#12 India (final), Kerala, Oct. 15, 1998

I started this trip in Trivandum in the south of India. My first tourist site was the Palace owned by the Maharajah of Coimbatore, which has only been open to the public for three years. The Kerala style of Palace is certainly different from others I’ve seen with its carved teak wood. Then on to see the Padmablasewary Temple or actually only its goparum as non-Hindus could not enter.

 

 

 

 

 

Next I visited the Napier Museum with its beautiful bronzes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Padmanabhapuram Palace was closed because of a holiday, but the teak and stucco exterior was pretty.

 

 

 

On subsequent days I visited the Natural History Museum and the Sri Chitra Art Gallery.

 

 

The most spectacular thing that I saw was the Kathakali dancing.

This is the traditional Kerala dance with fantastic makeup and costumes that takes two hours to apply.

 

 

 

 

The show lasted 2½ hours without a break!

 

 

 

The area is quite pretty with small mountains, rice fields and ponds with lotus flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I moved to a nearby resort called the Surya Samudra Garden Beach Resort. The rooms are all reconstructed teak Kerala houses. Since I couldn’t find the manager when I arrived, I had a double gin and tonic plus lunch—barracuda and salad, which was all very good!

 

 

 

I took a nap and when I awoke, the power was out so I used the candle lamps that were provided.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For dinner I had good

fish soup and papaya.

 

 

 

 

The noise of the surf was very loud outside my windows, but pleasant.

 

 

 

 

 

After breakfast I watched a man shinny up a tall coconut tree to trim it and to get the coconuts. He had a rough homemade rope, which he put around his feet to shinny up the tree.

That night for dinner we had lovely music to entertain us while we ate.

 

 

 

 

After a couple of days of lazing about at this resort I moved on by train to Quillon. I visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Velamkanni, a very unusual structure.

 

 

 

 

 

The following day I took a boat up a river for 2 ½ hours to the Matha Amrithanandamaya Mission Ashram.The ride was

delightful! Kerala’s waterways are like an enchanted coconut forest.

 

 

 

 

 

I arrived at the Ashram at 1:00 PM and was assigned to a room with a Swiss woman, Suzanne.

 

 

 

The room had one single bed. Suzanne offered to sleep on the floor—–mattresses were to be found later. After we settled in we had lunch, which was rice and curry, which was offered three times a day and included with the room price. Filtered water was available. To cool off, I showered.  It was hot but not uncomfortable with a fan. The rooms were in a 14-storey building and each had a bathroom. There was a lovely view of the river and lots of palm trees.

 

 

 

We were invited to a meditation down at the beach near the village in which ‘Mother’ grew up. Then we assembled for singing in the temple. ‘Mother’ arrived but did not hold a darshan as had been expected.

 

 

The following morning I went for a long walk along the beach, which was most pleasant. Later I attended a special puya for Suzanne’s mother because she has

cancer. It went on for a very long time. The swami performing the puya used rose petals, a fire, grass, water, conch shell, oil lamps, incense and made lots of hand and finger movements and prayers. I left after 1½ hours—there seemed to be many articles still to be used, which made me think there was still a long time to go. I met ‘Mother’ who was a lovely warm woman, much loved by all her devotees. ‘Mother,’ wearing a red and white swimming costume, led prayers in the swimming pool with many people participating.

The next day the river boat stopped again, picking me up to continue upstream to Alleppy. The journey was gorgeous—the scenery was stunning. About 4:00 PM it clouded up and rained a bit, but nobody minded the gentle rain in this heat.

 

 

I inquired of the ‘host’ on the boat about renting a houseboat at Alleppy. He said he would send somebody to my hotel to arrange it the next morning.

He was as good as his word and a young man appeared at my hotel with an autorickshaw to take me to the boat. The boat was coir-trimmed and was a retired rice hauler. About five years ago someone got the idea to recommission these boats as ‘houseboats’ for tourists. There are now about 80 of them. There were two pollers on board, a chef and the young man who arranged it named Menoj. He organized provisions of fish, rice, vegetables, mineral water and Kingfisher beer.

The boat was about 10’ X 50.’ There was a living room, about 15’ X 8’, a bedroom with a tiny bath and a tiny kitchen. The hull was wood, shaped like a huge canoe. The superstructure was made of coir and mats—coir is made of the coconut husks and is the main local industry. The Keralans speak Malayalam, which is a Dravidian language that is very peculiar to my ears. It has huge numbers of syllables, is very fast, and there is lots of the ‘l’ sound.

 

 

 

 

We moved most of the day, polled by the pollers, except when they had tea or lunch.

 

 

 

 

My lunch consisted of rice, chapatis, fish, papad, beets, cabbage, sambar, okra, dal and sliced pineapple for desert. This was all served by the chef to Manoj and me in serving bowls. When we were finished, the pollars and the chef ate the rest.

 

 

We anchored at 6:30 PM just at sunset in the middle of a small lake.

 

 

 

We had kerosene lanterns for light, but we turned them out so as not to attract insects. I went to bed about 10:00 PM in my little bedroom. The staff all slept on the living room floor on mats.

I could lie in bed looking out of my coir ‘window’—a structure that could have been put down at night, but leaving it up allowed a full view of the lake, the moon and stars. At about 4:30 AM it began to rain and at times I couldn’t see the shore. It was a wonderful gentle rain. The boat stayed nice and dryIn the morning I heard roosters crowing, music across the lake, fishermen talking and then

 

 

 

 

some wonderful flute music. By 7:00 AM the sun was shining; I had 3 cups of chai. They hauled in the anchor about 8:30 and began polling. We stopped around noon to buy some toddy. It is the liquid that they get by tapping the coconut bud just before it blooms. It tasted quite good. It will ferment during the day and become fairly alcoholic by evening, but we drank some and the crew finished it off so I didn’t get an opportunity to try the fermented toddy.

They polled through quite a bit of rain this afternoon and then we anchored in the middle of the same lake. I was reading the book, “One Hundred Days of Solitude,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The strangest thing was when I asked Menoj what book he was reading in Malayalam, he answered, “A Thousand Days of Loneliness!” It was the same book, translated into Malayalam, but someone had gotten the ‘hundred’ wrong! What a coincidence!

I had another huge lunch bout 3:00 PM which consisted of many dishes including two kinds of fish. The bananas fried in coconut oil were exquisite. The next morning Menoj asked me to teach him how to eat with knife and fork. We had a go at it with breakfast, which was chai, an omelet with onions, ginger and chiles. We also had toast, jam and fresh pineapple and good bananas.  The chef had a 3′ X 3′ galley in which to cook.  He sat on a tiny stool about six inches high.

 

 

 

 

Throughout the day we polled back to where we started and Menoj took me to the bus station where I got a bus to Cochin. I checked into the hotel and had lunch of Meen Moilee, which was fish in coconut milk and spices—very good!

In Cochin it rained without letup for three days. I finally went sightseeing in the rain. I took an autorickshaw to Fort Cochin. I saw St. Francis church where Vasco de Gama was buried for 14 years until they moved his body to Portugal. I also saw Santa Cruz Bacilica and then the Jewish synagogue. I had lunch at the Hotel Cosino, and then flew back to Bangalore.

Carol

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