Children's Village, Madurai and Kodaikanal
01.11.2015 - 04.11.2015 28 °C
Although we've spent the week staying at home, we've packed in quite a bit!
On Sunday Mum and Naren usually go to the Anthony Abs Children's Village. The Children's Villages form part of the wider "Boys Town Society" set up in 1965 by Joe Homan. "The Boys Towns, Girls Towns and Children’s villages are founded for the benefit of the poorest children. In these institutions the children are receiving free education, food, medical care and activities to develop their physical, mental and spiritual health. Boys Town society’s institutions are helping the poor children, irrespective of castes, creeds or religions." Mum and I had a session with 10 of the oldest girls in the Village who were more interested in showing me their dancing and singing than learning English this week, although of course we were speaking to them in English the whole time. Next time we'll read one of the storybooks together, but as it was my first visit, it was a special occassion! I bought the 56 kids a slice of 10 rupee cake each and they sat in rows and ate, they are really cute kids!
I also had my first visit to Madurai this week. It was quite a short visit and we didn't take in the Meenakshi Amman Temple - we'll save that for another day as Madurai is only an hour or so's drive.
This time we went to Pothys, a large clothes shop where there are 5 floors of sarees, including designer sarees costing over £1,000, chudidhar, the long tops worn with leggings, men's shirts and trousers. Here you can find every colour of materials to make saree blouses, rows upon rows of bright colours. There is also a whole department where men can choose material of various designs and have a shirt tailor made. It's even possible to buy a box of shirt and trouser material as a gift which can then later be made into an outfit for the recipient!
In the evening we stopped at Mr Wang's for a really nice Chinese meal. My friend Wikipedia tells me that "chinese food is an integral part of the Indian culinary scene", so there are quite a few Chinese restaurants dotted around and you can get noodles served alongside dosas in some restaurants.
The next morning, Pandy, one of the guys who works at the neighbour's homestay resort, kindly took us on a village tour. Our first stop was walking distance from Mum and Naren's house (although we were in the car!) - Sadaiyandi Kovil. Pandy showed us the pieces of material containing rocks which are tied to the large banyan tree in the hope that this will bring children to any childless couple who have prayed there - having children, especially early in a marriage, is an important part of life. Every year during Aadi Amavasai in July/August, there is a festival which can attract over 100,000 pilgrims - no mean feat for a village of only around 5,300 people! There was also a separate area where men and women over 30 come to pray to find a husband or wife. Pandy explained that the best time to get married is universally accepted as some time in your 20s, so if you're 35 or so and not married, it's a bit of a worry - he assured Mum that there isn't the same expectations for Europeans...!
After this we stopped for a few minutes at a goat hurder's village where around 30 families all live raising goats and living and working together. Again I had mixed feelings walking around taking photos of people's homes some of which were no more than metal huts with rooves made of coconut tree leaves. Pandy obviously knew the people there and no one seemed offended by our presence. We bought a bag of sweets in the absolutely tiny shop so that they could be shared out, and, whilst this seemed a very small thank you, Pandy assured us it was all that was expected. The community is apparently very close-knit to the point that young men and women only marry members of the other families within the village. I don't want to pity or patronise people living their lives of which I have only had the smallest of glimpses, however it's difficult to imagine living in that way. The sense of community, working and living together and sharing work, play and experience appeals to me as a socialist - but this isn't Auroville and the shop was also selling the tiniest packets of only three or four cashew nuts, presumably all that could be afforded by those living there.
We had a quick stop at a village school where around 30 children sang us a small song and the Kindergarteners called out "white people, white people" in Tamil as we passed by!
Pandy then took us to visit some local "cottage industries" - one lady hand making sarees on a loom. These beautifully colourful and intricate designs of around 5 yards' length take about 6 days to finish, it's back-breaking work and the family take it in turns on the loom. From here we went on to see a pottery factory - I use the word "factory" in the loosest terms as the whole enterprise consisted of two octogenarian men slowly, carefully and skillfully making pots by hand. We felt a bit bad as, when we arrived, the older of the two men, who, at 85 years old spins the pots, was having a break and we got him out of his rest to come and show us how he turns the clay! This lovely old man lumped huge pieces of clay onto the wheel which he turned with a large stick and elbow grease and with his careful hands wrinkled and gnarled with time and work, he proceeded to make three simple but perfect pots. Our hearts went out to him as he worked - he made it look so easy, but we knew that if we had a go it would be like the worst version of the generation game! After this, his marginally younger colleague uses more clay to carefully finish the bottoms of the pots slowly hammering them with two pieces of shaped wood. Both men were happy to show us their skills and kindly posed for photos and explained what they were making - water pots and small "divas" ready for Diwali.
We ended our village tour in Athoor where Pandy showed us some of the oldest buildings in the town including part of one temple which is around 900 years old.
As well as all this, despite the quite copious amounts of rain this week, we were able to drive up to Kodaikanal which is another popular tourist destination and where many Europeans and Americans live. Kodaikanal is one of many hill stations which was built by colonial Britons to escape the heat of the plains and, as we climbed the winding mountain road, the temperature dropped several degrees and at points we were surrounded by clouds. Although we missed most of the rain by hiding indoors during the numerous showers, the weather wasn't good enough for us to complete the Coaker's Walk - we are saving this for December when the rainy season should be over and hopefully the view will be clearer. Apparently, on a clear day you can see as far as Madurai around 70 miles away! According to locals the rain stops after Diwali.
We lived it up by having a coffee and lunch in the Carlton where a night's stay would set you back £96. It's a beautiful place with great views of the lake which was a pictoresque setting to have a delicious lunch and I enjoyed my visit there. I couldn't help considering that places like this are out of reach of many and, seeing the goat hurding community living a life which doesn't stretch further than the few miles around their village, I remember something I read whilst here - rich people travel to spend money, poor people to earn it.
I'm really looking forward to coming back to Kodaikanal in better weather as we stopped off at Bryant Gardens which will be even more spectacular when everything's in bloom. One last drive around the lake and then we headed back home. Unfortunately the journey back down the mountain wasn't as straight forward as the one coming up as it was dark and raining hard in places, but we survived!
Next week we will be flying to Mumbai for Diwali - I can't wait!