Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Shopping in Mumbai

So, we had arrived Mumbai and I checked into Hotel Elphinstone Annexe, est. 1946, an old colonial style building near the port on 149 P. D'Mello road. Not in the heart of Mumbai but close enough for comfort. The rooms were worn out but clean and had working hot water and A/C.

Our first day went in that we had lunch with Saini at the Balgi and then I took Jira to Crawford Market. From there she took the reins as it was shopping time. It was shoes. bags, clothes - the works. We even bought a light banderoll. Dinner we skipped and just rested at the hotel.

Dhobie Ghat laundry

Next day I went to the Gateway of India but as it started to rain heavily I treated Jira for breakfast at the Taj instead and from there we walked around Colaba picking up a bottle of Attar. Then I hired a taxi and we went to Chor Bazaar where we got a 3 different sizes of Nepalese bells. After this I showed her the Dhobie Ghat, Queen's Necklace, Malabar Hill and Jain temple with the silver doors and fittings. It was again raining heavily at the Hanging Gardens so we took the taxi back and got some lunch at Leopold's and at same time showed her the bullet holes from the 2008 terrorist attacks. After this we got the stuff back to the hotel and went for a movie (The Sorcerer's Apprentice).

Hotel Elphinstone

View from hotel

19th was the last day for Jira, we checked out of the hotel and went for breakfast at Mondegar Cafe and after this we went for Crawford Market to do some last minute shopping at Roopam's and looked for some fake jewellery. They were all quoting high prices so we just settled at looking at the beautiful creations that mostly was sold in bulk. After some time we went for a movie (Inception) to pass the time and after that an early dinner at Mondegar's again. Once having dined I asked a taxi to take me to the airport and he agreed.

Shopping in Mumbai

We sat in the taxi and he did not move. I asked the driver what was the problem, I got no reply only heard some indistinct muttering. He was parked some distance from the kerb and after awhile another car came and honked at him as he was in the way. He started the car and moved a bit so the other car could pass and then he stopped the engine. I got out of the taxi and asked the next one if he would deem to take us to the airport. He said "yes", so the driver, who couldn't decide whether to drive or not, lost a fare.

After a fair bit if driving we arrived the airprt that was congested as usual we lined up at the gate and I asked the police if I could escort Jira to the check-in and help her on the way. He said yes and off to the check-in counter we went. The personnel was perplexed as I was not going to fly. Apparently it is not allowed to escort people to the check-in counters. Well, check-in was done and I saw Jira off to the immigration queue and I went out of the airport. The police officer was the same and he let me out of the airport alright. I caught the same taxi-wala and went to Khargar to stay overnight at Saini's pad so we would go together in the morning onboard. My vacation was now truly over and the work and toil is looming ahead.

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Saturday, 17 July 2010

Return to Mumbai

We woke up early and left Nagercoil for Trivandrum 3 hrs before the train was due to leave. We had our rally driver wannabe driving so we felt safe to reach on time (70 km trip). The traffic was light to begin with and we made good headway. I was still amazed with the amount of hospitals and schools in Tamil Nadu.

Loaded hay truck

This lady had her own road safety gear, a grinding mask

Apparently the illiteracy level is very low here compared to other areas in India and crime too due to the reason of religious upbringing (most schools names are preceded by Her Holiness School .... The Saint School .... ), so the kids here are very smart and have a knack for curing people. During these few days I must have seen a specialist hospital for nearly every organ in the body.

One of the many Churches of Tamil Nadu

After we passed the Tamil Nadu and Kerala border and were about 10k's into Kerala the traffic slowed down and finally stopped into complete gridlock. I wondered what is going on and the driver informed that we are at the Kerala Custom checkpoint. They check trucks that they have all the proper tax documents for bringing stuff into Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Gridlocked at the checkpoint

Sounds ridiculous but this is India and it is not one country, it is consisting of several states and they all have their own regulations. In New Delhi is only the Central Government. I once heard a discussion that if India would not have strong Central Government the whole system (i.e. country) would fall into chaos. Very much like Burma that also consists of something like 30+ tribes (states) but is ruthlessly ruled by a military junta.

One stop medicine shop: Western, Eastern and animal drugs

Anyway, we sat in the traffic queue for at least 45m and then we started making headway. I was looking at the watch but was not worried at this stage. Our driver were clocking in kilometers again and it seemed we were on time when the traffic came to a crawl at a busy intersection. The driver said it was the last bottle neck on the way. The clock was ticking and we started discussing plan "B" if we would not make the train.

Roadside breakfast

The intersection was guarded by Lord Krishna

Finally we passed the intersection and entered into Trivandrum where traffic was not all too smooth. We all were counting minutes now. The driver was making daredevil maneuvers on the road and the trainstation was still far away. We had something like 10 minutes left for the train departure when we passed the last bridge before the station, we raced over it and the driver turned left into the station and we exited the taxi, fast.

People at the bus station

On the rail road again

Richard grabbed a coolie to take our luggage and we followed him while Richard ran ahead to find the correct platform and to inform the conductor that we were coming. The coolie did not run, I don't think anybody runs with 30 kilos on his head and a few bags on his shoulder so we were just hoping for the best and fearing the worst. Finally we got to the train, found our compartment and loaded ourselves onto it. We shook hands with Richard and he said goodbye. The coolie asked for 200 Rs, so Richard took him outside to deal with, (he settled for 100 Rs). Once we sat down and managed to catch our breath the train started moving. We had made it in the last second...

Meeting cargo train

The return trip was the same as coming down, same chicken and rice and once we reached Maharashtra it started raining. There were no Naxalites and no derailings, so all was good. As we had agreed to meet up with Dubey for dinner at his pad we got off the next evening at Panvel. This time we had a taxi that could fit a bag into the boot as last time our stuff got wet and I was not taking any chances with the weather.

Paddy field

Plowing paddy with Oxen

In Khargar at Dubey's place we met his mother, wife, daughter and son. I had bought the kids some halva to treat themselves to. As we were tired of the trip we had an excellent dinner and pretty much fell asleep.

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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Colachel Beach

This was our last day in Tamil Nadu and Richard had lined up a visit to Colachel beach and the Kali temple adjacent to it. Historically Colachel is famous for that the King of Travancore, Marthanda Varma, beat the crap out of the Dutch East India Company Naval Forces in 1741. At the Padmanabhapuram Palace I had seen paintings depicting the Dutch Admiral laying his arms at the feet of the King. I bet it was a great day to be King.

Students waiting for the morning bus

In Tamil Nadu the sickle and hammer ideal could be seen in many places.

The Kali temple, is actually a dirt mound covered by a roof and in front of the mini-moutain there were a few idols below a painted Kali face on the dirt. The worshippers told us that the mound has risen by itself and taken on the facial features of Kali, hence the paint and idols. Once a year they have a big temple festival and the place is jam packed. I know how jam packed India can be so I was just glad I did not have to cope with that. We did a small pooja to support the temple and soon enough we were on our merry way.

The Kali temple

Kali herself, the God of Destruction

A wishing tree (?)

We continued a bit forward but eventually there was nothing much to see and we stopped at a long jetty to have a walk. The jetty was beside the Colachel fishing harbor and I think it is part of a scheme for bigger things to come. The road was lined with concrete piglets that are usually used as building breakwaters. The wind was quite fresh and we could see breakers in the distance, maybe the piglets were intended to enhance the natural reef to make a larger port at Colachel. 

Colachel Beach and fishing harbor

Another Kattumaram

The "Love Tree"

After awhile we returned to the car and I had to convince the driver there was a crossing from the temple road to the seaside and that I wanted to go there and have a look on the beach too. We arrived there and turned as instructed. There was a small church and a path to the beach. The path was lined by flowers called "Love Tree" in Thai. At the beach there was a small concrete slab 7x7m, probably used by the smaller fishermen to offload their takes. There were also several Kattumaram's pulled up on the sand. 

Colachel Home Stay

Banana shop

After awhile we settled into the car and headed back to Nagercoil. Richard tells us Colachel was badly hit by the tsunami in 2004 and the government had built along long swathes of beach a protective barrier that was several meters high. Driving beside it one did not really realize that the sea is on the other side. On the way we pick up some cold beer and take away food and have it at Richards pad.

Richard & his Mom

After lunch we meet up with Wonita and her niece Annabel. We pile in the car and go to the biggest gold shop in Nagercoil. The shop is huge and sells everything one could imagine in jewellery way. We find out that the gold sold in India is not as pure as in Thailand (99.9%) and so we start looking at silver jewellery. Jira settles on a couple of rings, I just watch. 

Nagercoil clocktower

Next stop is at a small mall where we check out shoes and skirts and shirts. Eventually we get some more suitcase filling there too. Then it is towards the Hotel but we detour via Richards church where I meet his cousin who gives me a short statement of facts. namely, that this is the head Church for C.o.S.I. (Church of South India), that is the biggest congregation with some 400 affiliate churches and their other bishopry of C.o.N.I. (Church of North India) which has their own affiliate churches. The CoSI was established in 1819.

Ashley, Jira, Allester, Me, Wonita & Annabel

After this we go to the hotel to freshen up for our farewell dinner with Richard and his lovely family at the Varas Restaurant. As the fishing was banned for the spawning season the many restaurants we had visited in Nagercoil and surroundings had no seafood at all and Varas made no exception in this. Pork is also not popular in India so we settled for chicken and mutton. Food was good and when everything was finished it was time to say goodbye and head for the hotel.

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Thiruparappu Falls

After the aqueduct the driver took us deeper into the Tamil Nadu foothills through some very narrow and curvy roads with the gas pedal floored. I told Richard to ask the driver whether he had considered trying for a drivers job at Force India. I think we made record time and we arrived intact and parked at the Thiruparappu falls.

Thiruparappu Falls

Bathing attire was strictly defined

As in other places, here also were vendors in full fling announcing their wares and products. It must be noted that in Tamil Nadu all plastic bags had been banned so whatever you bought it came wrapped in news paper or textile carry bags. A very commendable decree and excellent example for rest of the world, especially rest of India and all SE Asian nations.

Upper part of the Falls

The falls itself were located down a small slope and the falls were tumbling down noisily. The water cascade was quite high and water spray came several meters off. Very cooling indeed in the hot weather in Tamil Nadu. We did not go for a swim as the water did not look too inviting.

Bird at upper part

We walked up the slope and took off to see the upper side of the fall which had long trails were people could walk and enjoy the nature. I even saw a Kingfisher bird take off. Soon enough we realized it is late afternoon and felt the hunger pangs gathering so we got into the car and headed back to Nagercoil.

Carved cobra going after a frog

In Nagercoil we went from trying a couple of restaurants and ended up in Varas restaurant hotel that is supposed to be the hi-so joint in town. Maybe so but the toilets were in a filthy condition although the food was good and view excellent. We then headed back to the hotel and went off for a walk to see for shoes for Jira.

View from Varas Hotel

View from Varas Hotel

Eventually we found shoes for Jira and then she wanted to see some frocks but eventually it was me that ended up buying a few shirts and shorts.

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Mathur Aqueduct

Next in the program was to visit the Mathur Aqueduct that is the longest and highest aqueduct in South Asia. Not that I think there are so many of them anywhere nowadays...

Richard and the aqueduct

Well, the driver left us down below and we started ascending the steps up to the aqueduct. Just before the top there were some local shops, one of them was selling honey and Richard being a great fan of honey got himself a bottle. A few more steps and we reached the top and so it was flat onwards.

The view

The view was spectacular if not mindblasting to look over the Pahrali river that was lined by rubber and coconut trees and the western ghats in the horizon. We met a few people and at the end there was a lady asking me money for using the camera on the bridge. I was kicking myself for not taking more pictures.

Me & Jira

The driver had taken another road and met us at the other end and so we piled in and headed towards our next stop.

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Padmanabhapuram Palace

Next morning Richard picked us up again and on we went for the Padmanabhapuram Palace, the former capital of Kingdom of Travancore until it was moved to Thiruvanantapuram (Trivandrum). This palace is now in Tamil Nadu but is being administered by the Government of Kerala. The Palace entrance was lined with the usual sellers peddling everything from postcards to wooden carvings.

Stopped on the way to get some palm fruit, there was no wine

Our Ambassador taxi

The Palace is a huge complex of different rooms and audience halls made out of wood as well as a stone temple. The route is set by arrows and in many places there are guides that will reply to queries. Not sure if they speak English though as I had Richard ask them in Tamil. The floors were still in original condition and fully made out of natural materials such as coconut, burnt coconut husks (for color), egg whites, sugar and whatnot.

We walked through reception hall, council chamber, Kings and Queen's bedroom, the Armory, Guest house for International guests (all doors were bigger here), Kitchen area, Temple.

Portrait of last King of Travancore

Kitchen building behind the washing fountain

The buildings had at ground level a special window made of slats where the royalty could see out but nobody could see in. All upper levels were made of wood that were covered with clay roof tiles. After walking through the Palace there was a small museum adjacent to it where old tools, weapons, wooden and stone carvings of deities and other utensils were on display.

Squirrel carved into a pillar

Lion carving at temple

Naughty carving

There were also several stone tablets in Tamil script from hundreds of years back and I was surprised that Richard could actually read them. It is interesting that Tamil is one the worlds oldest languages still in daily use and it was the same language that the ancient Romans heard when trading with the Tamils. Latin is only spoken in universities nowadays... 

I have often found Richard a great help as when we are visiting Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand we always meet local Indians there and they most likely speak Tamil as they are descendants of their Indian forefathers that have settled abroad for one reason or the other. This way we get local knowledge of how to find venues and where to get materials (without soliciting the help of an agent).

Kumbhakarna, the hungry and sleepy boy

Wooden birdlady, an avatar of Shiva (?)

I can also see that the Tamils are the ones that has been taking the Indian culture abroad for millennia, the Angkor Wat in Cambodia or even the Thai script is a good example of that.

Suit used for general punishment

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