My first day in India
January 6, 2008
My flight from Dubai (DXB) to Trivandrum, India (TRV) was uneventful. I couldn’t go to sleep but an excellent grilled lamb dish helped pass the time. Eventually I wound up getting into a heated discussion over the cognitive deficiencies in user interfaces with John. We were in the middle of this when the pilot announced we were landing in Trivandrum.
It was dark as we stepped out onto the runway and was ushered into a queue for passport/inoculation inspections (did I mention I had to get 6 shots for this trip?).
Tired from 20+ hours of traveling, I didn’t really understand what was happening but apparently I passed the inspection because they stamped my passport and handed me a slip of paper. By the time I got through John had already passed and was waiting for me on the other side of immigration.
I followed John as we passed by some armed guards and surrendered the slips we’d just been given. …That was a big mistake, but I was clueless.
A few steps down the next hall John stopped at the currency exchange I asked where I should pickup my bags. John looked at me with a curious expression and told me I was supposed to do that on the other side of the armed guards. Apparently that’s what my slip was for. …Ops!
Now I needed to find a way to convince the guards with machine guns to let me back into the receiving area, and then back out with my bags. I didn’t think this would be easy, but I assumed the airport manager and/or guards would at least speak English. They didn’t, but I managed to convince them to let me break the rules anyways.
Exiting the airport, this time with my bags, I entered a large crowd of busy people and tracked down John. I found him waiting with our car and a few moments later we were off for the hotel.
It’s difficult to describe the apparent chaos of driving in India; I flinched the first few times we veered into the wrong lane facing oncoming traffic with headlights flashing and horns blaring, eventually I got used to it.
We arrived at the hotel late and tired. I had been told this was a posh traditional Indian hotel, the best of its kind in the area, but I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised.
After checking in I headed up to my room for some R&R. I stayed awake just long enough to unpack, snap a few photos of the accommodations and enjoy some fruit that had been left for me.
I awoke the next morning around 8am (without an alarm clock) feeling very rested. Apparently staying up all night the day had worked as planned, I was already somewhat adjusted to the time zone. After brushing my teeth in bottled water I threw on some clothes and headed upstairs to the roof for breakfast.
I made a quick stop on the way and snapped this photo of the hotel and our doorman. I’ve been told the flowers adorning the entrance were brought down from the nearby mountains early in the morning.
My breakfast was an authentic traditional Kerala buffet. I piled on some Puttu-Kadala, Appam and Idli Sambar then headed to my table.
Spicy food wasn’t exactly what I was craving, but the view was wonderful. In the distance I could see the occasional building or cell tower rising through the thick canopy of palm trees (coconut, banana, etc).
During breakfast I met up with John and after our meal we set out to see the city.
We were permitted to approach the temple but, since neither of us are Hindi, we weren’t permitted inside. Needless to say that was a little disappointing.
Since I couldn’t see the interior in person I went on Wikipedia for the second-hand view. Apparently the sanctum sanctorum (holy of holies) inside contains a statue of Vishnu reclining over the Adi Sesha, who is revered as the king of primal beings in the Hindi religion.
The statue of Vishnu is made up of 10,008 Saligrams. Saligrams are stones containing fossilized ammonites. They’re only found in the Gandaki river of Nepal. Those 10,008 fossils were not only imported from Nepal, they were brought to the temple by elephant in a lavish caravan a long, long time ago.
Adi Sesha is usually represented as a serpent with many heads, sometimes wearing ornate crowns (though he, like so many Hindi gods, can take many forms). In this temple Shesha’s nose is pointed at a blue lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). Interestingly the word for the blue lotus in Hindi is Kamal (written कमल), which is also a very popular word for man.
The pose of Shesh and Vishnu seems very similar to that of seven headed serpent in the Bible (see Revelation 12), I would have loved to see it with my own eyes. They probably would have let me if they knew I was a scholar; pity the people at the door don’t speak English well enough for me to convey that.
Exiting East Fort we passed through Mahadma Gandi park and entered the Chalai Bazzar. The street was littered with shops and carts selling gold, flowers, veggies, fruit, clothing, etc. We strolled the market for a while then wondered off the street into a quiet alleyway.
The narrow alley twisted and turned between buildings. I heard the sounds of children as we crept passed a local school. The school was a meager rectangle of tall concrete walls that housed a roof, elevated about 30ft off the ground with steel pipes. Under these conditions Kerala has attained a 91% literacy rate. Maybe American schools should fly out here and take notes instead of whining about funding.
Eventually our alley poured out onto a street big enough for motorized traffic. Wondering down this road I saw a variety of homes and businesses, some more run-down than others.
The almost every wall here is covered in Malayalam or plastered with posters for Bollywood movies, advertisements for Kingfisher Premium (the local beer of choice), even promotions for the local Marxist communist party.
Indian’s perspective on communism has a lot to do with their history. Hitler is considered to have been one of India’s biggest allies because of Nazi support during their struggle for independence from the British. Some Indians, and Indian history books, still have great things to say about Hitler, others even glorify him. It’s amazing that everyone doesn’t see that relationship for what it was. The enemy of my enemy is my friend by consequence only; Hitler wasn’t a real friend.
…Hopping off my soap box and getting back to my hike, a little further down the road we passed a bridge overlooking a busy train station. In the distance I could see hundreds of people packed into train cars with no windows.
Right as I was thinking, “Wow, that looks dirty” John says, “I’d really like to ride a train while I’m here”. I decided it’d be a good idea to get a picture of John while he was still happy and healthy, so I quickly snapped the picture below and we resumed our walk.
Over the next few hours I enjoyed the thrills of unfamiliar scenes; some beautiful, others tragic, many were a little of both. I hadn’t expected India to be this beautiful, or this dirty.
Passing over a bridge in a dingy part of town revealed a spectacular topical view of some “backwater” (rivers that are impacted by the tide of the ocean). As is so often the case, the picture doesn’t do the view justice…
The picture below reminded me of something I recently learned studying the mathematics of music. Believe it or not, an imperfect blend of notes creates a much more pleasant sound than perfectly equal notes. I think there is something objectively beautiful about imperfection.
An interesting demographic on Kerala (the area I’m visiting) is that 1/3rd of them are Muslim, another 1/3rd of them are Christian and the remaining 1/3rd are Hindi. Considering the peaceful history of the area this seems like a good mix, but the Hindi’s defiantly have more visible representation. Almost every block has its own Hindi temple.
Many of the Hindi temples here are devoted to specific gods while others (like the one below) are universal temples. It was very common to see believers, like the man below, stopping during their busy day to offer a quick prayer or offering.
A few miles down the road we ran into a large dirt field filled with young people playing Cricket on a dirt ‘cricket patch’. I don’t understand the game, but I’d love to play a match before I leave.
So we walked, and walked and walked. My clothes were dripping with sweating from the humid air and hot sun had already turned my white skin red by the time John suggested taking a taxi.
We hired a rickshaw (a three wheeled go-cart like taxi) for about $5 for a ride to nearby Kovalam beach for some cold drinks.
The rickshaw dropped us off at the top of a hill overlooking the beach, we hoofed it the rest of the way.
Kovalam greeted us with a cool Indian Ocean breeze and a herd of white people. For a minute I forgot where I was, but the annoying street venders brought me back to reality. Regardless of what you say, if they think you’re interested they won’t leave you alone.
After roaming the boardwalk we stopped by the Coconut Bay Restaurant. I ordered a rum-n-coke and some dish I couldn’t pronounce, John had the Kerala seafood platter and a Kingfisher Premium. The restaurant must not have a liquor license because they poured John a coffee mug of beer and told him the bottle needed to stay under the table. …Obviously my drink didn’t need any masking.
After our meal we left the beach and headed back to the hotel on another rickshaw. A few hours after returning to the hotel an employee of the company we’re working with met up with us in the lobby. Our host took us out for a nice dinner at a posh restaurant a few kilometers from our hotel.
After our meal we headed back to the hotel. A few blocks down the road I noticed something odd on the window. It looked like a leaf, only it was moving.
Leaning in for a closer look I realized, to my horror and amazement, we had a gigantic spider on our window!
I relaxed a little when I realized it was on the outside of the car. At least I was safe for now.
For those who don’t know me; I’m very comfortable around most creatures, I even lived with a pet rattlesnake for many years, but I am not comfortable around of huge spiders.
Calmly I informed our driver that there was a huge freakin’ spider on the outside of our windshield (emphasizing outside in a reassuring tone).
The pause in her response telegraphed that we shared similar feelings for spiders. In what sounded like a controlled tone she said spiders were common and that there was nothing to worry about.
I wasn’t worried. At this point I knew the spider was outside and I was inside. I would start worrying when I had to get outside. The spider must have been reading my mind because as I was plotting my escape he crawled onto the roof where I couldn’t track him.
We arrived at our hotel before I could formulate a proper tactical strategy, so I went with plan C; I told John to get out first. J
Quickly John ducked out the door. Once he had cleared the vehicle I asked where the spider was. He said it was still lurching on the roof so I leapt out the door and made a b-line for the hotel entrance. Walking in an urgent stride, but not running.
I know this sounds unbelievable, but that spider ran around the car following me. I was starting to wonder if he was going to jump from the car when it vroomed away.
I didn’t have my camera with me so I didn’t get a picture, but I went online back in my hotel room and found this video on YouTube.
By the way, if you view this video on YouTube in full-screen you can read the text for it. Apparently this creepy-crawler was in the guy’s hotel room.
I went to bed after watching the video. I decided further research was defiantly unnecessary. 😉