A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

High Tea in Kerala

sunny 31 °C

There’s a surprise around every corner in India, though it’s not always pleasant, but we’ve taken to the hills again and it has been a real eye-opener. We are up in the air, high in the Western Ghat mountains of Kerala, where the tops of lofty eucalyptus trees dissolve into the swirling mists and entire mountains momentarily appear and disappear in the passing clouds.
This green and pleasant land is watered by the warm moist winds of the Indian Ocean, and its fertile soil nourishes a wide range of tropical plants including bananas, coconuts, coffee and papayas. But the plant that is truly king at these heights is the tea.

Tea bushes roll across the steep undulating hillsides like a never-ending sculpted green carpet, and every turn in the road opens up yet another verdant vista. How many times can we say “Wow” as valley after valley and mountain after mountain turns our world green?

This garden of Eden, this green heaven, is touted as “God’s own country” by the Kerala Tourist Board, and up here in the mountains it is easy to see why. We are guests in the midst of a tiny community clinging to the mountainside and surrounded by tea estates. We wake to the sound of birdsong, the laughter of children, the bleating of goats and the morning calls of the villagers as they prepare for yet another day in the fields of tea.

These bushes can live for a hundred years and would grow into enormous trees without the tender new leaves being plucked every seven or eight days. But here’s a thought if you fancy a cuppa right now; this lovely lady and her tea-picking colleagues earn just three dollars a day, plus one cent a pound bonus. The work is arduous and repetitive, the terrain is steep and slippery, and the rains are frequent. So, as you sip your tea, spare a thought for these poor women who made it possible, and who may make as much as five dollars a day if they work really hard.

Posted by Hawkson 02:09 Archived in India Comments (3)

Vasco De Gama Wuz Here

Kochin - A Breath of Fresh Air

semi-overcast 30 °C

Kochin is not a tropical paradise - not even close; it is a large bustling metropolis with a busy seaport on the southwest coast. But this Keralan city is a world away from the pollution hotspots of Chennai and Calcutta. Here's the quaint main street in the old Jewish Quarter of Mattancherry ...
Note the absence of garbage, sacred cows and abandoned vehicles -although it doesn't pay to stray too far off the tourist track or you may come across some fairly ugly sights and smells. We found this overgrown clunker near the town centre...
The historical architecture of the old port, centred around Fort Kochin, is distinctly European because this city was an important spice trading centre from the late 1400s onwards. When Christopher Columbus was heading west in search of the east coast of India, (thereby accidentally calling the American natives 'Indians', (or is this just folklore?)), his nautical rival, Vasco De Gama, sailed east and staked a claim for Portugal here in Kerala. Poor old Vasco died here in 1498 and was originally buried in this church...
But Vasco had hardly got settled into his grave before the Dutch arrived in 1683 and kicked him and his followers out. Kochin remained a bastion of the Dutch East Indies Company until the Brits arrived in force in 1795 and gave them the boot, but successive invaders left both their buildings and their religion behind. Hindus, Muslims, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Jains, Jews and Syrian Christians all have their temples here, although they've not always lived in harmony.
This city was built on spice: pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon among others, but fishing has also been a staple. These giant nets, said to be 14th Chinese in origin, require the strength of 4 or 5 men to raise when they are full of fish...

"Here .. Give us a hand," called the gang leader as we stood watching, and then he explained with a pitiful look, "Fishing ain't what it used to be, Guv'nor." In fact, he went on to complain, the catch was so meagre that he and his merry men were barely able to put chapatis on the table for all their poor half-starved children and their sick wives and dying mothers etc. etc. It was then we realised that this fisherman and his disciples had got religion and had become fishers of men - and we had been caught.

Tourist season is underway and northerners are slipping out from under a blanket of snow and arriving in droves, so we decided to find a place to stay away from the touristy hubbub in Fort Kochin. We've slept in 26 different beds so far - everything from an Elizabethan manor house in London to a Maharaja's home in Delhi; though mainly we've stayed in unremarkeable, but nice, 3 or 4 star hotels. But here in Kochin we took a chance on a homestay. Jose and Jenny's home in the city's residential area sounded fine on Tripadvisor, but we thought our tuk-tuk driver had made a mistake when he drew up at these front gates...
Le Royale is a magnificent modern mansion with huge rooms and beautiful furnishings. It's a seven star hotel in miniature, with fabulous 'real' Indian cuisine, delightful staff and wonderful hosts, and it's just 20 minutes from the old city by ferry.
A note for Gabriolans thinking of visiting who might be worried about the ferry fare. It's only ten cents return.

Posted by Hawkson 22:00 Archived in India Comments (3)

Confounding India

semi-overcast 30 °C

Just when we think we’ve got a handle on this country, everything spins around and we start all over. You can say what the hell you like about India … and it will probably be true. It is, simultaneously: filthy rich and obscenely poor, new and old, grotty and clean, and pretty and ugly. And wherever we look we see signs of arrested development – abandoned partly finished buildings and projects that litter the countryside and clog up the cities like the aftermath of war. The yet-to-be opened overhead Metro in Chennai is a perfect example. This Skytrain promises to whisk millions of passengers across the city in minutes and unclog the congested roads, but work has taken so long that the unfinished stations have been vandalized and abused to the point where they resemble abandoned warehouses; not a pane of glass is intact and no stone has been left unturned in an effort to remove anything of value. The resultant concrete hulks are rapidly disintegrating and it’s difficult to believe that the Metro will ever run. However, the lack of public transport is only a problem for the poor. With a growth rate verging on 10% per annum, India as a nation is racing toward the first world while leaving a huge chunk of its population in the dust. Some three hundred million middle-class and rich Indians have all the trappings of the Jones’s of the West, while hundreds of millions continue to struggle on less than two dollars a day. So, where is all the new-found wealth going? Switzerland and Dubai mainly. Indians are now the major depositors in Swiss banks with holdings of more than 1.6 TRILLION Dollars. No wonder there’s no money left to complete the Metro, fix the roads or pay garbage collectors.
However, on a brighter note, as soon as we decided to leave the rain-sodden east coast for the Malabar Coast of Kerala, the sun came out just long enough for us to visit the 7th Century temples and carvings of Mamallapuram.
These monoliths were all carved into solid granite using primitive tools…
The work must have been extraordinarily hard as these artifacts are real mammoths…
However, it seems that little has changed over the centuries. Just like the Chennai Metro - these temples and statues were never finished!

Posted by Hawkson 05:26 Archived in India Comments (1)

A Seaside Postcard from Chennai

It's Not Bournemouth ... But!

storm 31 °C

A gusty sea-breeze cleared the air and the sun put on a smile, so we hit the beach in Chennai on Monday.
It wasn't Bournemouth, no 'Kiss-me-Quick' hats or sticks of rock, but lots of sun, sand and ponies. And the beach bazaar had fresh fish, coconuts and tropical fruits. We could get used to this for awhile, we decided, so we headed south to the beach resort at Mahabalipuram. And then it rained - great bucketfuls of rain with thunder and lightning to match. We're only a few degrees from the Equator and we've run slap bang into a tropical monsoon of biblical proportions. More than a hundred people have been drowned in floods over the past week or so and many villages have been engulfed, and there is no end in sight. If there's a guy called Noah here he should be building right now. We are dry and safe in our hotel, but around us we see Indian holidaymakers wading through the compounds of the cheapie places. We feel very sorry for them as this is surely a holiday they've been looking forward to for some time. However, with another ten days of rain on the eastern horizon, we've decided to take off for sunnier climes and fly to Kerala on the west coast. Hasta la vista from a very soggy Tamil Nadu, or, as they say here, "Appurama Pakkarein."

Posted by Hawkson 00:31 Archived in India Comments (3)

(Entries 11 - 14 of 14) Previous « Page 1 2 [3]