Friday, January 29, 2010

Jaisalmer

As for Jodhpur, the view of the fortress of Jaisalmer, which stately rises from the dusty and stark plain of the Thar Desert, is pretty impressive.

But the two cities are quite different. While in Jodhpur the prevailing color was blue, here everything is sandy-yellowish. And while Jodhpur’s fort basically contains the maharaja’s palace only, Jaisalmer’s fort is indeed a true citadel, with still inhabited houses, and ‘true’ people (and not tourists only) wandering about the narrow streets and alleys.

And, for us ‘visitors’, this is perhaps Jaisalmer’s main charming and, at the same time, frustrating aspect. Charming because it makes Jaisalmer ‘real’, and not just an open-air museum. Frustrating because it is indeed a pity to see amazingly beautiful buildings, houses, balconies, etc. surrounded by garbage, bad-smelling, and falling into ruin...

But this is perhaps an element that should help us to look at India without the ‘tourist’ lenses, and remind us that India, despite a steady 8% growth in the past years, is a country where 830 million people (75% of the population) live with less than 2 dollars/day, and where 45% of the households has still no access to water and sanitation. These people live in Jaisalmer as well...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Jodhpur is called the ‘blue city’

... because it is blue!

Jodhpur

January 26, 1950: India’s Constitution came into force, and India became a republic. Since then, January 26 is national holiday: Republic Day.

January 26, 2010: taking advantage of the Republic Day's long week-end, we decided to go discovering Western Rajasthan: Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.

After a neverending trip by train (15 hours, including three hours of inevitable delays), Jodhpur appeared to us almost as a mirage. In the middle of the desert, the view of Mehrangarh - the fort that dominates the old city of Jodhpur - is terrific. The massive walls appear to be all in one with the rock from which they rise. And as you approach the fort, you can't avoid to feel a bit intimidated.

But as much as frightening the fort appears from the outside, equally enchanting the maharaja’s palace looks from the inside. Skilfully fret-worked walls, coloured windows, beautifully decorated interiors... the best that Marwart art can offer.

We left Jodhpur only after few hours to be able to reach Jaisalmer by the night, but very happy to have chosen to stop in this city during our trip.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back from Jodhpur & Jaisalmer

Matteo, Mathilde, Riccardo and Patricia are back from a four-day trip in western Rajasthan (Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and the Thar Desert, almost at the border with Pakistan) - tired but happy*.

We’ll post our stories and pictures in the next days. Now, straight to bed...

(*) A special thanks to Veronique for this very nice present

Friday, January 22, 2010

Never stop exploring...

Les M&M’s never stop exploring.

We just finished our last laundry from Kerala a couple of days ago, and we are about to leave again. Destination: Jodhpur (the ‘blue’ city) and Jaisalmer (the jewel of the Thar Desert), in Rajasthan.

We will leave tonight and be back on Tuesday eve, as always with plenty of pictures to show and stories to tell…

Nèbiun a Delhi (Fog in Delhi)

In one of my past posts I happened to compare Delhi to Rome. Actually, Delhi in December and January is much more similar to Milan in winter. Cold, closed in a thick fog that causes the cancellation of dozens and dozens of flights every morning…

Everyone complains: the Indians, the foreign… while politely nodding to everyone, in truth, deeply inside, I don’t dislike it: I feel like home…

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Lotus Temple

Back to Delhi after our trip to Kerala, we started the exploration of our new hometown again. And last week-end we visited the Lotus Temple, one of the landmarks of Delhi.

This is an incredible architectonical structure: inspired by the idea of a lotus flower, its design comprises 27 free-standing, almost 40 m high, marble-clad “petals”, which surround an internal dome. Impressive.

But more than the impressive architectonical style of the building, we were fascinated by the message that this construction brings along. The Lotus Temple is a gathering place open to all, indipendently from their religious beliefs - or any other difference. People of any religion can enter the temple and worship their respective Gods - side by side.

In a country whose history is marked by religious conflicts, and where religious tensions are still very much present under the surface, we found this place inspiring: a physical space of tolerance and respect…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kerala pictures available online!

We have finally uploaded the pictures of our trip to Kerala.

Check them at: http://picasaweb.google.com/mmmarchisio - and vote your favourite one!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Our last stop of our trip in Kerala was Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (and Tiger Reserve), a national park created around an artificial lake resulted from the construction of the Mullaperiyar Dam. The result is indeed very scenic: a sort of prehistoric landscape, with hundred-year-old trunks emerging from the waters of the lake.

There, we saw buffalos, warthogs, monkeys, deer, thousands of birds, one elephant - but, alas, none of the 42 tigers of the reserve.

We left tropical Kerala and went back to cold and foggy Delhi, looking forward to the next trip (next week-end to Jaisalmer, in the Thar desert, Rajasthan, famous for its sandcastle and the camel market).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

In the spices garden...

Pepper grain

Cardamom leaf (if I well remember)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tamil Nadu...

... from Kerala.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Munnar

From Cochin, we left the coast and we moved inland, up to the Western Ghats, the lush mountains where the British used to build their summer houses.

Here, our first stop was Munnar, famous for its lolling hills covered by tea and spices plantations.

We were literally hypnotized by this landscape. For those who have never seen tea plantations, these look like a thick carpet that makes hills looking soft and puffy - like in a fairy tale.

And you feel liking diving (and swimming) into this ocean of green...

Monday, January 11, 2010

A practical lesson of trade & commerce

Indians’ skills as traders are well-known. And in Cochin we had a practical class of trade and commerce from those masters of sales...

We were wandering about Bazaar Road in the old town in Fort Cochin, when our attention was drawn by two men who were loudly discussing just outside a rice shop, in front of two dozens of bowls of different varieties of rice. Intrigued by the situation, we quietly got closer and observed the discussion. The two men were clearly conducting a negotiation.

As minutes passed by, we got more and more involved in the negotiation, and we started ourselves asking questions on the different types of rice: name, quality, properties, etc. After a few minutes of explanations, we decided to purchase some red rice from Kerala, and we asked the price.

- 22 rupees* per kilo - said the merchant.

- Ok, one kilo then - we answered.

- Sorry, no ‘one-kilo’. Seventy-five kilos.

- ???

In response to our puzzled expressions, the merchant explained us that he was a wholesale dealer (rivenditore all’ingrosso), and that the minimum sale was seventy-five kilos. A bit disappointed, we asked where we could purchase one kilo only of that rice, and the merchant pointed ‘Melvin Store’, the shop just opposite his, on the other side of the road.

Relieved and cheered-up, we crossed the road, we entered ‘Melvin Store’, and we asked for one kilo of the red rice from Kerala. An errand boy weighed the rice, wrapped it up, and given it to us. We had already ready the 22 rupees to pay, when the merchant of Melvin Store said: “25 rupees**”.

Half-surprised and half-annoyed (“the usual Indian shopkeeper that want to cheat the white tourists”, we thought), we said that we just came from the shop in front, and that the price was 22 rupees/kilo there. It was not a matter of the three rupees more, but a matter of principle: we wanted to be treated as all Indian purchasers!

Emotionless, the merchant responded: “That is a wholesale shop. This is a retail shop. 25 rupees”.

In vain we tried to bargain, using all our weapons: winking, humour, indignation... The price remained 25 rupees, and 25 rupees we paid.

And so, we had our class of trade and commerce. But as for those classes that leave students not fully convinced at the end of them, we didn’t quite understand why on earth the rice’s price increased by three rupees for just having crossed the road!

(*) 0.48 US$ or 0.33 euro

(**) 0.55 US$ or 0.38 euro

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meeting in Cochin

Matteo, Mathilde, Silvia and Chiara on a tuk-tuk

Dinner at “Old Port & Sea Food Hut”

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cochin

Chinese fishing nets, a legacy of the trades from the XV century with China...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kerala’s cuisine

As for its people, culture and traditions, ‘diversity’ is the main characteristic of Indian cuisine. Ingredients, spices, preparation techniques, and, ultimately, tastes, vary very much from region to region. Travelling through India is not only a cultural experience: it is a culinary experience!

Southern Indian cuisine in general, and Keralan cuisine in particular, is well renowned in the country. Characterized by seafood and by the abundant use of coconut, often served in banana leaves, we found Kerala food fresh and tasty.

We thus confirm Kerala cuisine reputation: we had excellent meals almost everywhere, and we all gained a couple of pounds (though lost the last day when we got an intestinal virus). The award for the best dinner was unanimously given to “Old Port & Sea Food Hut” in Cochin.

Into the Backwaters (2) - sunset on the lagoon

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Into the Backwaters

Kerala’s undisputed main attraction is its “backwaters”, an extensive network of lakes, lagoons, and canals that develops for hundredth of kilometers inland between coconut palms and rice fields. And in Alleppey we rent a local boat and spent a day (and a night) exploring this labyrinth.

Perhaps deceived by the descriptions in the guides we read before the trip, we expected the backwaters to be a very pristine and wild environment. In fact it is deeply anthropized, with villagers that have built houses on every embankment, strengthened every bank, shaped canals almost everywhere…

But far from being disappointed, we were on the contrary very impressed by the capacity of these people to adapt their lifestyle to this environment, and, at the same time, to shape and transform this environment to adapt it to their needs…

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Our first trip on an Indian train

You can have very interesting discussions with Indians on a variety of subjects, like religion, culture, society… There are however certain topics that it is better not to touch if you don’t want the conversation to catch fire and get stuck.


Indians in fact become extremely sensitive and nationalistic on certain topics. One of these is the English colonization and its legacy. You can easily discuss for hours on whether the English did anything good for this country or not without reaching any consensus.


So, while it is pointless to argue whether the Indian railway system has been developed thanks to the British or whether the Indian would have developed it anyhow, it is undeniable that this network is impressive for its extension and capillarity.


We had our first experience on an Indian train to go from Varkala to Alleppey. 108 Km, 2h 20 minutes (+ 50 minutes delay). Almost as fast as my scooter…


Picture: "Find the intruders" (Tip: look for those without moustaches...)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Meeting the actors

Kathakali

While in Varkala, we also went to see a performance of Kathakali.

Kathakali is a traditional Keralan dance-drama, usually based on the Hindu epics. Drums and singing accompany the actors, who tell the story through a well codified hand gestures and facial expressions*.

The preparation for the performance is as interesting as the performance itself: the actors spend hours painting their faces (a piece of art themselves) to become the heroes and the demons of the plays…

We enjoyed this form of art that we didn’t know. And, once more, we were very impressed by the cultural diversity and richness of this country…

(*) Before the performance, one of the actors gave a short representation of the main facial expressions of Kathakali drama: love, humour, fear, pathos, anger, bravery, disgust, wonder, and peace. We capture some of them in this short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYf05LMt4ec (sorry, I didn’t know how to rotate videos...)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Varkala

Our first stop in Kerala was Varkala, a former fisherman village situated on the edge of a cliff on the Lakshadweep Sea. Supposedly alternative and “fricchettona”, we found it in truth pretty touristic (but we have to admit we happen to be there probably during the most touristic week of the year).

In Varkala every individual basically offers two activities: ayurvedic massages and yoga. We tried them both.

The ayurvedic treatment was... an experience. You enter in these ‘ayurvedic centers’ and you are accompanied in a lumber-room that looks more like a torture room than a massage room: barred windows, suffused with light, a tough examination couch and a wooden stool in the middle, ropes and chains hanging from the ceiling and from the walls...

Then you are asked to undress (no changing room), and once you are naked as a worm, you are first massacred (the picture above is not a joke: they literally walk on you for half-hour), and then - once reduced to pulp - taken care of.

Apparently ayurvedic massages provide you with a number of benefits, including giving your sexual vigour back. Well, I only woke up the following morning covered with bruises and aching all over*...

(*) No worries, Silvia and Mathilde had a much more gentle treatment and actually enjoyed it very much

As far as our yoga experience is concerned, we will talk extensively about it in other posts. Just for the record, this was Silvia’s baptism to yoga - so, if it is true that our personality is strongly influenced by our prenatal experiences, then don’t be surprised if in twenty years from now Pesciolino 2 decides to leave Italy to retreat himself in a yoga ashram somewhere on the Himalayas...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back from Kerala

A very happy new year!

Matteo, Mathilde, Silvia and Chiara are back from Kerala with plenty of pictures to show and stories to tell.

We will post them, little by little, in the coming days. So, keep an eye on our blog!