Friday, February 15, 2008
Spice Plantations and Village Life
We had breakfast in the hotel and checked out from the Taj. The hotel, which is situated upon a hill overlooking the city, was built in the period of the Raj and had that very old English feeling. We drove southwest through plantation country leaving the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu and headed for Kerala. Kerala is one of the richest states in India.
On the way we stopped at a brick factory. I expected it to be a show and tell but it was really interesting. The bricks are made by hand from mud, two by two. They are then stacked and the fired with wood. Much of India was built with these bricks, created by the basic elements of earth, water and fire.
Few thoughts we have about India. To understand India, you need to attempt to get a smattering of understanding of Hinduism and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. As a westerner you will never understand them completely, but you can get a sense of the mythology that underlies India. You also need to understand the importance of the family. It is much stronger than in the West. In traditional Indian families the son never moves out of his parents’ house. His marriage is arranged by his parents and those of the prospective bride, and once married, his wife will move into his parents’ home. We are very lucky to have a guide that shares her family life with us. Thirdly, the village is at the heart of Indian life. There are hundreds of thousands of villages filled with people living a dirt poor existence, yet they appear to have great communal feelings. We have found the Indians to be extremely courteous and helpful.
We stopped in a small village to view an amazing statue of Durga, who is the goddess of the village. It was at least 3 stories tall and extremely well maintained. We saw something that I have always read about, but never seen, women in the river beating clothes on the rocks to wash them.
We then started up a very tall mountain road. One and half lanes and you had to pull over to let another car pass. It was very steep and very windy. At the top was a plateau, marking the state boundary between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Unlike America, it was almost like going through passport control. A barrier blocked the road, and our driver had to get out and show papers. Only then was the barrier raised and we were permitted to proceed. At the top of the mountain is Periyar, an ecologically conscious village which is the center of Ayurvedic massage, a healing massage using oils that are specially chosen to alleviate various aliments. There must be 50 of these massage places in this very small village.
Upon arrival we had lunch then we went to Spice Plantation. This area of India is a major spice producing area. It was amazing to see plants that produce the spices and herbs we buy in jars at the supermarket. We saw and smelled vanilla, peppercorns, cardamom, nutmeg, lemon grass, allspice, etc. all growing in its natural habitat. Cathy is standing next to a Jackfruit tree. This area also has rubber plantations, and we were given a demonstration on the process of making rubber—from the gathering of sap from the trees to the finished product.
We then went to a giant rainforest that contains a large lake. It is a major ecological preserve. We took a 90 minute boat trip and saw real wild, not tame, elephants that live as nature intended them to live, black monkeys bigger than the other monkeys we had previously seen and lots of interesting birds.
We then went for a massage, followed by dinner at the hotel. We check out tomorrow for a full day and night on a boat cruising the backwaters. I didn’t expect to have interent at The Spice Village where we are staying, but I can’t believe there will be any way to blog tomorrow! More in two days