Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cochin..

The Sun was setting , black and gold waves flickered on the shores.  Darkness had almost descended but in the few beautiful minutes before it turned completely dark, we sat watching the Chinese Finishing Nets in action.
In this age of the global economy its not uncommon to see the consumer greedily seek out labels , lables which suggest that what lies within Arms reach in the super market had its origins in distant lands ..and so we have grown accostomed to 'Made in China'..
But it was only when I stood here that I realised that trade had a far longer history than I had understood previously. And testimony of that was this archaic device..
As I type this I wonder if it's okay to call the beautiful 'Chinese Fishing Nets' (Called 'Cheenavala' by the locals) archaic? (introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He between 1350 and 1450)
From a much older period, they are very much in use by local fishermen. The are fishing nets alright, but of an older mesmeric charm, their silhoutes a perfect foil to the setting sun.. And they seemed to trap gold into the black waters of the vast ocean.
We watched them..
The Chinese fishing Nets..

The nets line the coast and are best observed from the Vascodagama Square.

The net is cast..

"Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal nets of 20 m or more across. Each structure is at least 10 m high and comprises a cantilever with an outstretched net suspended over the sea and large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each installation is operated by a team of up to six fishermen." - Wikipedia


We watched the nets in action. The nets are first lowered. When almost horizontal they are let be...

The able Fishermen

They were then slowly raised. As the net moves through the air we could see the fish...

Looks like a very productive day..


The fishermen..

We also watched the adept fishermen operate the levers. Some of them climbing the wooden planks all the way to the top!.. Watching them made me dizzy!

M

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cochin..

Jew Town is beautiful. We were there mainly to visit a synagogue, one of the oldest there is. The Pardesi Synagogue was built in 1568. The synagogue and the areas surrounding it are steepled in history and walking down the narrow lanes we were swept away by the old world charm of this lovely place.
The synagogue itself has beautifully crafted interiors. We were not allowed to take pictures and so you will just have to take my word for it. The main prayer hall has exquisite glass work and we sat there a while. It was the first time I have been inside a synagogue.

Outside the 'Pardesi Synagogue'..

There is a small hall with paintings of Jewish history. The pictures reconstruct the story of the arrival of the Jews to India and chronicles the history of the Jewish movement
The Jews came to Kerala as far back as 700 BC. They were mainly traders and They settled in the Port city of Cranganore. The Jewish settlement came under attack In the 15th century, from the Muslim emperor of Calicut. The emperor believed that the Jews had adopted unfair practises to monopolize the lucrative pepper trade. Most of the Jews fled Cranganore. The Hindu King of Cochin, shielded the Jews, offering them protection and granted them land near his own palace, This came to be known as the present day Jew Town in Cochin.

Most of the Jews moved back to Israel. We met the person who currently manages the synagogue and she told us that the population of Jews in India had significantly dwindled and at present there were just a handful living around Cochin.
Found this really interesting article in the Washington Post which talks about why the Indian Jewish population declined. Made very insightful reading!

Inside Jew Town, Outside one of the many shope selling antiques..

The lanes leading up to Jew town are narrow and lined with beautiful antique shops. Even though we did not buy anything it was lovely looking at the various things on display

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Munnar..

After the sheer beauty of Allepey, I thought anything that comes after would be a forgetful affair. And yet Munnar managed to hold her own...


God's Own country truly has Nature vying against itself. After the magical backwaters which demanded soulful silences and lulled you into a certain sense of Calm, Munnar's sprawling Tea estates did not cease to enchant..Never have I seen so many different shades of Green.
So what exactly is Green? (The artist has to ask)
Green is what green does (The philosopher replies)


We drove into Munnar a little past noon. Ravenous, we hiked around town on the lookout for small places where we could taste the local fare. Munnar is a small place. It was not hard to find this rare thing called consensus and we were quickly directed to hotel Guru Bhavan. :) We would visit this place several times over , in the next few days.


Munnar is green as far as the eye can see. For an average city dwelling person its a breath of fresh air. You can feel the chill air calming your senses and making light of your busy life back home while you totally relax and let the slow easy pace take you over.


The word 'Munnar' is derived from the words Munu which means three and aaru which means river. It lies in the confluence of three rivers Muthirappuzha, Nallathanni and Kundaly.


We did not have any concrete plans on how we would spend our three day stay at Munnar. Our taxi driver gave us a few suggestions. But the real clincher were the names of locals who organize treks, which we got from the receptionist at the hotel.

A tour of the Tea Factory... Lessons in 'Tea'


Our day began with a visit to the Tata Tea estate, The Kanan Devan Plantations' as it is known. Though Munnar lies in the state of Kerala, the local population are fluent in Tamil. We had no problems understanding the chatter around the town. We were given a tour of the factory with explanation on the nuances of tea making. There so much more to tea than what meets the eye. We were walked through the various stages of processing , from the time the tea leaf is plucked to the end where packaged tea is sent to the customer. It ended with a small video recounting the history of Munnar and the Tata Plantations.
The capeted hillside..
We then drove around a bit. We just could not get enough of the carpeted hillside and the cool mountain air.
Matupetty Dam..
We then stopped at the Matupetty Dam which is about 13 kms away from Munnar and a major source of Hydroelectric power here. The dam adjoins a lake. The DTPC provides boating facilities around the dam, but we decided to skip it . The lake is lovely


Elephant Ride.. :)
Finally in want of some action, we took the 'Elephant Ride'. It was hilarious. I was scared. Sitting upfront was crazy. I could feel myself being thrown up and down as the elephant walked The pace was slow, but its extremely unnerving being seated on an animal of that size and strength. I had the most insane thoughts of the elephant running loose...
S had to calm me down.. Oh well it was fun!
Wild Elephants..
Wild elephants (seen during one of our many drives)..
A tour of the Tea Factory... Lessons in 'Tea'
Our final day took us into the heartland of Munnar. the DTDC office organises treks by putting you in touch with guides. Based on your preferences you can tailor the length and difficulty level of your trek which I thought was pretty cool. :) 
So we met out  guide John outside the DTDC office. He took us on a hort hike into the tea estates. On the way he explained much of the history of Munnar, On how people here have coexisted transcending religious and language barriers for sometime now, On how his Tamil was so good, About his Family,  About how he got into Hiking, What does being a guide involve, Which seasons are good, and on the effects of the vagaries of tourist numbers on his income.He cautioned us against hiring bikes (with an alarmed look on his face)
The Tea Estates..


Tipids
Along the way he pointed out to the local flora - 'Tipids', the lovely yellow blossoms of the hillside. We also saw the 'Morning Glory'  in spectacular bloom wearing the color of royalty - Violet. Munanr is home to the 'Kurunji' flowers which bloom only once in every 12 years.
Catching our Breathe..
We got to a point from where we could see the hills.  On our way we met a group of hikers (an Isreli and an american) and after some chit chat which co-traveller's normally indulge in when they cross paths (As in life) , we were off on our seperate ways. John mentioned some very interesting trails , like the one that can be taken from Munnar to Kodikannal and some very interesting anecdotes of his experiences as a guide in the wild. My favourite one was his encounter with a pack of jackals. 
 
Taking in the spectacular view of the Tea Estates..
Finally we got to walk through the Tea estates and chat with the lovely ladies plucking tea. I loved the poetry of their quick hands in motion , the deft fingers quickly and methodically putting the leaved into their bags.
I tried my hand at leaf picking.  Everyone wanted their picture taken :)... and it really was a pleasure catching everyone in action.
Hard at work..


I try my hand..


Pose for the camera..


A regular day on the Tea Estates


At the very end..


Catching up with John..




After lunch we visited  The Eravikulam national Park, the only known home of the endangered Nilgiri Thar. Nestled in the Western Ghats (in the Idukki district of Kerala) about 40% of the population of the Nilgiri Thar is estimated to be here. There are several mini buses which ferry people to and from the start of the park.


The Nilgri Thar..


The trail takes you through the park and is your chance to be amidst these shy creatures of the mountain. Its also an opportunity to see 'Aanimudi', the highest peak in the Western Ghats


Tomorrow we drive down to Cochin.  Its been a real pleasure getting to know Munnar. In any place its lovely getting to do the non commercial bits. The touristy bits always disappoint. But its the other stuff which really gave us a peek into this place called Munnar. And of all my Munnar memories walking through the lush verdant Tea Estates is right there on top. :)


M

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Allepey..

Dec 2009

Trying to describe Allepey is like waking up from a lovely dream.. The more you try to describe it , the more it slips away and in the end you are just left with this incredible feeling..

We have to be honest , when we first decided that we would do the House Boat ride around Allepey we did not expect it to be soooo good. We had heard accounts from friends and family and we thought why not..
It was nothing short of spectacular. Allepey is a town in the Allapuzha district of Kerala. It's often called the Venice of the East..
Though both cities are built on water, we visited Venice later and found the two to be vastly different.
We had the opportunity to see Allepey from the water on our House Boat, whereas we discovered Venice on Foot..

Our Journey started at the 'Finishing Point' in Allpey. Here's where the boats are docked so that passengers can embark.
Our Boatman for the ride was Joby. We also had a cook traveling with us who would serve some yummy local fare from his full fledged kitchen onboard the house.
Finishing Point - Allepey
We were soon afloat and it was almost magical watching the city from the confines of our house boat. Ours was a two bedroom house boat with two stories. Since we only took one room , all they did was lock the other one up and we had the entire boat to ourselves!!!!... So we spent most of the time sitting out on top and watching the boat go past the lovely waters of picturesque Allepey.
Cruising along one of the many Cannals in Allepey
We sailed past other boats like ours, some two bedroom ed , some much larger with as many as four bedrooms ..
It was fantastic to watch life on the banks..
There were fisherman going about their daily chores..
Local Fishermen - Allepey
Sitting on top of the boat gave us the chance to capture some great shots ..
The view from the Terrace of our House Boat - Allepey
School Children hurrying to and from school..
Local School Children - Allepey
A lovely church just by the waters.. And the drama of everyday life coming alive with a boat delivering cooking gas cylinders to those on the banks
A Church sitting pretty by the waters - Allepey
Lunch was soon served. Fish is a delicacy around this place . No surprises there Kerala being blessed with water and a beautiful coast. The abundance of Coconuts found its way into our food , making its presence felt in every dish served. :)
Lunch is Served! - Allepey
We sailed past lush green fields , Green and more green and more green as far as the eye can see..
Green is truly what green does!
Paddy Fields along the banks - Allepey
The Able Boatmen - Allepey
Paddy Fields - Allepey
The Husband got to haggle with a local Fisherman for some Prawn..
And thats the catch..!!
Some shots of how the house boat looks from the inside...
Corridor inside our Boat - Allepey
The Rooms were spacious and comfortable and had an attached Bath.. The rooms were air-conditioned too.
All house boats normally stop for the night. So we sat out on our little terrace(Thats what i choose to call it) and sipped on wine.. A word of caution, the mosquitoes really are monstrous so its good to carry anti repellents. They really did save us.
The next morning we set sail back to the place where we started.. We were served breakfast.
All the food on the Boat was great (lunch and dinner the previous day) .. We had the chance to sample some local Keralite delicasies like the fried Banana (Nendram Pazham , a local variety of Banana) Bajji (Was Yummmmmmy!!)
Breakfast!! - Allepey
It was lovely watching all the boats queue up on the way back..
Boats queuing up on our way back to Finishing Point - Allepey
Got more shots on the way.. Of people standing at what looked like bus stops waiting for local boats to pick them up
Boat Stop :) - Allepey
When we got off from the boat we knew we had been part of an experience that was incredibly special. From sailing through the aters of the Vembenadu lake to watching the sun set and rise the next day, Every part of the ride was incredibly Romantic and soooo beautiful.
Kerala - truly is God's own country.

Luv
Meena
In case you guys are planning to go , We booked our ride through Aries Travels (04712330417).
The prices during the off peak season is around Rs 6500 for a room on the boat. The good thing is they rarely ever put strangers on the same boat. So even if you don't take both rooms all they do is lock up the other one. The boats are ideal for families as the prices go up only marginally when you take an extra room. A two bed roomed boat should cost you around Rs8500.

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