A Trip Through Southern India January 2017

We started our trip in Chenai, which used to be called Madras. It's a city in the throws of modernisation. Many of the historic buildings, with their colonial history, have been pulled down to allow the city to grow. It's like a massive, messy building site, with no apparent order to it. But there is still evidence of older times, with small bastions of a more traditional past.

Bangalore was much the same, with booming high tech industries side by side with open air markets, garage silk weavers and slums.

Trains still carry a millions upon millions of people across India every day. We took one from Bangalore to Mysore. It wasn't the chaotic experience I was expecting. The stations were spotlessly clean and people were polite and friendly. We even had our own allocated seats, where stewards delivered us a delicious vegetarian lunch.

Mysore has a very long history of rulers from the same ancient royal family. They even survived the British Empire. Strongly Hindu, Mysore Palace gives you a vision into their strictly religious lives.

By visiting the cities we had worked out way south. It was time to get into the countryside. We stayed at the Bison Resort in Kabini National Park. It's a government owned santury that has rivers and lakes and thousands of acres of natural forest, but most importantly, wild tigers. Tigers are still an endangered species in India, but parks like Kabini are doing a great job of slowly increasing their numbers in a well managed, safe environment. Local people are employed in the parks so have a vested interest in maintaining tiger numbers.

Next was a drive up into the Western Ghats to Ooty. Famous for tea and it's British colonial influences. Plantation owners and British civil servants rubbed shoulders here. The farmers were developing their tea gardens, while wealthy government officials used to decamp to the hills to escape the heat and disease of the large cities. Planters built railway tracks to help export the bales of tea down to the cities and their old steam trains are still in use today. The other legacy of colonial times are the English style houses and gardens. It's all rather lovely! Like going back to the Home Counties in the 1930's. Genteel and pretty.

A view over the Western Ghats

Tea was imported to this area by the British, after a blight had wiped out the coffee plantations. The plants were smuggled out of China. As tea bushes needed more sun than coffee, the jungle had to be cleared by hand to make way for the tea gardens. A determined group of planters, many from Scotland, had a massive influence on this area. Benefits that are still being felt.

Tea pickers had at work. Labour is a major problem in modern rural India and so workers from other states have to bought in to meet the shortages.
Miles upon miles of manicured tea gardens. The bushes are picked every 15 days.

Most of us drink tea, but how many of us know how it is made? A trip around a tea factory was really fascinating. It took us through the tea being lightly dried after picking, being chopped and ground, then dried, fermented, then sorted. The driers all run from huge wood fired furnaces.

This man is 74 years old and has worked in the plantation Golf Club since he was 8.

Toddy is a Kerala tradition. Coconut palms are tapped for the juice flowing to the flowers. This naturally ferments within a couple of hours to produces a slightly vinegary, slightly fizzy coconut flavoured alcoholic drink. The local men have this to start their day, along with spicy beef fry.

Coconut Lagoon was our destination on the Backwaters.

Deep into the Backwaters we visited a few local villages.

To get further into the Backwaters we had two nights on a beautiful converted rice barge. Watching the sun set over the Backwaters is a gorgeous experience.

The last part of the trip was in the old part of Cochin. It's a famous fishing port where they still use traditional and iconic Chinese fishing nets. These are cantilevered into the water at high tide, and recovered using manpower and huge counter weights at low tide.

Fisherman sit around and discuss the days catch. Chinese nets are still used so that the smaller inshore fish can be caught while the men are out in their boats.
In the fishing villages they have their own boat like churches, built out of concrete but painted to look like wood.
Like in every fishing village in the world, nets have to be carefully maintained prior to going out to sea.

Cochin and other parts of Kerala have a very strong Christian tradition. Around 40% of the population are Christians. This dates back St Thomas, one of Christs' original disciples, who came to India to spread the word of Jesus as early as 80AD. Later, the Portuguese and Vasgo De Gama introduced Catholicism in the 1600's. Many Portuguese cathedrals were built at that time, giving Cochin a distinctly European feel.

Catholic religious icons amid a sea of saris.

Around Cochin there are hundreds of churches and cathedrals, from the huge and magnificent, to small local churches, packed with their congregations in bright traditional clothing. It's a strange, but exotic combination of cultures.

Thanks for looking at this journal. e-mail me on peter_holton@mac.com if you have any questions.

Credits:

Peter and Sara Holton

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