Monday, March 29, 2010

A west Indian hodgepodge

They call a hodgepodge a "thali" here.

We're in a Jo-Ann Fabrics the size of a town in western India (also known as Bhuj). Mom, you would love it here. Except at this Jo-Ann's they also retail ice cream and tobacco products and if you look at any one thing too long the attendants swoop down and engage you in bargaining over something you probably don't even want. But more about this place later.

More pictures of Hampi, 'cause it's really a sexy place.

The big temple. It's old but serviceable when it comes to worship and holding elephants.

A temple elephant getting painted. It'll "bless" you (bop you on the head with its trunk) if you give it a coin. Paige got blessed. Her neck is uninjured.

I think Paige mentioned that we were going to the Ajanta caves. Well, we did. There's actually two sets of caves about 3 hours apart. The city (read, staging area) in between is called Aurangabad and it sucks in a soviet bloc sort of way. Wide, dusty, hot streets with no evidence of people around--except for their trash.

The caves are much nicer. They're mislabeled though--they're giant temples carved into a mountain which is that much more impressive. On the way to the Ellora caves (the ones to the left of Aurangabad), we saw a water park in the middle of the desert...

I lack the camera equipment to really capture how crazy this place is.

Sir Mix-A-Lot and Indians circa 800AD had similar taste in women.

Go blue!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lungies and Lugies

Our last weekend in Kerala was spent in the city of Kochin. Kochin was a nice city with friendly people.
A large majority of the men in India wear what is called a 'lungi'. It's basically a few yards of cloth (about the size of a beach towel) that is wrapped around the waist like a sarong and can be pulled up to wear short. Andy had been playing around with the idea of getting one for awhile. Luckily, there was a man selling them on the street in Kochin! After purchasing the lungi, we then had to go on an excursion to find out how to tie it. Seeing as how nearly every man wears one, this wasn't a hard thing to do. The group of men seemed really amused that this young white guy wanted to wear lungi, and they happily started to tie it around Andy's waist. It wasn't until after it was tied on that he was told his lungi was too short. Apparently, Andy is taller than the average Indian man.

It was a long train ride (actually two) up the coast from Kochin to Hampi. We had a 4 1/2 hour layover in Goa (at 3:30 am!) before catching the bus to Hampi. Hampi is a beautiful place nestled between large boulder hills and coconut, banana and rice plantations. Strewn about the rocks and plantations are ruins from a 14th century empire. We were really pleased to find a super cheap (but very nice) double room in a guesthouse for only 200 rupees! Our pleasure soon evaporated when we learned how overbearing the guesthouse landlady was. Everyday she would ask us to eat at the guesthouse for dinner and everytime we said 'No, thank you' the less she liked us. It's not that the food was bad (we ate there our first night) it was actually quite nice to have homecooked food again, it was that she charged 80 rupees per meal. 80 rupees per meal is a lot when you consider that we can eat at a restaurant for 70-90 rupees for both of us. Unfortunately, she didn't seem to want to understand the concept of 'budget' traveling when we tried to to explain it to her. I think we must have offended her in some way. Besides the constant badgering to eat her food, we were also put off by her incessant spitting. A lot of people spit in the street here (more than in the States) but this woman hacked up lugies about as often as a chain smoker lights a cigarette. I was often woken up to the sound as early as 6 am!

Despite our landlady (who really was just trying to make a living by feeding on the blood and wallets of tourists) we enjoyed Hampi. We took a really nice bike ride through the hills to see some of the ruins of temples and former kingdoms.

If you want to know what it's like to be a celebrity and plagued by paparazzi, come to India. At one temple, we were swarmed by a large family that was very excited to see us and consequently wanted to have their photo taken with us. But it wasn't just one photo. We ended up having several group shots (one with Andy, and one with me) and then there were individual shots. We finally had to pry ourselves away by saying we had to go on to the next ruin. The next day, I felt particularly diplomatic when a couple walking by me shoved their toddler into my arms so that I could pose with her and the mother as the father took a snapshot with his cell phone. In addition, I have now had my picture taken with several Indian men and a group boys (about the age of my eleven-year-old brother) who also asked me for my phone number.

We are continuing our journey northwards (and west) towards Gujarat with a quick stop at the Ellora caves on the way. Traveling and sightseeing has been nice, but we are getting anxious to return to the simple (and cheaper) farming life!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Backwaters, tea and a buffalo skull under the bed.

Well, our two week whirlwind tour of Kerala is just about to come to an end. Just to clarify-we haven't been farming while we've been here. We're taking about a 6 week hiatus to be tourists and see some sights on our way up to the Himalayas where we will begin farming again. The weather in southern India is starting to get very hot. Today's forecast: 90 degrees farenheit but feels like 99 with humidity.

We took a short train trip from Varkala to Kollam. In Kollam, we stayed with a man named Ramesh and his family who we met on Ramesh was wonderfully hospitable. He opened his home up to us and we ate wonderful homecooked Keralan meals (fish and beef curries in coconut sauce) with his family.

On Sunday, we took a canoe boat tour of the back waters. On the tour, we drifted lazily through narrow canals lined with coconut, cashew and banana trees.We saw some local people crafting a large canoe made from coconut wood and coconut fiber rope.As we drifted further back into the canals, the hustle and bustle of Indian city life completely disappeared. It felt as though molasses was in the air. You could tell that the people in the villages here live simple and relaxed lives. It was quiet and serene, the only interruption being the moaning of a cow or cackling hens. Our guide spoke only a little English, but he excitedly pointed out things as we passed them. Things like: "Madame, pineapple!" or "Kingfisher!" and "My house!" (evidently, we were passing through his neighborhood). It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

After the backwaters, we headed for the cool relief of the hills in Munnar. The Munnar area is popular for its tea plantations.We took a 5 hour bus ride from Kottyam on twisting roads through rolling hills covered in tea plants. The weather there was glorious! The cool mountain air felt so refreshing. On Wednesday we took a public bus (much cheaper than a taxi or rickshaw) up to Top Station. The drivers in the mountains aren't any less crazy than they are in the city. We went careening around hairpin turns and came to screeching stops in every village along the way to pick up or drop off more people. The nauseating ride was worth it, we had spectacular views of the mountain range once we got to the top. On Thursday, we took a tour through the tea plantations (and watched as women clipped and collected the tea leaves into bags), saw some waterfalls (with very little water since it's not monsoon season yet) and Andy tried toddy (a palm liquor) for the first time! It was a fairly rushed tour, but we got to see a lot.

Apparently our hotel room in Munnar doubled as a spare storage closet. Andy found three water buffalo (?) skulls under our bed. So strange...

We are in Kochin for the weekend before a long train ride to Hampi on Monday. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ah, to be in God's own country! (Keralan slogan...)

Wow, it's been too long since we've had a chance to post. Now Paige and I are posting from the comfort of a freaking awesome home in Kerala. Let's get the pictures rolling!

Near the end of the permaculture workshop at Solitude Farm in Auroville, we got to harvest rice. Running around with little hand-held scythes you cut down the rice stalks and collect them into piles. Then, taking great handfuls of rice, you beat the **** out of it against a barrel, loosening the rice grains. Enthusiasm is a must, or at least a little bit of rage to let out. Harvesting a staple crop adds to our farmer street cred, dont'cha think?

The Sunday before we left, we made a day trip to Fertile Farm, run by an old Aussie guy named Johnny. He's been there since basically the start of Auroville in 1972, and has been tinkering there ever since. His constraints (no electricity) lead to quite a lot of creativity. Johnny hosts a potlucks, and he always makes the dosa (fermented rice pancakes) for them. Of course, you need a lot of dosa for a potluck, so he made a dosa mixer powered by a sterling engine. A fire is started, cold water is piped through the engine, and it runs off the difference in temperature.

Last Monday we departed for Kerala on the southwest coast of India. While waiting for the train--in the middle of a city--a cow walked down the platform with no apparent owner, took a moment to browse a trash bin full of empty paper tea cups, then walked on. After arriving in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala (also the head of the communist government here!), we partook in what seems to be a ritual now: we went to an Indian Coffee House, the best damn breakfast and coffee franchise this side of the Ganges. Jumped up on caffeine, we explored the city. Lots of coconut trees. We went to the natural history museum (admission: 5Rs or 12 cents). Turns out natural history museums are the same everywhere: dead things in jars. They also had a very nice zoo (admission: 10Rs or 25 cents). In the evening, we went to see Avatar--in 3D (admission: 65Rs or $1.50)! It was awesome! Some luxuries are not lost on us.
Having worked our asses off on a farm we decided to go to a beach, a town just north called Varkala. It was a bit touristy, but damn it was pretty. We got a cavernous room in the government guest house--normally for politicians when they travel--for super cheap, then hit the beach. It's separated from all the restaurants and hotels and such by a giant cliff.

An elephant in some dude's yard.