Posts Tagged ‘Kanyakumari’

South Tour: Kochi – Calculating the improbability of this event is pointless

December 31, 2010

4 Dec

KOCHI TO MADGAON: This morning, we went to a Dutch Palace in Kochi.

There were foreigners inside.

Young foreigners.

Young foreigners with familiar faces.

Other Rotary Youth Exchange students.

Jaws dropped, lips began moving, and soon the palace was so abub with conversation that the staff told us several times to quiet down. We’d run into a group of exchange students from Gujarat who were on a tour of South India of their own, although theirs had just begun. Three of their number – Oona, Mary and Lila – had traveled with Olivia [Michigan, USA] and me into Mumbai, and several of us from the Central States conference in Grand Rapids were reunited.

The ten minutes our two groups shared passed by much too quickly. We had time to introduce ourselves, we were able to meet some fellow countrymen, and some business cards were exchanged. But as we split into two groups while boarding our respective buses, our meeting felt woefully incomplete.

I can’t tell you a single thing about that Dutch Palace. Whatever was remarkable about it got quite lost in the moment. It’s not surprising that another group of Rotary students would tour South India, and as this is the best time of year to visit Kerala, you could hardly be shocked the group was touring this time of year. But it’s still extraordinary that we met at all.

Calculating the improbability of our encounter is pointless – the way our faces lit up when we saw each other said it all.

Just fifteen minutes before, I’d visited a church for the first times since coming to India. St. Francis church doesn’t look like much on the outside, but at nearly 500 years old, it’s one of the oldest churches in India. The church was one of those places where quietness and piety overtake you, like the meditation room in Kanyakumari where I’d escaped the paparazzi the day before. For the first time in India, I sat down in a pew and prayed.

When I walked outside, I noticed the sun was shining after a week of rain.

It was a nice moment.

🙂

Click to enlarge

Advertisements

South Tour: Trivandrum, Kanyakumari, Kovalum and Kochi – Kan-ya sea the paparazzi?

December 30, 2010

3 Dec

KOCHI: Sometimes, it seems like all of South India is just one big suburb.

There’s no apparent hub city from which all of these towns emanate, but it’s been impossible to go more than half a kilometer in this part of India without finding pockets of human life. I first noticed this on Tuesday (30 Nov), as we traveled from the backwaters of Alleppy to the southernmost town in India – Kanyakumari. As I looked out the window after the sun had set, I kept expecting the city lights to give way to darkness and the bustle of city life to disappear, but that never happened.

I can’t complain about the quality of the roads we drove on that day so much as the traffic that covered it. Our 80 kilometer journey down a two-lane national highway took about five hours to complete. I can ride my one-speed bike around Champaign more quickly than our 27-seater drove us through Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The highways, rather than weaving around the cities, cut through them, doing little to ease the heavy congestion.

I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the American interstate system as much as I do now.

In most cities on this tour, foreigners have not been hard to come by. Compared to Nagpur, Indore, and the other cities in which we’re being hosted, the sites we’ve visited have catered to tourists with ease. In general, the people by the temples, zoos, museums and palaces we’ve visited have all seemed comfortable in the presence of non-Indians.

Not so in Kanyakumari.

I’ve gotten very used to being stared at in India. As awkward as staring seems, it’s nothing more than looking. The initial unease I felt from the looks I’ve gotten everyday has disappeared. With other exchange students, the looks are distributed evenly, although we attract slightly more attention than we would alone.

The problems really begin when people start taking pictures of us.

Kanyakumari is the only place in India from which the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Bay of Bengal can be viewed simultaneously. On clear days, Sri Lanka can be seen far off in the distance. Although the beaches are little more than walls of rocks, they’re great places from which to catch panoramic views. Ferries took us to three small islands south of the coast, which featured majestic seaside temples and statues. Naturally, many cameras were out, poised to take pictures of the surroundings.

Except were these cameras really taking pictures of the three seas? We were witness to several 360° videos that seemed to point towards us much longer than they were pointed at the sea. Cell phone cameras would be aimed just over our shoulders until thumbs clicked down on them – just as they swiveled in our direction. Most often people would just point and click without making any effort to be inconspicuous.

I looked behind us a few times, the optimist in me guessing we were blocking the views those pictures were trying to capture. Most often though, that was not the case – rocks, barricades and other people usually made up the backgrounds of pictures stolen of us. Only once do I think permission to take our picture was asked. Cameras would be poised as people stood in groups whispering to each other. Staring at us. Pointing at us. Laughing at us.

I think I can be forgiven for loudly singing Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi, although I doubt many of the picture-takers recognized the song. We devised several ways of dealing with our own paparazzi. Sometimes looking them straight in the eye would be enough for them to become flustered and turn the camera elsewhere. Sometimes we mocked their attempts at subtlety, holding our cameras in obvious places and clicking photos while looking away from them. At least twice, Jordan walked straight towards the picture-takers and told them flatly to stop. Our best (or worst) idea was charging people for pictures with us, but for some reason no one was willing to pay our Rs. 500 fee.

There’s a lot more I could write about being a foreigner in India, but I’ll save it for another entry. Kanyakumari, despite the day’s troubles, was still worth the visit.

For the first two weeks of this tour, almost every day was a busy day. Museums here and temples there. Botanical gardens left and spice gardens right. Hill stations in the morning and palaces in the afternoon. The incessant rain we’ve had since arriving in Mysore did little to ease the chaos.

Then we spent two nights in Kovalum, and we had to find the chaos ourselves.

All of our time yesterday was free, and a lot of it was spent on the beach, just as in Mahabalipuram. Although expectations for the beach were moderate, and rain tried to dampen our moods, Kovalum was too fun for us to have low spirits. The waves never exceeded a meter in height, but the slope of the coastline was so slight I could walk 100 meters through the water and jump off the ocean floor like it was the surface of the moon. I spent at least three hours on the beach, just enjoying the feeling of being in the water.

And for two days we were actually able to sleep in. This of course meant most of us chose to stay up late into the night, but for once most of my sleep came in a bed, not on a bus.

Today we did nothing. We spent six hours driving to Kochi, ate Western non-veg fast food for lunch and dinner, and watched TV in the hotel. Kochi, from my limited views of it, appears to be quite a modern city – I’ve seen more high rises here than anywhere else on this tour. The nightlife and modern amenities are like those of Bangalore and Hyderabad. I’m surprised I’d never heard of Kochi before this tour, save the loss of their IPL franchise.

Tomorrow, for the first time in two and a half days, we’ll be going sightseeing. It should be an interesting day.

🙂

Click to enlarge