Tag Archives: transport

bliss

Two weeks.  Beach.  Lots of yoga. Yummy food.  Nice people.  It doesn’t get better than this.   Here’s to India, and my 5 weeks here.  Yogashala was a fabulous place, and I am so happy to have met Padma and spent time in her glowing presence.  She is a wonderful person and a great teacher.  My practice has deepened so much.

Tomorrow, Kota Kinabalu and the mountains and jungles of Borneo.

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darshan

Kannur was an idyllic 3 days. after which I headed back down to Trivandrum.  There, some family friends picked me up and brought me to their house, where I dozed a bit before hopping a bus to Kanyakumari, at the very southern tip of India.  Kanyakumari is in Tamil Nadu, and it is located at the confluence of 3 seas.  Inevitably, the sunset/sunrise is gorgeous, and I managed a fabulous picture of the former. Kanyakumari is the sight where Gandhi’s ashes were set adrift in the ocean, and where Swami Vivekananda meditated on the social justice aspects of Hinduism.  Both events are commemorated by excellent memorials.

Then I hopped an overnight train to Rameshwaram, which I shared with about 10 other people, all elderly.  It was nice to be in A/C and have the compartment to myself.  At the very early hour of 5:20 am, we arrived, and I departed and wandered my way through the dark to the main temple of Ramanathaswamy.

There are 4 main temples in India that form the Char Dham, sites of pilgrimmage undertaken by all Hindus in their lifetime.  Two of them I’ve seen – Dwarka in the west and Badrinath in the north.   This third one is in the south, and I decided, since I was in the area, that I would go visit.

So, before sunrise I showed up, and made my way to the water to take a quick dip (or rather, dip my toes).  Then I dried off to some extent, and made my way into the temple.

The temple is enormous.  I walked the corridors for quite some time (coming across an elephant in a pen at one point), stopping for darshan at various points.  Then I meandered my way to the center (after considerable wandering and getting a bit lost) for a brief puja, and then made my way out again.  Then I hired a rickshaw driver to take me to the end of the island, where I could just barely make out Sri Lanka in the distance.

At Rameshwaram, it is said that Rama took his steps toward Lanka to free Sita from the demon Ravana.  It is also said that Ravana’s brother surrendered here, and offered penance.   After defeating Ravana, Rama offered penance for his sin of killing a Brahmin.

After leaving the temple, I made my way to the bus stand, to take the bus to Madurai.  Just as a note, always ask about where the bus stops…. in my case, it took almost 5 hours to arrive as we kept stopping everywhere…..

Madurai is the home of the Sri Meenakshi Temple – a blinding display of S Indian architecture.  Also huge.  Tonight, I take the train back to Trivandrum, and find some way to Periyar…..

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unintended consequences

For anyone who has read the LP guide to India, the Kerala section mentions that the state government has been off-and-on Communist.  Apparently, the relatively high rates of literacy and other social indicators can be attributed to this phenomenon.  But so, apparently, can the high rate of alcoholism and suicide, because communism stifles ingenuity and people turn to substances and death out of despair.

The solution, it seems, is to build up Kerala’s tourism sector, and because they are all communists, everyone gets a piece of the pie.  Seems so easy…..

And as always, the unintended consequences raise their ugly heads.

The push for tourism has been quite successful – it is high season now and we see a lot of tourists here.  The tourism board has created a great system, and are very helpful.  Kerala is a wonderful place to travel.

Too wonderful, maybe.  Because Kerala’s highlight is the backwaters, miles of rivers and lakes that stretch parallel to the ocean, and lend themselves to lazy canoe rides and houseboats.  The houseboats are simply bigger canoes with coverings, but at some point, some enterprising soul discovered he could put an outboard motor on one, and run trips overnight.  And of course, putting the motor on the boat meant they could get larger now.

So, for about 100 bucks, you and your sweetie can lounge on the deck of a boat while a chef cooks you meals and you motor down the river for a day or so.  You, your sweetie, and about 1000 other people, that is.  Because the houseboats all leave from Alleppey, and the channel is only so big, and at any given moment, you can stand on a jetty and watch about 10 massive boats pass you by, their motors churning the waters and leaving chaos in their wake.

And diesel residue.  So the channels are polluted now, and the government in their infinite wisdom has walled the channel to prevent flooding, thereby killing the last of the mangroves.  And so, while tourism provides jobs and livelihoods, tourists kill the ecosystem.

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world’s longest train ride

Not really.  

But after 8 hours or so, it felt like it.  Interestingly, it feels less long the further into it you go, maybe because you settle in a rhythm.  Like living on the train.

So I took the train from Ahmedabad to Trivandrum, which comes to an almost exact 40 hours.  It’s a long time to be in one spot.   I also took sleeper class, which is 3-tier bunks in “compartments” that are not closed off, and 2-tier on the other side of the aisle.  So it’s a lot of people to squeeze on the train with you.  There is also no A/C, which in Gujarat was ok, but as we headed south got much less comfortable.  Everyone told me to watch out for my stuff, so initially I sat frozen next to the window with my bags under me and my arms tight around my purse.  And then people filtered on, and everyone was friendly, and I learned to relax.

I didn’t eat anything though.

The first day, I didn’t drink anything, for fear of going to the bathroom and coming back to find my camera absconded with.  Which was silly because the boys in my compartment were sharing everything they brought with me, and besides, who was going to go rooting around under my seat without someone else noticing?

Second day, I drank lots of water, trying to rehydrate.  I also met some nice Malayalis, who told me that Kerala was the nicest place in India and everyone would be happy to help me out.  I felt more comfortable going to the bathroom.  Then everyone left, and the train was empty again, except for a family next door.  It was nice to have the quiet and the space, and I made a point of trying to get some sleep.

Sleeping on a sleeper train in India is fine.  You get a bunk (I had bottom), and you spread out your sleeping bag and let the gentle rocking lull you.  Luckily for me, no one snored.  The first night, it got a little cold, somewhere in Maharashtra. The second day, it was incredibly warm, and napping was all I was up for (having read the LP guide to Korea the day before). 

I did eat. I had snacks I had brought with me, and they sufficed.  A lot of horror stories go around about riding the trains in India.  I think the main problem would be length and overcrowding, but the reserved classes are theoretically fine.

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