Thursday, February 12, 2009

Feb 10. Cochin, India

February 10, 2009This was the day we explored Cochin. The City created by a great flood in 1341. Before then the traders used a port 100 miles to the north . The flood destroyed the port also created a good natural harbor at the estuary of three rivers.

The dutch were the first Europeans to claim it for their own and they built the a church. The graveyard in the picture dates from 1724. The church is still standing as the oldest on this subcontinent. Then came the Portuguese and among other things made the Protestant church into a Catholic one. Then the British came along and changed into the Church of St Anthony into Church of England. It has remained Anglican ever since. Vasco de Gama was buried there but Portuges claimed him and took him home. The pictures below shows children on an outing standing around the origonal gravesite and the lovely old lace fans that the British had installed and someone would have had to pull to move the air.

If you are into history you won't want miss the Basilica origonally built by in 1557 by the Portugese or the Dutch palace and ancient Jewish synagogue that is lined with blue Victorian tiles from Holland. Oh, and the Chinese traders also played an important part and left behind their special technique of fishing. Large nets are held up on frames that the fisherman walk along to dip the nets into into the water. There they stay in the water until he walks back hoping that some fish have entered the net. The silhouetted nets standing dark against the sunset along the palm-lined shore were cand for my camera.

Spices are all important in India and have been from the beginning of time. This is the main stret where the spice merchants selling their wares

The Kathakali dance is a fascinating form or drama. It takes about an hour just to apply the makeup to the lead and women's parts are played by men. Although I could not understand a word of what they were saying their jestures and in particular the hands movements told the story clearly. I loved it

The food was fantastic everywhere we went. The variety was amazing, the flavors varied from region to region and the prices were more than fair. In Cochin we sat outside on a balmy evening among the hibiscus at a restaurant near the converted convent where we were staying. When we requested a couple of beers it was politely explained that they didn’t have a license but they would see what they could do. Shortly the waiter returned with a tea tray complete with teapot and cups. The teapot was filled with beer which was happily refilled on request.

Thrissur to Cochin, Karala, India

February 9, 2009
I will upload pictures when I can. I have masses. It is not easy working at these internet cafes. This one has had to repaint the warn letters in the keyboard and for good measure they also painted the Indian script. I know I shouldn't be looking at my hands but it is hard typing on a strange keyboard and believe me this one is strange.
This was a transfer day. It was also my birthday. We went to a couple of jewelry shops as John wanted to get me something but i wasn't going to let him spend $700.00 US of a pair of earings for me. We will find something more my style.
We took a boat ride around the harbor and saw very few commercial vessels apart from fishing boats.
One of the things that the Chinese left here was their way of fishing. They have great nets that they lower into the water via fixed frames. The men walk up the poles as counterweight dipping the net into the water and a few minutes later they return and lifting it, hopefully with some fish. Where we were they made a lit more money from visitors than they did from any fish they caught.
Our hotel was a converted convent with large rooms and very old plank floors.
We dined at a restaurant that didn't have a liquor license. They brought beer in a very nice teapot.

Thrissur Festival

February 8 2009
There was a sign over the door of the train carriage whether or not the WC was occupied. I presumed they meant “water closet” a term frequently used by the British. The squat toilet also had a little light next to “IC” for Indian Closet??
A note on Indian dress. When a woman is not wearing a sari she usually has on a Punjabi. This is a very comfortable 3 piece outfit with baggy pants, a long (at least to the knees) top and a “dupatta” or scarf that is elegantly draped over the shoulders with the tails hanging down the back. I think the British developed the pajamas from this outfit. Anyway I like to wear them and simply slipped off my bra after I had made the beds and slipped between the sheets.
I woke up frequently and saw what looked like scrub desert pass by, then lush paddy fields and then again succulents like agave in another desert area and then there were trees the next time I looked. It always seemed to be very flat.
John shook me awake. “We’re there.”
Count the bags. Get my glasses. “John your glasses” Can’t find my dupatta. Wake up the Danes and he is lying on it on the top bunk. Count the bags again. Grab my bra from the little net behind the bed. Scramble off the train and stand there stunned. This lady is not a pretty sight without a bra. But we have all our bags.
There is no man standing there holding a welcoming sign with our name on it. John walks off down the platform to find him and I stand swatting the swarm of mosquitoes with my dupatta, boobs drooping to my belly.
John returns with the driver and five minutes later we are at the hotel. It is locked tight and we can’t wake the staff. I suggest phoning. It works and the door is unlocked to reveal a “bed” just inside the door where this night worker had been sleeping.
We are lead by flashlight to the lift and cram in and he pulls the gates closed. We were about 100 pounds overweight. There was no air-conditioned room available (how long ago had we made this reservation?) but we would be moved tomorrow. It is already tomorrow! Anyway we happily flop onto the bed. There is just a fitted bottom sheet and pillow. Who cares I’m tired.
The Indian penchant for blowing their horn does not cease at night.
“OH!” I left my earrings on the train. Darn!
The Muslim call to prayer reminds me that I should at least try to sleep. My light Punjabi is flapping in the gale from the fans and I thought a towel might hold it down. I retrieve the towel from the bathroom, there is only one. Without the luxury of a tumble dryer the sun dried towel is like stiff cardboard. It waited down the Punjabi just fine.
I gave up trying to sleep at 8:00 and took a shower. There seems to be no need for shower curtains in this part of the world so the water splashes freely over the floor and commode. Time to do some writing but I was interrupted by the sound of drums and I looked out to see an elephant strolling down the street with a great flowery sign held up behind his head.

I call to John who comes dripping from the shower to peek naked from behind the curtains. As they pass between the overhead cables they lower the decoration.
It seemed like a brand new day. We were showed and refreshed. It was a chore to get t breakfast. An Indian meal would take 10 minutes but scrambled eggs, toast and coffee would take half an hour. We went for the Indian meal as the festivities were scheduled to start at 10:00. Then we were informed they start at 10:30 so we would have time to eat.
We took one of the little “motors” (three-wheeled scooters) about a mile towards the temple before the police manned roadblock and walked the rest of the way. The crowds became increasingly dense. All happy families brilliantly clad, groups of men and women all heading in our direction.
First we went under a temporary structure like a fifty foot temple built from wood the whole purpose of which was to hold lights for the evening and would be dismantled tomorrow.

There were 3 matching ones at the other two roads that formed the T junction where the real temple sat.
In this state of Kerala non-Hindu are not invited into the temples whereas in the other States on India we are welcome.

As we approached the temple we were confronted by enormous whirling tops. These 20 foot tall kaavada were covered with stylized bunches of flowers that stuck out all around and the form itself was a mass of little plastic flowers. They sort of reminded me of the floats at the Parade of Flowers but they were all psychedelic pinks and greens or shocking pink and purple or primary colors that come so bright in plastic. (There was none of the beautiful blends of colors so prevalent in the women’s clothes across India.) This whole structure was balanced on the head of a man who turned in circles and sometimes bobbed up and down.
There were eight of these kaavada turning at various speeds in the courtyard of the temple. There was a band attached to it with horns clarinets type instruments, drums and cymbals and more drums. This group was from a particular village and there were several more communities waiting to get into the courtyard. They all had their own bands and they all played and twirled and spun at the same time but not in time.
The smell of dust mingled with the perfume from the jasmine necklace Chandran, our driver/escort had given each of us on arrival. I was grateful for the bottle of water he had made us purchase on the way.
By 11:30 stalls began to appear selling homemade drinks (the kind it is wise that visitors avoid) flower leis and plastic brick-a-brack for the children.
The first band of twisting kaavada had moved behind the first temple building and into the next courtyard and then into the open area where the stalls has been wheeled. They were off duty and sat in the shade of their kaavada.
Another group arrived. Each group took a turn surrounded by increasingly ecstatic dancers waving their hands in the air and jumping up and down. Only the men participated in all of this. Women clustered for a good view and children in their finest traditional clothes peered on.
We were invited into a building that was a wedding hall with wide verandas all round. We were led upstairs and out onto the top of the portico where there were several signs saying VIP protecting rows of ubiquitous plastic chairs. I felt a little guilty and that I might get kicked out but it turned out that it was for the press and gringos. Any Caucasian wondering in the dust below was invited up. At most we saw a dozen foreigners mostly rather scrappy dressed grey-haired wanderers. I hope I give a better appearance than they do.
Taller kaavada arrived and twirled. These were accompanied by 20ft tall flat decorations fringed with peacock feathers. A group of smaller kaavada appeared outside the temple walls and we were informed that these were children, meaning youths. The whole place was a mass of moving color throbbing music, though I could not detect any melody and jostling bodies. But it wasn’t densely packed except where the dancers were going crazy.
My glasses were covered with dust.
I was taking so many pictures I thought my camera would complain.
We were exhausted so walked back towards the hotel to take get some food and take a nap before the evening festivities began. We met three elephants on the way.

We returned as the sun was losing its strength to come across the same three elephants but they had moved up the road a little. Now they were festooned with umbrellas.

Luckily we were invited back up onto the balcony when we reached the temple grounds. I could not have stood all day. Now there were nine gold clad elephants, each with men standing on top holding umbrellas. Six elephants faced each other on the street and another three were in the middle facing the temple.


With each trio of elephants there was a band of sixty musicians. Fifteen each of trumpets; great bugle like things that were about three feet long and curled over their shoulders, two rows of different drums and a row of symbols. There was so much din I could not hear my camera clicking.

At times the men on the elephants would stand up and hold disks in the air while others would hold what looked like a big fluffy ball of wool.

The dancers were going crazy, throwing each other in the air.

The crowd was crammed as close to the animals as they could get.
It was all a stunning experience. Too much color and sound for one very long day.
Sorry folks, but that is all I can add to the blog today. I have so many more pictures but some Internet cafes are better than others.
February 7 2009
John filled his commitment and gave the rest of the presentations on floating structures while I took on the mammoth task of packing all our stuff so we would not stumble across John’s business suits and library of heavy books, new plaques, a book on Hindu beliefs and an elephant given to him by his students, on our daily business of cavorting around. He has a separate case now for this trip, but I still have my winter clothes for England at the bottom of mine.
We head for the station at 6:00 pm for the eight o’clock train. We arrived an hour and a half early to find the platform lined up with hundreds of people waiting for the train. And I mean lined up. They were in a neat queue with their bags, bundles, boxes and children trying to insure that they would get a seat. Ours was reserved so we could hang back and watch our bags.

John is trying to read the posting that told us where our reserved seat was. The porter had at least 80lb of our luggage on his head. The porter wanted us to lift the third suitcase onto his head but we couldn’t do it.
When the train came the line quickly progressed and it is hard to understand how so many people could get on just two carriages. It was orderly until someone tried to jump the line and then there was all sorts of words flying and the interloper went off down the platform. After about 300 people had passed us to board a policeman (perhaps the same one who told me I was not allowed to take pictures) broke in and said the rest of the people had to go to the other end of the train. The line curled and then broke up into a scramble and disappeared.
Now we had access to our reserved air-conditioned sleeping compartment. There were four beds: a couple of young Swedes were to share with us.
The train pulled out just 5 minutes late and we bought a tin dish of spicy rice from a vender walking through the carriages. My vegetarian one cost 25 rupee or 50c and John’s with a leg of chicken in it was all of 80c
The steward promised to wake us up so we could disembark at 5:00 am.
I woke up every hour and noted the changing scenary and at last went to sleep

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Working in Chennai.

Some of us worked very hard at shopping. This is Joanne on the right with our escort Magana in a typical little shop in a large shopping mall. There was hardly room for the four of us and then there was Luda the shop salesman and his assistant who climbed a stepladder so that he could display the carpets or whatever was too large to be easily seen. Joanne and I took the whole thing as a bit of a lark.

Not so Luda. This was serious shopping for her and she acquired some beautiful jewelry as well as this carpet.

One evening the convention had a visit to the dance school as I think I mentioned before. We were asked not to take pictures of the dancers but I had already pictured the announcer in front of this elaborate applique curtain.

John in the lobby of the Institute with some of his admiring students.

In case you can't read John's name plate at the head table it says "Prof. John Halkyard." A title that brings a smile to my lips. Here he is talking with one of the local dignitaries at the closing event.

Mahabalipuram, India

Just try saying Mahabalipuram fast three times. It certainly has a ring to it if you can get your name around it.

It is a magnificent ancient monument that is recognised as a World Heritage Site. I was there last year but I was having such fun with Luda and Joanne that, heck, why not go again. Oh yes, add into the pot that I'm also going again on Friday because that is the only time John can go. I should know it well by then.

First though, Joanne insisted that I tell all about getting money out of the ATM. I needed cash if I was going to hold my head up shopping but I didn't want much as John had arranged to get a supply to last the whole trip. $20 worth of Rupee should be enough or I could but anything grand on my credit card. Our driver kindly found us an ATM. there are 50 rupee to the dollar so if I get out about 200 that will be $40.00. I make my transaction and stuffing my purse with cash, happy that I had remembered my password. Yes, you are way ahead of me. I had just paid $1.00 to get $2.00 out of the machine. It was worth it for the laughs we got all day. Joanne kept making sure that I knew the price of the items that we were negotiating for. I just got a lovely silk scarf that I hope was $2.00 and not $40.00.

Back to Mahabalipuram. I described it in detail in my blog of a year ago so I won't go into history and all that again. It was much quieter this time. Not the cascades of children of colorful families all wanting to be photographed. Instead of hundreds of children sliding down the Krishna's Butterball there were a few goats enjoying the shade. Krishna is one of the Gods and he likes butter but lost his butterball so this must be it.

There are five Rathas. These are seventh century temples, each carved from a single bolder.

Then there is the life sized elephant also carved from a single granite rock. He is my favorite, standing there so lifelike. Unfortunately much of the work here is unfinished. The craftsmen were interrupted by war. War is such an inconvenience.

The lady was part of a wedding party, as is shown by her red sari. As is the case with so many of the locals she just loved having her picture taken.

Here is a cow being milked as it licks its calf. It is a beautiful piece of works and so highly esteemed that it is pictured on the currency. Again it is life sized and the whole bas relief in this temple is carved into one rock. Most of the temples were not consecrated which is why we can enter wearing shoes.
The venders were quite persistant. We managed to get a couple items that we wanted and then I noticed a young salesgirl that didn't stand a chance amonge the agressive adults. She stood towards the back with a bunch of beeds and keychains. I made her a balloon hat and she was delighted. Then a woman took it from her and insisted that I picture her. Eventually after a man had comindeered it I was able to return it to the 10 year old. But it was good to see the adults having as much fun as the children.

This is the lady who wanted .50 cents for 4 necklaces. No, on second thought I think she wanted $2.00. I'll get it right one of these days.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chennai, University of Madras, India

Chennai, India.
We arrived here after a long flight but a comfortable one. John's assignment guaranteed him a business class ticket on the flights and somehow I managed to finagle my way to join him. On Continental we had very comfortable seats that leaned back to a horizontal position and on BA we had sort of little cubicles. When sitting I faced backwards but facing him like in a love seat, and then when reclined we were both completely horizontal. Wow! What a difference to be able to sleep through the flights. We left on Friday afternoon and arrived on the early hours of Monday somehow loosing a day.

We were both up and at it first thing for the conference opening. He then had to give the opening presentation while I went off and made new friends among the "accompanying" folks. There are four of us; one Indian lady with a 6 year-old daughter, a German who is a lot of fun (and laughs at all my jokes) and a charming Croatian lady.

This conference is held at the University of Madras. The name conjures aromas of hot curry but the city in which it is situated is now called Chennai. The University id situated in a large plot of natural forest of which only 20% has been utilized. The rest is like a breath of fresh air in a crowded city where 4 rows of traffic weave and flow down 2 lanes of black-top avoiding the occasional cow and brilliantly saried woman. All the women wear traditional clothes. I have noticed only one student in jeans. It is all flowing saris and three piece Punjabi that flutter as much with the "dupatta" or 2 meter long scarf that cascades across the shoulders.

This is our charming escort who is one of the Ocean Engineering students.

Monkeys and attractive spotted dear abound on the university grounds together with flocks of students, walking mostly on bicycles and little motorbikes and the occasional ox cart. There are few cars.

Yesterday there was a strike in favor of the Tamil Tigers who went to Sri Lanka and now want repatriation here in their home State of Tamil. At least that is what I think it is all about. It is sometimes hard to understand the local English especially when the speaker gets excited and talks fast. The public transportation was not going to operate and shops would be closed and we were told not to leave campus, so I planned to stay put. There was none of that so we just missed a fun day's outing.

I stayed at the University guest house for distinguished visitors. It was not as I had expected. I did get a second towel on request and some soap after a deal of pleading but no one can control the influx of mosquitoes from joining us through the permanently open bathroom window. Putting the fan on high does help but I worried that the force of propulsion might lift the ceiling.

Oh, another rather unusual system in this 24-room Guesthouse hotel, is that they post the names of each resident on scripted cards on a board so you know exactly which room they are in, and all the keys are out on the counter where you drop them off as you leave and can find them easily when you return.

The first of our little-group excursions was to the cultural Center where they had displays of the various regional homes showing the arts and cultures of that State. Interesting. I had my hand decorated with henna by a little old lady who did a dreadful job. I now have thick squiggles dribbling up the back of my hand instead of delicate swirls and filigree figures. No worry it will wear off in a week or two... or three!

The whole conference went to a dance school where we saw fantastic folk and classical Indian dances. The colors of the costumes were glorious but was out dazzled by the skill of the dancers. A good event that ended with good Indian food.

Ah, the food. Great Indian food. Great Indian food for lunch. Great Indian food for dinner. Great Indian food for breakfast. A little too much great Indian food. And not easy to get a cup of tea the way I like it. They make it rather like espresso; very strong and about an inch in the bottom of a cup then filled up with hot milk. I have made a deal with the kitchen here at the guesthouse; they make it "light" in a pot for me and serve the hot milk in a little jug. It works well. I love learning the differences.

All is well and we are having a very good time.