Subj: India Report: Back in the USA
Date: 97-11-29 16:19:07 EST
Dear Family and Friends,
I'm at the Internet C@fe in Honolulu, listening to Steely Dan ("Ricky Don't Lose That Number"), taking some time off from cruising around the tropics. My AOL account has been seriously spammed; any mail sent before 11/4 has been deleted already because I guess my mailbox was full. "Call me: hot hot girl" or "get rich quick" or "you too can spam people" are the favorite spam topics. Before I forget:
- We're at the Ilima Hotel in Waikiki: (808) 923-1877, through at least Dec. 2. For those of you in Hawaii, please call us! Other callers are welcome, but it won't be cheap for you. I'll check email (TomForest (at) aol.com) again on Monday night
- We return to Boston Thursday (scheduled) or Friday. We'll be staying with Carol's sister Barbie for a few days, collecting ourselves for the drive across the US. Barbie's address: <address deleted 3/1/98>
- Tom Clarke & Alison Hodges have kindly agreed to host an open house for us a week from today from 1 PM, until ?, a week from today, i.e., December 6. They are at <address deleted 3/1/98>
India was some of what we expected, and a lot of what we didn't.
- The food was great, and we didn't get tired of it. We gained weight (that part was a surprise).
- The weather was warm.
- The music was great - especially the 2.5 hour concert of ragas the evening of the wedding.
- The people were friendly and easy to get along with. Whether it was because people we know had horror stories or our Egypt experience was tough I don't know, but we expected to be constantly harassed by unhappy people. Maybe our being in the South, not North, of India had something to do with it, but Indians were low-key and easy to laugh.
- The only illness we got was that we each got a cold. We expected to lose weight, not gain it.
- We felt safe. Even at the $20/night places, we were in places with gates & guards, and we felt safe walking the streets.
- Access to the National Parks was terrible - not worth the trouble. The jeep rides at Nagarahole were marginal, and the 30 minute drives at Mudumalai and speed walk (nerd walk) through Periyar was the nadir of our India trip. I wouldn't have minded the leeches if we'd actually seen some wildlife.
- Though at times surrounded by bad smells, hovels, and a few beggars, I was never shocked by anything I saw.
- We felt a little too safe, a little too insulated. We'd have liked more contact with Indians. But after Cairo, we retreated upmarket in India - a little too far.
- The drivers are insane, like Cairo, yet kind - unlike Cairo: Indians stop for people, cows, dogs, goats, sheep, and anything else in the road). See below.
- On a related note, the roads are terrible. Speeds greater than 40 mph are ill-advised, and in many places 20 mph is pushing things. Also see below.
- Saris are beautiful, elegant, and everywhere. It looks like all Indian women are always in evening dresses - even when breaking rocks at the side of the road or harvesting rice.
- Hoysala-style temple at Halebid. The profusion of detail and different figures was a gorgeously mind-expanding experience.
- Worshippers at a temple in Srirangpatnam. It was striking to see so many people fervent about something so ancient (Hindu worship) about which I have so little insight, exposure, or understanding.
- At Ranganthoo Bird Sanctuary near Mysore, we saw dozens of storks and ibises, several crocodiles, and hundreds of fruit bats hanging from the trees. Ranganthoo is a tiny reserve and popular with the locals. The abundance were a pleasant surprise, and our private rowboat tour got us quite close.
- Our first night at Kabini River Lodge. Our game drive was cut to 10 minutes by a tropical downpour, but we didn't mind. It was the first heavy rain we'd seen in months, and was beautiful to watch. Lightning knocked out the power (a diesel-powered generator at the camp) for an hour until they got the backup generator running. So we lit candles and sat on the porch, watching the rain and seeing frogs hop onto the porch - big hand-sized ones and little thumbnail sized ones.
- Borrowing a guitar at Bokkapuram. I was talking to a staffer who was playing a Pink Floyd CD. I asked for Santana (which he didn't have) and the Grateful Dead and Clapton (which he had). It was nice to hear the lyric "been all around the world" in a different light. So I asked him if he had a guitar, which he did. After tuning it & putting on some new strings, I got to play for a couple of hours. I'm out of practice, so it hurt more than usual, but it was great to run through "Imagine", "Get Together", "Good Lovin'", and especially "Ripple" from the porch looking up at the Western Ghats (which looked there rather like Crawford Notch, NH, with teak instead of pine).
- The drive to & from Ooty. Ooty's at 7200', so we had a lot of climbing up switchbacks to do. The road was terrible (like a logging road paved then left for 5 years in a 120" rain/year state), the traffic insane (no curve or cliff to steep to be passed on), and the car under-powered (a 1981 Ambassador capable of no more than 40 km/hr), but it meant that we lingered on every curve & overlook. It was very easy on the eyes, and we were in no hurry.
- Kathakali dance in Kochi. This was a classical costumed dance portraying a scene from the Mahabhrata. It was beautiful, and the explanation/color commentary by the MC gave me at least a glimmer of understanding of Hinduism amidst an interesting soliloquy on beauty, meaning, and faith.
- Murals at Mattancherry Palace, Kochi. These 16th century wall paintings looked like extended meditations on the cover of Hendrix's "Axis: Bold as Love" - which is an anachronistic attribution, but that's the order I saw them. I also have a new appreciation of Krishna after seeing HIS appreciation for milkmaids. Having eight arms could be useful.
- Dhandu's wedding in Trivandrum. It was an honor to be invited, and we felt most welcomed. Some family members provided live interpretation (color commentary). This was as exotic as we got, yet the feelings of the people involved were strong and clear to us.
- Meenakshi Temple, Madurai. It's another over-the-top temple like Halebid (India does over-the-top well), but unlike Halebid wonderfully painted and a current house (temple complex) of worship. It's statuary is stylistically quite different, and has an almost Quincy Market feel to the merchandising around it (10,000 tourists a day visit, mostly Hindu Indians).
Gandhi Museum, Madurai. It's an atypically understated presentation of India's struggle for independence and Gandhi's life. The Lonely Planet guide is right on the money when they characterize it as 'oddly moving'. It reminded me most of the Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston: the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
We're well & happy to be back in America: people speak English as a first language, we can get the breakfast we like (our first morning at Denny's was euphoric), and everything works! Thanks to Howard, Heather, Crystal, Tony, Joe, and Christiana for their messages during our trip. Until next time,
Tom (w/ Carol)