A Loop Around Southern India
A hot sunset over the Arabian Sea at the Cherai Beach Resort
We left Tennessee at the end of January 2009, and flew to Kochi, where the average January temps are in the 90s F. After a night of rest, we decided to explore Kochi and hired a man to drive us to town from our lodging. He parked under a tree and said he’d wait until we were ready to head back. No problem. We walked for about fifteen minutes, looked at each other dripping with sweat, and went back to him. “Already?” he said. “Too hot!” we replied. Luckily, we stayed almost on the beach at the Cherai Beach Resort, where we relaxed and received Ayurvedic treatments that melted us quickly into vacation mode.
During those first days, we learned how carefully the citizens of other countries watch the US. On 20 January 2009, Barak Obama had been inaugurated, replacing George W. Bush who was almost universally disliked by Indians. As we walked around Kochi, a man called out, "Obama!" Tom's poor hearing betrayed him, and he heard "Alabama." He responded, "No, Tennessee." I poked him and whispered, "He said 'Obama'." "Oh! Yes, Obama!"
Building up the land by moving earth from the canals onto the land
We spent a few days in the beautiful “backwaters” of Kerala, where the residents were already coping with the rising seas, then started on a tour that made a circle from Kerala through the state of Tamilnadu all the way across India to Pondicherry on the Bay of Bengal. Intrepid Travel 's goal is to show tourists "real life" India, so we traveled not in an air-conditioned luxury bus, but a local bus with at least 100 other people.
Tom and I replaced the man sitting just behind the door. Indians must have smaller bottoms than we do, and the seat barely fit us. One "cheek" was hanging into the aisle, which would have been uncomfortable, except that we were glad we had a seat. At the first stop, a man carrying milk cans picked up Tom's feet and placed his cans under the seat and in the footwell. At the third or fourth stop, an old woman climbed on and tried to stand between Tom's knees, which were already jammed against the metal plate at the top of the steps. I pushed her out. During our whole time in India, Tom had a great deal of trouble denying his upbringing and ignoring the women and elderly people who stood while we sat. He kept wanting to give up his seat, and our trip leader kept correcting him. He did once insist on giving his seat to a pregnant woman, who was VERY happy to sit next to me..
We stopped in Madurai to see the beautiful temples there, only to find out that they were being repainted. The interiors were impressive, especially for our first taste of temple life.
An interesting note: in one "chapel" (to use a western term), the image of a god was covered in cloth. Why? The god who lived there had gone to a neighboring town for a festival. The god's image had been covered so that worshippers would not be confused and pray to a god who was not there that day. It made sense to me.
Egrets in the Tropical Lowlands
Pondicherry is one of those governmental oddities that are all over India, products of the colonial era. It’s a former French colony, and French is still the official language. On the beach, we were able to see both a tribute to Mahatma Gandi and a group producing a music video. A lively place!
We stopped for an early morning hike at Bandipur Tiger Reserve and National Park, where we saw only tiger tracks, but did find a herd of wild elephants. Our guide noted that they had also found us, so moved us away quickly.
Tea Fields in the Hill Country of Southern India
We traveled back to Kochi via the hill station of Ooty, formerly a summer resort for the British. Had our first “laundry adventure” and learned that things are just done differently in India. We were there for two nights, so expected (based on experience in other countries) that we could drop our laundry at the hotel the first morning and have it back the second night. We were to leave early on the third morning. We checked at 3:00 p.m. – at 4:00, at 5:00, at 6:00 – and learned the universal motto of Indian business: “It come soon!” It turned out that the person doing the laundry lived in the next town, about 20 miles away. The laundry was finished, but the laundry person was waiting to catch a ride on a vehicle coming to Ooty – and no one had come by yet. The laundry did finally arrive at about 10:00 p.m. and the desk clerk said, "See – no problem!”