Munnar

One of the most beautiful and relaxing parts of our time in Kerala was heading up the mountains to the tea plantations and spending a night in the hill station of Munnar.  The cool mountain air was a lovely relief after so many sticky days.  We were pleasantly surprised that the state-run hotel was quite nice, and a few of us got to eat french fries!  Most importantly, since we arrived before sunset, everyone had some free time to themselves.  This all came at the point in the trip where people usually need a break–from the hectic pace of travel, from the parade of foreign buffets, from the formula of a group trip, and from the inside of our (admittedly swag) bus.

I went for a walk with Gaia and Meruschka, eventually coming across about half of our group at one time or another.  I enjoyed moving at our own speed and in such small numbers.  It always relaxes me to be able to shoot without a group either waiting for me or constantly suspicious that I could possibly find a shot they didn’t.  The results aren’t exactly stellar, but shooting always helps to clear out the cobwebs, which is exactly what I needed after a long day on the bus.

Like everywhere else in Kerala, multiple major religions were present at every turn.  As we moved farther north, the increasing influence of Arabs and Islam was comforting.  I love hearing the call to prayer, especially at sunset, and I found the influenced version of Kerala food to be fantastic.  I think we all found ourselves wishing we could stay in Munnar longer, but perhaps the reality is that we were just starved for some sunshine and free time off the bus.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.  I am in Kerala, India on a trip sponsored by Kerala Tourism.  The views contained are completely my own.  I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to my subject matter and I experience the product, service, or location myself. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail harrington.delia@gmail.com

A Day with the Masters: Kalamandalam School in Kerala

We had the opportunity to visit Kalamandalam dance school in Kerala.  The school teaches over 20 different disciplines, including several types of dance, theatre, makeup, drumming, and singing.   There are 60 teachers and over 200 students in those 20 disciplines, and several of the current teachers were students themselves.   The school itself is funded by the state government in an attempt to preserve local traditional arts.  Several of them died out before they could be saved, as many artforms were practised only by specific families in certain geographical areas and were not passed on when family members lost interest or died out.

Students take regular school courses in addition to lesson in their given discipline, usually attending for six years.  It takes 8 to earn and undergraduate degree, and several more for a PhD.   The program is residential, with students living together nearby in a dorm-like Spartan atmosphere.  Classes can start as early as 4 in the morning in order to fit in the necessary hours to practice their discipline, attend standard classes like math, and complete their homework.

In another time period, the arts primarily belonged to the upper class, meaning that only those from certain castes could participate.  They also were only performed in certain areas at certain times, and did not tend to be open to the general public.  This modern, public revival and preservation of the arts has democratized this aspect of culture, allowing all Kerala people (as well as foreigners and other Indians) to participate as well as view these arts forms.  Several of these types of performance are  classified as part of the World Heritage by UNESCO.   It’s great to see the government taking an active role in preserving culture and combatting yet another manifestation of the caste system.

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.  I am in Kerala, India on a trip sponsored by Kerala Tourism.  The views contained are completely my own.  I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to my subject matter and I experience the product, service, or location myself. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail harrington.delia@gmail.com

Archaeology in Kerala

P J Cherian
P J Cherian

The other day in Pattanam, central Kerala , we had an amazing opportunity to see an archeological site in progress and meet with the site’s director.  I’ve seen many artifacts uncovered by archeologists, especially in Egypt, but this was my first chance to visit an active site.

The site was first excavated due to some surface findings, with digging starting in 2007.  The site now includes 4 acres of land with nearly 45 separate trenches in a heavily populated area.  All but one of the trenches have produced artifacts thus far.  The effort is lead by P.J. Cherian, the Director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research.  The team is made up of 20-25 locals, which a rotating cast of visiting team members, including 12 people coming from Oxford next week and 4 or 6 coming from Australia in the next few weeks.  The excavation is mostly funded by the Kerala state government, and won’t be displayed publicly for at least a year.

Pattanam trench, 1 of about 45.
Pattanam trench, 1 of about 45.

Cherian said one of the biggest obstacles to his line of work in India is a lack of interest and education among the population.  In the words of his son, “why do you need the history of 2000 years, isn’t 200 enough?”  Of course finances are also an obstacle, and it was clear his focus is on the research (at least for now) more than the eventual display of these artifacts.

This artifacts from the site go back as far as the Iron Age (1000 BC), covering 90 generations over 2,000 year period.  When speaking about the significance of the site, Cherian said this site yielded 4 million pieces of pottery–previously, only 700 pieces had been found throughout all of India.  Within the historical context, it has long been known that there was a major international port city in the area, but historians didn’t know its exact location.  The presence of artifacts from Mesopotamia, the rest of India, pre-Islamic Middle East including what is now Yemen and Oman, and Europe make him confident that this is that trade city.  The oldest layers contained evidence of regional travel, with successive layers containing evidence of trade from farther afield.

The sign that caught my eye
The sign that caught my eye

Towards the end of our visit, we went to the office/museum to see some pieces that have been unearthed so far.  On one of the signs, I noticed the term “feminist archeology” referenced and of course my interest piqued.  I asked Cherian about the term, and he responded that it refers to archaeology that tries to imagine the worlds of women and children.  He said, “We never imagine women when we undertake archaeology.  We just think of men, even today, because it is a male-dominated patriarchal society.”  In his words, this type of archeology attempts to answer the question, “where were your women, what were they doing?”  I’m glad that these questions are now being pursued by archeologists and that their absence from traditional archeology is being addressed.  However, it is a bit pathetic that women and children have historically been ignored by the field (and many others), and I find realities like this are the reason we need a term like feminism (as about to “humanism” or “equality”): the generic terms that sound inclusive have historically been exclusive, and that needs to be recognized if it is to be remedied.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.  I am in Kerala, India on a trip sponsored by Kerala Tourism.  The views contained are completely my own.  I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to my subject matter and I experience the product, service, or location myself. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail harrington.delia@gmail.com

Welcome to the Monkey House

The other morning I woke up early to a crazy noise.  After trying to sleep through it for a while, I realized that the monkey-like sounds were actually coming from monkeys, and went to get a couple of pictures.  Edgar tells me that these monkeys are more rare than the smaller grey ones that have been all over the town of Thekkady (including reading the newspaper this morning.)Image

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Later on at the hotel near the Periyar Tiger Reserve, we got to get up close and personal with some of the smaller, bolder grey monkeys.  While they are certainly cute, they are feisty and territorial animals, stealing food and water bottles, chasing people around, and generally causing mayhem.  One got into a fellow blogger’s room and made a mess of the place.  If you get too close, they bear their teeth aggressively, and it is clear that if they bit you it would hurt like hell.

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For some reason this guy thought antagonizing the monkeys was a good idea.
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Here, they keep the people in cages…at least while they’re eating.

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.  I am in Kerala, India on a trip sponsored by Kerala Tourism.  The views contained are completely my own.  I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to my subject matter and I experience the product, service, or location myself. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail harrington.delia@gmail.com

Cruising the Kerala Backwaters

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Houseboats before launch

Kerala is a low-lying state in the South of India, on the West coast.  A long skinny strip, Kerala seems to be more water than land, including rivers, lakes, and the Arabian Sea.  All of these bodies of water are collectively known as the backwaters, a term that apparently has a connotation of beauty and serenity here, unlike in the US.  We are never far from water, and have so far gone on an afternoon boat ride and spent the night on houseboats.

Dina shooting the sunset
Dina shooting the sunset
Sunset on the backwaters
Sunset on the backwaters

For a long time, the quickest way to get around Kerala was by water.  However, roads and cars eventually came to God’s Own Country.  With the boats no longer being used, that way of life (and all those jobs) were going to go by the wayside.  The story is that backwater cruises were conceived as a way to maintain jobs and keep those (repurposed) boats in the water.  Personally I’m curious how much this has actually benefits individual workers, since it seems like there are just a few companies that now own all the boats and hire a couple of guys to drive the boat, cook the food, and cater to guests.  Of course they do have access to tips, but I would love to learn more about the level of truth to the claim that backwater cruises are “like a form of social welfare.”

Inma diving in
Inma diving in

For our houseboat adventure, we were spread across 11 different boats, and spent the day lazily cruising through the backwater.  It was common to see other, smaller boats ferrying cargo or  people.  Along the banks of the river were women doing laundry and people riding bikes.  Bicycles are the land-based transportation method of choice in areas that border the water since the paths are so narrow.  Auto rickshaws (also known as tuk-tuks) are also around, and seem to be about the widest thing that could possibly scoot around the area.

Rutavi enjoying our afternoon boat ride
Rutavi enjoying our afternoon boat ride

The service on the houseboats was so good as to be overwhelming, something I find to be a common thread in this area.  No one who works in tourism has allowed me to do anything myself, whether it be to pour milk in my tea, carry my own luggage, or open my own beer.  This is nice, of course, but I feel awkward about how attentive everyone is when I could easily do these things myself and they have so much else to do.  If you’re looking to relax on the water, this is certainly a great way to do it.  The boats all dock overnight, which allowed us to snap the sunset and hang out together all on one boat.

If you want to hear about a cheaper, alternative method to see the backwaters, check out a post from Emanuele, one of the other KBXers, from his first trip to Kerala.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.  I am in Kerala, India on a trip sponsored by Kerala Tourism.  The views contained are completely my own.  I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to my subject matter and I experience the product, service, or location myself. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail harrington.delia@gmail.com

Outside Padmanabhaswamy Temple

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.  I am in Kerala, India on a trip sponsored by Kerala Tourism.  The views contained are completely my own.  I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to my subject matter and I experience the product, service, or location myself. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail harrington.delia@gmail.com

Outside Padmanabhapuram Palace

I’ll be posting about the Palace itself later, which I loved, but for now here are a few images from the surrounding streets.  ImageO

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post.  I am in Kerala, India on a trip sponsored by Kerala Tourism.  The views contained are completely my own.  I accept advertisers as long as they are relevant to my subject matter and I experience the product, service, or location myself. For advertising inquiries, please e-mail harrington.delia@gmail.com