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From the Backwaters to the Bay of Bengal

A couple weeks can pass here very easily.  So much has happened since my last post.  I will try to update simply, yet thoroughly.

From Varkala, we headed north to Amritapuri, the home of Amma’s ashram.  What an amazing woman and philanthropist Amma is.  She discovered that she had a spiritual connection with others at a very young age, and started seeing people to give them hugs, thus her nickname, “The Hugging Mama.”  She will literally sit for 20 hours a day for days at a time to see people, giving them hugs, consoling them.  Then, in addition to this, she gives of her time, energy, and money (all raised through donation) to help those in need.  She has rebuilt whole towns destroyed by tsunamis and earthquakes, and she gave to the Clinton/Bush fund after Hurricane Katrina.  She has built homes for orphans, has given school scholarships to thousands of children, built fully modern equipped hospitals, and has opened food kitchens around the world.  Unfortunately, she was not at the ashram when we visited, ironically, she is touring the US (see her if you can), but now that I know more about her, I hope to meet her one day.  Here we met Sammy from North London who traveled on with us for a couple of days.

From there, we continued north to Alleppey (3 buses) where we toured the backwaters by canoe (kind of a mix between a canoe and a gondola, pole pushed, but wide enough that you can lounge out).  This whole town is built on the natural canals which cover the area.  Peoples lives depend on the canals for fishing and Kerala rice (which had just been harvested before we arrived), for transport by canoe or barge, for bathing and washing clothes, and for tourism.  As part of our day with our guide, we went to his home for both a traditional Indian breakfast of a rice-coconut cake and a rice-nut-fruit type of dry cereal, so yummy, and a traditional Indian vegetarian thali lunch, which definitely included the best pickled mango I have had thus far.  His two daughters entertained us with some Indian song and dance.  And we tried a locally brewed coconut beer, good but had a very strong fermentation flavor. The canoe tour took us through the backwaters, lined with coconut palms, mango trees, banana trees, and floating water plants.  It was very beautiful.

One of the great things about this type of travel is that a plan can be changed in just one thought.  We were on our way from Alleppey to Munnar, when we realized that we were on route towards Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, and the homestay of Ms Sudah.  With a quick call from the bus, we found out she had a room available, and within 30 minutes we were at our stop.  This is remotely beautiful spot in the Western Ghats of India, still very tropical, but also thick with hardwood forest and rubber plantations.  We saw dozens of species of water and forest birds, as well as monkeys and giant squirrels, the largest in the world.  We did not see, but did hear wild elephants one morning.  As part of the homestay, we were fed 2 amazing home cooked meals a day, and did learn how to make pickled lime/mango/and garlic.  I look forward to the day I can experiment with making these at home.  We also tried “Toddy,” the locally brewed palm beer, although while I say brewed, it literally comes straight from the tree and is ready to drink.  Much more palatable than the heavily fermented coconut brew.  Click here for Dore’s blog on Thattekad.  Click here for pictures from Thattekad.

From Thattekad to Kallar, about a two hour trip (3 buses), we are now 20km south of Munnar, in the thick of the cardamom hills, rich with cardamom and coffee plantations, and surrounded by tea plantations.  Wow, who knew how tea grew, I sure didn’t.  Tea bushes grow on an incline, short thick green bushes, and they are sculpted in a labyrinthine way.  Incredibly beautiful and much cooler here as we are up to about 8000 ft.  We did a 5 mile walk one day, through the winding roads, to a waterfall.  We saw women harvesting the tea, trimming them just like we would trim bushes back at home.  The beauty here, and in Munnar, where we spent the next night, is breathtaking.  Dore said it right, as it is something out of a fairytale, where you are literally standing in the thick of the clouds.  The city of Munnar is a tourist destination, and it is busy and lively, and is the place to buy homemade chocolate, so we did.  Click here for pictures of Kallar and Munnar.  Click here for Dore’s blog on Kallar and Munnar.

Next, we head east into the state of Tamilnadu, to the city of Madurai for one night.  This city was a bit of a culture shock after the beautiful country we had just spent a week in.  A dirty concrete jungle, yet midway on our trip to the east coat, and famous for the Meenakshi Temple, which is incredibly impressive.  It beautifully depicts Hindu culture and religion in colorful friezes and murals.  There are 7 temples on the property, several which only Hindus can enter.  One day in Madurai was plenty, and we anxiously made our way out of town to Pondicherry, the Indian-French enclave on the Bay of Bengal.  Link here for Dore’s blog on Madurai.

 

Pondi is a smaller city, we have rented bicycles and I don’t feel like I may be risking my life by riding here.  Oddly, several businesses are closed here now.  We were looking for an internet cafe yesterday, and when all the ones we’d read about were closed, we stumbled upon a really nice boutique hotel with a bar, and since nothing else had worked out for us yet that day, we ended up enjoying several fresh mint daiquiris, allowing for the heat of the day to cool down.  Pondi is just south of the international city of Auroville, so there seems to be a strong Western influence here, especially in the French/Italian/and Asian cuisine around town.  There is a “French Quarter” here, not like NOLA, but you can certainly feel the European influence with all the balconies and colorfully painted homes.

 

The current plan is to spend a few days here before we head slightly north and then west again.  I hope to be online with you all again soon.  With warm regards.

 

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posted on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012. follow responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “From the Backwaters to the Bay of Bengal”

  1. Nancy says:

    love to you dear friend. Loving your travel log.
    I just saw a flyer for Amma and wondered if you’d miss her. Sounds like her place is rich with love and generosity!

  2. Adam says:

    Gail, even though your words are beautiful I am sure that the sights and sounds themselves are even more impressive – quite frankly it all sounds amazing! Please update us more often if you can. Even better, if you can upload photos to this blog, we’d love to see one of you in one of these unbelievably beautiful places! Travel safe. Much love from both of us. Adam & Hector.

  3. Jill says:

    Hey sister…I am living vicariously through you I right now…fabulous!! Keep it ocming….ENJOY!!!
    I would love to see Amma….
    love to you…

  4. yoginijen says:

    Love so much about your post, Gaily! Amma, homemade Indian meals in welcoming peoples’ homes, villagers living in harmony with the land & water, beautiful temples, cardamom hills, tea labyrinths…and even stepping out of backpacking mode into the boutique hotel for a cool, mint daquiri (a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!) Think I’ll whirl up some mint daqs, myself, and Cheers To You! ♥ XOXO

  5. Loretta says:

    Sounds so exciting, my wandering Sister! Thanks so much for sharing your adventure with us! I can’t wait for the next installment…

  6. Yogini Jen says:

    (Hmm, seems my post has disappeared? Reposting now!)

    LOVE it all! Such rich experiences…Amma The Hugging Mama, villagers living in harmony with land/sea, delicious homemade meals, tasty pickles & coconut beer with kind locals, picturesque coffee/tea plantations & cardamom hills, gorgeous temples…and even a boutique mint daquiri ~ a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! Thanks for sharing with us ;*) XOXO ! ♥

  7. MB says:

    pickled mango sounds amazing as does everything you are doing! Sounds like such a great balance -touring and relaxing….Hikes and mint dacquaris. Amma was in NYC on June 4th, wish I read your blog prior so I knew to go get a hug 🙂

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