The adventure continues (and an adventure it is). From Varanasi in the north we took a flight to Kochi/Cochin in the south of India. The South is very lush, green and considerably cleaner (remember its all relative) so at first it was hard to believe we were still in the same country! We toured the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Both are know for agriculture so there is plenty of fresh produce around. Kerela has vast tea, coffee and spice plantations. They also grow rubber trees and several people work overseas so there is considerably more wealth here. Kerela is actually a bit of a 'jewel' in India's crown It's really a nice break from the garbage and poverty that are so widespread in this country. The temperature certainly increased as we moved south - and just as the heat went up so did the spicing of the food. I'm not sure why they like spicier food in hot climates but that truly is the case here. Most of it was pretty good but there were a few dishes that we're 'over the top' for me. Rob has a cast iron stomach so he took it all in, but one night his teeth bleed after inadvertently eating a whole chili. Not to worry - he recovered quickly. Me - I'm not sure I will ever look at spices the same way again after seeing and eating so many of them the past few weeks. It is also interesting to see them listed in the "commodities" section of business newspapers as they really are big business here.
Our travels in the south of India took us to some smaller places. Again, remember its all relative as a small town in India has 40,000 - 50,000 people (all adding up to the billion plus that live here). The smaller locales were quainter and offered a little more time for wandering the streets. We got several stares from the locals in these areas as tourism isn't quite as developed. A quick wave or smile would yield one in return (and take startled looks off the faces of some small children) and occasionally led to a short, but interesting exchange. We visited a tea plantation in Munnar, spice villages and a tiger preserve (no tigers spotted) in Thekkady, a fishing village near Alleppey and are now in the town of Varkala with its gorgeous beach. The Arabian Sea is as warm as bath water yet still wonderfully refreshing on a 30 degree day!
While some of the trips were long, and we we wished we had another day or two in a couple of locales, our plans have unfolded well. We stayed in some gorgeous places including eco resorts with thatched cabins. At one hotel where we were upgraded to rooms with private pools that were nice for late night dips. We only had one set back and that was in the city of Madurai. The palace and temple in Madurai were amazing (as you will see in the photos) but the accommodation was a dive. They were renovating and gave us rooms in the midst of it - dust, scaffolding and all. Then when we went for dinner the driver tried to take us shopping first (against our will) and then couldn't find the restaurant we wanted. By the time Rob and I found it we had lost Liz and Don as they were in another vehicle. Also the restaurant, referred to us by our guide, wasn't anything we dared to eat in so then we had to convince to driver to take us back to our hotel - which he was not happy about. We laugh about it now but at the time it was a little challenging! Before we left Calgary an Indian born colleague of Rob's counseled us to go with the flow and not let uncontrollable situations disturb us so I thought of Poonan's counsel several times that night (and on a few other occasions as it was sound advice!).
To round out our Indian experience all four of us went to an Ayurvedic retreat yesterday for a traditional massage. I have never had so much oil on my body in my entire life! One is covered from head to toe in it - yes - hair and all. At various times we all had thoughts of sliding off the massage table as it was so slippery. After a couple of showers to get rid of the oil, and the rather tea-like smell, we all feel we benefitted greatly from the unique experience!
Tomorrow Rob and I head to Mumbai while Liz and Dob have a flight later in the week via Doha. We meet up with them again in Nairobi for more fun and games. Just when we think we've seen it all I read that Mumbai has over one million people in a slum in an area less than two square kilometers so I'm sure our eyes will be opened once again!
We've posted more photos in a Southern India album so we hope you enjoy a little of the Indian countryside. We'll update the photos from Mumbia (Internet access pending), then again from across the pond in Africa. Take care.