The Past Few Week in South India

I haven’t been very good about blogging lately. Days go by so quickly in the ever surging torrent of daily activity and traveling here and there and hanging out with people that there just isn’t enough time.

Anyhow, that disclaimer aside…here’s the last two weeks.

Leaving the beautiful beach of Gokarna I headed down to Kochi. Kochi is a cute historic village on the coast. It was a Portuguese colony for a while, and much of its European flavor still remains. While I didn’t find it particularly exciting to visit, I did enjoy the peaceful air around the place and spent two days happily wandering aimlessly through the quiet streets and sitting on the banks of the Arabian Sea watching the sun go down.

While in Kochi, experienced an ayurvedic massage, an experience I will briefly describe for you so that you won’t have to experience it yourself. Later on I learned that ayurvedic massages aren’t supposed to be enjoyable and now I know why. The masseuse gave me a petite paper G-string “garment” (what’s the point, nothing was covered and obviously I wasn’t shy) and laid me out on the table, which was just a massive block of wood—no pillows. He then proceeded to dump oil all over my head and began ripping out the hair follicles in my head. Once he was done with that he poured another gallon of oil over my slippery oily body and began mashing my bones and limbs into the table. I was yelping silently for relief but I trusted the masseuse and endured it. Finally when the massage was complete he had me sit in a box that was like a phonebooth that only goes up to the neck. This is the “steam room”, and slowly the heat begins to increase. I’m feeling extremely vulnerable locked in this box with just my head sticking out of it, like a chicken being cooked slowly. Soon the heat becomes unbearable, I’m sweating buckets, and I’m totally ready to cut my losses and call this massage a wrap. Meanwhile the masseuse is just staring at me with a funny smile that just makes it all seem hilarious and strange. Eventually he released me, I took a shower, and then he had the audacity to sit me down with a pen and his comments book where he asked me to write about how great my experience was.

Anyhow, the mosquitoes were killers in Kochi and it was screaming hot there too. So after two days of that I jumped on a bus to Munnar, a breathtaking mountain village about 5 hours inland from Kochi. The bus ride was windy, turbulent, and difficult as usual, but the views were amazing. The higher we went the cooler the air got and the better the views became.

The mountains around Munnar are the highest in South India and in all directions you see an endless vista of hills covered in tea plantations. They look like paint-by-number scenes—a thick beautifully-manicured carpet of vivid greens in every shade with trees spaced strategically for proper shade all across the landscape. The air is fresh here and in the mornings the fog and the rays of light that shatter through the trees inspire many photographs.

This region is the perfect climate for growing tea and for the past 100 years these hills have been expertly groomed to produce some of the highest quality tea in the world. Tata, the richest family in India, owns the Tata Team Company and pretty much all of Munnar, along with every hillside in a 50 mile radius. The Tata Tea Museum shows countless scenes of incredibly hardworked Indians who, despite earning less than a dollar a day in the field, are beaming great big ecstatic smiles.

One day I took a ride with Stepha, a German yogi, up to Top Station, the veritable top of the world overlooking South India. It was quite beautiful up there and along the way we passed through several picturesque landscapes, saw elephants, visited a little spice garden, a flower garden, and visited Echo Lake where everything you shout comes back at you.

At nighttime we had a great group of travelers kicking it on the patio of the hotel. Two guys had guitars, I had a drum (and chocolate), a group of Canadians had beers, and a couple of Israeli girls had white bread and jelly. All together we had the fixins for a great little party and probably would’ve continued late into the night if it hadn’t been for the night watchman who turned the lights out on us and told us to wrap it up because school kids were trying to study in the neighborhood.

After Munnar I headed on down Alleppey, where I met a lovely British girl waiting for the ferry. We began talking and laughing and before long two days had passed and we were still together. We stayed at Gowri, a supercool guesthouse, in a primitive tree house with a veritable zoo of animals chirping, howling, and cockle-doodle-doing all night long. It felt like we were in the jungle. Rowan is an expert mosquito killer and before lights out she was a madwoman securing mosquito nets and swatting violently at everything that buzzed.

The area around Alleppey, known as the “backwaters”, is a network of waterways and canals that extend inland from Kerala’s coast. Narrow rivers and lazy lily pad waterways wind through tropical jungle terrain, yielding to wide open expansive oceans. Some people rent houseboats. It sounds completely romantic and I’d love to do it someday with a special someone, but for the time being Rowan and I enjoyed the local ferries, which travel along the same path at a price of 25 cents for a 5 hour ride. Along the way you see women doing laundry, men lounging around shirtless doing nothing but sitting in sunlight, little kids playing and shouting out to passer-byes for pens. It was all quite beautiful.

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