A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

The Cost of Doing Business

sunny 30 °C

Whenever we think we are paying too much for something Sheila just shrugs and says, “It’s the cost of doing business.” So we thought you might be interested in knowing the actual cost of being a tourist in India.
Firstly, as tourists, we expect to pay a premium anywhere in the world. However, we’ve been far less aware of that here than in many other countries. Of course, the price of touristy knickknacks is always based upon the purchaser’s perceived ability to pay – so we never shop near ritzy hotels or mega tourist attractions.
Transportation accounts for a large chunk of our expenditure and the price of petrol has skyrocketed in the past month. Government regulated taxi and auto-rickshaw fares haven’t kept pace and the locals pay a miniscule amount. But even at the unofficial ‘tourist’ rate we are only paying about 25 cents a kilometer in an auto-rickshaw and 38 cents a kilometer for an A/C taxi. Trains are ridiculously inexpensive – even travelling 1st or 2nd class as we do. For instance: a standard sleeper from Delhi to Trivandrum, 3149 kilometres, takes 51 hours and costs a total of $13.50 cents. Buses are even cheaper, (though we never take them).
As for ferries: To cross the river in Champakulam is just 1 cent each way, while a two hour trip on a motor ferry to Allepey costs just 14 cents.
If you have a death wish, and a residential address in India, you could drive your own wheels. A new 250cc motorbike costs a thousand dollars, an auto-rickshaw two-thousand bucks, and a Tata Nano four-seater car is just over three-thousand dollars.
There are 720 million registered cellphones in India,( and 137,000 illegally erected cellphone towers according to the government which has ordered their removal – that won’t happen. We counted 52 towers from our hotel window in Chennai). The competition for business is so fierce that cell companies advertise unlimited India calls for just 19 rupees, (40 cents Cdn.), a month.
As for accommodation: There is a great divide between hotels catering to Indians and tourists. Locals and backpackers pay between $5 and $15 Cdn a night for a double room, while we pay between $50 and $100 or more, (considerably more in some cities)
Laundry costs us about $5 a week, (including ironing), and not, we hope, by the ladies in the river. The cost of new clothing depends on quality and the location, but women’s sarees and men’s shirt start at $2.50, and we’ve seen stores where all new shoes are just $3 a pair.
For the gourmands amongst you - this is a personal style of buffet called a Thali. It is a very full meal of numerous south Indian dishes and cost us $2 each in a restaurant...
Most foodstuffs are incredibly cheap by our standards, but 75% of the population rely on government subsidized staples . Fresh fruits, vegetables and fish are a fraction of western prices, but onions have been in the headlines because they’ve hit an unimaginable price of a dollar a pound. Most biscuits are 20 or 30 cents a packet, a litre of mineral water is 30 cents, and a litre of beer $2. The cost of eating out varies enormously. You can get a full meal from these street vendors in Calcutta for well under a dollar, if you have the stomach for it …
…or you can pay $30 or more each in an upscale restaurant. We usually pay about $15 for dinner for two. Indian tea or coffee is just 14 cents a cup, while a decent Cappuccino, (where available), can be two dollars or more. Some top hotels charge $5 or more for a cup of tea! Here's a sample menu from a small restaurant...
So, the cost of doing business as a tourist in India can be ridiculously cheap – as little as ten dollars a day – but that is still a lot compared to the 900 million locals who survive on less than two dollars a day.

Posted by Hawkson 03:00 Archived in India Comments (4)

Down by the Riverside

sunny 30 °C

Our Christmas holiday is ending and we are reluctantly packing our bags to start a seven-week tour of western and northwestern India. Tomorrow we will swap our canoe for a train and begin our long trek home. Here’s Jim, going native, taking a final trip to a nearby village to get his beard trimmed…
The river appears serene, yet it moves inexorably onwards. It is the lifeblood of the ancient communities along its palm-fringed banks and all life here is a reflection of the languid river. The slow life of the inhabitants has changed little in hundreds of years; they have time to stop and stare; time to smell the jasmine and lilies; time to chew the fat with neighbours or smile at strangers and ask, “Where you from?” We are asked twenty times a day, but not by beggars or merchants; by people who genuinely welcome us into their aqueous paradise. But, like the seemingly still river, this paradise is moving on.
Monstrous houseboats, motorized ferries and juiced-up speedboats are rapidly swamping out the time-honoured canoes, while buses, cars and motorbikes bounce along the dusty gravel roads that top the dykes; televisions, celllphones and the internet change the aspirations and desires of the traditional fishermen and rice farmers. And Coca-Cola and Lay’s potato chips have replaced coconut milk and bananas in the school-kids’ lunch boxes. Even the traditional clothing is under attack from the West. The “Jean-Generation” has arrived.

However, Josey Thomas, our patient and charming host at Kaits Homestay in Champakulam, has preserved a slice of paradise for us and a few other lucky guests. Here is Josey up to his neck in his traditional fish trap as he catches our Christmas dinner…
And here’s Sheila enjoying fresh coconut milk from our very own tree…
Josey’s ancestors have lived here for nearly six-hundred years and he and his lovely wife do everything they can to give us an authentic experience of backwater life – though we don’t have to bathe in the river with the locals.
Josey is especially known for his involvement with the annual snake- boat races. Here’s Josey’s boat…
These hand-built wooden boats are roughly 40 metres,(130ft), long, and are crewed by 130 men in a series of races each August and September. Two-thousand six-hundred crew members racing twenty of these boats along the river must be an awe-inspiring sight; enough to make us say that this is one piece of earthly paradise that we would love to revisit.

Posted by Hawkson 01:47 Archived in India Comments (2)

Peace on Earth!

sunny 30 °C

Shopping on Christmas Eve was fun. We had our host’s three children to buy for and even got a Christmas cake. Here’s Josey, our host, and most of his family gathered to serve us Christmas breakfast – including the cake...

But the Hindus are also celebrating at this time and the decorated streets of the nearby town of Allepey were thronged with shoppers and worshippers of all religions.
However, the noise of the traffic and the crowds wasn’t improved by the amplified prayers from several temples. But India is a very noisy place.
Even here on the quiet backwaters of Kerala, where the supermarket is a boat, there is barely a moment's silence: birds, frogs, crickets and roosters screech around the clock; clutches of washerwomen rhythmically smash their wet clothes on riverside stones; toddymen beat coconut flowers with dry bones. (See below); Brahmins scream religious incantations over tinny loudspeakers; muezzins call their flock to prayer from minarets; and there is always a background hubbub of voices.
And then there are the fireworks! No one warned us about the fireworks. Indians celebrate everything with the noisiest fireworks imaginable - and most celebrations go on all night. In November we escaped to the Himalayas to avoid the pyrotechnic pandemonium of Diwali in Delhi – but the pyromaniacs took to the hills with us. Then we came to the serene backwaters for Christmas, seeking peace and tranquility among the gentle Christian inhabitants of the waterside village of Champakulam. But, as night fell on Christmas Eve, the bombs and grenades started falling, and we realized that the old Christmas chestnut, “Silent night” doesn’t figure in the hymnbooks here.
It was bedlam until 4 am on Christmas Day when a truce was called. But at 5.30 am the Hindus retaliated with a blast of firecrackers from the nearby temple. The sonic war quickly resumed with massive explosions shaking the air throughout the day, and then a raucous fleet of “party” boats went by…!!!!Kerala_party_boat.jpg
O.K. - We know we are lucky to be here, celebrating Christmas with these lovely people, but we would just like a few minutes peace – please. Still, New Year is only a week away – and, apparently, that’s when they really get into the fireworks!!!

Note: Toddy is an alcoholic drink extracted from coconut flowers. The toddyman climbs selected coconut trees three times each day and pares off the end of the sword-like flower spike. He then noisily beats the spike for several minutes with a bone to induce the sap to flow into a collection pot. It takes forty days to extract the sap from each flower – and it tastes… interesting!

Posted by Hawkson 04:33 Archived in India Comments (2)

Another Christmas on the Road

sunny 31 °C

Two years ago, in South East Asia, we were both surprised and delighted to stumble across a Vietnamese folksong that waxed lyrical about the wondrous gifts a young suitor could deliver on the back of his moped. This traditional ditty, titled “Me and My Moped Lover,” was set to the well-known western melody of, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and we are certain that you all remember this iconic photo of twelve pigs in cages.
There are relatively few mopeds in India so we had no reason to believe that the song had been translated into Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, or any other of the 22 official, (and 3,500 unofficial), languages. However, throughout our journey, we have been astounded by the huge loads being transported by tricycle rickshaws like this...
and this...
Therefore, we weren’t completely surprised when we learned that the Indians had their very own song about Christmas gift giving. What is remarkable is that it is also set to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Can you believe that???
It’s called, “Me and My Rickshaw Lover,” and we would like to thank Sharron Bertchilde for helping with the translation.

Me and My Rickshaw Lover

, (Trad. India - Anon.)
On his tricycle rickshaw my true love brought to me:
Twelve .. Ducks a quacking
Eleven .. Sacks of cow dung
Ten .. Lakhs of rupees
Nine .. Bales of cotton
Eight .. Bags of concrete
Seven .. Saree’d schoolgirls
Six .. Dhobi wallahs
Five .. Chests of tea
Four .. Yoga teachers
Three .. Holy Sadhus
Two .. Bleating goats
And a Sikh with a Chri..st ..mas tree.

Now we want to join with these very lovely ladies, and a Hindustani Santa, in wishing you Season's Greetings from southern India.
"Happy Christmas Everyone and Best Wishes for 2011"
Jim and Sheila

Posted by Hawkson 16:32 Archived in India Comments (6)

Much Ado About Very Little

Kathakali - Shakespeare it ain't.

sunny 32 °C

After a week of lounging about on the beach we thought it was time to take in some local culture. Where better to find it than at the Varkala Cultural Centre where, according to a flyer headed, “This is a truthful information,” we would experience, (quote): “ A DAILY KATHAKALI IS THE REALLY ONE. It is not a CD player programme. This is doing daily in our theatre. Doing like in real temples.” We couldn’t resist such a compellingly penned invitation. However, finding the cultural centre was an art in itself. We could tell you that it’s just a tumble-down tin shack at the end of a dingy, garbage strewn alley – but that wouldn’t help you here. We found it – eventually, but should have run when we saw the empty rows of plastic lawn chairs and the bare electric lightbulb hanging over the concrete stage. But we were stuck. The cast of thousands, (eight actually, including the orchestra and doorman who doubled as the MC), were about to perform the Kathakali, a classical Keralan dance drama that was created during Shakespeare’s time, and we didn’t have the heart to abandon Chuck , (the only other audience member).
Here’s the full cast with part of the orchestra…
And here’s the full orchestra…
And here’s the fish we had for dinner afterwards…

Yes… after watching a couple of heavily made up actors pulling faces at each other for more than an hour, we too found the dead swordfish more exiting. But then, the next day, we continued our cultural enlightenment with a trip to a temple festival and what a difference. There were ten gaily adorned elephants…
Numerous decorated floats… (This one looked like a Hindu Santa's Rudolph)
Dozens of musicians and dancers…
And hordes of happy people…
We had a great time.

Christmas is just around the corner and northerners lucky enough to escape the snow are finally beginning to arrive at the beach. So we are heading back to the little cottage we found on the banks of the Pampa River for a peaceful holiday among the villagers of Champakulam. No turkey or Christmas pud, but we know that we will enjoy ourselves with these kind, generous people of the Keralan backwaters.

Posted by Hawkson 23:30 Archived in India Comments (4)

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