Saturday, April 30, 2011

Critters in the Reserve, and an Elephant Ride

The following morning after breakfast, we took a walk around the hotel within the reserve. Trees in the area were massive, towering high into the bright sky. Some trees seemed to flow like ribbons, their sculpted moss and lichen-dotted roots disappearing at the ground. Standing at the base within these bands made a person feel like an insignificant dwarf. Rhesus monkeys poked their heads from around the trunk, while a baby monkey clung to its mother. Seemingly unfazed by the presence of people, several wild hogs and a baby strolled past. Signs in multiple languages warned people not to feed the animals.

Just outside the reserve, we did a touristy thing and rode an elephant, which easily carried all four of us. The mahout led the elephant through the forest, past brilliant flowers, ferns, and jackfruit trees. Our petite mahout had the elephant pause occasionally so he could take photos with my mother’s camera, sometimes commanding the elephant to pose and curve its trunk.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Periyar Lake and Tiger Reserve, Thekkady

Heading towards Thekkady, the roads transitioned rather quickly to those that were narrow and winding. Through small towns, additional congestion made the drive more challenging, especially with animals and carts vying for road space. Drivers were no less patient, and passed wherever they could, transforming the 2-lane road into four and barely returned to the “correct” side as an oncoming vehicle passed. Witnessing such driving habits was a bit disconcerting for my family unaccustomed to such sights.

Spotted throughout the area were churches of various designs and colors. Many were perched rather high up, some even on rock. Interspersed, one could find tower-like “churchettes” with a single narrow lower space in which a statue was placed. Also quite prominent were Catholic schools, attended by students of varying faiths. The presence of upcoming elections was everywhere, from signs and posters plastered everywhere, to the mini trucks with a person in back, whose message was projected through obnoxiously loud speakers.

Up near Thekkady, forests of rubber trees and carpeted fields of tea bushes dominated, replacing the coconut palm trees of the backwaters. Trees soared to towering heights, with filtered light dappling on large ferns.

Although we arrived too late for a bullock ride, we were able to take a boat ride on the Periyar Lake within the tiger reserve. It took a while for the boat to depart, as each person in the boat had to have a life jacket firmly secured by park personnel. Although we initially complained about the clumsiness of the jackets, they did serve an alternate purpose, keeping us slightly warmer and drier when rain blew into the boat. The boat slowly chugged its way in a pre-determined path, carefully avoiding the many petrified tree trunks scattered throughout, evidence that this area was flooded in 1895 when a dam was constructed. Perched on the gnarly tree trunks were birds, on the lookout for fish. Along with the more common Cormorants, small Kingfishers were also spotted. Despite the blowing rain obscuring the view, we were able to spot bucks, bison, monkeys, and elephants.

Backwaters Houseboat Tour in Kerala

Following a rather uneventful overnight train ride from Chennai, our driver cheerfully met us and quickly took us to the spot in Aleppy where our houseboat was waiting. Our houseboat was fancier than the first one I had taken, with this one having AC in both bedrooms (each with their own bathroom), a mini upper deck, and even a dish for satellite TV. A few of the houseboats were quite massive, accommodating around 200 people on the top level – perfect for parties. Once in the backwaters, welcoming coconut drink in hand, the pace became relaxed, with plenty of time for gazing at rural life along the riverbanks and river as source of transportation.

Aside from the boat motor hum, the sound echoing through the area was that of beating clothes. Both men and women engaged in this activity, lathering up the cloth in the river, wringing it out and beating it mercilessly on a big rock. Likewise, the river was a favorite place to bathe, with the soap and shampoo disappearing after some successive dunks in the water.

Although the touristic houseboats dominated the water scene, the waterways were shared by locals. People rowed across the river, ferrying passengers, beverages, and cattle feed. Larger water taxis sped by, transporting people to various villages. Along the shore and in small boats, men went fishing with a pole and/or string or threw out small nets into the water. On the narrow shore, motorbikes and bicycles were the favored means of transportation.

Pampered for a day, all we needed to do was enjoy the view, take photos, chat, and eat the food prepared for us. In the back of the boat, meals were prepared for us, including fried fish, coconut-flavored dahl, beets (also with coconut milk), green beans, chai, and fried banana. With the plentitude of coconut palms and banana plants, as well as fish in the river, our tasty meals made us feel part of the locality.

Poking through the green fronds of palm trees were variations of Kerala’s distinctive architecture. Many of the slanted roofs were covered in terracotta tiles and trimmed with decorative wood. In addition to some colorful Hindu temples, the backwaters included many Christian churches and schools. While most of the churches lacked steeples attached to the roof, they all proudly displayed the Cross. On buildings, walls, and even tree trunks, one could find political posters (accompanied by political announcements shouted through speakers), vivid reminders of the upcoming elections.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Rani ni Vav overlookSeven Storey structurePlethora of CarvingsDistant Reclining VishnuSplendid Floral and Geom DesignsBhairava
Rama figureKalabhairav_Rani carvingsBaraha Boar godKalki on horsebackStanding on the Bull
Buddha with LotusBrahma and Saraswathi, Shiva and Parvati, Vishnu and LakshmiInto the Rani ni Vav wellPyramidal Steps and ColumnsDown the deep wellSimple Stairs
Patan Woman with CowsEntering the DoorPatola loomDouble ikat warpDyed weft threadWrapping the threads

Patan, a set on Flickr.

Gujarat town famed for its exquisite Patola double-ikat weaving and stepwell dating back nearly 1,000 years

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kutch Crafts

Diamond wood blockStamping the blackDrying in the sunCoth in processIron pilingsBox of blocks
Cloth with resist paste and sawdustRed and yellow clothHolding block trioStencil and dot patternTying knotsPulling apart the knots
Green yellow pieceHoneycomb tie dyeChandro Khani Marriage ShawlMarriage Shawl detKnotted string remnantsSumar Daud applying castor oil gum
Mr Ali Mohammad Isha Khatri modeling marriage shawlRogan art outline first stepRogan detailTree of life Rogan pieceAhir Embrodery stepsAhir Embroidery stitching

Kutch Crafts, a set on Flickr.

Here are some photos of various crafts done by the people in the Kutch region of Gujarat. For spring break, I had the opportunity to visit the artists in their homes and see them in action.