I have found a little nook in the house where the last sun rays are streaming in…for another few minutes anyway; then it will be COLD! Not super cold mind you but coming from Kerala it does seem cold. I would guess that the temp is in the mid forties at night. I am in Kodaikanal at my friends’ house on the International Kodai School campus in the heart of the town. This school was established at the turn of the century and this house is 100 years old!
Although I am not even half way through my India adventure I thought I would write this update now that I have a window of opportunity and describe my impressions so far.
Well, my very first impression disembarking in Delhi was: it smells like smoke! That has endured throughout my journey to and through the south. In Delhi it was so cold that people had little fires going on the streets and were huddled around them. No problem finding fuel for fires; it’s what’s done with rubbish anyway…burning plastic is the overall primary aroma in India. Well, what can you expect when there is zero system implemented for waste disposal! This is the single most shocking fact about India to me. Everywhere you look is rubbish, sometimes smoldering piles of it, sometimes just piles of it, sometimes dams of it in the rivers, sometimes little gutter fires of it, everywhere it’s just strewn about the place. So far Kodai is the cleanest place I’ve come across. It also seems to be just barely above the smog level; a blanket of smog like you’ve only seen in Phoenix and LA lies over the whole country (as far as I could tell from my window seat on the flight south from Delhi). Also, I could be in heaven as the main trade here is in essential oils, spices and chocolate!
It was a shock getting off the flight in Trivandrum from Delhi into a wall of humid 90 degrees with all my woollies on! The last two weeks have been saturated in steamy heat, which I will absolutely not complain about.
Kerala is all bananas and coconuts. The little farm house became quite a comfortable little landing spot once I evicted/exterminated the masses of large insect life within the house! Three young Swedish girls arrived a few days after I did and we fell into a pleasant and relaxed routine of early morning garden work, yoga and afternoon forays either into the little village nearby or further afield to more touristy destinations such as Kovalam Beach or Neyyer Dam. We were absolutely the only foreigners in the village of Malayenkil and were stared at but also revered! In India the most important criteria for beauty is fairness of skin and hair so you can imagine how my 3 toeheaded companions were esteemed.
We invested a bit of time in head wobble practice until we felt confident enough to have a go in public. It felt a bit awkward at first but wow it has such a fabulous effect! It’s like a secret handshake for an exclusive club and to see the faces light up just from your little waggle is well worth the silly feeling!
Our host was an enthusiastic little Indian fellow of middle upper caste with a wheeler dealer spirit! It appeared to me that his enlistment with WOOFing and HelpX websites was more of a cunning means to network his “ayurvedic” products rather than a deep desire to do organic farming. My assessment of that comes from the fact that we always worked unsupervised; when we asked for more tools our host kept forgetting to supply them (until we finally went out and bought hoes and trowels ourselves!) and he seemed utterly both uncritical and uncomplimentary about the work we accomplished. He was however, extremely enthusiastic about his healing abilities and diligently performed a 45 minute daily energy channeling meditation upon us, complete with crystals and new agey music to heal whatever ailments we informed him of. Unfortunately, my sinuses didn’t respond to this treatment much as I put my heart into it.
Kerala food, as far as we were served, consists mostly of rice in various shapes and designs, accompanied by a microscopic portion of something liquid, usually coconut based. The girls complained daily and tried to explain to Valsa that we needed less white stuff and more substance but when I left the message still didn’t seem to have sunk in. Some of the white stuff was seriously delicious though; idli is fermented rice flour and some fermented lentil flour shaped into little pillows and steamed giving it a sourdoughish flavor and delightful texture. Other various shapes of the same batter are also delicious. The food here is soooo inexpensive! But clothes are not, much to my dismay as cheap as I had expected.
Traveling by car all over India is absolutely hair raising! There are zero rules of the road; it’s a free for all even though traffic is meant to circulate on the left side. It seems ok to pass on a blind curve (as long as you honk), pass on either side (as long as you honk), drive in the middle(while honking), drive on the wrong side if necessary (honking wildly), dodging pedestrians and cows while honking continuously. I took a short video of my tuc tuc (rickshaw) ride to the bus station the other day in Madurai. Rickshaws are a wonderful means of public transportation; scooters with big back seats and covers and 3 wheels provide an inexpensive way to get virtually anywhere within 30 k conveniently zipping around trucks and busses. Not for the faint hearted or back seat drivers mind you. Vishak picked me up from the airport to take me to the farm and told me on the way that the fine for killing a pedestrian with your vehicle is 15000 rupees…some 300 dollars, no jail, no revoked license!! He explained that tourists are worth more though. That makes me feel safer crossing the street.
I had been under the impression that most Indians spoke English but this turned out to be myth. While most seem able to read some English it seems that most folks in the villages do not even speak a word of English. I gather that it is becoming more common to learn English in schools nowadays. Another custom still in effect, though on the decline, is arranged marriages. Do not get me started!
Women of all classes here are always dressed to the hilt and look stunning. Colourful sarees and flowing scarves, shiny, thick, long black hair and flashy trinkets galore. It is such a contrast to see the men in their loosely fitting lunghis which are basically sarongs folded up above the knees!
I left the farm and hopped on a train to the yucky city of Madurai, a 7 hour ride away. My train got in at 11 pm so I demanded of the hotel an escort from the station and was glad I did. That station was overwhelming havoc, especially to a country girl like me! Plus there were bodies lying on the ground everywhere; one had to step over them constantly. Not dead bodies! Sleeping bodies presumably waiting for trains..My train ride was otherwise uneventful and I had some nice chats with friendly Indian folk. Oh but get a load of this interesting discovery I made: a person cannot book a train ticket online unless they have a mobile phone and other criteria I did not have. A person cannot book a train ticket from a travel agent either…A person can get a train ticket either at the train station or…at the post office!! Some one got my ticket for me. Things that make you go hmmm.
I had given up on the idea of getting a sim card. India thinks that you will use your phone for terrorism and therefor you must hand over your passport for copies, some other form of ID and fill out an hour’s worth of forms. Then they must investigate you for several days and only then will they maybe authorize the use of your phone. I have also heard of people’s service being cut off due to unfounded suspicions. Now my friend here reckons he can get me one so I’ll take it if it’s easy. We shall see. Also, every hotel you stay in and even at the farm you must provide a copy of your passport and visa to your host and fill out an extensive form which they must turn in to the government. I presume that this lets them off the hook if we do turn out to be a terrorist.
I decided to book an expensive room for my one night in Madurai as even those are just crummy! I would hate to see a budget hotel room here and also I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to sleep for fear of bed bugs! Even in this expensive, crummy hotel I lay my yoga mat under my own sheet and put on my own pillow case! The sheets didn’t seem to have been washed after the last guest…ugh.
OK the cat is purring like a freight train and trying to help me type..He is very sweet.
One thing you don’t want to do here is get caught out having to poo in a public place. Toilets are something altogether different than what we are accustomed to. Toilets are a hole in the cement with a bucket of water and a little scooper to wash yourself afterwards. No paper. In fact toilet paper is a commodity rare as hens’ teeth. A clothes pin would also be useful to hold your nose closed and some good tread shoes so you don’t surf right into the damned thing. How do they negotiate this in sarees I keep wondering.
I’ve just been on a lovely little hike to a stupendous view point past an Israeli hippy tourist village. There I drank a little chai in some serious peace and quiet with a sweet lady at her stall. I’m not scared of the tea anywhere as it is always boiling away like crazy and it’s soooo good! The peace and quiet is truly a rare commodity in India. While there are no trash disposal funds there are somehow funds to attach loud speakers to trees 200 meters apart almost EVERYWHERE (I did even spy some near this lady’s quiet shack) for broadcasting the temple music at festivals. Temples love their Bollywood pop too and you can rock out most evenings no matter where you are. .
Well, it’s time to wrap this one up. Expect a follow up some time in the next few months.
When an Indian person asks your name they say: ”and what is your good name?”. I’m not sure if my GOOD name is kak or Katherine and would that make the other name my bad name? They never do ask me for my bad name but if they did I’d tell them Kathy.
So bye from kak with love!