Kerala, a different side of India

Fresh coconut is a staple of Keralan cuisine

Fresh coconut is a staple of Keralan cuisine

Kerala is a kinder, gentler India. Sitting in its southwestern corner, the state has a lower population density, more undeveloped nature, a lighter gastronomy based around coconuts, and a large Christian population, making it very different from the rest of the country. It’s a fantastic place to ease into the great subcontinent.

Desiree Rumbaugh

Anusara yoga teacher Desiree Rumbaugh lets her hair down

Our yoga tour group, accompanied by Anusara master Desiree Rumbaugh, started off in Fort Kochi, where we visited “Jew Town,” with the oldest continually open synagogue in the British Commonwealth, and took a cooking class with the gifted Ms. Leelu (see her demos online: http://www.keralatourism.org/video-clips/video-list.php?input=7). It turns out that Keralans eat beef, unlike most of their countrymen. I took it as a sign of India defying expectations from the get-go.

Washing involves beating the clothes against a rock

Washing involves beating the clothes against a rock

Here’s an antidote for anytime you might be tempted to complain about doing laundry: Visit a traditional Indian laundry house and see how clothes are washed by hand, beating them against rocks after a soaking in soapy water. The (mostly) men who work this grueling task spend their days ankle-deep in suds, swinging wet sheets and everything else over their heads as if chopping wood. Others twist the garments into rope to dry in the sun, then press them with irons kept hot on coals.

A dancer spends hours on costuming

A dancer spends hours on costuming

At a traditional dance performance, dancers personified different emotions, situations, and animals, using every part of their bodies. “Love” was portrayed as giggling and coquetish, with downward and sideward glances. The dancer fidgeted (I don’t say “she” because it was actually a man dressed as a woman), catching the end corner of a scarf and twirling it back and forth nervously between fingers. Whoever doubts that love is the international language should see it.

Kerala backwaters

Kerala backwaters

Afterwards we headed to the backwaters, literally. Near Allepey, a large system of canals and lakes supports communities whose economies are based around rice paddies … plus the tourists that come to float by languidly on houseboats. And the languishing was absolutely divine, no denying it. Sipping from a green coconut, watching the world pass by, and then docking for the evening when the lakes turned into reflective glass…. It was very Pirates of the Caribbean, for those who have visted Disney. In the evening we struck up an impromptu talent show with the crew, enjoying acts from India, the U.S., Canada, Europe and Hong Kong. Fireflies blinked in approval.

The view from Paradisa Plantation

The view from Paradisa Plantation. The land across the valley is a nature reserve for tigers.

Next we were off to the high hills where tea and spices are grown, staying at the serene Paradisa Plantation, which fronts a nature reserve for tigers and seems to be perched on the edge of the world.

It turns out that tea bushes look like little puffs of green cotton on the hillside. They’re picked once a fortnight, then dried, fermented, and chopped. One kilo sells for about $2 at auction, in turn yielding 50 cups of tea. It really makes you wonder about the wages of those picking and packing it all, and since returning home I haven’t been able to drink tea without thinking about it.

Picking tea leaves

Picking tea leaves

We indulged in long yoga practices at Paradisa, sometimes in both the morning and afternoon. Anusara is relatively new to me and requires a completely different kind of body alignment. Suffice it to say that I vastly underestimated the physical demands of this trip! Beforehand, Ben encouraged me to amp up my practice in preparation, and I remember thinking, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” As it turns out, not only does Desiree focus her classes on building a good deal of strength, but almost everyone here was an instructor, themselves!

Photos are up on the gallery section of this site, and you can see gorgeous professional shots by Jordane Elmassian for purchase at www.elmassian.net/india2011. Stay tuned for more from the state of Tamilnadu…

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Comments

  1. I find the regional differences fascination. I feel a little ashamed for stereotyping all of India. I looked at the cooking videos but she doesn’t always name the ingredients or the amounts. Guess I’ll have to take a class…or you can teach me!

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