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.

Monday 11 February 2013

Mumbai - Day 1

Reading Southern India 2013

We have had some fun and our trip is just beginning.
Starting on Thursday the 7th of Feb. we experienced the worst snow storm of this winter, Would  we get to Toronto for our flight and if we did would the flight go.
Saturday the 9th the sun was shinning and we had basically an easy ride to Toronto.
Checking in at the Pearson Airport was something else! We arrived at the suggested 3 hours before departure then lined up to check in. The machines were not giving luggage tags so we had to line up. An hour or so later and we lined up to go through security. FINALLY, we were where we were supposed to be. Time for a snack at very noisy Casey's and we were told we were delayed.

About a half hour after they told us to board we were told there was a delay. Then we had to have the wings de-iced my first experience for this. Wow!

We didn't make our connection in Munich but quickly moved from our Air Canada flight     to a Lufthansa flight...small seat flight! Beautiful plane but sooooo little space to sit. Lots of business class. We had an uneventful flight to Mumbai. Waited, waited for our luggage, to find it hadn't arrived. It must still be with AC in Munich. If you haven't been to India there is no way I can explain the next 3 hours.

No suitcases.

February 11, 2013
We have been touring. My mini memories will show you where we have been and what we have been doing.
It was a good day and Mumbai has been wonderful. We are all very tired, hope we can sleep. Our morning starts early with a visit to the Sassoon Docks to take a look at the morning catch.

No suitcases and my 500 Rupee Note is counterfeit.

I have a full page of mini memories to share but will have to work on it tomorrow.

Goodnight from Mumbai

Monday 4 February 2013

Last few days to share In beautiful Croatia, then off to India!

September 19, 20, 21 2012
We had an amazing time in Croatia and it seems with our departure on Saturday for India I have run out of Tuesdays to share for this trip.

I will always be excited about this journey as it was the one I first tried "mini memories" and the beginning of my blog. Even though not many leave comments I am pleased to hear that some of you are regulars to my blog. I am planning to continue as I travel in India. Postings will be when I can get Internet access and have mini memories to share. I have been to India so many times but honestly never stopped looking long enough to even think about painting. India is an on going happening. Mini memories hopefully will give a chance to paint. They demand so little, just look/paint then on to the next exciting moment.

Left in my Croatia sketch book are daily paintings of Zagreb, Split and Brela.
They basically explain themselves.

I am posting from my iPad to give it a try. I hope when I look my blog on line it will be what I expect to see. If it is, you will find me here sharing Southern India with you. Our itinerary is on my website
I am looking forward to once again visiting this exciting country.

Mumbai, here we come.