A Travellerspoint blog


Strangers on the Shore

sunny 32 °C

After a week visiting ancient temples on the Deccan Plateau, we took a mountainous 7 hour train ride, with spectacular vistas of jungles and peaks, down to the Karnataka coast and the modern city of Mangalore. Here’s a snapshot of the 12th century Hoysala temple at Belur…

For much of our time in India we have been lone whites in a veritable sea of brown, and in many out-of-the-way places we’ve noticed all eyes and cameras focused in our direction. We have become so used to being surrounded entirely by locals that we start when we see a pale face or hear English without a strong Indian accent. So, whenever we have found ourselves alongside fellow aliens in this alien land, we’ve discovered a natural affinity.
Nancy, a wandering Canuck originally from Montreal, tagged along with us in Champakulam and Varkala, and we spent Christmas with Amelia and Alex who live just a few miles from Jim’s mum in England. This intrepid couple had arrived after a harrowing three-day journey caused by heavy snow in London.
In Munnar we met Alexio – a hard-of-hearing Brazilian who was intensely aggravating, but was forgiven because he is circumnavigating the globe in his self-built stainless steel yacht and was the first Brazilian to sail solo around the world in the 1970s.

In Kannur we met up with Lisa and Robin, a lovely young couple from London who joined us on our polar bear swim…
…together with Marina and Tim, a pair of truly inspiring American Peace Corps volunteers who have been teaching in the mountains of Azerbaijan for the past two years...

We’ve heard Russian and other unintelligible languages, and we’ve met Swedes, Germans, Spaniards and Malaysians, and then there was Jan. He is a Dutch psychotherapist travelling with his harp-making partner, Beatrix. We’ve also come across quite a few Australians including Joy, an educator studying Theyyam, (an ancient Keralan ritual dance)…

Then there was Amanda and Matt who live near Granville Island in Vancouver, and a couple from Bordeaux, France, who made the mistake of ordering a bottle of Indian wine – they said it was, “Very interesting!” but didn't drink it. And, finally, there was an elderly Italian man who not only gave the waiter explicit instructions on how his pasta should be cooked, but also provided a tube of Italian tomato paste to ensure it would taste just the same as at home!
Now, as we head north into the tourist hotspots of Goa, Hampi and Mumbai, we will no longer be among the ‘very few’ and are likely to come across other curious westerners trying to make sense of this bewildering land, (together with quite a few who will want it to be just like home).

Posted by Hawkson 21:58 Archived in India Comments (1)

The Daily Tweet

sunny 32 °C

There are numerous English language newspapers in India so we are not starved of news. However, we wonder if any of this week’s Indian headlines have made the international press. Here’s some of the stories, together with some photos of lovely people we’ve met.

Front page tweets:

Unusually low temperatures in northern India forced the closure of Delhi schools as children were freezing in unheated auto-rickshaws.

A second Indian space rocket carrying a communications satellite exploded on take-off last week. They will now use French Arianne rockets.

Half the Indian Muslims who went on the Haj last year returned without luggage because planes were overloaded with standing passengers.

Here’s Jim with Varsha on the Calcutta Express…

Some tweets from the business sections:

Indian banks hike fixed-rate interest on 1 year term deposit to 10% p.a. as they run short of money to lend to borrowers.

Much-vaunted micro-finance begun by the Grameen Bank is a nightmare for millions of Indians who were lured into loans they can never repay.

The rural workers guarantee program has increased wages from 100 rupees ($2.20) to 125 rupees ($2.75) a day, to counter inflation.

Young bikers like these are ubiquitous in India…

Tweets on the domestic front:

Nearly twenty-thousand Indian farmers committed suicide last year because of crop failure and debt.

Food inflation hit 18.32% in December with vegetables rising 58.58% and onions 82.47%

Last Friday: Indian government announced purchase of 10,000 tons of onions from Pakistan to ease shortage and price.

Today: Pakistan government banned all cross-border transport of onions to India and turned back 150 truckloads.

The Indian population is exploding, putting pressure on the environment. But don't blame the young…

The environmental page:

Tigers killed a young elephant near Mysore on Monday.

An elephant fell down a well in Karnataka village on Wednesday.

Wild elephants are rampaging through rural villages in Mudigere taluk in order to get at the illicit liquor made by the villagers.

Many Indian men now wear western clothing but lots still cling to traditional dress…

And here’s a couple of items that would have been headlines for weeks in Canada, but barely made the back pages in today’s papers:

Bus plunges into gorge near Dehradun killing twenty-two. (Last week, 34 died in a similar incident).

Two hundred boy scouts were injured when a stand collapsed at a jamboree in Bangalore.

Posted by Hawkson 02:41 Archived in India Comments (2)

Taxi! Taxi!

sunny 29 °C

Writing about our taxi-cum-time machine in Mysore got us thinking about the numerous cars we’ve ridden in since our arrival. The first thing that always happens is that the driver pulls into the nearest gas station and demands payment so that he can fill up. Petrol is $1.40, (90pence) a litre, and has jumped 10% since we arrived – causing two recent taxi strikes and a fare hike starting January 12th.
Here’s a heads-up for anyone thinking of visiting India. Most Indian taxi drivers are lunatics who constantly play chicken with other road users: they overtake in the path of oncoming vehicles and on blind bends; they take delight in forcing smaller vehicles off the road; they drive the wrong way on dual-carriageways or U-turn into the face of speeding traffic; they constantly blare their horns; they talk incessantly on cellphones; they consider “Keep Left” signs to be political slogans best ignored; they always say they know where they are going – yet never do; they never ever have any change; and they will always want to stop at a “very special museum” that you just know will be a thinly disguised store selling touristy trinkets, sarees, silks and carpets. We can be exceedingly obdurate in our refusal to be lured into such money-pits, but we are occasionally waylaid by a particularly friendly driver.
And then there are the unauthorized side-trips that can be unexpectedly interesting, like the joss-stick factory in Mysore and the sugar cane plantation on the road to visit a temple at Belur.

These women each make 6,000 incense sticks a day to earn a few dollars…
Firstly they coat a thin bamboo stick with a mixture of gum and charcoal and then roll it in coal dust…
The sticks are then dusted with coloured powders and impregnated with aromatic oils …
The incense sticks are beautiful and have a wonderful fragrance – unlike the conditions in which these women work.
The hands of the joss-stick workers are permanently stained black by the coal dust, but these sugar-cane workers are blackened all over…
An ancient 2 stroke engine spewing black smoke drives a mill to squeeze out the juice from the cane…
Then the liquid is boiled for four hours in a massive steel pan, 15 feet in diameter, using the squeezed out canes as fuel.
As the mixture cools the raw sugar crystallizes and is formed into balls for sale.

We got the hard-sell at the joss-stick factory and caved, but Hamid, the driver who sidetracked us into the sugar cane plantation, had his own interest at heart and blackmailed us into buying him a bottle of fresh cane juice – sometimes you just can’t win.

Posted by Hawkson 20:22 Archived in India Tagged transportation Comments (3)

Our Indian Time Machine

Mysore, India - Stardate... January 3. 2011

semi-overcast 28 °C

We left the coast of Kerala on Saturday and drove over the mountains to Mysore. “The road’s bad for only 20 kilometres,” our driver told us, but after being battered, shaken and stirred for 150 kilometres, we gave up trying to decide which twenty he was referring to. But it was an interesting drive through coffee and rubber plantations before we emerged onto the high plain of the Deccan Plateau and the city of Mysore.
By Indian standards Mysore is clean, green and very modern. It has wide tree-lined boulevards, walkable pavements and lots of interesting colonial-era architecture, especially the enormous Maharaja’s Palace which was built by the British in 1912. The breathtaking interior is an extravaganza of ornate cast-iron and glazed tiles and is a cross between the Victoria and Albert Museum and Harrods food hall. No cameras are allowed inside, but it’s pretty impressive outside as well – especially on Sunday evenings when it is illuminated…
Today we booked a tour to a thirteenth-century temple in Somnathpur and then things got weird. The taxi looked like the hotel courtesy car but, at the edge of the city, the road just fell apart and we were shaken violently for several minutes before being thrown back to the middle-ages. The brightly painted modern houses of the city had vanished and were replaced by dirt-floored peasants' cottages and huts of plaited palm leaves...
Regiments of shoeless serfs, wielding ancient hand-sickles, were scything the rice in the paddies while their menfolk drove away the crop on overburdened bullock carts...
Time was spinning backwards before our eyes: herds of pigs, goats and cattle were being driven along the dusty road by peasant herders, while, in the river, fishermen in primitive bamboo coracles cast their nets as their ancestors have done for millennia...
But our time machine wasn’t flawless and occasional flashes from other centuries would creep into the scene - we would spy a Victorian hand-fed threshing machine or a 1930s Massey Ferguson tractor, and we even saw this modern 250cc auto-rickshaw carrying 22 serfs to the fields…
And then we arrived at the Keshava Temple and, as we watched dozens of repairmen using ancient wooden levers to heave huge blocks of intricately carved stone into position, we had no difficulty in believing that we had arrived in the thirteenth century when this impressive structure was begun…

We were told that reconstruction of this temple will take another 5 years, (and can quite believe it unless someone buys the workers a crane and some modern tools), but then we climbed into our time machine and, in just 30 minutes, beamed back to Mysore and the present.

Posted by Hawkson 06:02 Archived in India Comments (2)

Ice Cold in Kerala

This one's for Catherine

all seasons in one day -30 °C

India seems to be in a vortex of climate change; the northwest was hit by the maelstrom that devastated Pakistan last summer, monsoon rains are still drenching the east coast of Tamil Nadu - now three months into the traditional dry season, and record low temperatures have left the residents of the north shivering in their sandals. Here, in Southern India, where the temperature has been a steady 30c for the past month, the thermometer suddenly nose-dived to below freezing overnight - enabling us to take a true polar-bear swim at dawn on New Year’s day. Here we are fleeing the frigid waters of the Arabian Sea…
Thankfully we had warm coats, mufflers and gloves waiting …
You can tell how cold it has become from this picture…
It was mid-afternoon and there wasn’t a soul on this tropical palm-fringed beach except us… Brrrr!
Anyway, dear readers, (and especially Catherine), we want you to know that we braved the elements just to bring you this greeting from India…

With love to all our blog readers

Jim and Sheila

Posted by Hawkson 04:55 Archived in India Comments (9)

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