Eating and Walking in Kochi

we have been here 2 weeks now and have settled into a great routine that gets slower by the hour. We go out and have some brekfast, do stuff around town, head back to our rooms for a siesta in the hottest part of the day and then go out around 5 pm and stroll back downtown for dinner, a walk on the seawall, come back and relax, read or play games until bedtime.

Joseph remarked that we have probably been gone for about a month now (we left Courtenay on Oct 26) and I had to break the news to him that it was already December……

David and Kelley are not vegetarians and have been eagerly awaiting the coast so they could enjoy some fresh sea food. last night Kelley went to the shore where the fishermen bring in their daily catch, and bought 2 kilos of huge prawns for about $3.  oh – they stuffed themselves!

the eating on the coast is fabulous – even for us vegetarians. the fruit is sweet, naturally ripe, juicy and different. we have found our 2 favorite kinds of bananas  (out of the 4 or 5 varieties available), eat a pineapple a day (no sore mouth from whatever it is ‘they’ do to the pineapples we end up with in Canada), coconuts both young and ripe, amazing oranges, and a couple of new fruits that i cannot remember the names of. fresh cashews (not roasted or salted) fresh peanuts – yum!  well – i see it is lunchtime, so enough for today – i’m off to enjoy another amazing delicious fresh meal……….

one of our favorite meals is called thali. it means ‘plate’ which usually means a banana leaf as seen below. first you wash your hands. then you get a banana leaf. men circulate with small or large pots of rice, 10 different kinds of curries, coconut chutneys, mango pickle, papads, sweets etc. and using their ladles, keep putting stuff on your leaf until you say: enough!

with your right hand you mix a little of each ‘dish’ with some rice and stick it in your mouth. you can see David expertly doing this below….

Cochin is situated right where a lagoon/lake meets the Arabian Sea. the lake goes back miles into the interior and parallel to the coast. the tides sweeep in and out since we are at the ‘mouth’ . there are many fishermen working this body of water and there are using this style of net fishing which was brought here by the Chinese centuries ago. since this a popular place to walk for tourists (Indian and non-Indian) there are also many people selling all kinds of things: bracelets, fruit, fish, kites etc. the following pics are scenes along the ocean shore and walkway.

Below is mainstreet Kochi – you can see one of the magnificent trees in the background. these enormous trees grow just inland from the shore and and some scattered throughout the town where the parks have left room for them.

What rupees will buy

50 Rupees ($1.)

a 20 minute rickshaw ride – that would take us anywhere we want to go around here

a large glass of soda water with fresh lime, an ayurvedic additive and ice cubes(!) made with filtered water

a bag of cookies

an unbelievably delicious pineapple

15 sweet bananas

3 parrotas (chapati-like flat bread, but way yummier)

 

5 or less Rupees (10 cents)

ticket for a 20 minutes ferry ride to the next island

ticket for a ferry to the larger city of Ernakulum

bus ticket to anywhere within 10 miles

traditional kerala breakfast (idlies, puttu, sambar and chai)

 

100 Rupees ($2.)

cheese omelette, toast, fresh fruit (papaya, pineapple, watermelon, and banana), masala chai

simple cotton pants

cotton shawl

2 hours of time on the internet

 

Some Like It Hot, Some Like It Left

Some Like It Hot

well, i’ve been in the sultry south for a week now and i can’t help writing about two  dominant factors in every day life: the heat and left hand driving.

the last time we came south in 2008 I had a meltdown (figuratively and physically) and insisted that we move to a location that provided some AC space. Joseph says the heat invigorates him and it pretty much does the opposite to me. I can’t think, I can’t decide what I want to eat or do, it takes enormous amount of energy to be civil (forget about being cheerful), and I have little energy.

but…if i have access to a shower – for a quick drop of body temperature – and an AC room – to kick back in and regain my usual cheerful nature – I can handle the heat. (well, kinda!)  it speaks volumes about how much I love this place – that I would endure this environment.

i have found the groove of how fast (or slow) to walk, so that the small amount of wind created by my walking offsets the heat generated by the activity of walking. if I can keep that perfect pace i can walk for a long time. but …. the moment i stop – the slight wind stops and the heat is still in the body and then i am drenched in sweat and slowly getting hotter by the moment. that, as you can imagine, makes it hard to shop/think/speak/calculate.

fans are a life saver. right now as I am typing, I am sitting under a whirling fan and that is the only reason i can stay here. the power sometimes goes off and then i have to leave after about 20 minutes. Once in awhile i come across AC in a shop – and oh! I can stay there forever!

such is my life – in and out of the shower, and searching for a fan! (and eating the best fruit in the world, swimming in fantastic Arabian Sea, hanging out with Joseph, David and Kelley, shopping for spices, shawls, the perfect fresh lime soda.) lots of time to meditate, relax and rejuvenate.

Some Like It Left

And then there is the whole left hand driving thing. First of all, you would be hard pressed to tell which side of the road people are supposed to be driving on as everyone and everything (bicycles, bikes, rickshaws, pony carts, trucks, buses etc) drives wherever they can find a space. but as a pedestrian it is imperative to know which way to look first and which way is where a car is going to come zipping around and right into you. did I mention there a no sidewalks?

that is really what makes the walking really interesting, dangerous,  and a great way to practice mindfulness! when I walk I am walking – not day dreaming, planning, ruminating…..thank you Thich Nhat Hanh.

many many times, others who are near me have touched me gently on the arm as they sense I am about to step out into the street, because they know that i will be walking right into traffic and looking the other/wrong way. Indians are gentle – Joseph has jerked me right off my feet – to save my hide. thank you Joseph!

it is such an automatic thing that we are unaware of – that as we step out to cross  even a small street, we look right first.  this has been ingrained into us since we could walk and reinforced probably millions of times in our life time. And since we do a lot of walking here (everywhere – miles a day) this little tactic of looking left first is quite important and lifesaving.

one saving grace is that because everything is so ‘full’ on the street, the speed is very slow. and i believe the drivers are incredibly adept, alert and skilled. I imagine ‘westerners’ cause many accidents by their unaware walking. what I sense when I look at the flow on the street is that everyone is in-tune with their surroundings, who is going where, how fast they are moving, what to expect.

we saw a sign that said “Dashing is dangerous”. hmm… wonder what that means. then as Joseph and I were getting ready (i.e. screwing up our courage) to cross a busy street (6 lanes of madness) a rickshaw driver shouted out – no dashing!

Oh! i get it. just move slowly and deliberately. do not stop, do not rush, do not do anything unexpected (i.e.  retreat or alter direction in the middle) and everything will be fine. Everyone coming our direction will see us and expect us to keep moving slowly across the lanes. and it works! which is so different from say Victoria where people do dash and walk/dash helter skelter through the traffic to reach the other side.  So now we remember – dashing is dangerous!

Life in Kochi

After a whirlwind visit in Jaipur we flew to Cochin which is another place we visited last time and enjoyed immensely. it is a small town on the coast of the Arabian Sea on the southwest side of the tip of India. it is in the state of Kerala which has the longest democratically elected communist government in the world. the education level is the highest in India and they are a very prosperous and hard working people – Malayatam.

we are staying with the same family as last time and they are delighted to meet David and Kelley. we have a suite of rooms in the upstairs of their home, which includes 2 bedrooms (each with its own bathroom – flush toilets and shower!) and large sitting/dining room and a kitchen. their home is on a small piece of land with coconut trees, palms, papayas (not ripe now), mango tree (not ripe now) and lots of tropical plants. Usha, her husband, 2 university age daughters and mother-in-law live here.

 

a beautiful offering in one of our favorite places to eat.

this morning Usha treated us to a Kerala breakfast: appam ( a thin pancake made from rice flour with coconut) a bowl of curry (tumeric, chili peppers, onions) and fresh pineapple.

 

the second day we headed to a beach we have enjoyed in the past. we packed some fruit and samosas and water and took a small ferry to Vypend Island (about 10 minutes away) this little ferry holds about 6-8 cars, a hundred motorcycles and as many people as can fit in all around all this. we stand on the deck  and even the loading ramp, which is not lifted when we depart –  has bikes and people standing on it.

anyway – off the ferry and onto a local bus for a 45 minute ride up the island, through little villages and over canals. it is very relaxing – no mountains to worry about tumbling off!

then we get off the bus and grab a autorickshaw for a 10 minute putt-putt to the beach. there are a few small shops, a couple of snack stands, a couple of hotels and that’s about it as far as civilization goes. otherwise it is a sandy beach that goes as far as the eye can see in both directions. the water is very warm and Kelley and I swim in our clothes as showing alot of skin would be disrespectful of our hosts. no problem though – we stay in the water for about 4 hours, interspersed with occasions flops on the towel and fill ups of water and fruit. we leave the beach – sandy wet and sunburned.

 

The Pink City

From Amritsar we train to Delhi and car to Jaipur – the Pink City. Now we are in  Rajastan – a desert state which was built by the Mogul empire – minarets, domes, richly coloured fabrics, elephants and camels on the street. the first carrying people, the latter – hauling bricks, rocks, vegetables etc.

the streets are even more challenging to cross as there are walkers, bicyclists, camels, elephants, bicycle rickshaws, autorickshaws,  – oh yes – and cars, buses, trucks. gauging the speed of all this traffic and trying to cross through it is an act of faith and courage. sometimes we just sidle up to some Indians and when they move – we move, and stick very close to them.

we are staying at the same guesthouse as our last trip and it is delightful. we have fans in our rooms, a shared balcony, nice breeze, great showers and much hospitality.

the absolute gem of our time here (five days) was that right next door a traditional Rajastani wedding was going on. it was started when we arrived and was still going on when we left. since all the ‘backyards’ meet behind the houses, it was like the wedding was going on at our place. men with tablas were drumming at the entrance of the house on the street and in the ‘backyard’ were the women. this was all visible to us as we were on the second floor looking over this yard. as i watched the women they would smile and wave at me. there were women singing and playing the boran and harmonium and others were cooking and children playing in between all the goings-on.

the music was heavenly – it was what Joseph and I listen to on our CDs – and here it was – live and right next door. the women sang throughout the day and evening, sometimes dancing traditional dances – in beautifully richly coloured saris. it was exquisite. everything quieted down around 11 pm and around 9 am the first of the singing and dancing started up again. one night the backyard was covered with rich red carpets and some chairs were set up around the edge. men started streaming in and sitting. gifts began to pile up on the carpets until it was covered. the bride and about 30 women came out singing and met every guest at the gate with bindi (mark on forehead) and placing a sweet in the mouth. gifts were exchanged and this went on for some time as all the guests were welcomed. being able to listen and see all of this in person is such a gift!

here is Jospeh standing on the balcony of our guesthouse.

samosa and chai at a roadside stand

early morning snoozer

woman selling flowers for offering at a temple

David kicking back – well swinging, really – on our rooftop

we have been here before so we know the places we would like to see again and of course, this is David and Kelley’s first time. We go up to the Amber Fort and David finds out that the largest cannon in the world is at another fort about 2 km away. so the two of them set off for a hike across the spine of a ridge overlooking Jaipur and spend some time there. they came back with the news of this cannon, how it was forged, how much powder is needed to fire it etc. from its perfect vantage point on the hill, the cannon has 360 degrees view and the range is 22 miles. it was only fired once, when it was tested and never again. apparently the threat of what it could do kept away invaders for a long time. Joseph and I spent a more lesisurely time at the Amber Fort, enjoying each area, me trying to stay in the shade and catch a breeze and do some sketching.

elephants unloading their passengers at the top of the climb to the Amber Fort.

as Joseph was buying the tickets to enter the fort, someone was bringing the teller his morning cup of chai. Joseph jokingly said – oh – we get chai with the ticket? and when the man handed Joseph our tickets, he passed him the small cup of chai which I am holding here in my hand. how sweet!

looking down into one of the hundreds of courtyards from one of the hundreds of balconies. one of the main considerations when building the fort (800 years ag0) is keeping cool. there are passageways which function as air/breeze catchers, there is a certain placement of rooms depending on where the sun will be and the purpose of the room. there are rooms covered in a mosaic of mirrors to reflect the light elsewhere etc.

one of the more ornate entranceways – mosaic and formed beautifully.

 

Golden Temple

here we are entering the main gate of the Golden Temple complex. We have  checked our shoes and are wading through w shallow pool to wash our feet.

one of the side temples within the temple complex

 

we join this line of pilgrims to enter the Golden Temple and see the Holy Book.

from a balcony I notice that each of the tiled squares below is a different pattern.

this is the open air hall where literally 10,000s of people are fed every day.

the plates and cups are metal and here you can see the huge pile of dishes

We left McLeod Ganj and started a six hour trip to Amritsar. most of the drive was through the small villages and countryside of rural India. Water buffalo were busy in the fields, plowing up the small terraced plots to prepare for the next planting of rice. we had a few detours as roads are constantly being upgraded and re-routed. these upgrades take years, so some of the detours are well worn and all the trucking and commercial traffic is streaming through these small villages. the fumes are unbelievable as the trucks are much bigger than our car and because everyone drive 3 inches (literally) from each other, we are always face to face with tail pipes etc. after a few hours face skin takes on a tight acidy feel.

we checked into our expensive hotel close (“close to the Golden Temple” turns out to be 3 km away!) and after looking around our room realize we cannot stay there. it is a good looking hotel but unkempt and too filthy to stay in. (showers don’t work, toilets plugged) jospeh bravely steps outside to scout out another place for us and – praise God! he comes back in a few minutes and herds us over to another place which is inviting and clean. we enjoy a thorough shower – washing the fumes and chemicals away.

in the morning we take a rickshaw to the Temple and join the thousands of pilgrims from all over the world who some to the home of the Sikhs. we make an offering and are given prasad (offering sweet) and get in line to enter the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is part of a whole temple complex with many buildings, smaller temples, shrines, rooms for pilgrims, kitchen etc. in the middle is a small lake and the Golden Temple is in the middle with a walkway leading to it.

in the Golden Temple is the holy book and everyone of course wants to see it. This area is only open for a few hours in the morning – a holy man is reading it. we circumambulate the Temple with thousands of people, all of us bare foot, quiet and reflective. we eat a meal in the temple – they feed over 10,000 people a day. the sit on the floor in rows and men go up and down the rows, filling our plate with rice and dahl.  afterwards we visit the ‘kitchen’ – it is filled with literally thousands of volunteers. rinsing  the metal plates and cups, rolling chapatis, stirring pots of dal that are big enough for 8 people to sit in.  trucks are coming in and out, bringing firewood, potatoes, flour, vegetables etc. it is an amazing undertaking – to feed thousands of people every day.

it is very busy in the morning so we return in the evening – it is quieter and beautiful as the reflection of the Golden Temple twinkles in the lake.

we met a gentleman who welcomes us and says: “this temple belongs to everyone. if you are hungry you can eat here. if you have no where to sleep, you can sleep here. we are open 24 hours a day. when you enter this temple, it is not a Sikh temple – it is your temple. whether you are christian, jew, hindu, buddhist – no matter – it belongs to you. here, someone is reading the holy book 24 hours a day. this has been going on for many years. it is the only place on earth where this reading of holy words goes on 24 hours a day”. it was a wonderful welcome and i was grateful to hear his words.

i had to smile however, because i know of another place where holy reading and prayer is going on 24 hours a day – for over a hundred years – my spiritual home – Unity Village.

Tibetan Childrens Village

A visit to the Tibetan Childrens Village is a must and so we took an autorickshaw up the mountains with David and Kelley to spend some time there. TCV is about a 20 minute ride up the mountains from McLeod Ganj and is surrounded by forests, cliffs (what else?) and valleys. we went to the office and they graciously provided a guide for us. Karma took us around TCV and this is what we learned and saw.

TCV has provided a home and education for more than 40,000 children since HH Dalai Lama’s sister, Pema, created the first one in 1960. Karma herself was a student at TCV and now she works in the office. most of the children are Tibetan orphans. either their parents are dead or they (the children) have been smuggled out of Tibet because their families wanted them raised as Tibetans and this is not possible with the Chinese making Tibet their home. this is, as you can imagine a very hard decision for the parents as they never know if their children survived the escape across the mountains or not. the journey is arduous and extremely dangerous. the weather is cold, the route is teacherous (walking across the Himalayas) and they always need to be avoiding Chinese army. if they are seen they will either be shot on the spot or taken prisoner and back to Tibet. many children have not successfully made this journey – they either died through the hardship or were captured and then who knows what happened to them. the groups travel at night to avoid the chinese army and hide away in the daytime to sleep. they must carry all their provisions with them – the journey can take up to 30-40 days. when the food runs out, the drink melted snow and keep going. Betweeen 500-1000 Tibetans sucessfully make this risky journey every  year, many of them carrying these small children in backpacks or bags.

a big part of TCV is to provide a safe and secure home-like environment for these children as they have suffered much physical and emotional trauma. there are 43 ‘homes’ at TCV. They house 25-30 children each. each family unit has a house mother and father. there are rooms for boys and girls – each one has about 10 bunk beds and they sleep 2 to a bed. they pair an older child with a younger one and the bonds that are formed between these ‘siblings’  last a life time. Each house has a kitchen, the children eat their meals together and they all help prepare meals, do laundry, cleaning and household duties. On the TCV grounds is a nursery for the preschool age children, and also classrooms for all grades :K- grade 12. the high school students have their own dormitories. then there are libraries, activity centres, temple, soccer and cricket fields, and meeting rooms.

Since Simple Gifts is always looking for projects that match our mission we asked about the sponsorship of students. Karma told us that it is usually easy to find sponsors for the very young children, but that the older students are very much in need of sponsors. she said that TCV provides all these services and opportunities for all its children and most of the money comes from foreigners and Tibetans abroad. Karma was very grateful for our interest in TCV sponsorship. We have hercontact information and we will be in touch with her after we return to Canada and talk with the friends of Simple Gifts. A sponsorship costs $40./month and this provides room, board, education, clothing and necessities. We could see that the gift of sponsorship is a precious one.

Morning Routine

Every night is different. some are relatively quiet until dawn and some are an on-going cacaphony of dogs howling and fighting, yelping and whining. this can go on all night up and down the valley, depending on – who knows???

our room has a window facing the east and the mountains, so around 6:30 am the sky begins to lighten and at 7:15 the sunlight blasts through our curtains as it comes over the mountains. it is brilliant, blinding and beautiful. i sometimes can turn over and go back to sleep but often it starts a time of stretching and yawning and looking at the spectacular view out our window – the range of himalayan foothills (12-15,000 feet) the deep blue sky and the cool morning air. there is no heat in the rooms so we adjust our clothing according to what is going on outside.

when i use the bathroom I turn on the heat pump which takes about 15 minutes to heat up a 20 gallon tank that we use for our showers. then I slip back into bed and enjoy the view some  more. joseph gets up has a shower and heads upstairs to the roof cafe where we have our breakfast. since we figured out – through experience – that it takes about 30-40 minutes to make our breakfast, we now have a ritual where I tell Jospeh what I want and he places the order for both of us when he gets to the roof. then i have about 30 minutes to rise, shower and leisurely make my way upstairs. the sun is really bright up there and easy for us to burn, so believe it or not, we sit with our backs to the mountains! we chat with whoever is up there and have made a few friends from around the world.

we watch the eagles and hawks fly right in front of our railing as they cruise the valley, seeing their wings and feather patterns at close range. we watch the shepherds bring their flocks across the valley, the village people moving hay and fodder from one steep slope to another and see people coming and going to the various shrines and temples sprinkled across the landscape.

we usually stay on the roof til almost 10 am and then talk about what it is we will do for the day. not more than 2 things per day.

our days are shanti shanti (peace)

His Holiness

We knew that HH Dalai Lama was going to be returning to McLeod Ganj sometime in the next few weeks but for security reasons the time and day are not publicised. fortunately we have an inside friend who called us at breakfast yesterday to tell us that his arrival was expected in the next half hour. we gulped down our breakfast and hurriedly went up to the street. (remember the hundreds of steps?) the street was starting to line up with Tibetans, westerners, photographers and a very visible presence of the Indian Army. India is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of HH, so this is of course, a very serious matter.  we waited in the midst of incense burning, tibetan flags flying, katas offered, monks and nuns chanting….

it is always wonderful to see his smiling face

ABOVE: thousands of Tibetans from all over India come to receive HH blessing. these people are lined up for an audience with the Dalai Lama.

Our Travel Companions

McLeod Ganj gets cold at night – well as soon as the sun disappears behind the mountains. here are David and Kelley prepared for an evening out – long pants, jackets and hats. when we get to the south all those clothes will disappear – well almost!

This morning HH Dalai Lama returned to McLeod Ganj, his home. although the time was supposed to be secret (for security sake) the word leaks out and we joined the others in the street to welcome him home and see his smile. Kelley is standing in the middle of the crowd as it is dispersing after HH’s car drove by.