A Travellerspoint blog

A few days near home..

Palani, Dindigul Rock Fort and more children

overcast 28 °C
View Indian Adventure! on LunaticLoose's travel map.

Since 2013, some local NGOs in Tamil Nadu have got together annually to exchange ideas and information and the children also perform a cultural programme. Most of the young people put on a short dance routine, although there was drumming and some singing as well. The event is organised by the Boys Town Society and various children and young people's charities from around the area come to participate. So far every year the Mahathma Gandhi Ashram has won first prize and this year was no exception with the group performing traditional dancing from around India and a cameo role from Gandhi and Nehru themselves.

There was a group from a SEN organisation whose dance encompassed the three main religions of India - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam - and gave a clear message of tolerance, acceptance and peace which was really very touching.

My personal favourites were a troupe of drummers who made the most amazing, and pretty funky, rhythmic sounds - I really wanted to get up and dance, but I don't think that would've been very well received! This group won second prize anyway. Tirumangalum Boys Town also did a great Bollywood number!

PB070383.jpgPB070384.jpgPB070390.jpgPB070395.jpg

We went back to the Children's Village as well. Due to Diwali holidays, there were fewer of the children around, so Mum and I did a session with all of them together. We considered what we could do with a mixed age range and mixed gender group and decided that teaching them "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" would be good fun and hopefully reinforce a few English words. Well, they loved it, especially when we went really really quickly and even Mum struggled to keep up! After this they wanted to show us some of their dancing and Arunpandy and Priya did some excellent speeches in Tamil - they both have a good set of lungs on them, projection was not an issue!

23031057865_b2214276f2_o.jpg23031122745_470f976774_o.jpg22638815639_fa6ee049e7_o.jpg23004817316_54b2529d04_o.jpg

Finding ourselves at a rare loose end, we decided to go to Palani which isn't too far away and is an important destination for over 7 million pilgrims every year who travel, bear foot for hundreds of miles to visit one of the most sacred temples of Lord Muruga situated on a hill 450 feet high. Visitors can walk up the steps carved into the rock of the mountain, take a cable car or a winch-pulled train. Unfortunately the day that we visited the only option was walking and, as it was a warm day and we'd arrived at around 12pm, we decided to give it a miss! So we took the opportunity to have a look around the town itself where there are numerous other temples and shrines. We also had a really delicious thali on the traditional banana leaf.

PB170541.jpgPB170538.jpgPB170546.jpgPB170543.jpgPB170537.jpg

An early start the following day, we headed to Dindigul to catch the flower market. Upstairs behind an unassuming sign was an unbelievable sight - loads of people with thousands upon thousands of flowers in bags being made up into the hundreds of garlands which adorn every restaurant and shop here - next door to the market the mala (in Tamil) are sold. The craftsmanship is something to behold and to watch the deft hands of the workers folding individual petals and twisting thread around to hold them all together. Most people were happy for me to take photos and one guy called me back to take a photo of him - the amusing thing was that he wasn't even making any garlands at all, he just bobbed down to pose for the photo picking up a few flowers and, as soon as I'd taken the photo, got up and left the other guy diligently working away!

PB180567.jpgPB180552.jpgPB180554.jpgPB180565.jpgPB180562.jpgPB180568.jpg

After this and a quick breakfast, Mum and I took a trip up Dindigul Rock Fort - 900 feet high. The history of the city is built around the fort and the name Dindigul comes from the Tamil word meaning pillow as the rock looks a bit like a pillow. The rock is very sparce in vegetation, so we were pleased for the cloud cover or we'd have been sweating even more than we already were. As we got higher, the views of Dindigul city and district got better and better. Our two attentive guides, in their broken English, explained to us that the temple at the peak of the hill is made of granite and is 800 years old. According to one of the guides, the temple was actually made in Bangalore and transported to Dindigul! The other buildings on the rock are around 400 years old and form part of a complex including prison cells, a kitchen, stables and ammunition stores.

There were some places on the rock which were a bit difficult to navigate, so we took our shoes off to get better purchase which I think the guides found quite amusing. At one point there was a particularly steep part and we asked if we could walk back round to the steps where we'd come up, so we walked back a little. The guides just stopped and looked at us and we at them, a little confused, "where are the steps?" we asked in unison - "erm, there" was the response as both men pointed bemused at our feet right in front of us! The descent down the "invisible" staircase seemed much easier and quicker than trekking up...

Nowadays, the only creatures that call this place home are the amazing eagles - apparently up to 400 roost on the rock!

large_22489196943_82ddc1dcff_o.jpglarge_22718895899_8915cde9e6_o.jpg
PB180605.jpgPB180570.jpgPB180585.jpgPB180594.jpgPB180601.jpgPB180603.jpgPB180611.jpgPB180620.jpgPB180632.jpg

Posted by LunaticLoose 08:48 Archived in India Tagged dindigul palani boys_town_society rock_fort Comments (0)

Mumbai

Diwali celebrations and Bollywood!

sunny 36 °C
View Indian Adventure! on LunaticLoose's travel map.

Well, the first flight from Madurai to Chennai was somewhat hair raising! About half way through, the plane suddenly jerked to the right and then seemed to fall quite some distance sharply which left Mum and me feeling pretty nervous for the rest of the flight. Luckily it was only 55 minutes and the second leg from Chennai to Mumbai was uneventful. We were incredibly relieved to arrive at our destination..

Arriving into Mumbai airport is like stepping into another world. I have never seen an airport so impressive; palm trees and plants dominate the arrival corridors and there are large almost exhibitions of examples of Indian furniture, clothing and architecture. The entrance of hotel housed in the terminal is flanked both sides by huge marine fish tanks full of coral and cichlids.

22506995409_197158534f_k.jpg22480687237_454e831277_k.jpg22276358144_45328b9011_k.jpg22638620539_5a9138675b_k.jpg22612520638_432e511119_k.jpg

We arrived quite late, so it was the next day that we started to explore. Everywhere we went, Mum was surprised by the difference in the city since last they visited 8 years ago - testament to India's rapid progress and desire to "clean up" the city. Our car picked us up to take us around and show us some of the main sights. Mumbai is a massive city of around 20 million inhabitants and, like most cities, space is at a premium and huge apartment blocks are being built everywhere you look. The density of the population is a staggering 27,000 per square kilometer (in London it's 1,500!). In stark opposition to the new blocks were the snippets we saw of shanty towns. Rows upon rows of broken down and patched up dwellings with no sanitation or any real home comforts. Mumbai has the one of the largest shanty towns in the world, Dharavi, which was where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed. We didn't visit, but it is actually possible to have a slum tour - whilst it's billed as a way to see the "positive" side of these poorest areas showing some of the industries there, it seems to me like the ultimate in poverty porn and leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Driving through the city, there are some difficult sights to see of people with no homes, whole families with tiny children living under the flyover - the goat hurding community in Athoor seem rich by comparison.

large_22297390923_87939de189_k.jpgPB100431.jpgPB110463.jpgPB100456.jpg

We visited the Ghandi Museum at Mani Bhavan - "Mani Bhavan, a modest two-storied building on the Laburnum Road in the comparatively quiet locality called Gamdevi, served for about seventeen eventful years (1917-1934) as the nerve centre in Bombay for Gandhiji’s activities. It belonged to Shri Revashankar Jagjeevan Jhaveri who was an ardent devotee of Gandhiji and his affectionate host during that period. Today Mani Bhavan is a hallowed memorial to Gandhiji, to his stay here and to the activities he initiated from here." There was a lot of information about Ghandi and the struggle for Indian independence from the British. As well as Ghandi's room which was preserved exactly how he used it when he stayed, there were also some dioramas depicting significant events in Ghandi's life including his visits to the UK during the 1930s.

90_PB100407.jpgPB100403.jpgPB100401.jpgPB100400.jpgPB100408.jpgPB100399.jpg

Our driver took us to see many of the cities impressive landmarks including the Gateway of India which was built to commemmorate the arrival of King George VI and Queen Mary in 1911 - everywhere in Mumbai there are strong reminders of the British Colonial rule. We drove past the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, previously known as Victoria Terminus and still referred to as VT. This is the busiest station in India. The University of Mumbai is also housed in an impressive building finished in the 1870s and reminiscent of Cambridge or Oxford with beautiful helix staircases and Rajabai Clock Tower which was modelled on Big Ben. But some of the new buildings were pretty impressive too, not least the Saifee Hospital which, at night, is a sight to behold!

Victoria_Terminus__Mumbai.jpgPB100430.jpg90_PB100415.jpg90_PB100414.jpg90_PB100412.jpgSaifee-Hos..umbai-India.jpg

During the day we visited three very different temples. The Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple was incredibly ornate with carved pillars and large carved elephants at the entrance - it was built in 1812. The pinacle of the building is the colourful and intricate zodiac dome ceiling. The ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temple was the first place in India where I could feel an understanding of what people are looking for when they say they come to India to "find themselves". The ceilings were unusually painted in pastel colours and the large open marble temple felt somehow peaceful and hopeful. There is a guesthouse here where visitors can stay and reflect upon Krishna and take part in the programmes held at the temple. Many of you will know the ISKCON movement having seen so called "Hare Krishnas" walking up and down Oxford Street chanting Hare Krishna and Hare Rama with ponytails and bells - George Harrison, of course, also made the movement famous.

Whilst there we met a man from Maruritius who had lived in Mumbai at the ISKCON for several years to follow Krishna and get closer to "self-reaslisation and God consciousness". Again, from my socialist viewpoint, I believe that humans have the means and the power to change our world without the help of an external supernatural force, but I also respect the right of others to practice their faith and here, when speaking to this man, I felt touched by the love he was so obviously emitting to those around him.

90_PB100449.jpgPB100448.jpgPB100447.jpgPB100446.jpg90_PB100443.jpg
imagesBWVSYAYH.jpgmiscellane..con-juhu-18.jpg

On the evening of Diwali, we again went out by car to have a look at the lights, we drove past so many shops with cascades of bright lights adorning them. The jewellery shops were particularly elaborate with gold and silver lights shining from every available surface. But for me, the best sights were the rows of apartment blocks whose balconies created colourful blocks of so many different colours and many had lanterns hanging down reminiscent of Chinese new year in Soho. Once we arrived back at the hotel, we walked out on to Juhu beach where we had a prime spot for viewing the fireworks from all sides (including right next to us!) - it was a wonderful atmosphere of celebration. Diwali is a five-day celebration, the third day is known as the festival of lights and marks the beginning of the new year in the Hindu calendar.

22958877721_0f0f3addac_k.jpg22529367387_e975b5a4a5_k.jpg22301894473_5a571e5cf4_k.jpgDIWALI15_282108g.jpgphoto-4055490.jpg

The following morning we took a trip to Crawford Market which included my first tuk tuk ride. We all squeezed into the small vehicle and whizzed off, although the streets were pretty quiet it was still an exciting journey to the station. I've got on my list to have a tuk tuk ride in Madurai which I think will be more of an adventure. It was then a train ride through the city to the market with the train doors open and people jumping on and off at the stations before the train had stopped! The market was pretty packed, although we we've been told since that it was no where near as busy as on a normal shopping day. It was interesting to have a look round at all the different stalls of clothes, kitchenware and toys, although the highlight for me was the beautiful Jama Masjid mosque at one end of the main market street with its intricate carved and domed rooves.

PB120467.jpgPB120472.jpgPB120466.jpg

Before heading back to the station we stopped at a cafe to have a cold drink. Mum and I needed to use the facilities and asked where the ladies were - a small commotion ensued in which one of the members of staff shouted across to his colleague on the till explaining that there were two ladies who needed the loo. This seemed to create confusion amongst all the staff and Mum said to me "I think we need to be accompanied". We started to go up the stairs in the restaurant, but were stopped and led out of the building and through a small doorway between the shop fronts, we ascended one flight of stairs and another and another through all the dilapidated building exchanging bemused looks. The waiter led us to four doors in a completely run down corridor and unlocked the third door to reveal the facilities - an Indian toilet, which is basically an enamelled hole in the ground. But it was clean enough and we were grateful!

That evening we again went for a walk along Juhu beach where we came across another Puja, this time of Kali - Kali is the fierce aspect of the goddess Durga (whose puja we saw in Kanjakumari). The people who were there performing the puja were from Bengal as, in Bengal, the festival for Kali coincides with the third day of the Diwali festival dedicated to Lakshmi.

PB120476.jpg90_PB120477.jpg90_PB120483.jpg90_PB120485.jpgPB120473.jpg

For our last day in Mumbai, Mum and I had a tour of some Bollywood studios! Before heading to the studios, we were taken past most of the homes of the big stars in Bollywood where, the previous evening, large crowds had gathered to catch a glimpse of their heroes arriving at the Diwali parties. The studios weren't really at all what either of us had expected, but it was very interesting. Our guide took us to two studios, both of which were, frankly, a right mess! At the first studio there was a film being shot and also a soap opera. He told us that the studios are booked for 12 hours a day, of that 8 hours are spent shooting, of this time, 40 minutes is usable and of that 40 minutes, only 20 actually ends up in the final film!

We were treated to a demonstration of some dancing by a troupe of four very good dancers and even had a bit of a go ourselves!

Walking through the different studios, we were suddenly in a hospital ward where an episode of a soap opera was being filmed. The director was very patient as some of the cast were in the toilet and on the phone and then one of the smaller actors woke up from his nap and began to cry! The most filming we saw was for another soap based in a palace. The leading actress was beautifully made up with a gorgeous outfit and the male lead was similarly well dressed. He must have been at least 6'5" and, in order to get the shot over his shoulder, the actress had to stand on a box and he had to stand with his legs apart! After they'd shot her one short piece to him the whole lighting, camera and director's set up had to be moved round so that his bit could also be shot - no wonder it takes so long! It didn't help that he kept messing up his lines and then everyone got a fit of giggles...

PB130492.jpgPB130490.jpgPB130489.jpgPB130527.jpgPB130532.jpgPB130497.jpgPB130499.jpg270_PB130504.jpgPB130520.jpgPB130511.jpg

Overall we saw a lot of sides of Mumbai, some were truly heartbreaking and many were uplifting and hopeful they will all stay with me for the rest of my life.

large_PB110460.jpg

Posted by LunaticLoose 21:15 Archived in India Tagged mumbai diwali bolllywood Comments (0)

The third week

Children's Village, Madurai and Kodaikanal

rain 28 °C
View Indian Adventure! on LunaticLoose's travel map.

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!

dsc_0100_22638959936_o.jpgdsc_0104_22665009015_o.jpg

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!

dsc_0119_22091322984_o.jpgdsc_0118_22714069555_o.jpgdsc_0120_22725277651_o.jpgdsc_0121_22688093296_o.jpg

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...!

PB030302.jpgPB030305.jpgPB030307.jpg

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.

PB030308.jpg

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.

9524B3FCAF8BE9764009B3E99E101A70.jpgPB030312.jpgPB030313.jpg

PB030314.jpgPB030317.jpgPB030320.jpgPB030323.jpgPB030322.jpgPB030327.jpg95440030FF447A98A54DB6FCD7C8C5C3.jpgPB030329.jpgdiya1-1.jpg

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.

PB030336.jpgPB030338.jpg
955A69CDDF23D4B671F6A0DB81520DA7.jpg

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.

PB040345.jpgPB040346.jpgPB040351.jpgPB040357.jpgPB040361.jpg

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!

PB040369.jpgPB040368.jpgPB040366.jpg

Next week we will be flying to Mumbai for Diwali - I can't wait!

Posted by LunaticLoose 19:32 Archived in India Tagged madurai kodaikanal boys_town_society Comments (0)

The tip of India and the Keralan coast

Part II - in and around Kerala

semi-overcast 30 °C
View The tip of India and Keralan coast & Indian Adventure! on LunaticLoose's travel map.

Breaking up the journey from Kanyakumari to Kovalum on the Keralan coast, we stop at the Padmanabhapuram Palace also known as the wood palace and is, apparently, an excellent example of Keralan architecture. According to Wikepedia (again), "The Palace though surrounded entirely by the State of Tamil Nadu is still part of Kerala and the land and Palace belongs to the Government of Kerala".

large_21811285524_0d9c2f1284_k.jpg

The place was buzzing with tourists and, after paying for our tickets (35 rupees for Indian guests and 300 rupees for foreign visitors (1 rupee is around 1p)) and taking our shoes off - a standard practice in many indoor places in India, we joined the back of the queue. Not long after we'd started the wait, which seemed like it would be a long one, a group of French tourists came through the entrance with their guide and we somehow got whisked up with them and taken through a "secret" doorway and past all the crowds. I'm not sure how comfortable I felt with this preferential treatment - perhaps it's just because I paid the extra for my ticket - but it was certainly nice to get out of the heat and into the cool dark of the building!

PA240217.jpgPA240223.jpgPA240232.jpg

The palace is a wonderful building with many carved wooden ceilings, doors and facia. It was easy to imagine how it would've looked in its hey day with colourful wall hangings and paintings. Some interesting points included a built-in pool area with an opening in the roof for rain to collect which served to cool down the surrounding bedrooms. It also allowed the women living in the palace to refresh themselves as they were not allowed to go outside. When dancing women came to the palace to perform, the female inhabitants had to make do with watching through tiny holes as it wasn't even permitted for them to be seen!

PA240221.jpgPA240241.jpgPA240214.jpg
PA240227.jpgPA240228.jpg

Back on the road, we made our way towards the Keralan boarder. As we get closer, the affluence of Tamil Nadu's neighbouring state becomes clear; the roads are cleaner and the houses are larger - some wouldn't be out of place in Essex - apparently Kerala has the highest literacy rate in all of India.

PA250263.jpgPA250264.jpgPA250265.jpg

Arriving in Kovalam it felt like any number of other western beach resorts. This left me with mixed feelings; on one hand I knew that having a beer with your meal or sitting out for a drink with a view of the Arabian Sea would be acceptable and expected here, but that predictability made it less interesting, exciting and "other" which feels like a shame somehow. Having said that, many restaurants don't actually have licences for alcohol - this doesn't stop it from being served though, we were just given our Kingfishers in mugs and the bottles kept on the floor in case any eagle-eyed inspectors were passing, so not everything is as standard as you'd expect - after all, this is India!

PA250249.jpgPA250250.jpgPA250252.jpg

The great thing about this trip is that I have the time to experience different places and, whilst I don't have enough time to see all of India or, indeed, all of Tamil Nadu, Mum has done a brilliant job of making sure I get to see as much as possible. So a couple of days of relative familiarity is simply more experience to add to the whole adventure!

Kovalam's beach front accommodates shop after shop of high-quality gifts; sterling-silver jewellery and Kashmiri pashminas some of which are destined for high-class, high-fashion stores in London. One shop owner took great pleasure in showing us the Chanel pashminas which wouldn't look out of place in Harrods. Having said that, these are also great salesmen and, as with many promises and assertions here, it should probably be taken with a pinch of salt.. During the high season, the town is descended upon by hundreds of American and European tourists ready to part with their cash for these, obviously good quality, products. It's a long way from the seashells, knock-off designer clothing and plastic trinkets of Kanyakumari.

There's only so much shopping one can do, so the next day we drove a short distance to Trivandrum and visited the excellent planitarium there. Once again we were left considering our individual insignificance against the backdrop of the infinite universe! The presentation really was impressive and very well attended - not at all something I expected to find here. But perhaps that's my ignorant assumptions, after all India is investing more and more in its technology and space programme.

The city of Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala and the British influence could be felt in the architecture. We stopped to check out a craft sale which was taking place in a building which wouldn't have looked out of place in any town in the UK. Whilst there we also had a quick visit to the market and, although we were too late for most of the produce, the varieties of bananas were still on offer:

PA250259.jpgPA250261.jpg
PA250255.jpgPA250257.jpgPA250258.jpgPA260268.jpg

Our last evening in Kovalam was spent enjoying a delicious fish masala with fresh and very tasty fish and an illegal bottle of Kingfisher!

The next day we started the journey back to Athoor. On the way we hit a traffic jam - that is definitely something to be seen in India! Whilst weaving and dodging our way past buses, trucks and motorbikes, up ahead we could see what the hold up was.. a procession which we think was for Pradosham a festival which celebrates the blessings of Shiva. At the front of this string of followers was a heavily decorated elephant carefully plodding her way along the road!

22498126445_b15e39e403_k.jpg22309037130_3c93062fb4_k.jpg21877035103_cb4e328d3b_k.jpg

For the past few days we've just relaxed at home and I've been able to go swimming at the neighbour's beautiful pool, have a short walk down to the Kamarajar Dam and visit a local green grocers and garden centre - not the standard tourist haunts! :)

large_21912420624_55874294f5_o.jpg22577349136_2906ba39b7_o.jpg22589853322_958ba699d4_o.jpg22614604981_e731f4e1ef_o.jpg

Posted by LunaticLoose 01:36 Archived in India Tagged kerala kovalum padmanabhapuram_palace Comments (0)

The tip of India and the Keralan coast

Part I - Kanyakumari

semi-overcast 31 °C
View The tip of India and Keralan coast & Indian Adventure! on LunaticLoose's travel map.

Our 450 mile round trip started with the five-hour treck down to the very tip of India. Although long, the journey was very picturesque alternating mountains, coconut trees, flat valleys and, as we got closer to Kanyakumari, more wind turbines than I have ever seen in my life - as far as the eye could see! The view from our hotel was brilliant - you could see (theoretically more than practically) where the three seas of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea all meet...if you get on a boat and make a straight course south, there is nothing to stop you before reaching Antarctica - a pretty sobering, and not entirely unscary, thought somehow.

9C589A07A37E53563A3503EE415CC3A3.jpg9C5606F6D7043D989454DD90B9B8D104.jpg
PA220088.jpg PA220091.jpg

There was something about the beach front which felt very familiar, perhaps it's the tourist seaside feel - it was just like Clacton or Blackpool, really, just missing sticks of rock and kiss me quick hats, but there were plenty of cheap and cheerful souvenirs for anyone who wished to purchase them and (not quite) donkey rides:

PA220113.jpg

The view from the coast is dominated by two small islands, one houses the Thiruvalluvar Statue and the other is the site of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. It's possible to get a boat over to both islands, but we were visiting during Durga Puja festival which meant that there were hundreds of tourists clamering to get onto the islands and it would have taken at least 3 hours to queue, so we decided to try again on our way back home when the festival was over.

PA220095.jpg PA220105.jpg PA220131.jpg

According to Wikipedia, "Durga Puja festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura(মহিষাসুর/ମହିଷାସୁର). Thus, Durga Puja festival epitomises the victory of Good over Evil." So, to celebrate this, a huge statue of Durga is made, carried through the town and, eventually, submerged into the sea.

9C543AC2D7B2D3E0FAE8032B285B2282.jpg

Apart from the many stalls selling various clothing, food, ice creams and spices, there are a couple of permanent exhibitions and places of interest, so we decided to visit the Ghandi Memorial Hall which, whilst unassuming, had some interesting photographs of milestones in Ghandi's life. There is also a memorial stone where his ashes were kept and a hole in the ceiling through which, on Ghandi's birthday (2 October) each year, the sunlight shines down onto the stone.

PA230140.jpgPA230148.jpgPA230145.jpg

After the heat of the day, I thought I'd take advantage of the hotel pool which was a welcome cool down. Whilst relaxing after my swim, Mum and I could hear peacocks calling to each other and looked at the land surrounding the hotel to see if we could spot them. On the dusty roof of a neighbouring building was a male who was displaying his feathers! We couldn't believe that he was giving such a beautiful display to, seemingly, no one and it was an excellent photo opportunity :)

PA230164.jpgPA230163.jpg

Walking through the streets everywhere we've been, street food is on every corner, guys making all sorts of delicious looking treats. I've been told time and again I should be careful with eating street food, so I've yet to pluck up the courage to actually try any. We've had some really great South Indian food though - dosas, idlis, and vadas, we usually stop off in a restaurant on the way somewhere or sometimes in the town we're visiting for breakfast. Always accompanied by stares from locals not used to seeing white people eating Indian food! Usually served on metal plates covered with a banana leaf and several small pots of curries and chutneys for dipping the variously fried, steamed and boiled carbohydrates - it certainly makes for a filling breakfast...

PA220123.jpgPA230153.jpgPA240191.jpgPA240192.jpgPA230154.jpg9C57ACC5D440B84DF183E981FE291F01.jpg22236739430_68f16f6588_k.jpg

On going for a pre-dinner walk through the town, next to the Our Lady of Ransom church (not the patron saint of kidnappers I don't think - joke credit Mark Stone), we came across a magical path with lights and flower garlands, when we followed it we came out to a big celebration, apparently in honour of Saint Anthony, which included the very Indian practice of throwing a match into a box of fireworks and watching them explode all over the place - health and safety is not a known concept it appears...

PA230176.jpgPA230177.jpg

The return journey gave us a chance to stop off again to try to get on the boat to see the two islands and this time there were hardly any tourists. The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was built in honour of Swarmi Vivekananda who was a Hindu monk and it is said that he gained enlightenment on the rock. Vivekananda is credited with bringing many Hindu ideas, including yoga, to the Western world - so spare a thought for him when you're doing your best downward facing dog! There's also a museum in his honour in the town.

PA260284.jpgPA260288.jpgPA260270.jpgPA260271.jpg

It's difficult to go anywhere in India without tripping over a guru, Goddess, holyman, prophet or saint. I'm starting to understand, even with my somewhat "cushioned" visit, why people come here to think about some of the big questions of where we came from and why. India embraces many different religions and ideas and seems to assimilate them as its own.

Posted by LunaticLoose 18:04 Archived in India Tagged kanyakumari tip_of_india Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 12) « Page 1 [2] 3 »