Pondicherry, Kenyakumari, Coimbaitore, and Cochin
So much has happened in the last week. It’s been constant travel and movement that it’s been hard to find time to sleep, let alone blog. As well, on Monday I was a little “indisposed”, but I’m feeling much better today. It wasn’t the food or the water I think I had heat exhaustion. Its been 30+ everyday here. And even though I already have a nice Indian summer glow, it takes more out of you than you would expect. I’m spending the afternoon relaxing here in the hotel in Cochin on the west coast. (for all of those who love history like me this is where Vasa de Gama landed in 1498 I believe – the famous Portuguese explorer =).
Since Chennai we have travelled to Pondicherry, Kenyakumari, and Coimbaitore. Pondicherry was beautiful. It was right on the Bay of Bengal and it was so hot =) I’m loving the sun and the heat – except for getting sick. In Pondicherry we got to explore this place called Auroville.. it’s this bizarre spiritual commune… kinda cultish but not a cult haha. We rented bicycles and biked around all the back woods and trails. Places we probably shouldn’t have been but we didn’t care. Oh, and we climbed trees =) When travelling, you learn there is a fine line in being an ignorant white tourist and getting away with things and being shut down. When exploring a military fort in Chennai we kept being kicked out of certain areas. I guess the Indian military doesn’t want white tourists taking photos near their military bases? oops.
In Pondicherry we met so many European tourists. The city has a French basis so the French Quarter was filled with adorable boutiques and rooftop cafes. Chocolate croissants in India? yummy. And the textiles and markets were amazing! I love markets – took so many photos =) Actually in Pondicherry there was a really close call. There was a time change that went unnoticed (no one’s fault) and I almost missed the bus to leave the city. Me and 5 others. They packed up all our stuff and everyone was on the bus when we came back to the hotel. They were going to leave at 5:30 to head for the train, and we arrived at the hotel at 5:25…. Someone is watching my back =) Everything turned out ok and we all made it to the train together.
Ok, planning on taking the train in India? It’s awesome. Know that before anything else. It’ll help you get through the night. lol Make sure you have a silk liner – because the bunks haven’t been cleaned. Like, ever. Oh and a headlight is extremely useful. That way you can see in the dark. But, then you can “see” things if you know what I mean. Yes…… the trains are infested with cockroaches. But it’s really not that bad. And know that in India the people have a completely different sense of space. Personal space doesn’t really exist. But it’s fun because you can buy chai tea through the bars on the windows. And there is a western style toilet, although most times I would rather squat. In India, squat toilets are actually way cleaner than a seat.. Just saying =) Hey, everyone said they wanted details, so I’m just delivering =) But the trains really aren’t that bad. And we’ve taken 3 now so we’re basically pros.
Kenyakumari is the most southern tip of India, where 3 bodies of water meet: the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal. It’s a huge tourist town for Indians, not for white people usually. So it was really cool to see how Indians vacation. In fact, on our way out we were waiting in the lobby and an Indian man is sitting there and asks us where we are from. We say “Canada”and he asks “Where is that?” So in very slow and clear English we explained that Canada was across the Atlantic, above America. He looked at us and laughed. He said, “I know where Canada is, I meant, what city in Canada?” So we said Guelph, ON, near Toronto. He looked at us and said, “Oh, I’m from Richmond Hill. I’ve lived there for 40 years.” We all burst out laughing. SUCH a small world =) In Kenyakumari there’s a Gandhi memorial that we checked out and more markets. And beach! Ok, if we go anywhere with a beach I’m happy. We can’t swim yet but it’s so nice to be near water. About 400 km south of Kenyakumari is Australia. Cool eh? And there are so many palm tress here – giant ones too. Because it’s so close to water, Kenyakumari has so many shells and things from the water. I bought some real pearl earrings, and a beautiful pearl necklace. For about 670 rupees total. That’s about $13.50.
In Kenyakumari I started to feel not that great, but that’s where a few people started to get pretty sick. But that night on the train to Coimbaitore is when more students were getting sick. I was sick in Coimbaitore but I think it was heat exhaustion and nothing I ate/drank. I feel a lot better now thank goodness =) In Coimbaitore we travelled into the mountains to a place called Ooty to visit a research station that Tamil Nadu University had to study local plants and their medicinal uses as well as other things to help local farmers. It was a long bumpy road into the mountains, and it was cold! I think it was just under 20 degrees which compared to the heat of the city is quite cool. We were wearing sweaters but the Indian people? It was thick coats, toques and balaclavas for them! They are so accustomed to hot weather that the mountains is like winter for them. We went to a government funded botanical garden in Ooty as well. It was beautiful, and there was an Italian section of the garden. In WWII Italians were captured over in Europe and were brought to the mountains in Tamil Nadu (the state in India we were in), as POWS to work in the gardens. Like when we dumped German soldiers in the middle of the prairies. It’s pretty hard to escape in such an environment.
In the southern state of Tamil Nadu the environment is very reminiscent of the movie Jurassic Park haha. Soo many jokes have been made. But it’s true! Palm trees, water, mountains, and jungle. When we press our faces against the windows of the bus to try and see elephants in the forest it’s like we’re looking to see a T Rex run around in the bushes.
Being a traveller in India is important to know that it’s rare if someone isn’t taking a photo of you or asking to have a picture taken with you. We feel like celebrities =) But the people are pretty nice about it. With a group as large as ours we do attract a lot of attention. One of the guys Zack got asked for just his photo like 7 times in one day. We think he must be a Bollywood star look-alike. The guys in the trip are pretty awesome (there’s 6 boys for 19 girls). Being boys they do have additional responsibilities to watch out for the girls and so far there hasn’t been any problems. Everyone watches out for one another and makes sure we are all ok – especially when we’re feeling sick.
In terms of the caste system we haven’t run into too much. We know that the people that clean the streets are not the same caste system as the rickshaw drivers. Or even the people serving us in the hotels we’re staying in. I’m sure I will talk about the caste system more as the trip goes on, so if you don’t know what the Indian caste system is I’ll explain it at some point. In one hotel we noticed that there was an additional cot that was smaller and we didn’t realize what it was for until we saw a sign on the door telling us that we had to report our personal servants at the front desk if we had them and that they must be appropriately dressed. Things like this pose many questions but we’re just letting everything sink in and try to understand the world around us.
I’m in Cochin now on the west coast and it’s beautiful. We’re staying in another hotel. We know that we will be “roughing it” later on in the trip so we’re enjoying the showers and clean beds when we get them. We’ll be here for a few days so it’s be a nice break from the constant travel and activity. I love travelling, and even though there are low moments it’s all an experience and I know that it’s changing me for the better. I feel like when this trip is over I will able to go anywhere and do anything.