New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Incredible India!

"The slogan to woo tourist" as the tour busses aver... I don't know that I'm
wooed by the words but the country is certainly captivating.  What an amazing history of religions all humble jumble living together, of colonialism and independence... Frank Sinatra's "My Way" song seems an appropriate anthem.

We first landed at Cochin, a city on what's known as the Malabar Coast-- an important area throughout the history of sea- going trading.  Strong Portuguese influences here, seen in architecture, 
the Catholic churches, as well as the vegetation... Rain trees are an important feature of this cityscape and we were to come across them at almost every turn in future days as well, they are big beautiful and matriarchal,  forming huge shade-giving canopies... initially brought over from Brazil by the Portuguese.

I wasn't so interested in the churches but this pepper vine sure caught my eye.. This is it, real pepper, it's a climbing vine and puts out little catkins of flowers that dry into what we know as peppercorns, and the white pink black is as I understand it just a matter of how ripe/dry the fruits are allowed to get before harvest... similar to the different kinds of tea are due to how long the leaves (from really only two species of plant) are allowed to wilt/dry/heat (differences in processing) 

I did like the ceiling detail of one old church though

And this church is where Vasco de Gama was initially buried before being repatriated home... but I didn't care about the grave (didn't even go look but turns out the bas relief engraved stone was pretty cool actually) so much as the old school air conditioning... human powered fans, running linearly down the interior, rocked back and forth by some lower caste locals of the time pulling on a system of ropes, circulating the air...

Then it was off to the promenade to see the sights along the shore

The ever present tuk tuk or auto-rickshaw, and pop up street art about the slums of North Indian cities

So many pretty things to buy

And this cool thing, unique to the area, the "Chinese nets"  relict of Chinese occupation/influence in the area in early trading days... it's a passive fishing system where the relatively horizontal met is lowered into the water and then whenever desired the frame is hauled up by hand with the (gravity) aid of attached weights/boulders, and you see if you got lucky, if anything happened to be swimming past with the current of the river as the net was lifted.  Pretty slick!

Above the net is down in the water and the frame and weights are fully extended, below the weights and frame haven pulled back/down to pull up/elevate the net from the water

Market scenes

Then we went for a tour of the nearby "Jew Town" they call it, or the Jewish quarter where there is the oldest, I think, synagogue in India (need to refer back to the daily program!) where a group was fleeing persecution and were granted safe shelter by the ruling family.  Now most of the Jewish community has relocated to Israel but the area is still a focal point for current day trade goods, i.e. tourist shops

We visited a women's coop selling all manner of textiles complete with a demonstration of how the men's dhotis (cloth wrap like a sarong) are woven

As if it wasn't a big enough day, that night we were tested to a traditional dance performance in the ship's lounge!  Kathlali dance is known only from this region and is a nonverbal art the through fine face and hand movements tells a story, usually religious in nature acting out portions of the Mahabharata .  We were tipped of to show up early to watch the dancers get dressed, which was a show unto itself.  Where US stage actors might don a costume that was many layers all put together in one "shell" so to speak, these dancers/actors went one by one layer by layer... fascinating.  Forgive the poor quality pics but it was in low lighting...

Here the male character is getting dressed, woven plastic sheets (likely old rice bags?) are getting folded over a cord and jammed up next to the previous one and laid like this in succession to create a  sort of tutu like thing...

Makeup was done before arrival...

And then it was just layer after layer of shirts and drapery and necklaces and breastplates and sashes... and then he sat down facing away from the crowd while the female character came in and began the performance, demonstrating all of the hand and facial moved and what they meant, all accompanied by the drummers, all directed by a pre recorded audio in British accented English so the target audience was sure to understand.  Not their first rodeo!

The male character is at the right facing away but continuing to add more to his get up... 

And here's the end result!  I'm attempting one of the faces... wide eyes and pressed lips...

Next day we headed south to experience the "backwaters of Kerala", according to the tourist literature I've seen one of the 'must do' things in the region.  Basically it's a big estuary delta area with lots of canals, many of which were dug by the British to get the rice to the ports for export in a more efficient fashion.  Elsewhere this digging of canals (as we learned later around Colombo, Sri Lanks) allowed seawater to encroach inland actually ruining previously fertile lands... but apparently not the case here.

The popular thing is to rent a boat, either day lounger

or houseboat (with attending staff of course) which you can toodle around in for a day or more, there were a wide variety of these based around a thatched exterior theme... it reminded me of the over abundant sloops perched and ready for tours around the world heritage site of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, where everyone and their brothers and cousins jumped on the bandwagon to exploit the money making opportunity around an increasingly popular tourist attraction...  

it wasn't that bad at Alleppy, where we began, but I could see that what was once probably very alluring and maybe more special has commercialized a bit into booze cruises for men's groups and all manner of "retreat to your special nook in the isolated lagoons" sort of pitch as you search for your vessel among what looked like a string of 50 lined out on the dock... and it's not going to get better, there's construction in the area, big hotel going in on one of the lakes with a huge "tie up and plug in" dock... sort of like a houseboat RV station.  

In any case it was a nice cruise (just not as romantic as the advertising I'd seen about it, but a tightly-timed land excursion off a tourist ship would be hard pressed to fall into the "romantic and quaint" category anyway).   Was interesting to check out the boats as we went along, noticing different styles of thatching/weaving, quality of construction, and guessing the level of wealth of the clientele based on kind of windows, presence of aircon units perched on exterior walls, height of structure, etc.  unfortunately I don't think I got a shot of any really fancy ones :(

This was our ride, from the bow with another of our convoy just ahead

Was thankful for the shade when the sun came out!  

Rice paddies, local fume-belching ferries, women smacking sudsed-up clothes against washing rocks at the waters edge, bee eaters and weaver birds, new concrete two story holiday homes and old style abandoned houses with tile roofs and deep porches becoming covered with vines and sinking, slowly, into the ground, and the waterways all lined with some kind of embankment whether lumps of dirt, dirt-packed rice bags, or in more and more places, concrete.  All of the land on the other side of the banks was lower than the water... and not that many houses were built on pillars.  Woe the flood waters...

Another random reminder of time in Vietnam was at our hotel lunch spot... a strange phenomenon... penguins as garbage can icons

If anyone can shed light on why penguins (apparently this is an unknown, brightly-colored, marsupial species from the tropics...) and not pandas or polar bears or whathaveyou id love to hear.

Riding in the busses back to the ship at Cochin where we'd stayed docked overnight, there were so many great sights I couldn't get photos of, including more Chinese nets along the waterways, and a small camp of what our guide called "gypsy fishermen", at the bank of the river/estuary to the side of the main bridge we had to cross.  They use circular "boats" (looking like a saucer, frames of wood and some sort of water resistant bottom like plastic or hides or???) called coracles, overturn them for shelter and use as watercraft to get around (which baffles me because there is no keel or way to direct a forward push with oars... so do they just float with the current?). Someone else had heard of this, apparently there are similar craft in use in Europe?  Have just googled it and came up with an article written by a Capn Fatty Goodlander: the bustling waters of Cochin, in Cruising World, July 2003.  Go Google!

And a sight I did get a quick snap of, local Lottie's have a decoration contest going... how best to identify ones self and/or creative talents.  

Apparently you can tell the religion of the driver by the name of the truck... didn't see this one until I zoomed in on the photo but I'd give a guess towards Muslim.  Which is a lovely segue...

Sailing out that night, with an orange glow overhead creating an appropriately ethereal backdrop for the overlapping calls to prayer wafting out across the water from the old town quarter... offering thanks and gratitude to the one, the everything

Still with me?

Our last port in India was Vizhinjam, not many tour ships visit there... narrow channel and small dock... kind of like driving the 300' ship like a zodiac but captain had it well in hand, didn't even need to nudge any of the small fishing craft aside to sneak in!  Our arrival at sunrise was awesome with all the boats, and birds flying, and the sunlight slowly revealing the temples and mosques and...

That's where we're going... the space between the boats and the concrete pier!

It was really hard to stop taking photos, everywhere you looked was something beautiful and interesting.

It was apparent the locals thought our arrival was just a big a spectacle as we thought their reality was!

Those are just the officials waiting to come on board, there were about 50 other people scattered about too including families with kids :)

So, off the ship and on to busses, our regular routine.  Each bus would get a xpedition staff member and at least one local guide who was really the one leading the excursion and sharing information.  We'd both have lollipop sticks with our group number to give a visual for our people to follow (funny I didn't get any photos with me playing the quintessential tour guide!) and we also used quietboxes, an audio thing that the guide would speak into and we all had receivers with earpieces that would pick it up, handy for museums and wandering places like gardens.  

Our tour today, to Trivandrum--about an hours drive inland from Vizhinjam, was to see all of that, a temple where recently a treasure worth apps 3 billion (not a typo) was discovered, belonging to one of many royal families from olden days, the temple was under their protection/patronage, and the family accumulated the wealth mostly , as I understood it, from taxes and tributes... again go for Google, there was an article about it recently, the temple has the highest security second only to the Louvre or something crazy like that.  Anyhow, we went to see the exterior of that (only Hindus allowed inside, and no electronic devices or photos close to it...), plus the associated Horse Palace of that royal family, and then a garden and museum area.

Fish market/beach scene with Island Sky in background

And temple scene sights...  on arrival

The men going inside the temple (Hindu) were in appropriate dress, men have to bear their chests to open their hearts and receive the energy more honestly

In case you need to ditch some gear before going inside...

The "more local than the British" souvenir shops...

Closer look.  The women's saris and men's dhotis were all works of art to this westerners eyes...

And then the palace grounds (no photos allowed inside)

Exquisite woodwork, ceiling detail of entryway 

Some street scenes... temples or shrines just about everywhere you look...

Architectural detail from the garden and museum area

And a fun thing... guys can just take a waz in the corner but ladies... well Indis has for you the SheToilet!  A cute little electronic box offering privacy on a busy street corner...

And then back home, for quite a bustling send off!

I caught the eye of the sweet boy being held by his mom wearing glasses at left of photo, we all played the wave and smile game, very sweet

And then we were onboard and on our way... such friendly and sweet people we had worked with, every face encountered would open with a smile and in return for mine freely given, what a place.

And then... bound for that most mysterious of places, Ceylon in my dreams, Sri Lanka of today!

1 comment:

  1. Again, wow - thanks for so many pictures and stories!

    Insane costumes, gorgeous woodwork, adorable kids and seriously idiosyncratic penguins....