Posted tagged ‘India Trip’

Tea (Makes me Human Again) (And Elephants)

April 15, 2013

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“It’s locked.”

“But there’s a key in it.”

“But it’s bolted from the other side.”

“Bolted?” I turn the key, push, push, shove.. “I don’t like this.”

“I’m not going to be able to sleep, if I don’t get water.”

“There’s a little.”

“Not much.”

“For brushing our teeth.”

“I’m not going to be able to sleep.”

“You have your iodine?”

“Yes, but it takes four hours.”

Me, pushing at the door again–“What if there was a fire?” muttering.

What I am not liking is that for some reason our host (it turns out it was probably one of his sons, acting inadvertantly) has bolted (from the other side) the only door that leads off of this house’s main balcony. This is also the balcony that holds the only entrance to our room. Meaning, because we are on the second floor, that the only way we could get out, if needed, would be to jump off the balcony, hitting, in this darkness, who knows what on the way, but concrete, most likely, at the end.

And we thought we had another, full, bottle of water.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have given that bottle to those Americans,” I gripe, mainly because we had encountered them in a few hours off their cruise. (Meaning that they could have gotten their own damn water.)

‘I got another bottle,” my daughter says.

But whatever that bottle was is now empty.

We have in the luxury of working wifi stayed up well beyond our host. We are essentially locked in our room, well, our room and its balcony. And the iodine tablets, which my daughter sets about finding in our luggage, will take four hours. And, well, our dinner was delicious but Indian food is rather salty, plus I have to take my malaria tablet. (Meaning anti-malaria tablet.)

Which means too that there are flies in the ointment of paradise. Big flies as the night goes on and something about a malaria pill taken without water at midnight swells up my throat and tightens my chest.

Very hard in other words to sleep, though the room is cool, comfortable, though my daughter does drop off at last, though the iodine tablets are busy doing their thing (which even at about 4:30 or 5, I find myself not trusting.) The main thought I hang onto — our host’s promise of a thermos of tea made available well before breakfast.

I get up with a headache and still-taut throat to get it – it is chai – tea and milk brewed together–and after three or four cups plus the host’s apology re the bolted door –we overhear some barked words at one of his sons – I am feeling somewhat human again.

Tea.

it is what this place is all about. Munnar. Now home of Tata Tea Plantations (and several others.) Originally, a main site of the East India Company.

We have not yet been to the Tea Museum so I don’t know much about the history of it all, but there is one big fact we have picked up over the course of the day. Tea is an incredibly beautiful plant. The individual bushes segment the mountainsides in a mosaic of brilliance. One feels caught in a honeycomb of green, a catacomb of green (if catacombs could, like bellybuttons, come in “outies.” And verdigris.) (One other side effects of the malaria pills by the way is brain fog. This is also one i am positive that I am suffering from. Outies????)

The mountains themselves are beautiful. Old mountains with those eccentric shapes worn by multiple eons – vertical loafs and straight up points, and because they’ve risen fairly dramatically from sea level (I guess), and because we are in the very beginning of the rainy season, misted. (Like my brain.)

I am drinking more chai right now after a day zooming and walking among the plantation mountains with a super sweet and protective, but rather bossy, driver tour guide. Two women traveling need help he thought, and definitely tried to give it, though his English was not so great – “Are you from Munnar?” I asked. “No problem.”

But he glared mightily at any one who made brassy comments to us during the day, such as “from which country?” “Nice brassiere.”

And smilingly took us up and down various parts of the mountains. Bought us a passion fruit and a chico, warned us repeatedly bad bathrooms (making a growling noise to describe the smells), was very careful to hold my arm in a truly helpful way on the rough parts and offered, laughing, to carry me up the steep. Stopped to point out these incredible treed bee hives, and monkeys, and most importantly, four wild elephants. (It is really unusual to see wild elephants, and a small crowd had gathered by the roadside. )

Admittedly, I have a thing for elephants. But there is something that would move anyone, in seeing them flapping their ears in the bright greenery.

Yes, the side of the road where we stood was super-littered (it is an Indian roadside.)

Still. Elephants. Wild. The driver too was thrilled; it was impossible not to be thrilled; it was impossible not to look down at them and not feel some deep thankfulness that such animals ear-flappingly exist, even in a place as crowded and cultivated as this one.

“Lucky men,” our driver kept saying after we got back into the car, turning in his seat to point at us.

“Yes.”

Above a couple of pics of the tea plantations, the view from “Top Station”, our very thoughtful driver, the wild elephants. My iPhone, which I am using as my only camera on this trip, only caught two.

PS – the tree frogs and what my little ten year friend assures me are squirrels are hooting like crazy right now. He is drawing rockets, me winged elephants, and now he’s gotten into the flying elephant game, only his elephant has a rocket instead of wings on its back. I include our joint drawing too.

PPS – sorry everything is so long and that I can’t seem to write wonderful little poems that pass on the feel. I am blaming it on the malaria pills.

Gloom (of Sorts) in Ahmedabad

April 8, 2013

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India making me terribly sad just at this moment.

It is not just the poverty and crowding –yes, it is the poverty and crowding, but it is also the prosperity (of sorts) and the crowding.

We cross busy streets a couple of times today. Each time feels almost a miracle.

In the headlong rush of vehicles – little cars, motorbikes motorbikes motorbikes, auto rickshaws auto rickshaws–one has to hold one’s breath and dash. (There are not truly streetlights.)

The older India (of thirty years ago) certainly had many problems. But the newer India seems somehow almost harder, at least for the poor, with a congestion of people augmented by a congestion of motors –

Yes, I know. Who am I, from the wasteful West, from the land of the car, to complain?

We have plenty of miles of strip, uncrossable roadways in the U.S., car car car car car car. Unliveable, unbearable, shoulder spaces.

Of course, here there are people actively living in the shoulder spaces, curled up at careful angles asleep, or sitting squatting awake. Those are the very poor. But there are also those that just seem to come out for air, a bit of coolness, and sit on a parkbench, with traffic traffic traffic whizzing by.

It feels barely liveable in the heat of the day with traffic honking from every direction. But people obviously get inured to it. It feels like it would even be quite difficult for those in the midst of the traffic, but those on motorbikes look inperturbable, plowing headlong–well not headlong – they are dodging around each other nonstop–ahead. Men frequently wear headscarves to cover their mouths, while women wear scarfs to cover virtually all their skin – mouth nose eyes forehead hair. Many women even wear long beige-pink gloves over their arms, and toe socks with their sandals. Auto rickshaw drivers seem to frequently drive barefoot, their chappels – sandals–to one side of the gas pedal or clutch.

One must take care on the wider sidewalks – they are not, it turns out, actual sidewalks (though there’s little other space to walk) but further lanes for cars and motorbikes.. I think the idea is that they can drive there if they want to stop at a store or building along the way, but many of the motorbikes seem like they just want to slip by the throng. (And honk at you.)

In short, older more peaceful ways of life seem swept away as the new jams in, honking all the way. “Outside” becomes a onslaught.

And it can’t help but make one sad, worried. That the new prosperity does not seem to conceive of breathable air or space or quiet as any kind of natural right (or even goal), and those who are left behind by the rush seem to be left increasingly far behind.

I don’t know that we are particularly better about this in the West. We also trade liveability–quality air, space, quiet – for stuff. Lots and lots and lots of it.

But if the rest of the world follows us, or worse, follows us in terms of a desire for private stuff while also accepting far lower standards for public air, water, quiet, space, the world seems to be in for a very difficult time.

(The good news, the reason i am truly much more cheerful since starting this post, is that we also have been involved with the most wonderful generous caring, Earth-and-human-sensitve people. . Not only at SEWA, but with another charity that focuses on children at risk, called the Swapath Trust. )

(And even people not associated with a charity – even people on motorbikes – have been tremendously kind. After we asked a fruit vendor where we might buy vegetables, we were followed – and then led – by an old man on a very slow putting motorbike, who sent by the fruit merchant, took us on the circuitous route to the veggies. The vegetable merchant–but not the old guy who led us there–is seen below.)

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