Friday, April 19, 2013

One in a world of seven billion

For a couple of days after the mission, I traveled around Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The map below explains all of the cities that I stopped to see. Whether it was looking around a town or actually visiting monuments, Archna (an Operation Smile program coordinator) and I covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. We planned where we were going (thanks to local friends who gave us great recommendations), but not where we would stay, or where we would eat or what we would do. We would just show up and wander around. When traveling this much, I really realize how much I enjoy simply observing the way other people live. I like seeing their environment—food they eat, surroundings they live in, clothes they wear, roads they drive on, work they find, things they do. Again and again, you are reminded you are but one of seven billion people in this world.

I started at A (Alleppey) and ended at E (Madurai). 
A. Alleppey: I started out in Alleppey (the mission was here) where I spent one night on a houseboat floating around the backwaters and observing the villages. The backwaters are way more beautiful than I expected. Houses sit on small islands of land surrounded by water. We parked the houseboat for the night next to the backwater’s version of a bus stand. There is a boat that travels around the backwaters and stops at docks to pick up people. The last one came at around 11:30 P.M. and the first one came at 6 A.M. I assume that it is very reliable because there is not much traffic in the backwaters.

Other house boats floating around the backwaters. 

The fish market sitting on a piece of land in the middle of the backwaters offers delicious freshly caught fish. 
This fish market was extremely smelly as well. We bought some fish for the house boat staff to make.
B. Kovalam: From Alleppey, Archna (my traveling companion) and I took a bus to Kovalam. The buses are lots of fun (and not so fun) to ride for several reasons. First, they are jam-packed. Second, they are extremely hot. Third, they have some of the best people watching. Fourth, you get to drive through cities, villages, and various sized towns you would ordinarily miss. (A side note: one free day during the mission, some new friends and I looked around Kochi, a large city filled with history north of Alleppey. The bus ride back to Alleppey at 10 P.M. was so crowded that you could not move a centimeter. We stood for 3/4ths of the one and a half hour bus ride, completely packed in. My friends and I just could not stop laughing, it was so much fun.)

The drive from Alleppey to Kovalam was beautiful because some of the drive is along the beach. Kovalam is an adorable beach town on the coast of Kerala. With many tourists, it attracts those searching for an inexpensive place to enjoy a great beach. I was shocked when I showed up and saw women in bikinis. So, I put on shorts… wait, what? I wore shorts in public in India? Yes, I felt really self-conscious.

Lighthouse beach in Kovalam.
Enjoying the sunset! 
The waves were really big as the crashed upon the rocks. 

Archna is boogy boarding. 

C. Kanyakamuri: From Kovalam, we took another bus to Kanyakamuri, Tamil Nadu. This is the most southern extreme of India. The sheer excitement of walking out on India's most southern tip is why I went there. Kanyakamuri had the most fun, colorful culture. The people there take pride in being so far south and their houses are a rainbow of neon colors. They love to wave and say hello to you. 

A temple in Nagercoil, a town near Kanyakumari. 
This temple has a beautiful shrine sitting in a small pond.
Kanyakumari sits at the point in which the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean join together. 
The two monuments in the distance are the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the Thiruvalluvar Statue. You can visit both of these memorials, which serve to celebrate these respected Indians. 
A colorful place, eh? 

More colorful houses. 
The Vivekananda Rock Memorial remembers Swami Vivekananda,  who  is a reformer and philosopher. It is believed that he swam to this rock to meditate. After three days on this rock, he reached enlightenment and discovered the mission of his life. (I take yoga at the Vivekananda center, which is like an Indian YMCA). 
To get to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, you must wait in line for the ferry. I thought this picture was nice because you can see all the beautiful colors of Indian clothing. 

The classic hurkie jump on the very southern tip of India! 
Sunset Beach. 
The sky was incredibly purple. Thank you Sunset Beach for an amazing sunset. 
D. Kodaikanal: After an eight-hour ride starting in the early morning, we arrived in Kodaikanal excited to be away from the beach and experience a hill town in the south. Kodaikanal was extremely beautiful: valleys, plains, and hills. When we got there, we were not quite sure about what to see because we did not have much time. So, we hired a $4 guide off the side of the road. He did not know much, but he knew where to take us and how to get there and that is what mattered.

The drive to Kodaikanal begins with a massive wind energy farm. Tamil Nadu generates 40% of India's wind power. 

The drive to Kodaikanal. 

One of the many view points in Kodaikanal. 
The pine tree forest. 
There were many wild monkeys in Kodaikanal. Honestly, there were very scary. 

Kodaikanal lake. 

The clouds settling in the for the night. 
Kodaikanal houses and businesses sit along the hills. 

E. Madurai: This city is home to one of the most famous temples in India. Menakshi temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and Parvati, is a historical structure built over thousands of years. A beautiful, dark maze, the temple is filled to the brim with shrines, statues, and gods. There are four towers on the outside of the large temple, which are detailed in ways that I could never imagine building.

The Menakshi Temple had better people watching than the bus (and dare I say the airport). This temple attracts around 15,000 visitors a day and 25,000 visitors on Fridays (because Friday is a holy day). These visitors are from all walks of life: poor, rich, village life, city life, north or south or east or west India, and as a result they all wear different clothes, talking different languages, etc. It is a melting pot of Indian cultures. By the end of our time at the temple, I could recognize who was from what culture thanks to Archna.

The 4 towers are entrances to the temple. 
The towers are extremely detailed.


Seeing so many places in such a quick amount of time makes the impact of observing different styles of living that much more incredible. What I mean by that is that at some point it is hard to accept and understand how one village in the south can live such a radically different life than a comparable village in the north. One of the most important things I have learned while being here is that I am one tiny, tiny, tiny grain of sand in the ocean. It is always hard for anyone to accept how many people there are in this world. (Accepting how many people live in India is hard enough.) But acknowledging what other peoples' lives are like, and how starkly different they can be, is one step closer to accepting that you are one in seven billion.

Sending smiles from India,

P.S. I encourage you to google the places I visited for more detail, history, and information. 

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