying tourists for tours and lunch.

Here are some photos from along the way. Hope you enjoy them!

This is still the main source for cooking in this house.

Over Pretty Mountains to Bustling Madurai

Today’s journey was fantastic. After a lovely sunrise, we headed up over the mountains on winding roads for several hours, and then on to the plains of the Vaigai River Valley. Sometimes the road was a torn up, potholed nightmare, and then suddenly it would change to smooth and easy, kind of an apt description of many of my Indian experiences.

Madurai is made up of mainly low-rise and colorful buildings, but it is huge and noisy and traffic-jammed nonetheless. Fortunately, tonight’s hotel is a 62-acre tree-covered oasis in the middle of the crazy, and when we arrived, music started up, flower petals were showered down from above, and a fancifully dressed man escorted me to reception under a colorful parasol where we were presented with cold clothes and delicious rehydrating drinks.

Later, we visited the Tirumalai Nayak Palace, which suffers with supreme neglect, and then the Sri Meenakshi Temple, which was majorly amazing, but again, no photos, only this time for security reasons.

I had a few brushes with authority today: first, after being frisked by security guards at the temple, I was sent out twice, once for my Fitbit and then once again for an extra SD camera card in a pocket. Later in the evening, I was escorted back to a police station and questioned after having photographed its front; that got my heart racing, but in the end I was not hauled off to India jail.

Here are some more photos. Hope you can see and enjoy them.

A room with a view.
That’s last night’s hotel there, perched among the trees.
From this . . .
. . . to that.
The offending photo.

Western Ghats, The Journey of Tea, And Not-So-Reclusive Goats

I should have done this earlier, but anyway, below please find a map of my trip. I’m down near the bottom now, heading eastward tomorrow.

Today was tea plantation exploration day, up and through the undulating green hills of tea bushes, taken in an Indian version of a Jeep over very uneven dirt roads. I also went to a tea processing plant, which was loads of fun with its countless gargantuan and jiggling machines to dry, separate, grade, etc., etc., the leaves, but I can’t prove any of that because photography inside is banned, trade secrets and all. I was able to photograph the women, some quite elderly, picking the tea, for which they are paid a pittance, in spite of the very hard work. As with the cashews, I’ll never view tea the same again. The visit also included a stop at a shop called Tea Tales, where various types of teas were sampled, and although you can get a sandwich there, you cannot buy any loose tea, nor can you order any hot tea with your lunch. Some sort of logic at work there.

Afterwards we visited Eravikulam National Park “which, with an area of 97 sq. km, is home to the largest population of the endangered Nilgiri Tahr, an endemic species of ungulates and is the state animal of Tamil Nadu.” We saw about 15, who have sadly become acclimated to humans, probably because said humans are feeding the goats right under signs prohibiting doing so. We also saw big, bushy-tailed squirrels. There are reputedly elephants, tigers, and wild dogs in the park, but they kept to themselves. A large, beautiful monkey was spotted by my tour mates, but not by me.

As for another type of wildlife, I’ve got some kind of very loud but interesting sounding critter in my room. Unfortunately, I was not able to communicate this effectively (it was a rather farcical non-conversation with me trying to imitate the calls or chirps to the non-English-speaking hotel employee), so I guess I’ll be sharing my room tonight.

Here are some photos. Hope you enjoy them,

Displayed in the informative tea museum.
Shrine in the national park.

Ok, Well, This Has Been Wondrously Pleasant

Lovely, peaceful, rural, quiet, internet free. I’ve just spent two days puttering along in the backwaters of Kerala . . . it’s places like this, I think, that cause people to imagine a heaven. It’s been warm, breezy and green, full of birds swooping and singing, giant fruit bats gliding across the water or snoozing upside down in their trees, and then there’s the slow and gentle living along the banks . . . wow.

We left the docks on a Sunday morning, and the waters were choked with pleasure boats, mainly weekend day trippers. But later in the day and on Monday, things quieted down and we were the only vessels on the water most of the time (bonus: our group is five, four tourists and the guide, but they had no boat large enough to accommodate us all, so I practically had a boat all to myself). We moored overnight, and in the early mornings, it was pretty much just me and the kites, kingfishers, herons, egrets, song- and snakebirds, until the water buses full of school kids and “commuters” glided by.

The locals, of course, use the waterways for everything: fishing, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, and brushing teeth, which is difficult for this Westerner to embrace. The traditional men’s clothing is a bright white lungi, a sort of complex sarong, and how it remains so pristinely white after being beating on a rock and rinsed in the brown water mystifies me.

The most popular local vehicle is a very narrow, long, wooden boat that sits extremely low in the water. Sometimes they’re used to haul huge rocks or sand and there’s a mere inch of edge above water; I don’t see how they stay afloat in a large wake. When herding ducks (!!) (see below), the men stand up in the boat, shout, use an oar to splash at the ducks, then use a kick-back with one foot to bail out the water they’ve taken on, all smoothly accomplished like a ballet, the ducks swerving along as one entity. Amazing.

Midday Monday, we pulled up to a bern between rice paddies, and one of the crew hopped off the boat with a machete and lopped off some banana leaves: our lunch plates.

After mooring in the evening, we took walks along hard mud paths through villages, greeting kids, grownups, cows and goats, catching two gorgeous sunsets.

We puttered by a boat bus stops, Christian churches with distinctive South Indian flavors, and a Communist meeting. I saw boats stenciled with “Rural Uplift Centre” used as mini taxis.

There were three crew on my boat, as kind and friendly as could be. It was weird for me to be addressed madam this, madam that, would madam like . . .

As the hours and the days passed, I sat near the bow, feet up, gazing upriver. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

We head for the hill stations now . . . What a journey this has been. Here are a bunch of photos. Hoping you enjoy them.

Continue reading Ok, Well, This Has Been Wondrously Pleasant

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