Friday 12 July 2013

Hamilton, The Queen Elizabeth Highway, Lake Ontario, The Welland Canal and Niagara Falls!

I can’t believe that it has taken me so long to get back to telling you about beautiful South Western Ontario and our trip to Niagara Falls.

I left off as we drove down the Hamilton Mountain. It is about here the excitement begins. Fall on the Escarpment is a special combination of orange, red and green.  As you drive on the Queen Elizabeth Highway from Hamilton to Niagara you follow along the left our wonderful Great Lake, Lake Ontario. Shipping moving toward the canal or across this huge body of water could almost consider a traffic jam. It is a chance to see up close those amazing long lake freighters.  The Welland Canal is on the left. Now this is special. My dad used to tell us that the ship was coming over the mountain. You can see the bow of the ship as it rises to the highest lock before making its decent through the system and into Lake Ontario. This is how you get those big ships around our Niagara Falls.
Today there were no ships but I have been looking for them for over 60 years! Sometimes I am lucky. I hope if you come this way you are.

Niagara Falls is a world destination and because of this there are lots of signs to tell you turn here, go this way. It was a misty day but that adds to the excitement. Our first stop was at the American Falls.  Welcome to the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, $20.00 to park your car but it is close and that helps with the price.

Sitting in Elements a newer restaurant looking down on the Falls is magic.
Hear the roar, feel the mist and watch the people. This is a very special place. There is a lot to do at the Falls but we decided to take our guests on our favorite adventure by boarding the Maid of the Mist ($19.95 per person) and taking a ride right into the mist and the roar. I never get tired of this boat ride.

As I said Niagara is a tourist destination so anyone wanting to sell something seems to have come here to set up their shop. We try to make a stop each visit at Canada’s only Hershey store. YUM!

A little further down from the Falls heading towards Niagara on the Lake you come to the Whirl Pool. A cable car takes a journey full of tourists from the Canadian side to the American and back again. We stopped long enough to take a look and for me to include it in my mini memories.

Our journey continues to Niagara On The Lake…come back and join me. 

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Travelling in Ontario on a beautiful fall day

One of the most beautiful destinations in Ontario, besides Stratford, is Niagara Falls.

Last August we had company visiting from the west. Of course we had to travel to Niagara. It just wouldn't be a visit to Ontario if you didn't see the Falls. Niagara Falls is spectacular and always worth a visit.

Our trip began in time to stop at 'Tim Horton's' for breakfast. If you aren't from Canada and haven't hit a Tim's in another part of the world (they are popping up outside of Canada) you won't know what the attraction is. I guess it is a Canadian thing. If you are visiting Canada and are looking for a cup of coffee, a bagel or a donut this is the place to stop. I also am very fond of our new 'MacDonalds' but 'Tim's' is Canada. You can find this coffee shop in every town and city almost on every corner.

Our August morning was a cool but sunny 5 degrees C, perfect. There are many ways to head to the Falls from Stratford but the one we like takes us across country through the beautiful farmlands, a quick left turn in Woodstock with a chance to drive through the old section of the city and then Ontario's 401 highway for one exit and we are on the 403 highway, heading to Hamilton.

Hamilton, once known for the steel industry is situated on the Niagara Escarpment. We don't have real mountains (eg: Rockies) in this part of the province so it is always exciting to clear the top of the escarpment on Hamilton mountain and start to descend.

more to come......

Wednesday 29 May 2013

That's it for S. India - What's Next?

The heading of this post basically tells you where I am right now.  I am home and have been sharing my mini-memories of Southern India with you.  It was a great adventure. Thanks for joining me.

Today being Tuesday I should be posting more mini-memories. Because these little paintings are done while I travel I don't have any more to share with you at the moment. I will be back sharing our exciting watercolour workshop journey to Normandy and Paris, France in October.  In the meantime I will post small mini-memories of day trips I take from my home in Ontario.

Ontario is a very exciting diverse part of Canada and I am sure you will enjoy travelling with me.

If you have signed up to be notified by email when I post you will receive a notice. If you haven't signed up, please do.  I will post a notice for each new posting on my facebook page

Thanks for joining me in Croatia and Southern India. It was a great journey.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Puducherry, Pondicherry, Pondi to Chennai - Day 18

This is the last day of my mini memories. As you can see, I was busy to the point of not having time to paint. Imagine!

Today's itinerary took us by coach from Pondicherry to Villupuram Junction where we boarded an express train to Chennai. I must admit even though our trip by train was interesting because of the very busy families we shared our coach with the experience itself is not one that I wish to repeat.  Travelling by train in India is something that every tourist who wishes to experience India should do. It is how India travels. Our train was very tired, the windows were too dirty to be able to see through so the trip which should have been interesting was very limited. I painted the chai cup, the chai canteen and the back of the chair in front of me. I was able to purchase a chai (not like what I get in Starbucks… much better) from the chai wallah. It was very much a positive to the time spent on the train. Next to me Sue opened a coke she had purchased before boarding and it exploded! A highlight of our journey was how she dealt with this, without a blink. Great traveller is our Sue.
Back in Chennai we returned to the Park (pleased with this chance to once again spend time at this hotel) for a special set dinner. The chef had outdone himself, (this is a quote from Marion’s journal):
“a westernized chicken and crunchy vegetables and…mashed potatoes. We were in heaven”.

Tonight we said goodbye to our travelling friends. Marion and I departed the hotel at 3:00 AM. We had to meet our transfer in the foyer of the hotel. With little sleep we exited the elevator on the main floor to be greeted by 100 male faces. We climbed over a floor covered with cables, cameras and crew. Bollywood had taken over the Park Hotel’s massive lobby. Disco music blared from ‘our’ bar!
Remember, the Park Hotel was once the favorite destination of Bollywood. I am hoping that it really was a movie and not that we had walked through a dream, or the ghosts of things past. It was exciting what ever it was and I will always remember the feeling as the door to the elevator opened.

The rest of our group left at different times during the night and early morning. Three headed for Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Two boarded their return flight to Toronto and Marion and I started a long trip (really the shortest distance) from Chennai to Pune where we spent four nights, visiting long time friends, enjoying Sangam, our accommodation at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, World Centre. We swam in the pool, swung on the garden swing, painted a little painting and talked about a future trip to Sangam as part of the 2015 Around Our World to all Four World Centres that I am planning.

On the 5th of March I once again said goodbye to India. Happily, I disembarked in Toronto to be met by my husband, my daughter and my beautiful granddaughters.

Home again. Planning!

Next time will you be Going Places Together with me?

Pondicherry – Day 17

A day of leisure: that special day when you get the chance to head out on your own, to return to a gallery or historic place for a second look, or to track down that special shop or setting discovered during your own trip research. In Pondi, some wanted to be blessed by a holy elephant rumored to make daily visits to Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple, others wished to wander the markets and shaded streets looking for a final adventure.

After breakfast we met in the lobby and started out together. Shops where shuttered, not to open until late in the morning, but along the street colourful vendors had taken the sidewalk space and laid out their wares. We wandered this impromptu morning market for a while and slowly began to separate into smaller units, each setting off for something of interest.

I was interested in returning to a lovely garden I had noticed the day before. It seemed to be a quiet place that the people of Pondicherry came to rest and relax from the heat of the day. We found the park, called Bharathi, as the sun moved overhead. Most of the shaded benches were taken at this time of day but after some searching, we found a spot out of the sun with a great view of the surrounding garden. I captured a few mini memories and my travelling friend enjoyed people watching and viewing the local plants.  We stayed out of the sun for an hour and then we strolled on.

The next thing our our To Do list was unfortunately a bit of banking. In this former French colony, Visa cards was not as easy to use as we had found in other parts of Southern India. As funds drew short, we set off to find an international bank that accepted all credit and debit cards. Someone thought that they had seen a Citibank logo the day before and after some searching we tracked down the local branch.

Later as we wandered through the French Quarter we discovered a new edition to Pondicherry's culinary scene and decided to give it a try. Lunch at Villa Shanti was perfect. We liked it so much - the modern décor, the historic location, and of course the food - that we decided to invite the rest of the group to join us for dinner. Not knowing how many of the group would join us, we made the mistake of not making a reservation. More on that later.

It is easy to become relaxed when the temperatures are up in the high 30’s C / 90’s F. especially when you have had a lovely, quiet, relaxing sojourn. We decided after lunch we would head back to the hotel and spend some time in the pool. We found a tuk-tuk (no meter rates here) and headed back to our Atithi Hotel. This hotel has an amazing infinity pool on the roof giving you a 5 star view of Pondi. We floated in the cool water looking over the roof tops of the neighbourhood wondering what it would be like to be staying there or there.

It really was a perfect day at leisure. I painted, I wandered, I ate and I relaxed in the pool. I was happy.

Our full group returned to Villa Shanti that evening for dinner under the stars. As we hadn’t imagined a reservation would be essential in this sleepy town, we were surprised to find that all the tables in the open air restaurant were reserved for the evening. But our disappointment only lasted minutes a flurry of activity led to a private room over looking the courtyard being opened to our group. It was a perfect place to spend our last evening in Pondicherry.  Next time I visit Pondi I will try very hard to make this hotel my home.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Pondicherry - Day 16

[Saturday May 4th: It's a beautiful day in Stratford; a warm sun and a cool breeze. And of all the weather I have experienced in all the places I have had the chance to travel, a late spring day in Stratford is hard to beat. While I would miss those crisp, clear, snowy mornings, the amazing colours of autumn, and the blue skies of summer, if I could make arrangements for this kind of day to be everyday, it would be perfect. But until then, a February day in Pondicherry is a wonderful alternative.]

After travelling in India for three weeks it was very exciting to arrive in Pondicherry. We are in France! Well, maybe it's not actually France, but until 1962 Pondicherry was French territory and enough of this history and culture remains that you can still find a perfect French restaurant, walk down a lovely French street and if there is a gate open, peek into the courtyard of a beautiful French home. Local constables still direct traffic wearing the rounded flat-top hat or kepi of the French gendarmerie.

Defined by a river that empties into the Bay of Bengal, Pondicherry is an imperfectly divided city with the French Quarter on the south bank, the Indian Quarter north of the river and Sri Aurobindo's ashram somewhere in the middle. Ang Lee's recent adaptation of The Life of Pi was filmed in these streets and wonderfully captures the beauty of Pondy.

Today we joined our guide Suna and were introduced to her Pondicherry which included the city ashram, the French Quarter and neighbouring Auroville - not geographically part of the city but none the less attached to the life of Pondicherry.

My mini-memory paintings are like steps taken through the day. In Pondicherry, the houses painted grey belong to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and this is the most interesting ashram I have visited throughout India. As a follower of Sri Aurobindo, Suna explained that anyone can come here to stay regardless of your religious beliefs. It is a place for artists and crafts people and the followers of yoga. Sounds lovely, don’t you think? The feelings at the ashram were very positive and the work on display was wonderful. We visited the paper makers and batik artists whose work is sold to help support the activities of this religious community. While my knowledge of Sri Aurobino, the founder of this religious place is limited, the well tended gardens and buildings of the ashram neighbourhood certainly give a positive look to Pondicherry.

Also giving Pondicherry much of its colonial flavour is Rue Cazy. It is here where the history of the French, the English and the Spanish mixes into vibrant architectural details. The owners of these historic homes are reclaiming and restoring each building to its original form and in vibrant purples, pinks, yellows and orange, they are making Rue Cazy a visual delight! The French wrought iron work reminds me of Havana and Savannah and even Paris which is maybe the most fitting comparison. Our cameras worked overtime on this lovely little street!

Lunch today was at Le Club on Rue Dumas. The sun was very hot and the covered patio with slowly turning overhead fans was a perfect place to spend our noontime: out of the sun, under the green leafy canopy, with a gentle breeze. Time slows in Pondicherry, and our lunch was no exception, but it was worth the wait. If you visit Pondy, visit Le Club for lunch but be sure that your afternoon is free.

Our afternoon was not free and for this delicious leisurely lunch we had to give up part of our visit to Auroville.

Driving in India: The road to Auroville is one lane - maybe one and a half - and it is under construction so on each side of the road is a ditch. Driving in front
of us was a large colourful Tata truck hauling dirt. Coming towards us was another
very, very large Tata. And so the age old question, who goes first? At least that would have been my thought in the unlikely event that somehow I was driving one of those trucks. However, I was a passenger on a bus, and each truck continued to proceed in the direction it wanted to travel. One scraped by a tree while the other balanced its wheels over an open ditch. The room between them was almost non-existent, but somehow at the pace of a snail they made it. I can still hear the sound as we all took our first breath as the two trucks passed. Best show of the day!

Auroville is an experimental township, an alternative community founded in 1968 by a figure known as The Mother. It is a surviving artefact of a time when European artists and intellectuals turned their attention, and their sense of design, to India. Imagined as the catalyst for a worldwide revolution in the way we live, Auroville is multi-national, pacifist, non-denominational spiritual community. The township is laid out on a spiral design with hand-made houses turning in towards the city centre where a golden sphere towers over the landscape. Our visit to Auroville was brief as lunch at Le Club stretched into the afternoon and two trucks slowed our commute but we were able to capture a bit of this interesting place in photos and in our memories.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Chennai to Pondicherry – Day 15

Every tour has travel days and the trip to Pondi, aka Pondicherry or Puducherry, was a special journey as it included a visit to Kalakahetra School of Dance and Mahabalipuram.

A quick tip: If your tour passes through a city and then circles back to the same hotel before departure, consider leaving any unneeded luggage with the hotel staff. It is a great way to lighten your load especially if you plan on travelling by train!

Because we were to return to Chennai some of us left our main luggage at the Park Hotel in the luggage room. I was one of the people to do this. Our return trip from Pondicherry included travelling by train. It was so much easier to pack my carry-on bag for this trip.

In Dalrymple's Nine Lives we read about temple dancers and in Chennai the great schools of dance still teach this ancient style of performance.

Our first stop of the day was to visit this school. Mrs. Githa told us that at the time of our visit 180 students were studying here. It is an honour to be chosen to be a student at this school.  We walked quietly through the gardens, peaking into windows, stopping to listen to each magical voice and instrumental music. It was the quiet and the calm feeling that you experience here that impressed me most.

On arrival in Mahabalipuram we walked through a busy market heading toward the sea. Children called out greetings, asked to shake our hands, and wondered aloud where we were from and would we take their picture. Always fun! At Mahabalipuram our first destination was the Shore Temple.

The day of our visit was very warm and like all the other visitors out in the hot mid-morning sun, we walked in every bit of shade this ancient century Hindu temple and each of its weather worn carvings would offer. Imagine, this temple was built over 2600 years ago and still visitors come, sun or no sun.

Back in the market we watched master carvers bring out the shapes of the gods. They work in the sun, along the main market street and the sound of their chisel on stone is unlike any other sound. The work is a very slow labour intensive practice (one chip at a time) and while we wished to watch the the gods take shape, it would have been days or weeks of waiting. Yet, in this very small area you could see and experience the past, the present and the future as it comes together in the sun and the dust.

As a Canadian travelling it is always fun to meet another Canadian and see what brings them to this place. For lunch we stopped at the seaside restaurant,  L’attitude 49 a newly opened cafe owned by Chindi Varadarajulu, a Vancouver transplant. Chindi had a restaurant in Vancouver before coming to India to start this very new adventure. We enjoyed our lunch, spent some time with Chindi, and of course we talked about Canada.

On arrival in Pondicherry, a former French colony that still retains signs of this colonial heritage, we checked into our hotel and as I set to some unexpected negotiations with the hotel staff, the other group members went out to explore. It was the night that the citizens of Pondicherry celebrated a festival in honour of the goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva. The streets were full of people and excitement and it was a wonderful way to see this historic town.

Friday 26 April 2013

Chennai - Day 14

We are in Chennai, the state capital that was once known to the world as Madras. When I was about 15, a colourful tartan fabric known as Madras was in vogue and for some reason it is that colourful fabric that now comes to mind. It's funny how the mind works.

But back to our day in Madras.

We started our day in the lobby of the beautiful Park Hotel. A new city is always exciting. Last night as we walked along the sea, we had a taste of what Chennai had in store for us so were in a hurry to start our day along with Mr. Rudi, our driver and Mrs. Githa, our guide. Our first stop was at Kapaleeshwarar Temple, a temple dedicated to Shiva that is famous for its wish-giving tree. My experience visiting India over the years leads me to believe that often the guide or driver is very keen to share the temple, church or mosque where their family worships. I was not able to determine if this was the case with Kapaleeshwarar and Mrs. Githa but her knowledge and passion for the stories of this 7th century temple made me think that it could very well be.

Lord Ganesha or Ganesh - my favourite Hindu god - greeted us as we entered the temple. He is the elephant headed son of Shiva, the remover of obstacles, and the ‘God of All Good Things’! Devotees often pray to Ganesh before beginning a journey or a new project which makes him very popular as people in India seem to be constantly on the move. Outside the temple, the flower vendors sell strings of marigolds and jasmine adding to the colour and excitement of this sacred place.

It is believed that St. Thomas, an apostle of Christ, came to India in 52AD to spread Christianity. In Chennai the memory of his visit remains in the form of the beautiful Gothic Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Thomas.

Following our visits to Kapaleeshwarar Temple and the Basilica, we passed Chennai’s Central Railway Station, a landmark in the city’s colonial heritage district, Fort St. George. And it is here, in Fort St. George, where we were to see the great Chola Bronzes that we had read about in William Dalrymple's excellent book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. As closely as I read Dalrymple’s account of the family of sculptors whose forefathers had created these treasures, it wasn’t until I stood in the bronze gallery that I understood the work, the art and the faith that was involved in producing such breathtaking work.

After seeing the beautiful form of the gods and goddess we travelled the short distance to the city's most famous silk emporium where the regions extraordinary Kanchipuram saris were on display. While shopping is always the last thing we do and it's always an optional activity, I am always happy to see how many group members love the experience and how long we end up surrounded by these flashes and bolts of colour!

Back at the posh Park Hotel we took the elevator to the rooftop terrace and spent the rest of the sunny afternoon by the pool, relaxing on the large covered beds that are on the deck with a little liquid refreshment. I painted mini memories, had a swim and enjoyed it all.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Madurai to Chennai - Day 13

Today we flew from Madurai to Chennai, known for much of its life as Madras. It is always hard to move on from a place as fascinating as Madurai. There is always more to see, to hear, to taste. This maybe why I have always returned to India and I hope someday to come back to Sri Meenakshi Temple and Madurai.

One thing I have learned about travel in India, is that the tour company is always anxious to get you checked out and off to the airport. Sometimes it seems much earlier than necessary. But unexpected traffic or impromptu wedding celebrations have a way of undermining a tight schedule so today we agreed to pack up and make our way. Today traffic was light, the wedding parties had parted, and Jos took a shortcut so our arrival at the airport was much too early. On the up side, I think that our dear driver Jos was ready to drive home to Cochin and was looking forward to waving goodbye to his charges.

En route we were treated to the entertainment of a mahout taking his elephant to the lake for a bath. It was a lovely photo-op a good reason for the early departure.

On arrival at the airport we each said our goodbyes to Jos and followed the company representative through the security check.  It was to early to check in so we found a seat and waited. The airports that we passed through in India this trip were what you wish an airport should be. Bright and modern with all the luxuries. It was not hard to spend time in them.

Our flight aboard Jet Airways was comfortable and it wasn't long before we arrived in Chennai. I had not been to Chennai for many years, but Ben had told me this hotel, once the site of a famous film studio, was high on his list of places to stay. Welcome to the Park Hotel!

We had time to check in and then joined Mr Rudi, our new driver, for a quick tour of the old part of Chennai called Fort St. George and a visit to Marina Beach. Families in India who are lucky enough to live near the sea enjoy evening gatherings at the beach. The cool breeze must be the main draw for adults, but the kids come to ride the merry go round, to have fresh roasted corn or colourful ices (we would call them slushies), and to laugh a lot and enjoy this special family time. It is easy to say thousands of people joined us on Marina Beach that evening. It was a lovely welcome to Chennai.


Thursday 11 April 2013

Sri Meenakshi Temple at Madurai - Day 12

Feb 22, 2013 Thinking Day (the birthday of Lord and Lady Baden Powell) in Madurai

I should entitle this day as "A Very Auspicious Day!"

We were to spend our day visiting the Sri Meenakshi Temple. One of the reasons for tourists to come to Southern India is the temples. It is hard to describe them. I always think of them as towers of ice-cream colours when looked at from a distance and up close, you must see them for yourself. The carvings are just impossible to explain. These temples represent much that is special in India.  I never think of India without seeing in my minds eye, The Colours of India!

As we arrived at the Sri Meenaskshi, a man sat to have his head shaved - a sacrifice made before worship. We removed our shoes, stored them with the temple staff, and passed through the main gate. It is hard to explain this temple, it is large, huge even, and seems to go on for ever. 

Photo by SR Sasikumar (எஸ்ஸார்)

It was a very auspicious day! Today brides would marry, couples would renew their vows and and parents awaiting the arrival of a new addition to their family would come for blessings. The temple was alive with excitement, and we joined in. This certainly was a special day for us. 

Our tour guide finished our half day tour with a stop at the Mariamman Water Temple which didn't have any water because of the previous rainy season, the monsoon, had not brought enough rain. We wished them better rains in the coming year. 

Later in the afternoon I relaxed in the hotel pool, surrounded by beautiful gardens,  but this was not what some of our group had in mind. Madurai is known for its busy markets, so they jumped into a motorized rickshaw and headed back to town.

They reported at dinner that they had found a rickshaw driver who showed them the market and helped them extend the excitement of the morning on into the rest of the day.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

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Periyar to Madurai - Day 11

The boarder crossing between Kerala and Tamil Nadu was in Periyar Town, just a short distance from our lovely hotel. 

We had come to this region earlier than planned because of the national drivers strike, a strike which was still continuing. But Tamil Nadu is not Kerala, where our driver would face a dangerous journey if he broke ranks. Crossing the border into Tamil Nadu was crossing into a less charged environment where we could continue without worry.  All we had to do was make the short trip from the hotel to the border which went off without a hitch.

At Periyar Town, the crossing gate was down so our driver Jos parked the van, gathered his documents, smiled and went across to the office. And we settled in for a long wait.

But it wasn't long until Jos returned. He jumped into his seat as the gate was lifted and we crossed into Tamil Nadu. I am not sure if I had reason to be nervous, but I was. One thing is guaranteed in India, a good driver is well aware of what can and cannot be done. Once again this was proven.

As we had climbed into the Cardamom Hills to reach Periyar, we now descended from these heights as we left. A strange looking tree with no leaves, just pods, began to dot the tropical landscape on this side of the border.

"Jos, what kind of tree is that?"

"Hmmm... like the match box."

To which Marion replied, "Mesquite!"

"Yes, that's it!" 

It is so great to travel with a small group and a great driver. The conversation just carries on as we ask questions, laugh and include everyone.

On arrival in Madurai we checked into to Taj Gateway Hotel, a heritage hotel high on the top of a hill overlooking Madurai. As they would say, "away from the maddening crowds".  After checking in, and finding our rooms, we joined our local guide for a short visit to the Thirumali Palace and the Gandhi Museum. Marion decided to stay back and was enjoying quiet time beside a lovely swimming pool in the garden. Her company, peacocks!

Our first stop was the Thirumali Nayakkar Palace.            

"Thirumalai Nayak ruled Madurai between 1623 to 1659 CE. He was the most notable of the thirteen Madurai Nayak rulers in the 17th century. His contributions are found in the many splendid buildings and temples of Madurai. His kingdom was under constant threat from the armies of the Delhi Sultanate and the other neighbouring kingdoms, which he managed to repulse successfully. His territories comprised much of the old Pandya territories which included Coimbatore, Tirunelveli, Madurai districts, Aragalur in southern Tamil Nadu and some of the Travancore kingdom.

Thirumalai Nayak was a great patron of art and architecture and the Dravidian architecture evolved into the Madurai style. He rebuilt and renovated a number of old temples of the Pandya period. His palace known as the Thirumalai Nayak Palace is a notable architectural masterpiece." (Wikipedia)

The palace is currently being restored: the pastel southern India colours once again renewed to their original splendor. Everywhere, you see soft pinks, yellows and turquoise, highlighted by burgundy to bring out the carving at this magical place.

Thirumalai Nayak is not to be missed!

Not everything in Southern India are ice-cream colours. A visit to the Gandhi Memorial Museum gave a detailed history of India and the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

"Gandhi Memorial Museum, established in 1959, is a memorial museum for Gandhi located in the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India. Known as Gandhi Museum, it is now one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas (Gandhi Museums) in the country." (Wikipedia)

We returned to the hotel for a short rest before meeting on the patio of the hotel dinning room. It was a special day for one of our group. Today was Marion's birthday. Our moving along had confused the order for the cake. At the Spice Village this morning the chef told me the cake was ready, at breakfast. I was sorry to tell him it had to be at dinner. He was disappointed, but Marion had not joined us for breakfast as she was preparing for our departure. A cake at breakfast would just not do.

At the Taj Gateway, the chef had kindly accepted the challenge of producing a cake. On the completion of our meal, the cake arrived, orange and mango complete with a candle. On the top was written, "Happy Birthday Marion!" It is always fun to share a special event in someone's life as you travel. I have a special memory of my birthday, while on a cruise on the Nile River. I hope Marion will include this birthday in Madurai in her special book of memories.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Periyar - Day 10

In the cool Cardamon Hills  

Our quick departure from the beautiful backwaters of Kerala took us from humid tropical jungles to the clear cool fresh mountain air. No need for air conditioning in Periyar, at least not this visit!

After the Kalaripayattu show we returned to the Spice Village where our cottages were waiting. The room staff had been in, the beds were turned down, the screened windows open allowing a beautiful cross breeze. On the porch on either side of the door burned a mosquito coil. This allowed you to enter your room without bringing in those nasty little insects. I hadn't seen any but everyone worries so much about mosquitos when travelling in India it was one more reason to be completely comfortable at 'The Spice Village'. As you can see I recommend this hotel.

This morning we awoke to birds singing in the trees.  I took my sketch book and paints out to the porch, a perfect way to start the day. The staff were busy preparing cottages for arriving guests, but we were at leisure because India was on strike! No matter who explained it to me I just couldn't understand. I guess being from Canada is one of the reasons for this. Could you imagine your country going on strike for two days? I love India.

Strike in India: Reason behind Bharat Bandh

The strike meant only that we had to stay in Periyar. The shops in the town were not open, our driver was having a holiday.  We had a tour guide and he was willing to walk with us so after breakfast we met him in front of the hotel and we walked.  Everyone was excited we were going to see the elephants and if possible ride them. It was a pleasant walk, with  very little traffic and to our delight the monkeys came to the road to watch us.

The Elephant Junction

What a morning it turned out to be! Riding elephants, watching them have their bath, feeding them bananas and to top off the excitement, we each took a turn having the elephant bless us. How does an elephant bless you? You muster all the courage you have, stand before the elephant and slowly the elephant places his/her trunk on your head. In your mind you say, bless you, you smile and move so the next person may receive a blessing.

After watching all the blessing taking place in Rome this week I wonder if the Pope could use some help?

Our tour guide took us into the jungle to see where many of the spices we use came from. I was amazed when he stopped at a tree and scraped away a little bark. Smell here, he said, so we did... Cinnamon! I didn't know that cinnamon was a tree. There is lots I don't know but each time I travel I learn something new. I have to or my trip is not a success. This trip was a success, over and over again. Now to remember.

Back at the Spice Village lunch was being served. We had the option to eat in the main dining room or try the outdoor grill. The grill it was! The sign said "Prawns 800 INR'S", this is about $16,00 CAD so sharing with someone made the meal the right price. The prawns are huge and oh so tasty. While waiting we enjoyed the day, a perfect temperature, guinea fowl scampered across the lawn, the gin and tonic was cold and the chef in his tall white hat, under a canopy of orange flowers, grilled our lunch.

Back in my room my laundry was waiting. The Dhobi picked up my things in the morning and returned them clean and pressed, in a lovely wicker basket. You don't have to take too many clothes to India because this special service is available in all accommodations. Everyone wants to take the Dhobi home. I think we might have passed him while walking in the village. He stood at the side of the road, his iron heated by coals from a fire (this is the same iron we see in our museums that were used by settlers to Canada when there was no electricity).

The Dhobi does a beautiful job and for someone like me, who only irons when it is absolutely necessary, a big big treat!

Resting and relaxing in Periyar.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Periyar - Day 9

We woke to rain. With the air conditioning pumped up in the room and the heat and the rain outside the world looked like it was about ten shades of grey. While we slept the colours of the backwaters had washed away.  A strange feeling.

Life continues here as in most places of the world when it rains, the people of the backwaters could be seen moving along the shore heading to where their day would take them and we would be doing the same. Our driver was waiting for us at the prescribed meeting place so breakfast was served, our luggage collected and we left our boat for our journey to Periyar.

I wasn't pleased about this move as I was looking forward to the two nights and days on the backwaters. It is a magical place. Even though the weather was not our reason for leaving the rain helped us feel that moving on was a good idea.

Our van climbed up, around and through, switching back and forth as it followed the roads. The view out the window continued to be more expansive as we climbed and the valleys became further away. The trees along the road changed from a forest of palms to organized plantations of mango, banana and cashew trees.  The hill were planted (stepped) with neat rows of tea.

Periyar, our destination, is in the middle of a mountainous area of the Cardamom Hills. Elevation 2000 ft. The sun was shining and the heat of the lowlands was left behind. Our accommodation was an ecolodge called Spice Village. Our accommodation a thatched cottage in a garden. Perfect.

Our driver had pointed out as we passed through the village an opportunity to experience Kerala's martial-arts, Kalaripayattu.

From Kadathanadan Kalari Centre, Thekkady: "Kalaripayattu - the oldest of martial arts - is a gift to the modern world and known as the mother of all martial arts. Legend traces the 3000-year old art form to sage Parasurama, the master of all martial art forms and credited to be the re-claimer of Kerala from the Arabian Sea. Kalaripayattu originated in ancient South India. Kung-fu, popularized by the monks of the shaoline temple traces its ancestry to Bodhi Dharma - an Indian Buddhist monk and Kalaripayattu master."

It was an amazing performance. If you are travelling in Kerala and have this opportunity, don't pass it up. I almost did as I try to stay away from anything I feel is promoting fighting. This would have been a mistake on my part. The presentation was a beautiful dance.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Backwaters of Kerala - Day 8

Good morning from Puducherry (once called Pondicherry), on the south-east edge of India.

If you have been following my blog you will know I am behind with the postings. Forgive me. India is a visual country and it is very difficult to move your eyes from what is happening around you, to spend time looking at this key board. I love sharing India with you and will continue to do so until you see a mini memory of us heading home. We still have almost a week to absorb this amazing place.

Back to Day 8 and our arrival in Alleppey!

We left Cochin, its wonderful Fort area and the Brunton Boatyard this morning after an early breakfast was delivered to our room just after 6am. We had a full day ahead of us and miles/kms to cover. Everyone was looking towards our time on the backwaters. On arrival in Alleppey, our driver decided we should see the beach so to the beach we went. (I think he was lost.) On the beach we found a camel who seemed a bit out of place. While some headed off to find the w.c., the rest stood on the sand looking out past the camel to the sea. That's when it started to rain. Slowly at first, so we just found shelter under a tree. But then it POURED! And we were soaked but happy. We must have looked very strange to our host when we finally arrived at the home of Rani John.

Arundhati Roy's novel 'The God Of Small Things' found much of its inspiration in this part of Kerala so we were excited to explore the unique landscape of this tropical town. The Preserve Alleppey Society is an organization that has been trying to restore the historic buildings, gardens and waterways of Alleppey. They had a huge setback when a horticulturist who was leading the way, passed on and without the support of the government they raise money and promote their dream by sharing Alleppey's history with travellers.

Rani John was away so another member of the society, Mary, was our host. We first gathered in Rani John's garden (worth the visit in itself) under the shelter of a garden pagoda. It was perfect! The sun came out. Our planned walking tour changed to a tour in the van which was a little disappointing for those who were looking forward to the walk. This was also the beginning of a  number of changes we were going to have to deal with over the next few days. This was a small one.

After an interesting tour of this faded, "Venice of the South", lunch was served in another beautiful friendly garden. Mary, also an artist, was the host for this part of our visit. It was a wonderful opportunity to enter two lovely homes and to experience what the Kochama house of Roy's novel would have been like before the lives of that family began to change.  It was a pleasant hour or so relaxing in this beautiful garden, sharing the company of two interesting women before we set off for our journey on the backwaters.

While we were in Cochin, news broke that an all-India strike was about to take place. During this two-day strike, called a bandh here, drivers of trucks, buses and boats would be unable to work. So our two-night backwater experience unfortunately ended up being just one night. We had to make a run for Periyar and the Tamil Nadu boarder if were to carry on.

As we boarded the houseboat, the rain stopped and the world smelled and looked crisp and clean. After checking into our rooms, we climbed to the upper deck lounge and settled in with our cameras  as we enjoyed a slow cruise past rice fields, palm trees and villages. Before dinner we boarded what is called a country boat (similar to a dug-out canoe) and were guided into a smaller waterway to be closer to the birds, animals and people who make the backwaters their home. Back on our boat the staff were preparing dinner as we stopped at the picturesque waterside St Mary's church. The sun was setting over the backwaters. It was heavenly.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Fort Cochin - Day 7

A day at leisure.

The Brunton Boatyard is a beautiful comfortable hotel. We decided not to rush out this morning. The view from our room  was a perfect place to start our day. The coffee was hot and the basket of fruit refilled each day.  It was our last day in Cochin and we didn't want to rush through it. I also needed to write my blog as I was getting behind. Once this was done and before it got too hot we decided to take a look at the colonial houses behind the Dutch cemetery that Ben had suggested as things we might like to do on our days off.

We walked along the water, past the fishing nets to the corner where we felt we should turn. We had the map from the hotel. There is so much to see when you do one of these walks it is hard to remember you have a direction. On the fence as we made the turn where large about 5' x 6', drawings of what I think must be members of the local political party. They were spectacular! This of course took time as we admired the artists talent. Then on we went still planning to see the colonial homes. A sign said turn here for Fab India, so of course we did. Neither of us needed anything as we had visited Fab India in Mumbai when we needed clothes while we waited for our luggage to arrive. But to pass up a visit to this store was too much. We stopped at a small cafe called the Vasco Homestay for a cold drink and took time for a mini memory before continuing our walk which now was a hunt for Fab India.

It was a very hot day and I must admit we just didn't make a correct turn, several times. We didn't find Fab India nor did we get to the Dutch Cemetery but believe me we saw a lot of Fort Cochin. As watercolour artists we were excited to find a shop where the owner had his easel set up and was enjoying a mornings painting. He sold art supplies and his work was also for sale. I was tempted but resisted.

It was time to get back to the hotel so we stopped a rickshaw driver (they call the motorized rickshaw a Tuc Tuc here) and ask directions to the Brunton. In less then five minutes we were back in our room watching the ferry arrive and depart. All that walking, we deserved ice cream, so we headed to the cafe, settled in under an umbrella for an afternoon treat!

It was a leisurely day, one that did all the things 'a day of leisure' is meant to do. We got some exercise, wandered where we had not been before and enjoyed every minute.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Fort Cochin - Day 6

Following breakfast we joined our guide for a walking tour of Fort Cochin. Our first stop took us to the Chinese fishing nets. The fishermen were more then willing to show us how the nets worked so members of our group took turns helping to lower and raise the nets.

Their catch... a plastic bag, two small fish and lots of smiles from the fishermen and each other.  While those who participated in pulling on the ropes cheered each other on, the rest of our group were doing some serious bargaining for serious souvenirs. Negotiations won a group member three strings of colourful little elephants. Something like the catch our fisherwomen made, the fun of the negotiation is worth the effort. We walked on along the harbour chatting and laughing.

On the serious side we had an informative visit to St. Francis Church, the almost final resting place of explorer Vasco De Gama. Vasco De Gama was originally interred in Cochin before his body was returned to Lisbon. We had a visit to Santa Cruz Basilica on our itinerary. On arrival we entered the front door and were informed by the caretaker that we must move quickly as it was time to clean the church! Always interesting being a tourist.

Southern Indians seem to be mainly Catholic or as they say, "Christian".  Almost every corner has a large church and the people you meet are proud to share their faith with you. The first thing someone will ask is, "are you Christian?" This amazes me as they also are proud to say that they vote for the Communist party. Kerala is, according to tour books, the state with the highest number of girls who have received an education and the highest literacy rate per capita in India. I can't say if this is true but I have seen more girls going to school and find that more people I meet, as I wander the streets, have learned to speak English. A great help to travellers!

Our last visit of our walking tour of Fort Cochin was to Mattancherry Palace. Now a museum, this palace was built by the Portuguese in 1555. It houses a private collection of art and sculpture. The religious sculptures are shared with the community for special celebrations, then returned to the museum and put back on display to await the next festival.

Lunch was on our own. This is always a chance to decide where and what we will eat. Today we took the guide's suggestion and went to the Hotel Fort Cochin, directly across from the Brunton Boatyard, as they advertise "The best prawns in Kerala!"  Those who had the prawns enjoyed them but to determine if the advertisement was really true we will need to visit more restaurants and try more prawns.  Prawns at every opportunity!

An afternoon free, then at 5:30 PM we headed to a local theatre dedicated to kathakali dance.  The first hour we watched the actors perform the ritual application of their makeup. We watched with cameras in hand as the makeup artist changed each actor from man to god. This ritual was followed by a demonstration of the hand signs actors use to tell the story. They are similar in some ways both to sign language and the symbolic actions used in silent movies, although kathakali dancers use more creative facial expressions and body movement!  India has so many languages and dialects that these symbolic gestures are a kind of shared language that everyone can understand. Even tourists! The performance itself was the retelling of a Hindu epic, a classic struggle between the forces of good and evil. Good won with slaying of Evil, we cheered, and headed off for dinner!

Dinner - our next epic as all meals in Kerala are presented at a slower pace making their length anywhere up to two hours - was at the Malabar House. Seated in the garden, by the pool, under the stars, we enjoyed every bite as a traditional drum and violin serenaded our party.

Goodnight beautiful Cochin.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Fort Cochin - Day 5

A 9:30 pick up by the local tour guide and our driver started our day. We walked through Eranakulam market, learning the names of each unknown fruit or vegetable. The people in the market were friendly and oh so willing to stop what they were doing to share with us. Many here in Kerala speak English so travelling around as tourists asking questions is not difficult. So many beautiful smiles! You felt an instant welcome.

After learning where and what is available in the market we went to Nimmy Paul's for a cooking lesson and of course lunch. I learned how to cook fish, fish that I who am not a fancier of fish, enjoyed every morsel. I have the recipe and will be trying it at home.
Nimmy had a great set up for her cooking school. The big mirror hanging up behind her cooking area let us see everything she was doing. She is a very pleasant woman ready to share her recipes as well as her home and her family. Her husband sat with us at lunch, the perfect host.

A little down time back at our hotel (it is quiet warm here and the hotel/ van air conditioning an important break) we boarded a small tourist boat at the hotel dock and had a pleasant couple of hours in the harbour giving us a chance to experience at a closer distance the fishing boats and harbour life.Our boat trip ended at sunset, perfectly timed so we were in the right place to photograph the Chinese fishing nets. My mini memory doesn't do it justice but I know down the road when I pick up this painting journal it will trigger this memory which my brain will then take closer to the real thing.

Skies on fire!

Back to you at my next Internet access. I don't think the backwaters will give me this opportunity but hopefully time to paint.

Fort Cochin - Day 4 (Continued)

Fort Cochin, our beautiful accommodation, the Brunton Boatyard. Each room looks out on the water through misty shears giving a rather magical feeling to the view.  It is a very busy waterway. Cochin and the new city of Eranakulam along with several other islands are connected by causeways and ferries. The ferry dock with a very busy schedule of transporting people and vehicles back and forth to the new city is next door to our hotel.

On arrival we met on the patio for a drink and a welcome to Cochin. It was sunset. A perfect welcome to this colourful South Indian town. A great way to begin our stay here.

Dinner was at the hotel. The chef went out of his way to prepare a special meal for us ending with a valentine shaped dessert that he poured a liquor over and set alight. A great smile was enjoyed by all, especially the chef.

Friday 15 February 2013

Mumbai to Cochin - Day 4

Just a short note on Valentine's Day.

This morning it's time to leave Mumbai.

It has been an interesting and happy visit. I will return.

Across from our hotel was a taxi stand, always a driver was waiting for a fare. Security is high but the gates are beautiful.

Bye Mumbai, we are off to Cochin!

Depart Hotel to airport: 10:00 AM
Arrive Domestic airport: 11:10 AM
Flight Departs 13:26
Arrive Cochin: 3:30

A drive to our hotel. Very very busy, and a parade for women's rights.  We arrive at the Brunton Boatyard at 6:00pm.

More later!

Mumbai - Day 3

A Day at Leisure

In all our itineraries we try to include this very special day for our travellers. It is an opportunity to shop, rest or do our own exploring. Often, after a couple of days with tour guides where we get to see the tourist necessities, the best day.

We headed out in two separate groups - some walking, some in a cab - and met at the Gateway of India for the 10:15 boat to Elephanta Island. Elephanta is a destination for more then just tourists. The temple carvings bring the spiritual as well as the lookers. The 150 rupee (about 3 dollar) ticket gets you a ride to the island. The busy harbour is full of large ships waiting to load or unload.

At Elephanta we took the toy train to the official entrance (10 rupees) and waved goodbye to two of our group who decided to make the final steep climb to the temple caves. Three of us had visited on a previous occasion, so joining other visitors who were finding it "just too hot!" we found a comfortable chair at a cold drink stand and enjoyed a Limca, while watching the travellers and the workers come and go. I watched a woman barbequing ears of corn and workers moving huge bags of cement on their heads.

Painting "mini-memories" brings the interested to your side to watch. A handsome young man sat down to share the name of a passing ferry,  'Al-Mobin.'  It was just like the ferry we were just on, so I had to add it to my memories. The young man was travelling with six other men. They were from Kashmir and were on a religious educational journey. Talking to him brought others to join us: a tour co-ordinator from the UK travelling the width and breath of India, and a couple from a little place on the coast of Croatia (just on the curve) between Split and Brela. If you have been there you will know the place. Of course, our conversations included interested local travellers as well.  Such fun!

I am not sure what the temperature shot up to, but it was hot. We decided to 'do as they do' and rest from the heat. Our destination for this lovely cool restful time was the pool at our hotel. Lovely after noon of reading, swimming and for some, a nap.

I said that we were doing as the locals did so later we changed, grabbed a taxi and headed to the shops on Colaba. After shopping for jewellery - with success for many - we headed to Cafe Mondegar for dinner. A shared club sandwich, a glass of wine and great friends. It was an evening to remember. Love these leisure days!

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Mumbai - Day 2

Our day started at 7:15 when we prepared to head to the dining room for coffee. We met out guide in the foyer of the hotel for eight. We were to walk to the Sassoon docks but found our van waiting for us. A short drive to the docks then about an hour walking through the fish. What a crazy place as Ben put it in our journal, "awash with colour and sounds of the Koli fisherfolk". Women carrying fish on their heads in colourful plastic bowls, fishermen bringing in the catch, school age girls quickly removing the crusty coat of millions of small shrimp and of course noise, confusion and 'who will buy'?

All this confusion was hard to leave especially for those who were desperate for time to capture this excitement with brush and paint. There was no time as we had so much to do so many places to go. I managed a couple of mini memories but oh how I wished for a chair and hours to paint!

We returned to the hotel for a breakfast break. Freshly cooked eggs done to order, toast, fruit (oh so sweet pineapple, mango, grapes and bananas) were the order of the day. We were now ready to take on what ever out tour had waiting or us.

OUR LUGGAGE ARRIVED!  I still can't believe it but it arrived, wrapped in shrink wrap and all in order. Everyone had a smile.

Following our itinerary we drove. Through the streets of Mumbai to our first stop at the Mahalaxmi Temple. A walk down a narrow walkway for pedestrians and motor bikes we stopped removed out shoes and entered a small temple to Ganesh ( my personal favourite Hindu God). Once everyone had a chance to look in we continued along through security (just like the airport and everywhere you go in Mumbai these days) to the temple. No photos here and no chance to paint so close your eyes, take a deep breath and smell, incense, spice and flowers; you are in India. I believe at the temple or the mosque you are closest to the real mother India the one that brings her children home on a regular basis from their new homes across the seas.

Haji Ali's Mosque was our next stop it is getting warmer. We joined the masses and began our journey through security then along the shop lined walkway out to an island in the Arabian Sea. The home of this sacred place of  Sufi Islam was destination for many, Muslim, Hindu and Christian all are welcome to the island. The Mosque is for those of the faith. It was an exciting honour to visit.

Back to our bus, we had to cross the busy streets. Doing this in Mumbai is one of those times you really stretch your elastic. Take a deep breath and watch out you never know what is crossing and how fast they are going.

A leisurely ride to Malibar Hill, past the Jane Temple (one of my favourite in Mumbai) for a short stop at the Hanging Gardens ( a garden of animal shaped topiary that was built over the Mumbai water storage). The parrots yelled at each other as they chased among the trees.

The Dobi Ghats, a chance to see what I think must be up there as the largest laundry in the world. Always a stop for any visit to Mumbai.

Lunch today was at what i remembered as Jazz By The Bay and what is now called Pizza By the Bay. Still a good choice. Today a pizza for two (cheese and tomato) was INR's 535 about 10.00 Canadian, enough for two to share. Then a visit to Mahatma Ghandi's home,  the group did a  tour and I painted a mini memory.

At 4:30 we went to a Bollywood movie at the CR-2 in Nariman Point. A beautiful modern up to date theatre with comfortable chairs. I thought I would  have trouble staying awake not being able to hear the music or understand what was being said. How wrong I was! I was hooked two minutes into the movie ABC 'Any One Can Dance! ' they were right I danced in my heart in my mind and in my head. I need to get a copy of this movie I loved it!

Dinner a special treat (we have had so many this trip it is hard to say that, but it was). I didn't have time to paint but we all enjoyed the ambiance the service and the food. If you are visiting Mumbai give it a try. Let me know what you think.