Escaped from the hellhole of Hyderabad where Noah's Ark type rain and floods threatened to sweep us all away. My friend and host Tim had a palatial flat and was an excellent cultural interpreter, explaining just how subtle, multi-layered and complicated India is.
My first day in Hyderabad I visited its main attraction the Char Minar, a muslim monument built in the 1500s by the local royalty or nizzam. It was beautiful but what with beggars, imminent death by auto-rickshaw, and constant harrassment by macho men, it was challenging to appreciate it. I went upstairs after snapping a photo of a man walking around selling disco balls, and somehow I was more an attraction than the building. A group of Indian men asked me to take their picture, or so I thought, but I actually they wanted to take pictures of *me* one on one with each of them. Nyet. I left and went to the Lad Bazaar area where they plied me with chai while I shopped for a sari or a salwar kameez. That night Tim and I went out to dinner with his coworkers at Scojo and had yummy Punjabi food. Then the rain continued for another 36 hours, which created epic traffic jams, killed several people and was generally awful. We had dinner at the home of Tim's boss, which was the only pleasurable outing. The rest of the weekend was spent trying to relax and stay dry. Tim had a bit of a scare because he's renting his flat from a grad-school friend's family who has a place in Hyderabad but lives in LA. At 6am on Saturday morning some men appeared at the door unannounced saying they were "uncles" who expected to be able to crash at the flat. So Tim busted his ass cleaning up for them, but they never reappeared. Evidently in India you don't blink when a distant relative (or even someone from your hometown) shows up without warning and wants to stay with you.
On Monday I flew to Kochi from Hyderabad's hip new airport which had the SoCal coffee chain Coffee Bean in it! Ray B. would have been psyched. Kochi's old city called Fort Cochin is as relaxed and beautiful as everyone said it would be, layers of Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial history and architecture mixed in with Keralan/Hindus, an almost-disappeared Jewish quarter and some Muslims thrown in for good measure. Visited a palace and some temples today, followed by a Keralan cooking class, where I got to enjoy the exotic spices and smells. Lots of Europeans here on their August vacations, looking just as hot and sweaty as me, which is sort of a relief. The multiple catholic elementary schools also make me feel at home.
Tomorrow a "backwater" boat trip, and Thursday a possible crazy motorcycle "indian safari" to the spice plantation area of Munnar.