Monday, 19 March 2012

Guest blog: Mum's Indian adventure

Mum's off back to England tomorrow, having recently returned from a six day tour of Kerala with Jenny. So I asked her to do a guest spot on the blog about her travels. As you'll see, she's had a memorable time!

Chris has invited me to write a 'guest' blog, as a short stay visitor with a different perspective (being both female and older!). Well, here goes...

When we first arrived, it was definitely sensory overload - just so much and so many of everything! This has made it very difficult for me to process and analyse my experience, so here are just some impressions, roughly categorised.

As a woman, I had to start with that, really! The sheer variety of colours and textures available, both for men and women, is staggering. It's partly this incredible array of hues that adds a vibrancy to almost any situation, however drab and dusty the surroundings.

In Delhi, more women seem to favour salwar kameez, with their cleverly blended colour schemes and their long, flowing dupattas. There seem to be many ways these can be worn, but I haven't yet worked out the secret of keeping them in place! (My friend, Jenny, and I had salwar kameez made for us here in Delhi.) In Kerala, more women wear saris. How wonderfully elegant they look, too, especially as very few seem to expose midriff! They all seem to have such good posture.The traditional Keralan sari is a warm creamy yellow, with a variety of border patterns.

Many men dress in western fashion in Delhi, whereas in Kerala most wear a western style shirt with the traditional lungi. This can be full length or tucked up into the waist or folded in on itself. I don't know how they keep them up!

Well, Chris warned me! It is absolute mayhem in Delhi: everyone beeps their horns all the time, people overtake on the inside, outside, from a side street, or wherever they feel like. They create four lanes where there are only meant to be three and what are lanes anyway?! It is chaotic and frightening, especially when you see young children in the middle of a busy street, but mostly, it seems to work!! All I can say is, with my thirty years' driving experience, I would be hopelessly underprepared for coping with traffic here, where they seem to be able to judge a gap to within a cm.

I do think motorised rickshaws are a great idea and a really economic way to travel. Jenny suggested they would work really well in London.

My worst experience
Fatehpur Sikri Mosque!!! I hated every minute of it.

We were pestered even before we got to it, by a young man saying he didn't want any money and just wanted to improve his English. Chris made it clear we didn't require a guide, but he and his older 'brother' dogged us the whole way round. To make matters a hundred times worse, we were plagued continuously by people (including young children) trying to sell us things. They would not take no for an answer and followed us the whole time we were on the site. I was unable to concentrate at all on enjoying the architecture. At the end, our two self-appointed guides showed us their 'family' products. We each bought something, but the younger one wasn't satisfied with that and wanted money as well. Needless to say, he didn't get anything!

In fairness, I need to mention that the palace here was quite spectacular and we were left alone to enjoy it. And we also met some lovely local people - I enjoyed negotiating with a lady in the local market for some beautiful decorative ribbons!

My best experience(s)
The most unusual was probably our elephant ride. I must admit I was rather nervous, especially when we were going up and down slopes.

The most relaxing: on the houseboat in Kerala, where we were treated like royalty, with a driver, cook and waiter all to ourselves. It was wonderful sitting in the open air, surrounded by beautiful scenery and being served breakfast. In the evening there was a spectacular lightning display, which lasted about four hours.

We were also able to unwind when we took a rickshaw ride in Keoladeo Ghana National Park. The guide we had with us was a naturalist and extremely knowledgable and it was really peaceful.

And one of the most fascinating experiences was definitely Holi, which Chris has already blogged about. It was lovely to spend the day with the local community who welcomed us into their festivities. It would be lovely to see this sort of community event happening more often in England!

This is a truly beautiful state, full of lush greenery. It is also a land of contrasts. Around Cochin there are some magnificent villas and it is relatively flat.

Then you begin climbing up into the mountains, where you  come across isolated villages, where people are obviously much less well-off. The roads are a veritable switchback, often with really steep drops on one side or sometimes both! Around Munnar are slopes blanketed with tea plants. They cover every available inch, including some pretty steep slopes.

Next you have the backwaters, which are completely different again - mile upon mile of waterways, which make our canals look tiny. Some of the people here live on narrow strips of land and rely on long, narrow boats or water taxis to get around.

Kerala seems to be less poor than some other areas and the pace of life is slower. People are very friendly and seem happy. The land is fertile and mango, coconut, jackfruit and papaya palms abound.

The other thing that was very apparent was the flourishing of Christianity. There are so many wonderful churches, many of which are of recent construction. Their architecture is so very varied and often quite beautiful.

All in all, we've had a wonderful time, seen some really contrasting areas of India and have some amazing memories to take away with us.

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