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Trip Report July 2008 in India: a slightly odd trip report

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Just a little background: you may treat this like a preface and ignore, if you like: My visit to India was from 04th July to 24th July, 2008. I had made all of my own arrangements via Internet, and traveled solo. I flew into Delhi (via Paris) from Philadelphia, went to Trivandrum (and on to Nagercoil), then Delhi, Varanasi, and Agra, with a finale of five days in the Himalayas in Leh, Ladakh, Kashmir Jammu State. I mostly used car/driver to get around the various areas, with one train trip and of course numerous flights between. Total cost for the three week trip, including international airfare, was about $4,500. Although it was indeed monsoon season, the weather was clear and sunny for almost the entire time, with highs in the 90''s Fahrenheit except for Leh, which stayed in the 70''s/80''s. There was usually a good breeze going, although Delhi was pretty oppressive due to the humidity'Xbut then, I''m used to that in July at home. The notes below are mostly based on my emails home, with a bit of explanation or references that I thought might be useful or of interest to fellow travelers. Pictures for the south can be found at
http://travel.webshots.com/album/564942586iRIZak?vhost=travel

Southern India: Trivandrum, Nagercoil, Tuticorin, Kanyakumari
In the immortal words of Larry the Cucumber, "Oh, everybody's got a water buffalo, yours is fast but mine is slow..." Okay, so maybe everyone doesn't have one, but they were swimming (or, actually, sort've moving about very slowly) in the canal where the women were washing clothes by slapping the bright colors onto rocks and kids were swimming. Goats were also casually disregarding the manic traffic, and bullock carts meandered through. This is just really, really a cool place for juxtaposition people, and gorgeous to boot. I mean, it's the Western Ghats. The WESTERN GHATS! There's nothing like seeing geography come to life (if you're a geography geek, of course) and the rice paddies and coconut groves and banana plantations backed up by the mountains are just stunning. Not to mention the occasional Hindu shrine with a god who looked a lot like Cookie Monster.

Sunday, 05 July This morning (after "scrambled toast" at Hotel Canaan www.hotelcanaan.com , which features a very large and somewhat paint-by-numberish Jesus mural in the lobby) I was picked up in the chubby white Ambassador (one of those classic cars that just seems to go forever) to go to church. I had gotten into Trivandrum airport last night--along with the Defense Minister, but I don't think he was following me--and had a fairly twisty-turny ride into Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu state, where I'm staying. (1 1/2 hours) So anyway, to church this morning I saw some of the villages that I missed in the dark last night, and got to the service where I got to sit up front. Nothing like being conspicuous, but hey, guess what? I don't blend in here too well at all. Hee hee. The little girls in front of me on the floor were enchanting, some of them catching my eye and grinning, but all very well behaved. The message was on God's Perfect Peace, with an interpreter (the local English teacher) doing the hand gestures right along with the interpretation. It was very moving to be taking communion with the little congregation, and I sang along in English with the hymns whenever I could. The weather was perfect, with a lovely breeze, and just a bit of rain after Sunday School was done. There were many more women and children there than men, as the men tend to do a round-trip migration to the Middle East to work in the oil fields. There is certainly still a poverty gap here of immense proportions, but in my short time I'd say that India is indeed moving up. Tamil Nadu state has a lot of tech businesses, with more coming; by coincidence, I am currently having slides processed onto CD''s in Bangalore. I didn''t get to visit the big cities of Chennai and Bangalore, as my time was so limited that I stayed in the Nagercoil and south area.
Nagercoil itself seems well supplied with Internet cafes'Kprovided the electricity doesn't go out, which it does. A lot. Another one of those juxtapositions!


Dancing on the edge of the subcontinent
I stood at the edge of India. Here, at Cape Comorin (Kanyakumari) is the furthest south you can go in India, the place where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and Arabian Sea meet. It's a typical seaside town (what is with the compulsion to fill the salty air and sandy beach with cheap souvenir stands? It seems to be a human compulsion that's universal) except for, oh, the huge Hindu temple and the Gandhi memorial. (This is where his cremated ashes were put in the sea.) It was totally exciting to dip my toes into the Indian Ocean, and to ride the creaky ferry out to the very "toe" where the temple stands. I realize this is incredibly geo-nerdy, but then, I am. The weather has been beautiful, warm, but with bright blue skies and a gorgeous breeze always. On the way, we passed through the area that had been devastated by the tsunami of 2004; there is still rebuilding going on, but one can see the effects of that unimaginable disaster.

The next day, we (my friends from church are escorting me around the south) took a long trip to Tuticorin on the coast; we ascended stairs to view the mountainous countryside and also the little kids straggling into school. Time in Southern India, at least, seems to be at a different scale than US; kids go to school from 10 to 4 (or 5, if they're in Grades 10-12) and at night, the shops don't close until 10. You see people hanging about or walking or cycling through the dark streets, just socializing, at 9PM. The storefronts are the open type, where you can just wander in and out, and in between are the stalls for things like sugar cane juice (yummy with lemon, by the way) and flower garlands. Jasmine is everywhere, including hanging from rear-view mirrors in cars; it beats those pine tree air fresheners by, well, a lot.

The wind farm built in the valley was impressive and oddly aesthetic; the huge white turbines stretch for miles, catching the constant breeze in the narrow corridor between the mountains.

We visited a ship builder; the wooden ship was taking shape without much different technology than has been used for thousands of years, but the metal one in the next yard over had a more modern look to it. It was the first metal one they'd done, however, so I think I'd trust the wooden one a bit more.

The ride home via the "country road" (a very well paved one, for the most part) was enlivened by the fact that there don't seem to be too many traffic laws in India, and amazing speeds can be reached considering you have to go around bullock carts, bicyclists, huge construction holes in the road (without any signs--or lights, at that particular point), and occasional gates that are there, I'm assuming, to slow people down. Fat chance. It was exciting, but I think I may have aged a bit on that one.

We drove into Trivandrum on Wednesday for my Thursday 6:15AM flight back to Delhi; we visited Kovalum beach, quite lovely and ferocious as far as waves go, and then into Trivandrum for dinner and overnight across from the airport at a Catholic guesthouse. It was'Kutilitarian, to put it nicely, but had a private bathtub with glorious hot water. The Indian Airlines flight to Delhi (booked through www.travelocity.co.in ) was fine and left on time, but had to circle Delhi airport for an hour before landing, landing me in Delhi rather green around the gills from the air travel and tummy issues. (I don''t know if it was the spices or just my delicate constitution '' but I did get a bit queasy and off my feed for a while; not awful, just on the lookout for things like yogurt rather than masala.)

Delhi, Varanasi, and Trivandrum up next!

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