Thursday, March 02, 2006

Back from Asia - part1 - South and North India

Finally back from Asia –Part 1 – South and North India

This post covers my trip to the beaches in Kerala, South India, and to the Punjab in North India. This was directly before I went to the Philippines.

From Kerala in South India: Kerala is, as noted in the previous post, a tropical area of South India on the west side. This means it faces the Arabian Sea. The latitude of Kerala is roughly equal to that of Florida in the USA, so the climate is similar to Florida. However, the flora and fauna are somewhat different. Although there are lots of coconut palms, there is not the saw palmetto you find all over south Florida. Kerala has also an extensive backwater system (or you might call it “inland waterways”) but Kerala does not have the kinds of mangrove trees that Flordia has. But there are dolphins as in Florida, and Kerala has crocodiles, not alligators, and a lot less of them than Florida’s alligators.

Kerala also has terrain completely unlike Florida: it has mountains. Really beautiful, rugged, by God mountains. In the mountains, there are numerous tea plantations, and many small villages.

Below is a home and boat in Kerala. The family that lives in the home most likely uses the boat to make money from tourists. And below right is a picture from a lake in the Periyar Wildlife Preserve near Thekkady, a town in the mountains of Kerala.



We did a lot of water and beach time in Kerala. Below is a sunset picture from a hotel I stayed in on the backwaters. And then is a picture of the fishermen on the ocean. You can see how the boat is different from the ones used for tourists shown above.



One place we stayed at was Sagara Beach Resort, which is a kind of touristy beach, drawing people from Europe and the occasional American as well. There are two sides to the beach, separated by a rock outcrop, and one side tends to be frequented by local people (which is where my driver and I went swimming) and the other by a mix of locals and tourists. When I say touristy, I do not mean like Europe and America. There is no Sheraton or Holiday Inn here. There are a lot of Tibetan shops, small Mom and Pop general stores and handicraft stores, and the two sure signs of tourist business: internet cafes and money changers. There are also many places to receive Ayurvedic massage and other treatments. The ancient system of medicine called Ayurveda has become popular, and Kerala has become a popular place for people seeking Ayurvedic treatments. The beach is small by world class beach standards. Nevertheless, people from Europe, especially vacationing students and young people who like to travel in Asia, flock to this place. In other words, this beach attracts travelers who don't do the ritzy tourist circuit, but want to travel more cheaply and get a more authentic exposure to local culture.

Here is a shot of Sagara Beach. This is the “local” side, in the late afternoon. A fishing boat has just come in and people are gathering around to see the catch. There’s still a couple of people swimming too. And there’s a lady carrying in part of the daily catch. I shot her picture later that day on the tourist side beach.



And I guess no beach is complete without the local coke head (haha - see pic below left). And then here’s a local-side fun in the sun pic. I don’t know if you can see it in the reduction, but if you can, you’ll see that the Indian people all swim fully clothed. The ladies wear their saris right into the ocean, and the men remove only their shoes before entering the water. Most Indians do not know how to swim, so they just wander in and play in the water. Clothes will be washed later. It is a sign of the modesty of the culture. Usually, unmarried men will swim in a group with other men, and single women mostly only come with a school group, and a whole class of schoolgirls will go into the ocean with their whole school uniforms on. The only time you see a mixed group of men and women is in a family group. The Indians do not have a beach singles scene where a young man will spend time walking the beach with his date. Only the Europeans do that.



I also was treated to a type of South Indian Classical dance called Karthakali. Part of the show is the costumes, and the performers actually don their costumes and apply their makeup with the audience watching. Then the dance, which consists of highly stylized movements of body, eyes, and finger poses (called mudras) takes place. The body movement and mudras actually contain an alphabet (the performers explained this to us before the dance), and each dance tells a story from Indian mythology, usually a story from the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, or the Ramayana, which are all sacred scriptures in India. It was a pretty amazing thing to see. The performers must practice with their guru several hours a day for at least six years before they are allowed to do a public performance. They are accompanied by live musicians and singers who sing the songs of the mythological text that go with the dance.

Now, I also went to the Punjab in the North of India, and to a place called the Golden temple, which is the most sacred temple of the Sikh religion of North India. Here is a pic of me with the Golden Temple. The Temple is entirely surrounded by water, and there’s a walkway for the pilgrims to enter the ”Harmandir” which is the interior of the temple. You can see the reflection on the water in the afternoon time shot. Here also is a night time picture which tries, but alas, cannot capture the beauty of the temple at night.



The sacred scripture of the Sikh religion called Guru Granth Sahib (or Guru in the Book) is composed entirely of songs. Therefore, a scripture reading is always (I mean ALWAYS) a music event. Musicians are held in high esteem in Sikh society because they are the carriers of the sacred songs. At the Golden Temple, the sacred book is carried to the temple across the water at 5am every day, and returned to its resting place at 11pm every night. In between, there is continuous singing of the songs, accompanied by tabla, dholak drums, and harmonium. That’s right – 20 hours a day, seven days a week of continuous, non-stop music.

Here I am with my friend Gopal Singh, who is a Sikh priest/musician and currently lives in Seattle. And here is Gopal Singh’s son, Manoman Singh, who is a professor of Music at Patiala University in the Punjab. Music and celebration are central aspects of the Punjabi culture, and the Punjabi popular music, called Bhangra, has spread throughout India, and, because of the Bollywood movie industry (which uses a lot of Bhangra in their movie songs), also around the world.



Next I will post up some pictures from the Philippines.

Cheers,

Yogi
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