Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happy New Year

25 December 2008 - 6 January 2009
Happy New Year! I know I can speak for many of you when I say that it is good to see the other side of 2008. It was a tough year, but 2009 is upon us and with it, all the fresh opportunity offered up by a new year. As for new years' resolutions? Well, this year I'm working on 'inner peace'. Some of you may wonder about the likelihood or perhaps sanity of attempting to cultivate inner peace in the noisiest country in the world. I reckon if I don't work on it, I just might go mad :) If I can cultivate it here, I'll be set anywhere else in the world I go. An Indian, Deepak, I was speaking to said 'in the West you work on alleviating noise on the outside. In India, we work on alleviating noise on the inside' (perhaps that's because the reality of ridding India of outside noise is an impossibility, still, it's a nice sentiment).

Such an interesting place India, full of contrasts. For example, the rich and the poor. A labourer can be expected to work a 12 hour day shovelling rocks and gravel in the boiling heat for 60 rupees a day (about $1.25 USD). That would hardly be enough for him to feed himself, let alone for him to feed a family, pay rent, buy firewood or gas or any of the other basic necessities. The man who is paying him, of course he makes plenty, but still only pays the labourer pittance.

More contrasts: you have the smells of jasmine, cardamom and sandalwood competing with vomit, urine and faeces (and frequently losing the battle); the beautiful surrounds (ocean front, tea fields, etc) covered with rubbish. The list could go on.

We were in Munnar for about a week. After the cities of Ernakulum and Bangalore, both Rohan and I were seeking somewhere a bit more peaceful. As we rode the bus into Munnar, with it's rolling green hills and mountains, tea fields and rivers, we thought we'd found heaven. Christmas and New Years are busy times in India for tourism (westerners and Indians alike) and we were lucky to get a quaint little cottage in the hills. Unfortunately we could only stay one night - this might help explain why. We moved to Old Munnar, where I was struck down with the cold Rohan had been battling with since we arrived in India. It was the worst cold or sickness I have had since I was a kid, complete with fever, oozy ear infection, sore throat and coughing. Fortunately it's nearly better, though I still can't hear properly.

Despite the cold, the week in Munnar was good. The surrounds were beautiful and with the tea fields all around, there were stacks of places to go wandering around. One day we were out walking through the hills and we saw a temple up a hill. Temples are EVERYWHERE, but they are all different, so we walked to it. It bordered a few small houses, so we headed towards them. Down the path there were two women who were watching a small snake. They beat the snake to death (none of Gandhi's non-violence there) and then wanted us to photograph the. They then invited us into their home for tea . The owner of the house wanted to show off her television, so she turned it on and found the only English speaking show: WWF Smackdown! A bit of a surreal moment, sitting in a small house (comparable to a small studio apartment) in the tea fields of southern India with three old ladies watching Smackdown!

After Munnar we moved south to Kumily. We expected Kumily to be a small, quiet village bordering Periyar National Park. Unbeknownst to us, a massive number of bare-footed, sarong wearing, shirtless pilgrims had recently alighted on Kumily.

Kumily was very nice, but we got out the map of India and looked how far north we are hoping to head (Jaisalpur) and decided we should move on (if you're interested, look on google maps and see how far it is from Kumily to Jaisalpur), so we took yet another hair-raising, horn-honking bus trip with a suicidal bus driver - this time to Allepy. The main attraction in Allepy is the backwaters and the house boats . The house boat was beautiful and very relaxing.

After Allepy we took a train to Cochin, which is a bit of 'not India'; it's clean, it's quiet and it's not crowded. A few days here and I'm ready to get back out into India! Unfortunately, that is proving difficult as the trains are fully booked and the website to book the next available train hasn't been working the last couple of days. Oh well, we'll get moving soon.

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