Of the gladdest moments, methinks in human life, is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands…
-- Richard F. Burton

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23 December 2010

God's own paradise

December 19, 2010
I'll miss Aditi so much!

Kerala truly is “God’s own country”. In my opinion, the state is the most beautiful, receptive, and breathtaking I have visited thusfar(and for the record, I spent time in Maharashtra, Goa, Delhi, Chandigarh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, AND Kerala).

celebrating all birthdays that DIDN'T happen this semester

After an emotional farewell and final Program dinner, I bid my professors farewell, said goodbyes to the hostel girls, Swapna, Aditi, Nikhil, and my friends. Many of my friends preformed their cultural expression activities learned over the semester. My friend Melissa proved her blisters were well earned with a stellar tabla performance, while others performed bharatanatyam dance, sitar, bollywood dance, singing, and violin. Since my cultural expression activities consisted of yoga and prāṇāyāma (really weird stomach breathing), I stayed in the audience.  However, surprisingly, the program gave me a cool historic stamp and coin collection for coming in 7th in the Pune half-marathon. I looked like such a klutz rather than a runner, tripping over my beloved yellow sari onto the stage.

I packed like a banshee into the night, waking at 4:30 to split a car to Mumbai with Sarah and two girls with early flights to Jaipur. Sarah and I relished lounging at the Mahindra guesthouse, sharing a wonderful but brief chai with our friend’s grandmother before experiencing an incredible bharatanatyam dance show and dinner with Bharat and his wife. We really felt so lucky to attend this recital of 7-year students of the dance. We attended as friends of the family, an experience no usual tourist would earn.

The next morning, Sarah and I met Carolyn, our friend from Northwestern at the Mumbai airport to board our flight to Cochin, Kerala, nearly 3 hours south (flying!) from Mumbai. The chai, coconuts, and charming markets of Cochin captivated us. With gorgeous sundress weather and palm trees, we felt in paradise. In Cochin, we visited the Jew town and a synagogue dating back to 1568 AD(oldwest in Asia). We also saw many churches of the 1500s Portuguese and Dutch influence, the oldest traces of Christianity in India, including Vasco da Gama’s grave at St. Francis church.
playing with the Chinese fishing nets at Cochin

We even got to meet Melissa’s wonderful Bostonian parents and sister, vacationing in Kerala. One of my favorite memories was at Santa Cruz Cathedral, one of India’s eight basilicas where an impromptu Christmas concert and bazaar complete with red sweaters reminded me of the approaching holiday. Another nice off-the-beaten path activity involved chomping on jackfruit chips (like banana chips) while stumbling upon a high school track meet, stirring memories close to my heart.

view from our canoe
After two days, we left for Alleppey, a true picture of paradise. The second I have enough money; I am flying back to Kerala’s backwaters! Never before have I been so breathless at my surroundings, from the charming houseboats, sleepy villages, and bountiful flora. Alleppey was incredibly personal, welcoming, and relaxing. The highlight, although we did SO much in 24 hours, was the 3-hour canoe ride with Pushparajan, a Keralite full of sprit, pride, and kindness. I was completely mesmerized by the scenery…an absolute paradise, framed by coconut trees, kingfisher birds, and the quiet lapping of the water. Our ride included stops for walks through the villages surrounded by water on one-side and rice paddies on the other.
We also stopped for the sweetest coconut of my life.

And the most succulent chai ever. It was smoky from masala flavoring and had creamy cow’s milk from a VISIBLE cow just milked moments previously.

We ended up bonding with Pushparajan so much he invited us into his little thatched hut in the village for black chai with his wife. I noticed they had no photographs, even though he had proudly described his six-month-old granddaughter. I offered to take a photo of him and his wife and am going to mail them a copy to decorate their humble homestead.

the famous Kerala chips(banana chips)

Our next stop was further inland, to Thekkady, a city next to Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve. Here we purchased many spices, visiting a spice plantation, ate some amazing street food (dosas and paranthas), had oily ayurvedic massages, rode elephants, walked to Tamil Nadu(only a few meters away!) and embarked on a leech-filled nature hike through the national forest. Though the cold-water bucket showers chilled me, my heart was warmed by the kindness of the Keralites, the raw beauty of the forests, and the charming handicrafts and jewelry available.
leech guard foot covers! with our great driver!

The last leg of the journey took us through the winding roads trhough the Western Ghats to Munnar, a hill station famous for tea and coffee plantations. The fresh air, spiced chai, and exotic passion fruits guaranteed blissful relaxation.

glorious tea stretching for eternity

 I don’t think I’ve ever had a more adventure-filled week in my life.

my traveling-partner in crime, Sarah...with mountain-side chai

We rose early on Sunday the 19th, prepared for a day of travel. Sarah and I made the 5 hour commute from Munnar to Cochin, flew the 2 hours to Mumbai, relaxed for 2 hours, and went to the international airport at 5:30. An 8:40 flight to JFK connecting in Delhi awaits me! 22 hours of airtime later….and I was back in snowy CT.

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