Periyar Tigar Preserve didn't reveal any of its 46 tigers, but it was beautiful and green. It was interesting how excited the Indian tourists got about birds, monkeys, deer, experiencing wildlife is maybe not so common here. After visiting Periyar, lots of traveling, beginning with a bus to Kottayam (where the ticketman tried with one exception to keep staring men at bay), then a train to the beach town of Varkala. Varkala is a touristy hippie haven, set on the edge of dramatic high red cliffs. It's also a temple town that draws lots of Hindu pilgrims for funeral pujas. It was a great place to relax and be near the ocean again. I ordered some custom-tailored clothes to pick up the next day, and indulged in a massage and pedicure. The beauty salon lady Maria was sweet and awesome, and attacked me with a bindi. The bindi seemed to please Indians, so it worked out. I went to the town to visit the old Hindu temple there, and a family (young wife, husband, son, wife's mom and grandma) sort of adopted me and were showing me around the temple. They eventually offered to invite me over to their house for a traditional Keralan dinner, and I was about to accept, when the husband (the only one speaking English) suddenly asked me an inappropriate, very person question. So I made my apologies and took off...men in India are proving rather tiresome.
I flew out of Kerala at the Trivandrum airport on Monday afternoon, but had to change my flight from Udaipur to Jaipur. So I stayed in Jaipur several nights. It's known at the Pink City as the old city is painted a nice salmon color...beautiful buildings and atmospheric, but also another big, noisy city. I took a city tour with a bunch of non-Rajasthani tourists, and we visited all the tourists sites including beautiful Mughal forts just outside Jaipur. Fun to see Rajasthani and Gujarati women and their even more ornate, sparkly and colorful clothing. Big flashy jewelry too. The next day I had a long daytrip to Agra for the obligatory visit to see the Taj Mahal. I hadn't been sure if it would worth the effort, but it was truly exquisite and supremely elegant, and I spent most of that afternoon just enjoying the gardens and hanging out nearby. My rickshaw driver Waseem ("full power, 24 hours") was also entertaining company, insisting I take a stab at driving the rickshaw (yikes!) which entertained everyone we passed. The train ride back was long in a traincar full of staring men (do you sense a pattern yet?) so I withdrew and hid in an upper sleeper berth for the duration. Yikes.
Yesterday I took a bus to Pushkar, and en route met a lovely Brit named Bea, an Irishman named Malcolm and a Scot named Craig. All lovely people and very fun to hang out with them. Bea and I splurged on a hotel with a swimming pool here in Pushkar (worth every penny). Pushkar is a temple town, full of Hindu pilgrims. "Priests" at the ghats or lake steps lead you through cheezy prayers for your family at the lake, agressively demanding a "donation" when you're done. So this town is full of saints and hustlers and tourists. But it's beautiful and quite entertaining...lots of holy cows wandering about and pooping. Lots of color, flowers, song and chanting, magical rooftops with views.
Tomorrow off to Udaipur! Last stop before home...