Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Winding Down

Many of the pictures in this post were taken by our friends Felix, Noga, and Michelle. I'll label any of their photos fnm.

The charm of posing for photos with the locals has clearly worn off for Vadim and me. fnm

While I'm still enjoying India immensely, I've become accustomed to its idiosyncrasies and so my initial awe has faded from hourly “WTFs” to a blase “ohhh India.” Consequently, I haven't felt there's as much to share or write about. The trip feels self-indulgent at this point, not to imply this venture was ever anything but. Our weeks look like this: we choose a destination, figure out how to get there, travel for a day or two, arrive, find accommodations, wander, eat, exercise, sleep. And then we do it again a few days later. Thus, the sense of empty hedonism. There's not a lot of purpose driving the trip anymore. As much as I'm enjoying myself and am still wholly grateful for this opportunity, I'm nonetheless a bit whiny and all too ready to return home. That said, I'm happy to be returning to Arizona with some sense of fulfillment, not craving a more complete Indian experience.

Fortunately, the last month has been mostly good. Uneventful. I got some nice color on my pasty legs after weeks spent basking on the Arabian Sea. We've also made friends with whom we spent New Year's Eve and the following weeks. We rode in a houseboat and have eaten too much cheap, fantastic curried fish.

Around Christmas, we finally succumbed to an Indian bug. While traveling from Pondicherry to Kodaikanal, we stopped over for a night in dumpy Dindugal where we were assaulted by mosquitoes in our fanless sauna of a room. We looked like we had small pox, but felt okay for a few days; the sickness was incubating. After a sleepless night some days later, we woke completely depleted of energy, aching and barely able to walk. Convinced we'd contracted malaria, we groggily shuffled to the hospital, where we were prodded and tested and injected. We left with a bag full of prescriptions and no diagnosis. The entire visit cost $6. The drugs were effective and we felt like new after a day of feverish sleep, induced by the tranquilizers injected into our rears.

We'd recovered in time for New Year's Eve, which was all sorts of fun. We picnicked with the friends we'd made at the hostel in Kodaikanal snacking on real cheese (!), and the Australian couple we befriended in Pondicherry in early December came to join us. In our crowd of ten, we had eight different countries of birth represented, along with plenty of Indians meandering in to join the festivities.

After about a week in Kodaikanal, we headed to Munnar, famous for its tea estates, with six of our new friends. The trip involved a militarized border crossing from Tamil Nadu to Kerala, two states fighting over water rights. The first night we stayed in a dormitory that consisted of 4 beds pushed together into one gigantic, elongated bed. It was a bit too cozy, but $1.60 per head was hard to pass up.

From Munnar we moved on to Alleppey, a beach town. Alleppey was the first town where it felt more like a traditional, relaxing vacation, the firework-happy communists, creepy groping, and guava-stealing rats excepted. Otherwise, it was a very laid-back and easy town. All of our friends returned home or moved on, so it's back to just Vadim and me, traveling up the coast.

But OH the hardship. How we suffer! En route to Hampi (rock climbing and other sweet activities, or so we hear), we decided to stop off in Kozhikode, a town recommended by our tour guide in the Himalayas. We trusted him but he totally pwned us. Each of the dozen hotels we visited—at midnight (do you not empathize with my plight?)--told us they were fully booked. We were travel weary and more than willing to extend our budget for the night but no one wanted to go through the hassle of photocopying our passports and filling out the requisite tedious paperwork that's required to check into any hotel in India. Thus, grumpy and disheartened, we headed back to the train station where we went through the rigamorale of booking another ticket. We were issued a ticket to the next town despite the train being fully booked. Our ride involved clinging fiercely to the luggage racks as we were crowded by vomiting children, passed out drunks, and the standard unrelenting crowd that characterizes India. We arrived to our current location, Kannur, at 3 a.m. and again searched for a room. We finally found a place, our most expensive accommodation yet, at $12 a night.

Excuse me. I'm pausing to watch an animal video to assuage my discontent:

Okay, much better. On to the good: Kerala has terrific fruit and juice bars are numerous. I've been drinking lots of papaya juice and eating faloodas, a parfait layered with ice cream, nuts, fruit, and cornflakes. South Indian food is, on the whole, tastier than in the north. It's fresher and the spice medleys are more varied. Tamarind is used liberally, adding a nice tanginess to many of the dishes. We've eaten plenty of tamarind pods, sneakily scavenged by Vadim. Eating and drinking are perhaps the highlights of this trip. I will miss the cheap food more than anything.

The remainder of our trip will be spent in Hampi, Karnataka and Raipur, Chhatisgarh. We'll be climbing and biking in Hampi for four days and then traveling by train for a couple of days to Chhatisgarh, where we'll reconnect with Donald, the friend we met in Delhi. Then it's back to Delhi to buy gifts and fly home! It's gone by quickly while also feeling interminable. I can't wait to see everyone. Tell me if there are any specific gifts you'd like!

Housebout in Alleppey. fnm
Night sky from our balcony in Kodaikanal. fnm

Wandering through a tea estate on an illicit self-guided tour. fnm

Playing with sticks. fnm


View from the ferry from Cochin to Fort Kochi. fnm


Vadim, the Russian. vbfnm

Pete, the Australian. fnm

View from our houseboat. fnm

Michelle and Noga, the Israelis. fnm

Vanessa, the girl Australian. fnm

Felix, the German. fnm

Laughter class New Year's Eve fnm

Hiding from the authorities in a tea bush. fnm

Pete wearing our picnic. After meeting Vadim, he too started sporting a moustache. It's the Indian way. fnm

Felix and Vadim climbing in Munnar. fnm


Mud war! fnm

Vadim lost. fnm



Nice men tailoring. fnm

Tea leaves. Only the top leaves are worthy of brewing. fnm

Interspecies love. fnm



We harass every puppy we meet. fnm

These kids ran all over to catch the pink chick for me.

Vadim's moustache which garners untold attention.

Garbage peacock.
Garbage cow.

Kodaikanal Lake.

First-year college students in Kodaikanal with whom we rode bikes and posed for approximately 1000 pictures.

The Tamil word for flower is poo.

Christmas dinner.

Fairy Falls in Kodaikanal

All vehicles are decorated.

Crazy communists.

Sitting on our eight person bed in Munnar New Year's day.


More tea!

Another waterfall.