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South India, Kochi, Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, Pondicherry

PrintPrint | 02-12-2007, 11:52:32 | Christian   

South India, Kochi, Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, Pondicherry


With my suitcase packed I am off to Düsseldorf Airport. The train ticket is sponsored by Emirates so that the travel commences conveniently, starting in Duesseldorf with a stopover in Dubai and with a final destination in Kochi, the biggest city of Kerala, located on the south west cost of the country also famous owing to the Malabar Coast of the Indian Ocean. Six hours just fly by and I arrive in Dubai, one of the most international hubs of the globe...

One month in South India

 

The arrival

With my suitcase packed I am off to Duesseldorf Airport. The train ticket is sponsored by Emirates so that the travel commences conveniently, starting in Düsseldorf with a stopover in Dubai and with a final destination in Kochi, the biggest city of Kerala,  located on the south west cost of the country also famous owing to the Malabar Coast of the Indian Ocean. Six hours just fly by and I arrive in Dubai, one of the most international hubs of the globe, connecting Africa, Europe and Asia. The ethnic diversity here again reminds me that I am already far away from Germany and that I will soon move on to an even more distant destination. Owing to the perfectly organized infrastructural conditions at the modern airport I do not have to check in my entire luggage again, so that I can get to the next gate right away. My second plane is a local plane and so has few international travellers. Nonetheless I strike up a number of interesting conversations and so my four hour flight passed by very quickly. Arriving at the baggage claim area at Kochi  the tension is rising: “Did my luggage make it to India”. Time passes and my luggage has not yet appeared on the band conveyer. Finally, among the last pieces I see my suitcase popping up and I feel relieved, just happy that I would not have to engage in those irritating exchanges with airport officials about the whereabouts of my belongings. At last I start my Indian adventure.

 

 
Kerala – Exploration

Thoduphuza is where my Indian friend, his family and I will reside for the first week of the stay. Kochi and Thoduphuza extend along the south Indian west coast and is heavily affected by the monsoon during summer months. With a perceived air humidity of a 100 percent and a temperature ranging from 25 to 35 degrees I do not spring into action and as I figure out quickly: I do not even have to. The first adventure starts right away: The ride from the airport to the village of Thoduphuza is already sort of an exploration of the rich natural vastnesses of Kerala. Since the first week is dedicated to the family, I will have the opportunity to explore even more of the local nature, Indian customs and culture far away from the developing centers of India even though I have not mastered the local language (Malayalam). I feel I must  appear rather reserved to the people around me.

 

In retrospect  it is all a bit overwhelming. This holds for the natural diversity of Kerala (also known as “God’s own country”) as much  for the domestic and urban life as for the hospitality of the locals. The friendliness and vitality were unique, something I had not come across before. What was really surprising, was the enthusiasm of the locals to my visit, a “Sahip” as especially the uniformed pupils and students used to call me. After initial amazement my friend Anil clarified that “Sahib” was an expression stemming from the colonial reign of the British Empire, equivalent to the term “sir”, which is generally used for white (i.e. the English during colonial rule) men.

 

The curiosity and inquisitiveness of the pupils (in my opinion very literate in English) was very refreshing and mostly resulted in spontaneous approaches and subsequent questions like “where are you from” or “what is your name”. The difference between pupils in India and Germany for instance could not have been bigger. It felt like these children are far from being spoiled, with the gaining of knowledge being the primary goal.

What was especially noticeable was the deep Christian faith of parts of the population, which often resulted in intense and long-lasting prayers. Another surprise was how the different religions are combined in everyday life; without any conflicts or disputes:
I saw no discord between Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh.

Next to the domestic impressions we were soon to experience the urban life, beginning our first big tour in Kochi, the biggest city of Kerala. Accompanying us was the cousin of my dear friend Anil, as soon as the (incredibly filthy) train from Kochi arrived in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, also famous for the impressive white mermaid right next to the seaside. Another three hours bus and we finally arrived in Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), the southernmost spot of India, located in Tamil Nadu, a state almost entirely populated by Tamils. In retrospective the urban experience did exactly cover my expectations: Brisk demand and sales and unorganized, partly chaotic conditions. Everybody seemed to sell something and the streets were very crowded with dealers, shoemakers, beauty parlors and Internet cafes. The worst part was certainly the traffic. Anarchy seemed to reign here, where traffic lights were rarities and the horns never remained silent.

Here you can find rickshaws and automobiles next to cows and other cattle all over the place. People wash your car without prior notice, sell nuts and fruits while you are waiting in queue and it can take hours to get to from A to B even though the distance can be left behind afoot easily. As a matter of fact the experience of Kochi was only the forerunner of what should await us in Bangalore. Especially noteworthy was the sunrise in the southernmost city of Thamil Nadu (heavily affected by the Tsunami in 2004) dyed the whole coast line pinky red, an atmosphere that cannot possibly be captured on film. Not for want of trying though...

 

Leaving Kerala for Bangalore and Pondicherry

Bangalore, India’s IT centre and geographical centre of South India was awaiting us. Booking a Sleeper Bus turned out to be a wise decision since it was a relaxed way to overcome the long twelve hour trip that commenced in Kochi.  

JP Nagar was the residential area where we put our feet to rest for a couple of days, with our lovely friend Subin. At one glance one could see that the city was buzzing. I have never in my life witnessed such a vibrant environment. The streets were crowded with pedestrians, workers, animals, automobiles and merchants. Every second building appeared to be under construction and the streets were not really well developed. The air was heavily polluted, especially in the city centre. I was told that an hour on Bangalore’s streets was as harmful to your health as a whole packet of cigarettes! This is why we chose to remain on the peripheral districts of the city, after exploring the incredible dusty centre. I was told that the city was not meant to accommodate as many people as it actually did. The idea of a small (by Indian standards!) technological town in the centre of South India at some point got out of hand, with no turning back. This is also an explanation for the unorganized and yet underdeveloped infrastructure of Bangalore.

Next to the pollution and chaos the city reminded me of many western cities, with huge malls and shopping opportunities, American restaurants and advertising billboards. The contrast between the fast pace growth of the city and the traditional Indian lifestyle with its rites and habits is somewhat disturbing and appears hardly at ease. I wondered how it might look like ten years hence; will tradition vanish for the sake of capitalism? Is tradition and religion only a substitute for wealth in times you are not on the “bright side” of life? 

Due to its location and elevation the climate in Bangalore is wonderful. The air (away from the inner-city pollution) was very thin and the monsoon did not really reach the city, so that the weather was somewhat predictable for the first time of my stay in India. This was a very enjoyable experience.

The city itself however offers only very little for most tourists, apart from Americanized malls and numerous restaurants. More promising is the nightlife which is similar to what you can find in Europe or the States with respect to music, localities and drinks (only the style of the party crowd appears to be somewhat misplaced). Noticeable was the relatively large number of non-Indians. If you plan to stay in Bangalore a visit of the Club Athena is a good bet, it is part of the Leela Palace Hotel and plays hip western music and is nicely equipped. A major drawback however is the fact that most clubs stop at one o’ clock, so that serious partying has to move to private locations. This might however only be a temporary occurrence, so better check in advance or go with locals. 

After four days of our stay in Bangalore this chapter had to close as well and we went back to Kochi, picking up our dear friend Jens from the airport. Following was another long Semi-Sleeper bus ride from Kochi to Pondicherry on the east coast of southern India, right next to the huge city of Madras (Chennai). The enclave Pondicherry (also located in Tamil Nadu) is a prior French colony and still French territory nowadays and as such to be compared to Goa. The city is full of ethnic variety, accommodating tourists, students, volunteers and dropouts from several European countries (but especially France) and is the perfect place for relaxation, even if you are not planning to spend a lot of money. The coastal city offers both Indian-traditional facilities (restaurants, teahouses, beauty parlors) and French comfort (cuisine francaise) and a more or less clean beach (la plage européene). Especially the hotel “Dumas Guest House” (located at the coast) is to be mentioned here, offering clean, spacious and air conditioned rooms at fair prices. Reservation is easy as the owners' office is right next to the hotel. Also the adjacent restaurants Le Club and Rendez-Vous offer variety and quality and drinks at reasonable prices (slightly above general Indian level, but still inexpensive with respect to western conditions). For those who plan to rest in the south of India for a longer time Pondicherry is definitely a place to stay, since you can put your feet to rest right here and enjoy the nice atmosphere and the interaction of Indian culture and European influences, be it at the beach or on a tour to the nearby Madras (Chennai).

The remaining time of our stay in India was dedicated to the south of Kerala, more precisely Thiruvalla, a small town near the capital of Trivandrum, where we were to witness the Indian marriage of our friend Jens and his wife, a wonderful finish of an unforgettable experience.

 

Bottom line:

South India is definitely worth a travel. However as a traveler you should be prepared to encounter some inconveniences and to be aware that in the monsoon season tummy bugs can be a nuisance – if you buy appropriate medication at home you will always have it to hand.

The unbelievably kind locals, the tremendous and rich nature and  the variety of possible travel destinations (cultural, beauty, relaxation, society) or the dynamically developing country, India  provides various impressions you can hardly get elsewhere. Thanks to my friends Anil and Jens and their lovely families I was able to witness India behind the scenes so that I felt like a family member and was able to capture impressions I will never forget for the rest of my life. Furthermore the whole trip turned out to be very inexpensive with the flight being the biggest cost. Sadly I had to turn my back on India, knowing that my return to Germany would be a huge culture shock – perhaps less lovely – less charming but  with all the modern conveniences we became used to and not forgetting my beloved family and friends!

 

Christian

 

 




   

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