Monday, November 23, 2009

Is This The Rocky Horror Picture Show?!?

I've been to three movies now, and although the movies themselves have been sub-par, each outing has definitely been an event. Going to the movies in India can be completely annoying or completely hilarious depending on your mood. So far, for me, it's been the latter.

The event begins as one would expect by buying your tickets for the show. Once accomplished you are directed to wait outside in the street amongst a herd of people comprised almost entirely of men. Five minutes before the movie is about to start a hand is waved and the stampede begins. You get carried into the theater by the rush of people as if there were only on seat and all else had to sit on the floor. Seconds later, after throwing as many elbows as catching, you're in the theater and realize that every ticket has a seat number on it. The only thing that came to mind was "What the f#%@!"

Taking our seats I had no problem seeing over all the people in front of me as south Indian men are surprisingly short. Waiting for the movie to start I begin to wonder why the screen looked so odd. Ahhhh! Of course. Tis no screen, but a cement wall painted white... kinda. With the movie starting I'm noticing that it's a little louder that at home, no wait, a lot louder. When things start exploding I realize that the loudest scenes here are twice as loud as they are at home. Soon all four of us have ripped our ticket stubs in half and jammed them in our ears. With the ticket stubs not curbing the sonic onslaught I soon jam a finger in each ear to give them respite.

As if the movie wasn't loud enough, during one scene the hero is close to being caught in an explosion and the audience is cheering him on. When it looked like he wouldn't make it (sigh), he would at the last minute stave off death to the raucous cheers of the audience. Predictably, when the villain appeared on screen people would boo. If there was a song playing during a scene, people would whistle to the beat of the song. So weird. The only thing missing was toast, rice and cross-dressing.

With cell phones ringing, people talking and ears bleeding, my friends looked annoyed and ready to go, and this was only fifteen minutes into the movie. Good thing the movie is two hours long. Even though I would be swearing like a sailor and storming out of the theater if this happened at home, somehow I found it amusing and most entertaining here.

"Are you sh#%ing me?!?"
Adrian Dujc

Friday, November 20, 2009

South Tibet.. I Mean India - Bylakuppe, Karnataka

In 1959 when China first marched into Tibet, thousands of Tibetan refugees settled in Bylakuppe where the Indian government gifted them 1200 hectares of land. This was the first of many Tibetan settlements in India. Since then three monasteries, schools, nunneries, and one of the largest Buddhist universities, Sera Monastic University have been built. To stay in Bylakuppe you need to obtain a permit from Delhi. We however managed to find a guest house near Sera Jey Monastery that was willing to bypass that formality.

The first night we arrived to Bylakuppe we went out for a bite to eat and happened upon Sera Jey Monastery where we were fortunate enough to witness evening prayers. 400 Buddhist monks chanting in unison in an open air hall penetrating the night air. We all listen and watched for the next 45 minutes without a word being said. The next day wondering around I unexpectedly found myself swimming upstream as hundreds of yellow and maroon clad monks exited a monastery. Can you drown in cotton? On our final day we managed to stumble upon 12 or so groups of 30 monks debating. This is done by yelling, pushing and slapping one hand on top of the other with force. It looked so bizarre, like dancing monks.

One of the highlights of this town has to be the awe-inspiring Golden Temple. As soon as you step inside your eyes are immediately draw to the three gargantuan golden Buddha statues that dominate the room. Once your astonishment has finally passed you will find immense colorful paintings depicting gods and demons from Buddhist mythology, piercing red columns with bright dragons and flowers carved into them and candles and incense burning at the alters. I felt very humbled next to these colossal Buddhas, but I guess that's the point.

Once again we have managed to find a place that feels out of India. With hardly any Indians, monks everywhere, and a town that is the cleanest Ive seen here, it really is a piece of pre-occupied Tibet in South India. I only wish I had more time to get to know the people.

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
Dalai Lama

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is This India? - Varkala, Kerala

With the red rock cliffs protecting the beach from the bedlam of India and the abounding choice of exceptional restaurants perched above, Varkala was the perfect transition from the far too short houseboat trip in Alleppey. Varkala is definitely the most tourist laden place we've been to. I haven't seen this many white people since I left all of you. In a sense, you're not really in India.

The food in India has been erratic in quality thus far but Varkala offered variation and excellence. In the evening as you walk along the the cliff side all the restaurants have a large table in front with all the fresh whole fish they've acquired that day. Stopping at one restaurant we chose a large snapper to be done in Tandoori style. The fish came gutted but whole baked with spices. The skin was crisp and spiced perfectly with the flesh moist and delectable. Definitely one on the best pieces of fish I've ever had.

On the second day I bought a frisbee. and with disc in hand we headed to the beach for a little fun in the sun. After flinging the frisbee around for a couple minutes we notice that three Indians had accumulated off to one side to watch us. Noticing their curiosity I threw the frisbee in their direction. A mad scramble ensued as they vied for positioning on the disc. After a few moments someone snatched the frisbee from the sand and raised it victoriously followed by a haphazard throw towards nothing. It seemed that every couple minutes more and more Indians came to join the tomfoolery. Jen, Matt and myself were in the three corners of the square spacing with ten Indian men ocuppying the fourth point of the square. Now we had a gaggle of men climbing over each other to get at the blue foreign disc. It was like watching ten eight-year-olds experiencing something for the first time. They were so full of wonderment, enthusiasm and vim. Absolutely hilarious.

By the third day we thoroughly fell in love with Varkala and rued purchasing our train tickets in advance. Now, with just one day left we wanted to make the best of it. We rented body boards and headed out to the surf. Early on I caught a favorable wave and road it all the way to shore for what was a glorious ride. For the next hour I battled waves as they crash down on me and fruitlessly tried to speculate where the next big wave was going to be. Growing increasingly haggard I became somewhat frustrated with this activity. Then, just before I had to return the board, I managed to catch one final wave to shore and my jubilation spiked once more. With raw nipples I turned in my board and lied in the sand for a much deserved rest in the sun.

"In between goals is a thing called life that has to be lived and enjoyed."
Sid Caesar

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Noise? What Noise? - Alleppy, Kerala

With much deliberation we decided to rent a houseboat on the Alleppey Backwaters last week. By far our most expensive excursion to date at $50 for the three of us for 22 hours.
The Backwater network consists of 900kms of waterways that fringe the coast and retreat far inland. No one knew quite what to expect but we were definitely not disappointed.

We first headed out to the coast and then quickly withdrew inland. Initially the canals were quite wide and had large tracts of rice fields beside them. As we made our way further inland the palm-laden canals began to narrow and village life began to emerge. Soon simple houses, schools, temples and shops lined the canals. Some of the settlements are located on meters wide spits of land only slightly wider than the houses they support. The walkways ranged from traditional cement to meter high mounds of earth reminiscent of the snowbanks I would walk on as a child. Many villagers still use traditional boats that enlist a large pole for propulsion to commute up and down the canals. There were even kids playing cricket on what I can only imagine to be a very frustratingly narrow field.

It was so peaceful and relaxing just floating down the canals. It was a nice change from all the dirt, pollution and noise of the cities. I loved watching the backwater life scroll by. The women washing cloths in the canal, kids playing (losing yet another cricket ball) and men preparing simple narrow boats for fishing.

Our houseboat was in the fashion of a kettuvallam (rice barge) that was modest in size. There where much smaller barges that were able to get to the narrower canals and barges that where two story opulent monstrosities. We had a Captain, engineer and cook aboard who were all extremely pleasant and warm. It felt a little odd being doted on, especially when you're used to being a dirty backpacker. The food was by far the best Indian cuisine we've had thus far. All three meals were extremely satisfying and enough to feed four or five people. I still can't figure out how our chef prepared the abundance of quality food in a kitchen that was maybe two square meters large.I wanted to watch him prepare a meal but I would have had to hang from the outside watching in.