Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Where do I begin...I don't know whether I should write this post in chronological order or simply let it flow from one tangent to the next or weather I should divide it into several shorter daily posts. So much happens in a week in India as there are so many people and so much to see...anything can happen. Take for instance today I glanced out my kitchen window and I thought by now I had seen everything there was to see in my little neighbourhood, but no! Today as my eyes wandered down the street I saw 200 sheep or goats being herded up the street onto the nearby field which we now call crap field (sorry for being so crass- more tasteful suggestions welcome). In India from day to day you never know what is coming around the corner. So how do I fit a whole week in India into less than a thousand words...

So Kerala. The purpose of our trip was to meet up with Jayson who heads up Shalom Trust which provides microfinance with assistance from Opportunity International Australia. But along with microfinance they are also involved in many other projects to assist people in all walks of life including the mentally unstable, the homeless, orphans and school children. The main project of theirs that we where interested in learning about is their affordable housing developments. We visited a number of their projects (I will upload a slideshow named Shalom shortly) including their housing projects, mental health facility and the beautiful new school. We had a great time at the school talking to the School Dean who was interested in gleaning as much information as possible from us about our experience with Sam and Hunters school. We met groups of children as well who were very excited and loved to pose for photographs and talk with us in very good English which they learn at school. I might add here that the language they speak in Kerala is Malayalam and I am telling you I have never heard such a complex language spoken - it makes learning English and even Hindi look like a walk in the park. The acrobatics they perform with their tongues to make the most unusual sounds and pronunciations is extraordinary. 
  Ray who is putting together a blog post for the project will share more about Shalom and their work soon. I will add however that the school is keen to have some input from Australian teachers who might be able to do volunteer work at the school. Ray is working with Jayson to look at packaging up some sort of program that may involve expenses being covered - if you know anyone who may be interested please let me know and I will make the appropriate connections.

In India Ayurveda is the traditional system of medicine. It incorporates herbal medicine, nutrition and other therapies in a holistic approach to health. Kerala itself is the Ayurvedic capital of India and I can assure you traditional allopathic doctors are few and far between. As it happened Sam had an asthma exacerbation while we were in Kerala as he had a bit of a cold. As it was getting out of hand I made a call to our doctor in Sydney for some advice on how much corticosteroids I could give him to keep on top of things. He suggested I find out about local medical facilities just to be safe but I had to explain that I was not sure I would find any and even if I asked I would more likely be led to an Ayurvedic practitioner as they are all considered doctors. As it was, by the morning Sam had turned the corner and was improving. Knowing he was on the mend I took the recommendation to have him seen by Jayson's family ayurvedic doctor. As I have a keen interest in learning more about Ayurveda we booked an appointment for Hunter as well who had been having a bit of trouble with blocked ears. So after an interesting consultation with all manner of diagnostics, Sam was prescribed a vegetarian diet and 3 litres of liquid herbs and several pills and capsules which should last about a month. Hunter who was referred to as "baby Hunter" also received a prescription though not quite as intense as Sam's. We were fortunate to have Jayson's engineer, Nambiar, with us who has great knowledge of the Ayurvedic system and acted as translator. There are however not accurate english translations for the many different herbs and plants they use so I was limited in how much I could learn about the herbs that were prescribed. It was an interesting experience none the less.

On our last night in Palakkad, Jayson had us over for dinner at his home with his family. What a wonderful experience! His family served us dinner and allowed us to sit around the dining table to enjoy the food as they continued to serve us. Ray asked Jayson whether they were going to sit and join us, to which Jayson replied that is was their privelage to serve us! Again the food was delicious. After dinner, we all sat in the living room and were informed that they would sing to us a song and that they would like for us to sing one in return. They sang a beautiful hymn in Malayalam. There were 9 of them that sang, and only Ray who sings in our family, although Sam piped up and said that he would sing to help Dad. For those of you who know Ray, he is terrible with words and at loss with out his guitar and was unable to recall a song to sing in reply! We settled with Ray praying for the family and Shalom Trust.

On our last day in Palakkad before heading to the coast we took the opportunity to cross the border into the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu to visit a wildlife park. We left out hotel in Palakkad at 5.30am and headed further inland. By this stage the spicy food I had been eating all week was making its presence felt and I had to make a few unscheduled stops at some rather interesting public restrooms. As you may know most of the world actually squats to use the bathroom which I don't have a problem with at all, it actually makes perfect sense really and is no doubt the way nature intended. However I can't quite bring myself to go about toileting without toilet paper. I even googled "how to use a squat toilet" so I understood the process from start to finish sans toilet paper. However no matter how much I read about using water and my hand, mentally I just cant get myself there. Even the hotel we stayed at which was a "3 star hotel with 5 star facilities" did not readily supply toilet paper. It was quite entertaining watching Ray on the phone to housekeeping trying to explain what he was after and being repeatedly hung up on. Even more amusing was the size of the roll when it arrived. They gave us two new rolls which where about a quarter of the diameter of a normal roll. needless to say we were constantly having to order more due to our current regularity. OK... back to the safari... we entered the wildlife park early and made it to the final checkpoint where we were told we could not proceed until there where 13 passengers to fill the safari bus. As it was there was us and 2 Swiss tourists and a very remote chance that anyone else would show up. So the ranger extorted a couple of thousand extra rupees off us to pay for the empty seats. After we where on the bus we did enjoy a pleasant few hours enjoying the beautiful scenery and spotting the amazing wildlife. Unfortunately we did not see any elephants or the elusive tigers but it was still a wonderful experience. We did see a couple of elephants on our way out of the wildlife park though they were safari elephants that looked a little worse for wear and I am now somewhat pleased that we did not do the elephant back safari we had planned to do.

Taj Hotel
Before we left Palakkad Jayson very kindly organised for us to stay a night at the Taj hotel which is a beautiful hotel near the coast of Kerala. We had a wonderful stay and it was the first time we got to enjoy a swim since leaving Australia. Ray also indulged in an Ayurvedic massage before we enjoyed dinner at the hotel outdoor seafood BBQ/Grill restaurant overlooking the water. The theme of the restaurant was mainly grills with salads and of course Keralan cuisine. The choice of seafood's and meats was limitless and normally I could eat my weight in prawns, however as we have been virtual vegetarians for the last three weeks I could barely eat more than 4 prawns and a small piece of fish. The food in all was delicious and it was great to enjoy cool fresh salads again and fruit for desert. Breakfast was also a buffet with all the normal fare as well as the ubiquitous curries. Although it was great to have a 24 hour holiday from spicy foods we are once again paying a price for it with out digestive systems. If the curries made us regular the western fare did quite the opposite. It is amazing how quickly your body can shift into accepting a new way of eating, I am actually looking forward to getting back to dahl maharani, palak paneer and aloo gobi.

Kerala backwaters
How can words describe the experience of hiring a houseboat and spending a day and night on the Kerala backwaters. Before leaving Australia I had never even heard of this type of holiday but once in India whenever we mentioned to someone we were going to Kerela the first question was "are you hiring a houseboat?". So when we headed down we had this in our mind as something we should perhaps try to fit in. As it was Jayson once again organised the whole thing for us. I did not get a chance to do any research on the trip so I arrived at the dock with absolutely no expectations. At the dock was literally hundreds of these wondrous bamboo, timber and jute cocoons floating serenely amongst the green water lilies which line the narrow waterways of the backwaters. We were led to our boat and welcomed aboard by our crew of three; the captain, the engine man and the chef. We left the dock shortly after sipping on tender coconut juice. Our not so little cocoon had two bedrooms with en suites a kitchen and the living area with comfortable chairs on which to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Our trip took us out through the narrow back waters and into a large open freshwater lake. We docked for lunch by the side of the lake overlooking the prodigious rice paddies that cover large portions of land by the Kerala backwaters and thrive on the water it provides. The chef was amazing! He cooked up mouthwatering Keralan cuisine including fish, chicken and vegetables flavoured with Keralan seasonings and of course coconut. Even Hunter is becoming more adventurous with food enjoying the new flavours and being far less fussy. Her taste for chilli is also improving. Today back in Delhi she even snacked on the spicy pappadoms which previously she found to be intolerable.
  After lunch Ray and Sam went for a swim in the warm water but I declined after spotting a snake gliding through the water. As per usual I was the only one who saw the water snakes on the journey and I can assure you they are not a figment of my imagination. 
Shortly before the sun set we docked in a small alcove by the side of the lake and watched the sun set over the coconut palms. All along the edge of the lake and backwaters people make their homes on the small strip of raised ground that acts as a dam between the waterways and the adjacent rice paddies. In the evening we took a walk along past the peoples homes and greeted them as they lived there lives washing their clothes, brushing their teeth and preparing their meals on the waters edge. They really live very comfortable yet simple lives in a very beautiful part of the world.
   After a good night sleep Ray and Sam joined one of the crew for an early morning swim. The crewman challenged Ray to a swimming race back to shore, a distance of about 30 or so metres and beat Ray easily. He then reveled he was a national champion! Ray was not impressed, as he is probably the only Australian to be beaten by an Indian!
After breakfast we meandered back through the backwaters enjoying the activity of the local people as they went about their daily life. I might add that I learned that a thin strip of a coconut palm leaf makes great dental floss.
  We could have quite easily spent a few days enjoying the backwaters and I would encourage everyone to add it to their lifetime list of things to do.

Well it is getting late and we are leaving for the Ashram tomorrow for Christmas. I hope to add another post before then but if time does not permit... Merry Christmas!

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