Category: South of India, 2012

On the go, from Madurai to Cochin, February 2

Today is a travel day. We spend the morning at the hotel, relaxing, as running back into town (half hour drive each way) to see more of the markets does not seem worth it. As there are no direct flights, to get to Cochin from Madurai, we need to fly first to Chennai, which is in the wrong direction. There we have over three hours in the airport, before connecting to Cochin. If we had another day or two, we would have driven the ten hours from Madurai to Cochin, crossing the mountains, seeing tea plantations and, perhaps, even stopping at a game preserve. That would have been nice.

I have not commented on the begging, which is a disturbing element of travel in India. It occurs primarily around temple areas in the South. As advised, we do not respond to beggars, but they are a reminder of the gaps between haves and have-nots, in India and around the world.

Though I’ve alluded to the traffic, I probably have not given an adequate sense of the chaos and harrowing nature of travel by road. There is a constant din of honking, so much so that I asked Jay whether it’s possible to buy a car that honks automatically every four seconds, to save the driver the effort. This honking affects one as a pedestrian, as well, causing you, at first, to jump each time you hear it, walking along the street, or crossing over. After a while, though, you become inured to and ignore it, and learn that the trick to crossing the street is to appear oblivious to the traffic bearing down on you.

Contrasting elements of every day life are the incredible color of Indian life and the garbage, strewn everywhere, and especially along the roads. The predominance of plastic refuse is a ready reminder of the vexatious nature of that substance. So far as one can tell, Indians are oblivious to the trash. Jay says it is a matter of education.

Read The Hindu newspaper at breakfast, which gives one a good sense of what’s going on. The virulent attacks by one political party against another demonstrates that we’re not alone in that regard, and a small article, buried in the middle of the paper, about Romnay’s decisive win over Gingrich in Florida is a reminder that the US is not the center of the universe to the rest of the world. An interesting side note is an article about the movie The Help, and a reflection on its implications for Indian domestic workers.

Spend part of our free time during travel discussing with Jay the myriad differences between North and South India. History: the North was invaded and controlled by Aryans. Language: North language is Hindi, having common ties to languages of Europe, while South is Dravidian. Food: a different, larger kind of rice in South, North has corn and wheat in meals. Infrastructure: much better in South. Education: better in South. Weather: South has weather that’s the sane, year-around, with either one or two predictable monsoon seasons; weather in North has extremes of heat and cold. Religion: South 85% Hindu, North more than 20% Muslim and was about 50% prior to partition and creation of Pakistan. Darker skinned people In South. South economically better off than North.

Travel is okay, but long, especially since I’m not feeling at the top of my game. Arriving in Kerala and driving an hour and a quarter to our hotel in Cochin, one notices immediate differences. Billboards are for much more upscale products and are virtually entirely in English. We pass huge Toyota and other car dealerships, and large shopping malls. Roads are much better with no traffic coming right at us and no honking. Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t pass three heavily-decorated elephants being used for a temple festival. Communist party flags line the road because of a big conference to be held in the area. Communists have been democratically elected from time to time.

We reach the Brunton Boatyard, a relatively new hotel (ten or so years), with a very gracious, old feel to it. We have large suites, looking out on the water; extremely comfortable. Service at the restaurant is slow, and, as I’m not feeling that great, I eat only about half of my roast beef (people in Kerala eat beef) sandwich, before going up to the room.

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