Expedition to the subcontinent - and a Wedding
This year we got an invitation to a traditional Hindi wedding in India. Its not every day you get invited to one of these so we thought "We don't have the time or the money, but why not?". The groom was a Sri Lankan bloke I have worked with over the past 3 years.
So after a mad rush to get passports, visas, vaccinations, book tickets and accommodation, we finally made into a big aeroplane bound for Kochi (south west coast of India) via Singapore:
After the initial culture shock of the Hotel taxi driver breaking the Cochin to local Hotel land speed record, we had 6 days touring around the state of Kerala. This is the south west of India and known for relatively less dense population, mountains (cooler climate in summer), and tea plantations. Sort of the wilderness of India which means you might not see a person for a few hundred metres.
Our hotel in Munnar. This was beside a very pleasant river surrounded by tea plantations. This was a touristy area so lots of resorts built on the side of the hills. Also a lot of half built resorts that were never finished.
Typical traffic in a quiet country town. Road rules take a bit of getting used to (because there aren't any). The traffic is a bit like a crowd walking through a crowded shopping mall. No one sticks to any particular lane or in some cases one side of the road, and only major intersections have any sort of traffic control like lights or signs. But is all seems to work. There is no road rage or frustration, and your always moving, even in heavy traffic.
A local on the side of the road. We didn't see a lot of wildlife, but there was a group of these putting on a good show.
Waterfall. Any sort of natural attraction was surrounded by makeshift shops selling souvenirs and food, so you had to fight you war through the crowd to see most things. Kerala appeared to be more of a tourist destination for Indians than internationals, so we stuck out like lighthouses everywhere we went. Kids with red hair helped even more. We are in a heap of other peoples holiday photos as well as our own.
The first elephant encounter. We were taken here by our driver for the ride on an elephant experience, which was good but a bit of a mixed experience as you could tell the elephants just walked around the same short track all day and spent the rest of the time tied to a tree. The ones not working were clearly bored out of their brains.
Tea. Thousands of acres of it. Tea plants are actually a tree that grows to about 8 metres, but if you keep plucking the fresh leaves every 3 weeks they stay at about this height. These plantations are owned by a company that has about 96% employee shareholders. So provides huge employment and prosperity for the region. The tea companies have heavily invested in education and other community services so Kerala has almost 100% literacy as a result.
A tea museum. Part of the tour was a presentation about tea. We got a bit of information on how tea is harvested and processed, but mainly a stern lecture on the benefits of green tea and why Asians aren't obese diabetics which was pretty amusing.
A fruit market in a small town. This was an eye opener for the kids. As well as the sights and sounds was the overwhelming aroma of rotting fruit and vegetables. The stuff on the tables looked OK but there was plenty of stuff on the floor that probably should have been moved on a few days earlier. Had our first bartering experience for a packet of biscuits. I think we got down below a dollar.
Street outside the market and the taxi rank. India runs on Tuk Tuks. Most of the pedal rickshaws are gone and everyone gets around in these 3 wheeled machines.
Our driver proudly pointed out these trees. "Eucalypts!". If they look a bit familiar its because one of the royal family smuggled some seed from Australia a hundred years ago so they had firewood for the tea factories.
Our driver Rajesh beside Mattupatti Dam. This lake provides Hydro Power.
Some local currency. 10 Rupees is 20c. The big notes at the top are 1000 Rupees ($20). Gandhi is on all of them. Outside of the upmarket hotels things were pretty cheap. We could get a good feed for 5 of us for 8-900 Rupees ($18), and a taxi in the cities was about 300 Rupees ($6) for a 10km half hour trip. Hotels were a bit hit a miss. Some cheap ones were very good and others were very ordinary. Flash hotels were nearly as expensive as Australia as India has a luxury tax and some other not altogether clear taxes and surcharges on higher end accomodation.
A very polite and well spoken man showing us through a spice garden. This white stuff is rubber. It only goes black when exposed to sunlight.
Probably the highlight of the trip. Washing an elephant. This was the second elephant place we went to and obviously a lot more concerned with animal welfare. You could visibly see the animals here were happy.
Each Elephant has two minders who often live miles away and only go home for a week every few months. They also have more than one minder per elephant so if he leaves the elephant doesn't mourn. The Minders are usually for life and passed down through families (both elephants and humans)
Yes, lots of photos of that wasn't there!
There are apparently a reasonable amount of wild Elephants and even the odd Asian Tiger in the wild, so we took an early morning "Jeep Safari" and pretended to be David Attenborough.
Every lookout spot we stopped at in the wilderness had another half dozen carloads of Indian tourists and a local entrepreneur selling tea and warm lemonade under a tarp shelter. But we did spot a couple of Bison up on the hills
This is the border of the "State Forest". Beyond here you get shot.
One of the flasher motor mechanics workshops. Most of the cars were fairly modern but there was quite a few of these about which I think were an old Mercedes or something based on them.
From hills and windy roads we travelled down to the flats closer to the coast. The "Backwater Country" was full of canals and rice paddies, and with that came boats made out of bamboo, and lots with blue plastic tarps shoved under the bits that leaked.
One of our days was a boat cruise through the canals and then we stayed on the boat for a night. After 5 days of winding roads with plenty of traffic this was a very welcome step back in pace. Still busy and mad like the rest of the place but slightly slower pace.
This is Rice. Probably not that exciting unless you live in a area that runs on it. India grows 100 million tonnes a year. Australia grew 250,000 tonne this year and in a good year grows 1 million tonnes:
No roads in this area so everything is serviced by boat:
Local School. Catholics certainly left their mark everywhere. Lots of big churches as well.
So from Kerala, we flew to the other side of the country to Chennai which is where the wedding was.
To get into the full spirit we got kitted up in traditional garb from a local famous department store called "The Chennai Silks".
This place was 7 floors of cloths and more staff than you could count.
We were celebrities again being one of the few paleface families in the shop, so we had our photo taken with multiple members of staff.
The lady in between Simone and Beth is a local Tailor. And on the far right is the Grooms mum who was very helpful in helping us kitted out.
Standard motorcycle safety attire. Probably half the riders wore helmets, Didn't see a pillion with one on. A fair few had the helmet sitting on the tank or strapped to the helmet lock like this.
A rare Ox Cart. A lady from Leeton at the wedding was telling us that the traffic is a lot better than it was 30 years ago as nearly all the pedal and ox powered vehicles are gone. Now that everything is motorised it all travels at pretty much the same speed. Back then it was total chaos.
Street cow. Sacred animal so has to be driven around. Not uncommon to see a herd of goats in the middle of the road either.
Part of the wedding preparation was Henna for the bridal party and a few lucky Australians. This is one side the brides arms.
And Ellas arms. The artists were really impressed with how it looked on pale skin.
The post Henna sit around and wait for it to dry. The longer you leave it the darker it is, so the bride had to wait for 5 hours. Makes eating and scratching your nose a challenge.
Full Indian regalia ready for the wedding service.
The Groom, his best man and the wedding celebrant.
Bride and Groom after 2 hours of ceremony. The traditional weddings use to take multiple days, but they now offer a condensed version to suit the limited time that international travellers have.
In the evening was the reception. A change of cloths and another chance to bless the bride and groom and get another photo with them.
It certainly made a western wedding look like a pretty dull and quiet affair.
From Chennai we headed down the coast to an area with a few temples. The hotel swimming pool was popular too.
One of our rooms had a broken lock so plenty of experts got involved to fix it.
After a couple of hours of looking for the master key, they got the man with the master master key.
Being a bit more of a touristy area we found a cafe with no curry. Kids had lived on fried rice and Naan bread up until now.
Some of the temples carved out of single rocks between 600 and 1400 years ago. We got ambushed by a government guide who"had an official government tourist license" at the first temple. So he told lots of stories and showed us around. The fee structure was a bit vague so we paid 3 times more than I thought we negotiated. And he had no change as we "were his first customer today". I'm sure we were.
So after 2 weeks we were about worn out. Being such an intense place and pretty hot and humid it is very tiring.
Back in Singapore airport, where we didn't stand out like lighthouses.
Evan flew us from Singapore to Melbourne:
The trip home in the car. Very quiet.