Friday, October 30, 2009

Who Will Be There?

Some of my favorite episodes in India are the ones that involve odd english phrasing. One day at lunch Matt wanted to order a veggie sandwich but was unsure of which veggies the sandwich would contain. Upon asking, the server responded with, "Tomato will be there... cucumber will be there... and carrot will be there." All with a pleasant smile and a wobble of the head. It was as if he was listing off a guest list.

It's the small things in life.

Not For All The Tea In Munnar - Munnar, Kerala

Adoring the Western Ghats tremendously, we decide to travel to Munnar on the other side of the mountains. Munnar is only 235km away, yet it takes three buses and 8 hours to get there. I really do prefer taking the train.

Munnar is another small town in the mountains that proved to be even more stunning than Kodaikanal. Almost every foot of hillside is covered in tea shrubs and sprinkled with trees covered in orange and red blossoms. The assorted hues of green and patterns of the tea shrubs make for an ever changing backdrop to the bus ride up. This is the India I've been waiting for.

My favorite part of Munnar was hiring a rickshaw and going to Top Station, a station post on the boarder of Kerala and Tamil Nadu 39kms away. The scenery is tremendous. The sheer amount of tea that is grown here is overwhelming. The start of the trip started on a slightly irritating note as our rickshaw driver incessantly tried to sell us on other sight-seeing packages even though this one had just begun. He finally settled down after about an hour or so. Then, as Matt was asking questions about his rickshaw the driver suddenly offered his rickshaw for us to drive. Matt jumped at the chance with me slightly hesitant at first. Once I learned to shift gears I was on my way driving us up to Top Station. It was fantastic! My uneasiness faded as the road was quite vacant. This was a good thing as vehicles come within inches of each other and people here. My hearts not strong enough for that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Retreat! Retreat! - Kadaikanal, Tamil Nadu

With Matt feeling under the weather and the punishing 35 degree heat taking its toll on all, we decide to retreat to the mountains of the Western Ghats. Two buses, heaps of uncertainty, a friendly Tamil and five hours later we arrive in Kodaikanal. Everything in India seems to be a crap shoot, sometimes literally.

Kodaikanal is a small town that sits at 2100 meters surrounded by lush deciduous forest. With it's 35,000 inhabitants, pleasant 25 degree temperature and large cloverleaf lake, all three of us felt better as soon as we exited the bus.

After having the best Masala tea to date, Jen and I headed off on a 16km round trip hike to Pillar Rock. At about the 6km mark we came to Green Valley view, a beautiful view point of the overlapping mountains. Unfortunately, between the thick thick fog obstructing the view and the legion of tourists, this seems to be a fruitless intermission to the hike. The saving grace were the numerous macaque monkeys all around. I became very enthusiastic and begun to take a plethora of photos. No more than 5 minutes into watching the monkeys, one of the them started to growl at Jen, then another stole a little girls snack and yet another pilfered a water bottle. My love of monkeys fades slightly.

Within two more kilometers we came upon Pillar Rock, two towering 400 foot slab giants standing shoulder to shoulder watching over Green Valley. Lightly draped in mist the rocks took on a poetic scene. This was definitely worth the 8km hike. No sooner do we get to the view point, I notice the area peppered with macaque monkeys and become slightly concerned. These, however, are very docile and almost posing for the tourist paparazzi snapping away at them. Some parents even position their children within inches of the monkeys. I often think that parents are more foolish than their children.

With an already long day behind us we begin the long walk back to town. Once well out of the range of the monkeys, I open a much deserved snack of peanuts. I'm no more than halfway through my snack that I see a monkey 30 feet away charging at me full steam. While I remember the macaque being the size of a VW Golf, Jen maintains that it was no bigger than a medium size dog. Never-the-less, I know he wants my ever so tasty peanuts. Thinking quickly I put the peanuts in my pocket. Damn, no change in trajectory or speed. With only about 7 feet remaining between the monkey and myself I throw the peanuts to the side and with them the monkey follows.

I hate monkeys.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Madurai is a city of 1.19 million people and it feels like they've all come to see you once you step off the train. There is the constant presence of someone behind you here as all sense of personal space must have disappeared a millennia ago. Just when I though we traded in one teeming, hot, polluted city for another, two wonderful things happened; Sri Meenakshi Temple and Diwali.

The Sri Meenakshi Temple rises from the city like a towering reminder of the enduring spiritualality of India. It occupies six hectares with 12 gopurams (towers) of varying sizes with the 4 main towers elevating up to 50 meters. The towers themselves are breathtakingly beautiful. Each is intricately craved and a kaliedoscope of color. I'm pretty sure Matt and Jen grew weary of my constant photo taking.

The interior of the temple is just as magnificent as the gopurams outside. Detailed deity sculptures, intensely colorful ceiling paintings and an elephant blessing people combine to instantly burn this moment to memory. Hundreds of worshipers light candles and put colored ash on the deities as tribute as you try not to get in their way while you're the typical tourist snapping pictures.

Diwali (Festival of Lights) is a five day festival where Indians celebrate the victory of good over evil, Lord Raamas's defeat of Ravana. Unbeknown to us, we arrived on the first day of Diwali and there seemed to be little fanfare towards this festival or so we thought. By sheer coincidence we ended up on a rooftop restaurant for dinner. As we sat there ordering our food, there seemed to be a couple fireworks going off with plenty of firecrackers going off on in the streets below. Before we knew it the entire sky was lit up by fireworks. No matter which way I turned my head there were explosions of light 360 degrees around me. This city wide effort went on for 2-3 hours. I'd never seen such an event. It was as if the city of Madurai was on fire.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hot, Dirty, Beautiful

The first couple days in India definitely took some getting used to. All three of us fell victim to sunstroke to some degree and the food doesn't always play nice. I think I'm fairing the best in that department.

The cities are intensely busy. It's a constant struggle vying for a spot in the compressed streets where you won't get run over by a rickshaw, motorbike or bus. In Trichy, even at two in the morning it was ridiculously active. All night long you could here the relentless sounds of traffic people, and car horns. Garbage is strewn everywhere and street touts constantly hound you. Just when you're starting to think, "Why the hell did I come here?" You have a cup of chai, see the Sri Meenakshi Temple or a complete stranger with very little english helps you when you are completely lost.

Hot, dirty, beautiful........

Friday, October 16, 2009

Alive And Well

Well.... 5 countries, 4 planes, 12,728 Km and 47 hours later I've arrived in the small city of Trichy. By small I mean 850,000 people. You know, rustic.

It's very warm, humid and dirty here. The food is good except that I'm usually not in the mood for curry in the morning. On the up side everything is really cheap. Our room cost us $3/person/night. Food is usually $1/meal. Money goes along way.

You can call the search off, Ive found the mustache captial of the world!!! I think I've seen three men not have a mustache. I'm half expecting to turn the corner and find a shrine to Freddie Mercury. In a religon with 330 million gods one of them has to be Mr. Mercury.

Just wanted to let everyone know I'm OK. Hope all is well with everyone.

Much Love