Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The Magic of Munnar
Well, we are halfway through our South India trip and have seen some incredible sights!! From where we left off, we next headed to Cochin, actually the area called Fort Cochin (the older area). It’s a pretty amazing city. Talk about the religious diversity..we saw the oldest church in India, plenty of mosques and a very strong Jewish community with a 16th century synagogue. We basically visited the sites and then just relaxed in the city. The strangest thing is that we don’t think Indian nationalists (Indian locals) who are vacationing, ever stay in Fort Cochin..they just stay in the actual busy, overcrowded city. When we told our driver Fort Cochin..he had never been there and we all started getting worried as we kept going into deeper and darker streets..and then out of nowhere…it was touristville..or, should I say foreignville…it was nothing but backpackers and white people, cyber cafes and budget hotels..it was great!!
Anyway, after seeing the sights, we all quickly ran for our much awaited “ayurvedic massage". We had read they use special oils which cleanse the body and that it was a “must do”….hmm..let’s just say, it was interesting. We all walked in at our appointment time, into these 4 separate small rooms, with strange music playing and this small bamboo mats on the floor with these 2 small woman (my dad and Tarak, had 2 medium sized men, I think)..and then, in my room, I was told to take off my clothes…so, I, a little shyly took off my top and my jeans..and then she said, “Take it ALL off”…I just stood there in shock and vetoed…I asked for a little towel.she said no..then I begged for a little loincloth thingy(I wasn’t even sure where they would have one)..and she said no..I looked at her little assistant..and she just looked at me (no sympathy) waiting for me to strip….needless to say, it was hard to appreciate an hour long massage when you are butt-naked with their hands getting awfully close to certain risky areas and all you can think of is first, “I wonder what Tarak said and did” and then “how the hell is my mom handling this?”…Afterwards, we all recovered and dissected with each other in detail of the trauma we experienced and then went to an amazing Kathakali dance.
For those of you not familiar with Kathakali, it is an art form, that originated as early as the 2nd century, and literally means “story play”. It is used to portray the Hindu epics, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. The actors prepare with extremely elaborate costumes, makeup (takes 2 hours to put on) and headpieces. Interestingly, all of the makeup comes from natural rocks, and they put seeds in their eyes to make them turn red (look at the picture above). Each of the colors, are also representative of good, evil and so on. There were drummers and singers accompanying the dancers who tell the story only by facial expressions and body movements (mudras).
Next, we set out for the gorgeous city of Munnar…I think thus far, this is has been our favorite place. Munnar is the commercial center of some of the world’s highest tea-growing estates. It sits amidst amazing mountain scenary, beautiful tea estates and crisp mountain air. We just sat mesmorized by the view and we actually saw a ton of women, who came and collected the tea leaves, which are then dried and crushed to form the actual ground tea. We went on walks around our cottage, and saw cardamom, sandalwood and coffee plants…our cottage was nestled in between a large tea estate, so everyday we could see the women coming and leaving for work. It was so serene and awe-inspiring. We extended our stay there a day and wished we could have stayed there even more.
Of course, I had to get attacked by another 2 LEECHES!! My god, this one was huge and I threw a big fit in the middle of the tea estates..Tarak, instead of coming to my rescue, busted out the camera..so, you may enjoy the leech under the link, our trip photos. Let me just add, the camera makes that gross thing look smaller than it was..it was huge on my leg. Anyway, we of course, bought some tea, cardamom and headed further south to the backwaters in Alappuzha for our houseboat adventure. We had heard sooo much about renting a houseboat for a day, and going through the backwaters of Kerala and seeing the bustling village in the water. So, we set off in our boat..and it definitely was great…the boats made from bamboo, traveling along narrow canals where we saw people transporting everything from sheep to hay to schoolkids by small boats from one end to the other. It was crazy to see tiny settlements where people lived on narrow slits of reclaimed land only a few metres wide. We also experienced Keralan food, but I think something in the water, did NOT settle well in our stomachs. The scenary was amazing, but I think the hype was too much.
Now, we head off to Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of India.....