Kerala part deux

February 5, 2010

Finally, more pictures!! From last last part of Tamil Nadu and all of Kerala. Hopefully one of these days I’ll label ’em…

Anyways, I forgot to mention a key event from the beginning part of our Kerala trip– festival! The “Puyam” Festival happens once per year around the full moon. We happened upon a procession en route to Kollam, and it was WILD. Namely, face-painted men with a thin bone/rod pierced right through each of their cheeks; even more unbelievable and painful were those hanging from wooden planks by four hooks in the skin of their backs. Whhhaaatttt. Apparently they are in a diet, ritual and sometimes drug induced state to do this. It was really amazing to see.Wish I had a picture.

Further north, in Alleppey, we skipped Kerala’s most famous tourist attraction (boat tours in the “backwaters”), and instead headed to Green Palm Homes, a homestay in a little village on the island of Chennamkary. Met great people here, ages 25 to 65 both guests and staff. It was so chill and everyone so open that by the end of our meager 1.5 days it felt like everyone was old friends. They also had rain-caught, filtered water so we could refill our water bottles with cold fresh water.

The owner of the meticulously run Green Palms, Thomas, grew up in this village of roughly 1,500 people, and have been in operation for 20 years. Importantly, they are very connected to the community and use their business largely for it’s benefit (we were told the family doesn’t actually make much, salary-wise, from this business). The first thing Deepali and I did was explore this beautiful tropical island. The path kept mostly by the water, where people were washing clothes and dishes, bathing, and fishing.

Thomas gave us loads more information on what he called “the evening walk: mostly walking, less walking” as opposed to “the morning walk” that was just the opposite. He is clearly a man with a mission to preserve the land that is his home and traditional way of life of his community. I found it fascinating and want to try to tell this story; hopefully I’ll do it justice (and get my facts right!).

So the island is 22 km in total, and hosts 5 villages. Amazingly, their is a 50% Hindu and 50% Christian population on this island (no Muslims). The Syrian-Christians came in the 4th century. Then the Roman Catholics came and forced their way in and apparently demolished their churches up until 100 years ago. But now everyone “is very good friends.” Phew.

Chennamkary is off of the Malabar Coast and around it weave Kerala’s man-made backwaters, which connect to the Arabian Sea. The island consists largely of beautiful, lush ride paddies that stretch for ages. Kerala is “the rice bowl of India” yet, as the irony of global agriculture goes these days, Kerala is not self-sufficient; they have to export enough they end up importing 50% of their rice. Also,Thomas owns 10 acres of paddies himself and tries to employee members of his community whenever possible. But, he has a hard time finding skilled laborers interested in this work, for more and more people (especially the younger generation) is not interesting in farming.

Ecological and climate issues are big problems here. Sadly, the villages learned the hard way decades ago, when the they tore down irreplaceable mangroves and built a concrete wall to help deal with soil erosion. Due to the pollution caused by the ever increasing motorized (and HUGE) houseboats, the villages were also hit harder by these emissions, which the mangroves would have helped to decrease and serve as a natural shield. There are some environmental regulations and eco-friendly boat certifications in place, but the corrupt Indian bureaucracy doesn’t help the whole implementation/what-happens-in-reality piece.

Also, the island is sinking. The walls need to be maintained and increased, and their dikes continuously need to be built-up. They have specialized “mud-diggers” for this– these guys go out to the deep part of the waters and dive to the bottom to fill their canoes; they can fill a 2-ton canoe in 45 minutes!! Unfortunately, similar to the rice harvesting situation, this job isn’t so appealing to the young and strong; Thomas thinks the island will have many machines come 15-20 years.

Another interesting practice is the letting-in of sea water to kill the African introduced water hyacinths. These beautiful flowers unfortunately are accompanied by foreign weeds, and de-oxygenate the already polluted water. To control them, the people let in salt water from the Arabian Sea, before the monsoon season. The salt isn’t good for the fish and certain plants, including banana trees and rice, but then the monsoons come and essentially flush out the sea water. Sometimes extra help is needed, but this usually allows the fish and plants to return. Clever! But this all means they rely on consistent weather patterns. These past 5-8 years, Thomas reports that there is increasing weather variability, e.g. rain in the dry summer and sunny days during the monsoon season.

Finally, there is a “suicide tree” nearby (though I didn’t see it, as it was part of the morning walk). On it grows beautiful yet extremely poisonous fruit. This is where many farmers committed suicide when times got tough. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

This all sounds like a tale of tragedies, but it seems like people are doing OK, I hope. There are new houses being built, lots of coconuts, bananas and other food growing on this very fertile land. The reliance of people who face these difficulties is amazing. And everyone was kind.

This fascinating tour ended with a little canoe ride back to the homestay, with Thomas leading our drivers (employees from the community that are in need of work at the time) in traditional folk song.

The next morning we somehow woke up at 6:30am for a 2-hour canoe ride- me Deepali and another American woman. Somehow I was appointed steerer. Ummm…well I got the hang of it, though admittedly made smaller rather than bigger S’s over time. The totally straight lines were less frequent. Hehe– good fun!!

I got cooking secrets for some traditional Keralan food– in sum, lots of coconut is used (and the villagers make their own oil and milk). Anna, the head chef and Thomas’s Mom, provided us with our 3 meals daily, led this demonstration. And then we headed onwards.

Now I am at the very end of my stay here in Kerala– had a really nice day in an island part of Cochin/Kochi. The highlight was my first real shopping experience here- delicious spices and tea purchased from a women’s cooperative.

Tonight I’ll take my first long Indian train ride (!!) of 16 hours. Then I’ll stay for 6 weeks in an area called Verla Canca, Bardez in India’s coastal state of Goa. Here I’ll do my 200 hour Yoga Teach Training, which was the catalyst for this trip. You can check out Satsanga Retreat Center where I’ll be “living” and is, conveniently, the home base for the training (more on that later).


2 Responses to “Kerala part deux”

  1. James Says:

    Thanks for keeping us up to date. It all sounds amazing. We’re extremely happy for you and look forward to seeing you once your home.

  2. Cathi Says:

    Hilary, It is sooo exciting reading about what you are doing and seeing the pix–stay safe and love hearing about your travels!!! Love, Cathi 🙂

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