Friday, September 30, 2016

Coconut Lagoon

On Tuesday (the 6th), Michael finished up the last of his teaching duties in India so we took a few days off to do some serious R&R.  Based on various travel shows we had seen, we really wanted to visit the Kerala Backwaters, a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast.   Trying to wade thru all of the possible trips was a monumental task, so we contacted our friend, Shirley in Bangalore and asked if she had any suggestions of someone to help us.  She pointed us to Jai at Sanchari Holidays and he did a magnificent job organizing our 4 days of fun.

We were picked up by our driver early on Wednesday morning, having no real idea of where we were going.  The only clue was that it would take 4 to 5 hours to get there so we figured that we must be heading North (since 5 hours South would put you in the ocean!!)

The trip was difficult with several detours and lots of traffic jams.  There were very few stoplights and the traffic was being directed by policemen.  Most of them were pretty ineffectual, waving their hands around with no one really obeying them. 

Seeing snippet views of the ocean and a myriad of fish sellers reminded us that we were following along the western coast of India.

Our first stop was at the Coconut Lagoon Resort, which can only be reached over the water.   Our ferry arrived about 15 minutes after we got to the jetty and we started our journey…..

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…..passing this group of women doing laundry and washing dishes in the river…..IMG_8869

We looked excitedly at a a series of small cottages that we passed, saying that those looked like fun.  Suddenly, we took a sharp turn into a narrow canal and realized that we were staying at the resort with the cottages….how perfect is that!!!

As we  pulled up at the outdoor lobby, we were serenaded by a man playing a traditional flute……IMG_8877

As we registered, we were given flowers and then the (extremely fresh) coconut milk arrived……IMG_8879

We were escorted to our gorgeous cottage……IMG_8889

….with a magnificent room…….

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As we were oohing and ahhing over the room, she proudly opened the door to the bathroom (which I thought looked like an outside door) and exclaimed that “it’s an open air bathroom”……

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I am sure that we had bemused looks on our faces but we found that it was a very comfortable bathroom, even when sharing it with Gecko’s……IMG_9103

I had a nap while Michael spent some time sitting on the front porch.  The manager happened by and started talking to us about the resort.  He was basically apologetic that it was more rustic in nature but we assured him that we loved it that way.  We had noticed that various trees on the property had signs saying who had planted them.  Michael asked about it and the manager asked if we would like to plant one .  When we excitedly said yes, he immediately sent over the grounds manager and a time was set for the next morning!

As we were sitting there, I noticed that the sky was starting to get a wonderful red tinge to it, so I grabbed the camera and headed to the edge of Lake Vembanadu, the largest lake in the Kerala Backwater.  The views as the sun went down were magnificent…..IMG_8926

….and became increasing brilliant as time went on…..

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This was my favorite photo of the evening……

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It was well worth the walk!!

We enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner, a great sleep and awoke the next morning ready for our daily adventure.

We were met at 9:30 by the groundskeeper, Jijo, and hurried off to plant our banana tree.  He had already dug the hole and had the tree ready to plant.   He told Michael that he must first take off his shoes and face to the East as he put the tree in the ground……IMG_8966

Michael only scooped in a few handfuls of dirt before Jijo moved him away and finished the job for him.  I guess that you cant let the paying guest get sweaty and dirty!!!

I added the water (under careful supervision)….. IMG_8977

….and the deed was done.  Jijo told us that a plaque will be printed and put with “our” tree!!!   We found where Jude Law had planted one (Michael swooned over this one) and it was rumored that Paul McCartney had planted one as well, but we never saw it.   So, I guess we are in good company!!

The next task of the morning was to visit the Butterfly garden.  This was unique because it wasn’t an enclosed area but, instead, was a natural area that hosted plants that the butterflies loved and returned to religiously.  We had fun trying to catch the butterflies with the camera lens….. IMG_8992

They were fairly elusive, although we did get a good photo of this beauty….

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While we were sitting in the gazebo we also caught sight of another of the local inhabitants…..

IMG_9001If you look carefully, you can just see the head of a small monitor lizard.  Unfortunately, he took off and we never got a good look at him.

We continued to wander around the property, taking photos of the beautiful scenery.  I really like this picture with the reflections in the water…..

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There was always a steady stream of fishing boats along the shore…..

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At lunchtime, Jai had organized for us to to enjoy a traditional meal called the Sadhya.  It is served during the Onam festival which was actually going on while we were in Kerala.  It is a 10 day festival that commemorates the home-coming of King Mahabali….more about that later!!

We were escorted to a private table by the lake, a banana leaf was placed on the table and the food started to arrive.   We were assisted by the Executive Chef (Naveen) and he talked us thru each of the foods that we were presented, telling us the history of the food and why it was part of the meal.

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Before long our banana leaf was full of delicacies…..

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….and it was time to start enjoying the flavors.  Naveen told us to eat from left to right initially and then to eat anything that we wanted.   He also told us that we must use “God’s Utensils”….ie  our hands….. to eat with.  The dishes included dried Plantains, Jaggery, pickles, bitter gourd, and a whole host of curries, each with its own delicate taste.  The item on the upper far right is white Pumpkin and we were told to use that one as a palate cleansing food.  Our drink was Sambar which is a Yoghurt with spices and herbs.

We ate until we couldn’t have another bite.  It was such a fun experience to enjoy the food and a beautiful view of the lake!!

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By the way, all of the tables in the resort had the same centerpiece….a little pot of rice plants!!  It was simple and very effective.  I may have to try it at home sometime!!

I have found one design that HAS to become a quilt some day…… 

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I will add it to my idea list!!

Before dinner, there was a program of traditional dance called “Kathakali”……

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It is in the “story play” genre meaning that the sole dancer (usually male)  tells the story thru dance, song and speaking.  Here is a bit of it…..

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We didn’t stay for the entire performance but moved over into the restaurant for desert and coffee.  We were still full from lunch so there was no need for additional food!!

The entertainment in the dining room was a little more to our taste……

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As we walked back to our cottage, we marveled at the beauty of the resort…..

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On Friday morning it was time for us to move to our next Kerala adventure and we were serenaded with drums and given a proper send off……IMG_9107

It was the end of a perfect visit and we left with the thought that we WILL return….for longer next time!!

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Now, before we go further, let me talk about the Onam Celebration.  As I said, it celebrates the  the homecoming of King Mahabali.  The entire festival lasts for 10 days with each having it’s own importance.  One of the interests of each day is the building of a Pookkalam which is a floral carpet.  Tradition dictates a few basics of how the Pookkalam should look, but individual touches are added. 

We saw our first Pookkalam at the hotel in Trivandrum on Sunday……

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It was very simple and fun. 

On Monday, it became larger and more intricate…..IMG_8785

Tuesday brought this one…..

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And, Wednesday dawned with this lovely 3 dimensional beauty……

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Unfortunately someone had already scuffed it up!!

This was the day that we arrived at Coconut Lagoon and this was their offering for the day…..

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I failed to get a photo of the one for Thursday, but Friday was made of vegetables and was amazing…..

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Returning to the hotel on Saturday showed us this one…..IMG_9514

When we left on Sunday, this wonderful peacock was on the floor…..

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This photo isn’t great because it was VERY early in the morning and I hadn’t realized that my camera lens had fogged up until it was too late!!!

They were such fun and I eagerly looked forward to seeing the new design each morning.  I would really have loved to see them making it but it was always done late at night.

IF we come back next year (which is possible), we will look forward to celebrating Onam in the fullest way possible!!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

It’s like doodling….but on skin

For many years I have looked at Henna tattoos and thought that the designs and color was beautiful, and on this trip I had decided that I wanted to get one to see exactly what it was like. 

I talked to the hotel reception desk and they organized for me to visit a local beauty parlor to have the tattoo (also called Mehndi) applied.  I learned that the dye is prepared from leaves of the Henna plant which is a tall shrub or small tree.  Since it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarse crushed leaves, the leaves are normally powdered and then a paste is made adding a liquid such as water, lemon juice or strong tea.

So, with very little information, I sat in the chair and calmly presented my arm to Midhila (By profession a Nutritionist for a local Diabetes Clinic) for decoration….. IMG_8679

…..and off she went.  The Henna paste was in a small tube….

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….and I was amazed at the intricate details that she could draw.  The pattern quickly grew…..

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…and I was greatly reminded of some of the Zen Doodle patterns that I have played with over the years.

She would first outline the next shape and then use various fill patterns or shadings to add interest.   After a short while, it looked like this…..

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….and I was pleased that there was a Peacock included in the design!!

She kept on painting down my finger, ending with a spiral of dots on the finger nail itself….who knew!!

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We sat and talked for about 10 minutes while the initial design dried…..IMG_8719

She then turned my arm over and was off again……

 

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….continuing until she reached the tip of my index finger…..

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It was a fascinating process…..

 This VIDEO is at the start

and

This VIDEO is on the other side of my arm and she is almost finished.

 

The women at the “Glamito Hair & Beauty Hub” were so kind, even going out and bringing Pineapple juice for us to drink.

A final photo…..

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….and now we had to figure out how to keep my hand wide open and my arm in the air for the next 2 hours!!!  We had planned to take a Tuk-tuk back to the hotel but were afraid that it would be too bumpy so we called the hotel and asked them to send a car.

Midhila had told me that it would take about an hour for the henna to dry and then to make a lemon juice and sugar mixture and daub it onto the dried henna.  Let that sit for at least another hour and then scrape the “mud” off.

The hotel was magnificent in helping me obtain everything I needed.   As I walked back in I asked for some limes and an oil of some sort and immediately a bowl of cut limes arrived and two small tubes of Coconut oil.

We followed the procedure……IMG_8767and were soon scraping the henna off, using a spoon and fingernails…..IMG_8773

When I first saw the results, I was really disappointed as it was just a dark orange color (and not a particularly pretty color )…..

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But, in the next 24 hours, it turned to a much more pleasing deeper brown color…..

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The design on top of my hand and arm never got as dark as I would have liked, but I think was a mixture of the color of my skin and that I  probably didn’t leave it on long enough…..

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But overall, I was pleased with the result and very glad to have gone thru the process.   If I do it another time, I think that I will have it placed on my lower leg and ankle so that I can wrap it in saran wrap and let it sit for 4+ hours.

The design normally lasts for 2 – 3 weeks, depending on how long you leave the paste on.    Since I didn’t leave it long enough, it faded pretty fast but I enjoyed it while it was there.

I am hoping to try to recreate it as a quilting design sometime!!!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Padmanabhapuram Palace (say that 3 times fast)

On Saturday morning we were picked up by our trusty driver.  We finally asked his name and he shyly told us that it was Vinod.  Through the day, we found out that he is married and has a 15 year old daughter.  He has been more than a driver, playing the part of caretaker as well.  When we shopped for groceries, he showed up at the check out line and carried our bags for us, when we arrived at the Palace he parked the car and went with us to purchase the tickets 

But, the funniest story was a few days later when Michael needed to go to an ATM on the way back from work.  Vinod stopped in front of an ATM vestibule where there was a woman inside and 2 younger men waiting for their turn.  Michael stood back a bit to allow the young men to go first, but Vinod rolled down his window and said something sternly to them.  When the woman exited, the men motioned for him to go first…obviously Vinod had told them that Michael had the priority!!!   It was a sweet gesture, but made Michael VERY uncomfortable!!!IMG_8659

I have mused over drivers in India.  They have to be so vigilant as they drive because you never know when someone is going to pull out in front of you, whether a car, truck, pedestrian, motorcyclist, bicyclist, Tuk-Tuk, or cow.    Added to that, you have to keep a wary eye out for potholes and road construction sites and there are LOTS of those!  All of these pavement issues makes for some uncomfortable riding as you are always having to shift around in the seat to keep balanced.

I have also found that sometimes driving in India is a lot like playing a game of chicken.  Almost all of the roads are a single lane in each direction and If you pull out to pass someone there is a good chance that there will be a car coming toward you.  The trick is to know when to return to your lane and when to pursue the overtaking!  There seems to be lots of headlight flashing going on during these interactions but I am not sure that it really helps!

Finally, I have decided that Indian vehicles must come equipped with REALLY good brakes!!

It was an interesting drive, made more enjoyable by the stares and double-takes that people did as they saw two white people in the back of the car.  We passed fishmongers in the beach areas and huge speakers with music pouring forth.  Most of those were associated with Hindu temples celebrating Ganesh.

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We found out that we were traveling even further south in India, which is pretty amazing considering that we are almost already at the very tip.   We came to a checkpoint, complete with a gate to go thru and asked Vinod why it was there.  He told us that we had now left the state of Kerala and entered the state of Tamil Nadu.   It is interesting to think that you have to go thru a checkpoint to change states….yet another freedom that we take for granted!!

We passed this very colorful open-air market……

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Now, back to the palace……As I said earlier, Vinod helped us to buy our tickets for the palace, but was apologetic that an Indian ticket was only 35 Rupees, where a foreigner ticket was 300 Rupees!!! Maybe we should have started shaking our head and pretended to be Indian!!!

After we got our tickets, we started to enjoy this gorgeous complex.   It was built in the 1600’s and refurbished in the 1750’s and is only 20 miles from the far tip of India.  It is considered to be one of the best examples of traditional Kerala style architecture.    It is located in the state of Tamil Nadu, but is considered to be part of Kerala and the Government of Kerala owns it.

We entered the first hall and were immediately directed up a STEEP set of stairs to the second floor……

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Many of the women were having serious problems navigating them with their Saris.

The “Manthrasala” is the room where decisions concerning the administration of the kingdom were made.  This first photo is a bit dark, but probably truer to the look and feel of the room….

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Closer inspection (with a flash) revealed the beauty in the details of the wood and carvings…..

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We entered the next building thru a tiny door……

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…arriving at the “Oottupura” which was a dining hall where 2,000 per day were served free meals.  Each floor of this building was designed to hold 1,000 people at a time…..

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Although the sheer size of the room was outstanding, I was more smitten with beams in the roof (do you see a quilt design???)…..

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We now came to the residence of the palace grounds.  The first thing that I noticed were these cool shutters…..

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…soon to be outdone with the intricate carvings inside the palace.  They were a little hard to see in the low light, but the camera illuminated them perfectly….

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These support pillars were made from Jack Fruit trees. 

One of the things that we enjoyed was interacting with the other people touring the grounds.   This man posed and waited for me to get the camera set so that we could have his photo…..

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His entire body language says “yes, I am the man!!!”.

This was the King’s bed and is said to be carved from medicinal woods to help keep him healthy…..IMG_8581

Most of the windows had wooden screens of some sort and I found them irresistible…..IMG_8586

I also appreciated the profusion of red tiled roofs…..IMG_8588

This is a very simple thing, but it was fun to see this bit of decoration in one of the rooms…..

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There was a support beam in one of the walls, and they had added a three dimensional “end cap” to give it more class.

We passed this room….IMG_8593

….and immediately knew what it was, but a woman looked at Michael and said “Restroom….Indian style”.

Many of the beams in the buildings were wonderfully carved, although it was once again difficult to see them…..IMG_8604

 

This area is called the Ambari Mukhappu and was built for the kings to view chariot races and to appear before the public on special occasions……

IMG_8609The word “Ambari” refers to the seat put  on an elephant’s back during safaris.  This platform is based on the shape and structure of the ambari.

Before leaving this high spot, it was fun to look down on the well manicured palace grounds…..

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Our next building included the kitchen that had huge built-in mortar and pestles.  One family was trying to tell us what they were and she decided to demonstrate…..IMG_8625

The final building was the Navarathri Mandapam, a building built from a solid rock.  It was quite a change from looking at the wood……

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We enjoyed walking around the gardens before we returned to the courtyard, where we marveled at this set of leaning stone steps…..IMG_8643

The last visit of the day was to a small museum that held various artifacts originally in the palace.   After that we retrieved our shoes…..IMG_8655

…..yes we did the entire tour with bare feet!!!

We decided to stroll down the main street of shops before we called Vinod to pick us up, but he was apparently watching for us from his car because he magically appeared when we were about 1/4 of the way down the street.  We both felt like school kids who had been caught off-campus!!!

Vinod stopped to let Michael take a photo of this”feat of engineering”…..

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We just wonder how he can see to drive…..

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…and as I look at this picture now, I wonder what happens when he meets a big, wide truck on these narrow roads!!!

The trip back to Trivandrum was uneventful, although we did see a man carrying a LARGE goat on his motorcycle.  It looked like a college prank!!

We got stuck in some traffic so I had time to shoot some photos out the window.  These guys waved and smiled happily……

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….and, I loved the display in this fruit and vegetable market…..

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Those are apples that have been woven together to form the long “cords”.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and we were happy to get to visit one of the architectural wonders of Kerala!!

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