Thiruvananthapuram, India | 30 January, 2007 | $9.04
I’m not sure why this hotel was so expensive, perhaps because Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of Kerala? The town has some nice colonial architecture and grand universities to wander around. With a whole day to wander around I ran errands (like buying soap) and getting passport photos taken. After sitting for the photos I watched am employee adjust them in Photoshop. As a designer I had a really hard time watching someone butcher my photograph. For some reason he decided to make my hair black and even started to darken my eyebrows before I was able to stop him.
Madurai, India | 28 January, 2007 | $4.52
Madurai was fascinating! This was my first real taste of the chaos and jumbled, statue-covered temples of Tamil Nadu. After seven hours on the bus I was ready to get a look at the temple. Meenakshi Sundareswar Temple is like nothing I had ever seen before. In retrospect, I wish I had a map of the temple to consult because I just followed the crowd through hallways, courtyards and into small shrine-filled rooms and probably missed a lot of amazing things.
At one point an elderly woman approached me, dipped her finger into a stone statue and pressed a dark red paste onto my forehead. I continued to acquire markings and bindis on my forehead from passing worshipers throughout the day. Every corner I turned I saw something amazing—women painting colorful patterns on the floor, a long hallway of countless statues, a wedding party picnicking in the courtyard, an elephant tapping people on the head in exchange for one rupee, women in colorful saris flowing past stalls of religious memorabilia… I even saw a fortune telling bird! This temple was truly a magical place.
The following evening I got on a night train to Thiruvananthapuram. It’s often easiest to buy train tickets out of a town as soon as you arrive, but in this case I wish I hadn’t. Madurai is once of the places on my trip I would have liked to spend more time exploring.
More (better) photos of Madurai can be seen in the gallery.
Kanyakumari, India | 27 January, 2007 | $5.65
Finally, I made it to the end—the Southern tip of India. After leaving Kerala, and certainly after leaving Varkala Beach, I encountered few Western tourists. Southern India has a vastly different feel than the North and I hope everyone traveling to India has time to experience both. This spot is a special place, not only the Southernmost tip of mainland India, but also the meeting point of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Oceans. A short boat trip bring tourists and pilgrims to two tiny islands where a monument and a large statue of the poet Thiruvalluvar stand.
More than the tourists sites, I enjoyed watching Indian tourists hang out on the beach, wade into the water and buy ice cream from colorful vendors. The day I spent in Kanyakumari was overcast, but the real excitement happened after dark. Something was happening in the temple in town, and after following people through the dark corridors I came up a scene of worshipers chanting around idols. It was hot and humid in the tiny rooms and most of the men were shirtless and covered in sweat. I had no idea what was going on but followed the crowds and eventually found my way out into the cool night air.
More photos of Kanyakumari can be seen in the gallery.
Varkala Beach, India | 25 January, 2007 | $5.65
Another three nights on the beach, still recovering from India before diving back into the big cities. Varkala is really interesting because the town, hotels and restaurants sit atop a high cliff, and visiting the beach requires climbing down the cliff. Aside from a few chair and umbrella rental services, the beach was only populated by people, not the typical sprawl of shacks. Dinner each night was beautiful and relaxing, watching the sun set from a cliff-side restaurant covered in candles and cheap, fresh seafood.
More photos of Varkala can be seen in the gallery.
Alleppey, India | 23 January, 2007 | $6.77
Alleppey was really just a one night stopover on my way South, but I stumbled upon some interesting sights. While walking on the edge of town after a self-made tour of the colonial canals running through town, I saw a large field of military or police officers training children how to march. Along the beach at sunset more schoolchildren turned up to run into the waves and flirt with the boys who stayed a respectable distance down the beach.
Kerala was a refreshing break from dirty cities and crowded Indian cities. I don’t remember running into any other tourists in town and everyone went about their business with only a smile in my direction, not a sales pitch or pushy rickshaw driver in sight.
More photos of Alleppey can be seen in the gallery.
Kochi, India | 22 January, 2007 | $6.77
Heading further South along India’s West coast, Fort Kochin and Kochi are solidly in the Kerala region. I attended a Kathakali performance put on for tourists which has been shortened for the Western attention span. Coming to the theater early is a special treat, because you can watch the performers apply their elaborate makeup and red eyes. The performance has words, only subtle gestures and expressions that carefully convey meaning. Even at the shortened length it was a little long, but definitely worth attending.
More photos of Fort Kockin/Kochi and the Kathakali performance can be seen in the gallery.
Palolem – Kochi, India | 20 January, 2007 | $9.21 (sleeper train)
This train must have been pretty unremarkable since I didn’t bother to record how long the trip took. Perhaps after four nights on the beach I was too relaxed (or antsy) to care.
Palolem Beach, India | 18 January, 2007 | $5.64
How cute, my own little cabin on stilts! The markets around the beach in Goa cater to the want-to-be hippie crowd, full of sarongs, toe rings and patchwork bags. It’s fun to look at first, until you start to realize it’s the same mass-produced skirts and jewelry you see everywhere. I purposefully avoided the “party beaches” as much as possible, hoping to get some fresh air and time to read a few books.
More photos of Palolem Beach can be seen in the gallery.
Panaji, Old Goa, India | 15 January, 2007 | $5.64
I arrived in Old Goa during daylight hours and found another tourist to share a rickshaw from the train station. The driver was happy to take us to a hotel, but when we got out he asked for an astronomical amount for the ride. I had been traveling around India for a while and knew when I was blatantly being ripped off. I suggested a different amount. The driver got mad and tried to take my backpack. I reacted swiftly in defense of my camera and computer and began trying to get his hand off my bag. By the time we finished our fight and the man was tired of being hit by a woman a crowd had gathered. The women seemed pleased that I was standing up for myself, and I paid the man at least double the normal fare (still, less than he wanted) and left.
My passenger, who I had only met 20 minutes earlier, had just arrived in India and was a little shocked. The hotel she wanted to stay at was full, so we ended up walking around town looking for a new place. Old Goa was more expensive than I was used to but the room was very nice and clean. Later that day, as I walked down the street I heard a rickshaw revving its engine, and looked down an alley to see my driver. He was yelling “give me my rupees!” I was on edge for the rest of my visit, not knowing when the driver would show up next.
The next day, while I was taking a self portrait outside of a church a man stood 15 feet away, watching me while masturbating. A policeman watched the scene with little interest. These close encounters set the tone for my visit to Old Goa.
More photos of Old Goa can be seen in the gallery.
Mumbai, India | 12 January, 2007 | $11.24
My last two nights in Mumbai were spent in a tiny, overpriced cinder block hotel room. I had grown accustomed to my own bathroom in India, even in rooms half this price. Mumbai was different.
More photos of Mumbai can be seen in the gallery.