April 21, 2008 Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
It’s been about a month again and I can’t believe how time flies. It seems like only yesterday we were gathering firewood with our Ladakhi friend Ilan and then making Israeli dinners by candle light. Yes we are still in India, but sometimes the experience is of another world completely.
After leaving Varkala we headed North to Kodai Kanal. Because we are in India, traveling is not what it seems and it took us 6 days to get to Kodai. We stopped in Munnar where the clouds part to reveal the most succulent patch of green earth situated amongst the hills and the friendliest people. We stayed long enough to hike 12miles through the tea plantations where women in work saris and sumo wrestling leg armor, cut tea leaves for 8 hours and 100rps ($2.50) a day. We bought enough spices and coffee to feed a small brigade of…..well coffee connoisseurs and chefs and left the dew covered hills for Kodai.
We arrived in the rain and spent the next two weeks in the eye of two consecutive cyclones from the Bay of Bengal. They brought thunder, lightening, and power cuts. After a night in Kodai, we met a group of Israelis who raved about a small village called Vattakanal about 4km outside of the city. After the lush fertility of Munnar, we were disappointed by the drabness of downtown Kodai and took them up on there recommendation. To our wonderment, we found a semi secluded hillside where every other house is for rent and the views are astounding. We moved into the top floor of the “Kibbutz” (a group of Jewish Holy men lived downstairs and we were treated to Friday night singing and prayers) with 8 windows facing the valley all covered in the same red curtains!? and a propane stove and fireplace that proved essential. We made friends with a great couple; a Dutch woman and Israeli man who taught us how to make shashouka and Dutch pancakes. We spent the next two weeks living the life of luxury…..by candlelight. There was no power for the majority of our stay, but the fireplace kept us warm and the propane stove kept us fed. When the clouds finally parted, we were presented with the most breath taking views of the valley from our front door. We made friends with a guy from Ladakh who has lived enough life for four people in his 23 years. On the second to last and last mornings of our stay in Vatta, a French hippie man brought us fantastic French pastries (he made them, authentic French I would say even if made in India) to our doorstep. We almost thought twice about leaving, I mean a French man who brings you pastries in the morning, what else do you really need?
We spent a few days in Bangalore, a bustling IT capital with a shortage of Internet cafes but the most delicious pasta I’ve ever eaten. We took a train to Hospet and found a worm hole of relaxation in Hampi where the giant boulders balance in the most peculiar ways and the people are deep and friendly. We stayed at Shanthi Guest House in a bungalow that shared a faucet with the water buffaloes and a restaurant that you never had to leave. We met some of the coolest people from Australia, England, and Canada. We slack lined (tied a tow rope between two palm trees and tight rope across it, absurd yet oddly exhilarating) and bouldered (rock climbed without all the fancy stuff, just shoes and a “hope to goodness I don’t need it” matt). We had esoteric conversations in our beloved restaurant pavilion where you can spend the entire day reading and ordering snacks amongst the floor cushions and watching the sunset behind the red Stonehenge size boulders. We wandered amongst temples and saw our first Rajasthani gypsies (yes they weren’t in Rajasthan).
With a heavy heart, a fever, and the accompaniment of 4 friends, we left Hampi after 10 days for Mumbai on a night bus. Mumbai (Bombay) is India colored within the lines. The streets are wide and clean and the constant littering non existent…to an extent. We caught up on our urban cosmopolitan fix while being asked about 5 times if we wanted to be extras in a Bollywood (would have been cool but not enough time) and left Mumbai and our friends for Aurangabad to see the caves of Ellora and Ajanta.
We arrived in Aurangabad at 4am after sharing one sleeper seat in a train car packed beyond its capacity. India seems to defy space and matter constraints. In India more people, or animals, or objects, or all of the above can seem to fit in less space than we would reasonably estimate in the West. All done in good humor. We wandered the 13 hundred year old Ellora caves that are simply amazing. It wouldn’t be very hard to convince me to live in a cave when the temperature out in the sun is somewhere around 100 degrees F. We saw all the Buddhist caves, one Hindu, and one Jain. “I bet I can tell you what will be in the next cave…..another giant Buddha!” (Malachi by the end of the day). We also gaped in utter amazement at the Great Kailasa Hindu Temple that was built completely out of the mountain. The foresight and dedication not to mention the moolah it would take to convince someone it was a good idea to build a temple out of a mountain, is mind boggling. We fit into a share jeep that may have comfortably fit 11 people but instead again defied space and fit 22. After a frustrating and hot discombobulated day in Aurangabad, we made it to Ajanta and were even more impressed by the 2000 year old Buddhist caves that had paintings resembling a hybrid of Egyptian and Mayan art. Makes you wonder what kind of cross pollination was going on that we don’t know about.
We stayed in Jalgaon for a night at the most remarkably clean and modern interior design guest house we’ve seen in India and caught a sleeper bus to Ahmedabad. Here we are, the 21 of April 2008 and we’ve made it to the state of Gujarat. The women wear their saris opposite of the women in the South, and I’ve seen more gypsy women that brighten my heart. I get completely goofy with excitement every time I see one and Malachi is getting tired of being poked in the arm and told “look!” every few minutes. We’re heading to Diu on the coast tonight and from there to Bhuj. I’m going to start emptying out my backpack in preparation for all the goodies I know I’ll be buying. (Mom and Dad, no doubt there will be another box heading your direction soon!)
Hmmmm I think that about covers what we’ve been up to, save for all the really juicy details not appropriate for a mass email (just kidding, but seriously) and I hope this finds everyone happy and healthy.
Love to everyone!
PS. Carrie we got a “blessing” from Lakshmi the temple elephant!
PSS. The camel reference in the subject is because this morning we saw camels for the first time pulling carts down the street here in Ahmedabad. I’ve heard a camel safari is a must, but you’ll never want to repeat the experience.