Monday, October 31, 2011

Kerala - Part 1

We have been in the state of Kerala for 3 nights now and it is significantly different from Chennai. Our first stop was Fort Kochi, which used to be a fort. The buildings in the city are from colonial times that they keep patching up to continue to use. We stayed at the Saj Homestay which is what we would call a B&B. The accommodations were comfortable and the breakfasts were amazing. They were served on a lovely Veranda.

The town of Kochi is very tourist oriented which has its pros and cons. We ventured away from the tourist center and met some friendly people and goats. The juxtaposition of old and new is apparent everywhere but the Chinese fishing nets near the new harbor seemed to visually define it best.

Yesterday we made the 7 hour drive to the hill station, Munnar. Our hotel was an additional hour on an unpaved road that we had to switch to a 4 wheel jeep to reach. The location is so beautiful it is difficult to fully comprehend even while being here. We have a 2 bedroom cabin somehow, I think they were not booked so they upgraded us. We tried going on a bit of a hike today but the leech that attached itself to Matt and the one that tried climbing into my shoe deterred us a bit. We are enjoying some down time away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. Tomorrow we head to a houseboat which will be a phenomenal experience through the backwaters of Kerala.

On our drive up the mountain we stopped for a snack and to hang out with these guys. I got a little too close and the mom growled at me.

The Jeep ride to the resort was exciting:

This is our cabin, it's huge:

We enjoyed one of our 2 fireplaces last night with a bottle of Indian wine:

 Matt relaxing with a book in our living room this morning after our delicious Masala Dosa breakfast:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Diwali

We have been trying to figure out how best to describe our time here thus far, and it has become apparent that without the mind of a poet, and the words from many languages, it would be impossible.  Therefore, I will have to rely on pictures more than I originally intended to.

Today was Day 3 of our trip as well as Diwali. The reasons for celebrating vary throughout the country but everyone uses fireworks. The core of the celebration is good prevailing over evil with oil lamps lighting the way for good to return. In addition to these lamps people enjoy lighting off VERY LOUD fire crackers. Right now the air is so thick with smoke that the buildings across the street are hazy. The sound makes me jump but being outside and surrounded by the color and the excitement is as exhilaration as it is irritating. Most older people complain about the celebrations while conceding that it is necessary for them to purchase the crackers for kids, so the tradition carries on.

Now to return to a chronological telling of our trip. The first day we did a bit of a tour of the city. Chennai is a busy city with so much going on at all times.

Yesterday we went to Mamallapuram which is about 60km outside of the city, but the traffic was so bad getting out of the city it took us a long time to get there. Additionally, the North East monsoons came late this year and started full force yesterday. Mamallapuram has amazing temple and cave carvings which were started in the 7th century. The shore temple is the last of 7 remaining and after the 2004 tsunami more of the temple was revealed.

Today we went to Kanchipuram which is where more temples were located and built by the same family. The largest temple in Kanchi is still a functioning place of worship of Shiva and with today being a Hindi festival it was a great time to be there.

The next temple was one of the oldest and is also for Shiva although it is more of a monument now than a functioning temple.

The last place we went was a temple for Vishnu which has stricter rules about non-Hindus so we could not go very far. We were able to see a hall of 100 pillars (which is any amount above 10), in this case there were exactly 96 pillars. Marriages and Pujas are conducted there and each pillar was carved from a single stone. The intricacies and beauty of the work is so well preserved it is incredible.

We also got to see some people hand weaving silk and had some delicious South Indian coffee. Tomorrow we are hoping it doesn't rain too much as we want to head over to Central Chennai and just wonder around. We are both having a great time. One thing that I enjoy specifically is all of the animals coexisting in the cities. Cows on the medians. goats cleaning up rubbish piles, dogs resting under our car, and monkeys causing trouble at the temples. Granted the animals do not always look healthy and it can be heart breaking because I want to hold all of them but I suppose you have to take the good with the bad.

Monday, October 24, 2011


We are now at our hotel in Chennai. Our flights here were long yet surprisingly painless. The 16 hours to Dubai offered many movies and music options which kept us entertained and we got some rest although probably not enough. The Dubai airport was an overload to the senses. The diversity was incredible and the airport itself was the height of luxury. We enjoyed a glass of wine at one of the wine bars during the 2 hour layover. Upon check in at our gate we were notified that we had need upgraded to Business Class. What a pleasant treat that was! I have never flown anything other than economy although Matt has. The service and seating is so above and beyond it was incredible. A nice change for the last 4 hours of our travels. The customs at Chennai was smooth and we found our driver immediately upon exiting the airport. We got Jasmine flower leis which smell amazing. Seriously everything went so smoothly and so far all interactions have been incredibly pleasant, even the woman who asked if she could hold my hand on the escalator in Dubai, because they made her nervous, was sweet. Tomorrow we plan to explore the city.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why India Beth?

I find myself having to explain and justify this trip on a fairly regular basis. When someone asks me why I want to go to India, my knee jerk response is to ask them why they don't want to go. I had similar reactions when I traveled to Beijing in 2007 (although my answer then was easier, "for a conference") and again to Shanghai ("to visit a friend") and Hong Kong in 2009. However, no one has ever seemed interested in my reasons for going to Western Europe, perhaps because it is more familiar to most of us.

Traveling, in general, is a chance to step out of your shell and take a look at the world around you. There are so many of us on this planet, and so many different ways of living, that I would feel cheated if I didn't explore at least some of them. Of course I will only be able to scratch the surface in my lifetime because I also want to be rooted with a family and a career, but it is important for me to scratch nonetheless.

Specifically, India has been the love of my life since I was about 14 years old when I started discovering its ancient history while exploring Hinduism. Then, my first job as a reading tutor at Kumon provided further insight into the culture because my boss was born there and would tell me stories of her childhood. I learned to love Indian cinema, specifically Bollywood films, and the music that is so different from ours. Indian notes are divided into units called shruties (22 microtones), whereas Western music consist of 12 pitches per octave. The difference is easy to distinguish when you hear it, and I find myself getting lost in the emotion of Indian music regardless of whether or not I can understand the lyrics.

One of my more common answers to the question "Why India?", is that I love the culture. I like the vagueness of the answer until someone asks me to elaborate. So I try to keep it simple with something about loving the traditions of the many different people that live in the huge country, or the food, or their colorful and kind nature, but of course none of these singularly define India's "culture". The country is ancient and the history of it is as diverse as the people who live there today, all the way back to the Indus Valley Civilization. The Vedas, which are the sacred texts of Hinduism were written as early as 1500 BCE and remain relevant to many today. Over the years India has been under the rule of various rulers and kingdoms, most recently the U.K. until 1947 when India was declared independent and became the largest democracy in the world.

The Indian people are very proud of their culture and traditions, which I admire. They are able to persevere and survive in the harshest conditions and do so while offering their starving neighbor their last slice of bread, or more likely a chapatti. Unfortunately this pride can hinder progress. The darker side of India includes widespread political corruption, immense poverty, poor social welfare, and poor infrastructure. Yet with all of this the people continue to live and love.

So, why do I want to go to India? How could I possibly enjoy myself with all of the beggars and poverty? What would I even do there since it is so dirty?

I think my best answer so far was to my friend Nichole: "I am going to India so she can teach me things I never knew I needed to learn."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chennai To Delhi

Our Planned Route - October 22, 2011 - November 24, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011