Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Home again

I finally made it back to Calgary after a grueling 3 day trip involving an undesired and unplanned overnight in Toronto, overbooked flights, and a pilots strike. However I made it.

My last couple days were spent in the west coast state of Kerala. I traveled through the palm forests and over the swamps and canals by train, took a houseboat overnight through the back channels, and explored the spice trading city of Cochin. All in all a good way to wrap up my trip.

A few pictures now that I'm back on wifi.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Coming to an End

After four and a half glorious days in Goa I flew to the city of Coimbatore to meet up with some friends I hadn't met yet. Uncle David met me at the airport and we headed to a lady referred to as 'Amache' or Grandmother by all the locals to spend the night. Our mode of conveyance was by scooter and since that night I've had multiple opportunities to practice holding my breath, staying centred, and trying not to cringe too much as we whizzed around obstacles, squeezed between buses, and slammed on the breaks to avoid becoming a splat on the front of big trucks. We had very special times with the group of friends in Coimbatore and then some of the other visitors and myself headed to Kodaikanal which is in the mountains for our next meeting.

The road to the mountains is like the roads in Darjeeling so I found myself glad that it was only about 3 hours up the mountain. We arrived to clear skies and cool temperatures (20sC) which was a nice change from the heat of the plains. We had an opportunity to do some sight seeing in Kodaikanal so enjoyed the view from the top of the mountains looking down upon the plains. After our very rich gathering there yesterday I traveled down the mountains again to the plains where I caught an overnight train to the neighboring state of Kerala. The trip down the mountains made me think about trauma being a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the developing world as the driver accelerated through 50m stretches, passed a bus which was passing a truck on a road that would be considered a one way road at home, etc. However, I survived and am here to tell the story.

I'm currently in the town of Quillom which is on the coast and is an old spice trading city if I understand correctly. If all goes well I'm hoping to take an overnight cruise through the canals and lakes of this area before heading on to Cochin tomorrow. The monsoon is just beginning here so it is VERY humid and it rains fairly often but the sun is shining which means it is quite soggy feeling.

Saturday I will fly back to Delhi to return to Canada and carry on with the next phase of life - moving to Nova Scotia so the adventures continue. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gorgeous Goa

After leaving the tea gardens of West Bengal I returned to Delhi for a night. I met up with the small group there for a lovely little meeting and we had dinner afterwards as well. Another visitor Jana Printz joined us also so was nice to hear of the work she does in Central Asia.

Monday morning I flew to the Indian state of Goa. It is a small state stretching along the coast of the Arabian sea with many many miles of gorgeous sandy beaches. The temperatures are more moderate than in Delhi only about 32C today but the humidity is significantly higher at 63%. I'm staying with some people that were recommended to me about a 5 minute walk from the beach. They have a lovely spot with 6 rooms. However, I"m their only guest at the moment and so I'm enjoying the glorious sunny solitude. Yesterday afternoon I went with the man who runs the place (Mario) to watch the mango pickers picking mangoes on his tree. The trees are massive so a man climbed up with ropes and then used a net on the end of a 20 foot long bamboo pole to collect mangoes. I got to eat several fresh mangoes right off the tree with the juice running down to my elbows and they were superb! I also got to try jackfruit right off the tree. While it wasn't as good as the mangoes it was still pretty fun to eat it sitting underneath the jackfruit tree.

I'm visiting Goa in the 'off season'. This is because it is 'too hot' which sort of makes me laugh when I think of the rest of India at the moment. However, in the next couple week or two they expect the monsoon rains to start so things will get really hot and really soggy then. However, for now I'm enjoying the sunshine. This afternoon my plan is to do nothing - go to the beach for a swim, read a book, and maybe have a nap...I plan to repeat this for the next two days as well because you never know when life is going to get busy and un-restful.

Friday I will fly to Coimbatore for the meetings there on Saturday and Sunday so will be special to meet some new friends.

Hope all is well in your respective parts.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On to Darjeeling

Today I'm hiding in the clouds in the hill town of Darjeeling. These hills would be considered mountains in most countries but in the shadows of the Himalayas the are just hills. I'm carrying on higher up the mountains today from a small village/tea garden (plantation) called Maikabari. I've spent the last two  days living with a Nepali family who work on the tea plantation. I have learned lots about tea, drank lots of it, and enjoyed a very relaxing time. Now I'm waiting for the train (rather to see if I can get on the train). This train is the highest in India which I suspect makes it one of the higher trains in the whole world.

I will have a few days in Darjeeling and then leave the mountains to head toward Goa which is likely in the beginning of the monsoon which does not bode well for my beach bathing.

But a bit more about tea.
1. Not native to this area - introduced about 1857 when the British supply in China was threatened by the Opium Wars (I think).
2. Grows on low shrubs throughout the hills here where it has been planted.
3. Harvested at 4 different times - First Flush (March-mid-May), Second Flush or Muscatel (Mid-May to Mid June), Monsoon Flush (mid-June to end of Monsoon ?August), Autumn Flush (Sept. to November).
4. Bushes are pruned and rest during the winter season.
5. Tea Bags are cheapest and nastiest form of tea you buy - they are made from the dust and sweepings left after all the more expensive tea components have been separated to be sold.
6. All different kinds of tea - black, green, white - come from the same plants. The difference is in the processing.
7. Oolong tea is simply a mixture of black and green teas, usually at a ratio of 70% black to 30% green.
8. Silver tips is the most expensive tea in India - it sells for about 18 000 Rupees/kg ($330 CAD/kg). The reason it is so expensive is two fold: firstly, only the buds of the tea plant are used. A trained picker working all day may be able to collect 250g of buds in one day. This mass is then cut by about 75% during the drying process. Secondly, the buds are only collected on the day of a full moon as it is believed that the buds have more potency/power/strength at this time.

Anyways, it is time to head back to the station to see if I can get on the train. Have a good day where ever you are.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Into Tea Country

Today I flew from Delhi (temp 42C) to a small city called Bagdogra in West Bengal. Then I took a share jeep (17 of us in a vehicle the size of a smaller 'full size' van) for two hours up into the foothills of the Himalayas. Tonight in Mirik the temperature is 24C and it is feeling downright cold. However, it is a welcome relief from the heat.

This part of India is tea country. I started seeing tea fields as we left the airport and they have continued up into the mountains. The tea is planted among the trees and I'm hoping to go to a plantation tomorrow and learn more about it all...maybe even pick some tea myself.

For now I'm tired after a long day of travel and ready to go to bed. Tomorrow I plan to explore Mirik a little bit and get my first glimpse of Kangchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world.

Yesterday I traveled back from Agra to Delhi and then went to the meeting yesterday evening. It was lovely to have some time with the little group that gathered and then we had supper together afterwards. So refreshing in the heat, dust, and bustle of Delhi.

Hope all is well in your various parts.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Wonder of the World

Tonight finds me in the house of a fine lady named Chanda and her family in the city of Agra, about 2 hours south of Delhi by train. I came down on an early train this morning to see the Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world. I had arranged a taxi (rather the lady I was going to stay with had) and the taxi driver arranged a guide - one of those Indian I'll help you if you help me kind of deals (which get really annoying after a while). However, I was met at the train station and we headed off to the Taj. I'll post some pictures another day when I can get them up but suffice it to say this is a monumental, awesome, superlative piece of art/architecture, history, and so on.

The grounds cover many acres but the designer of the Taj constructed it in such a way that when you look at it there is nothing behind it but sky. This and many other countless details combine to make it a beautiful, striking, fantastic piece of art...but in reality a tomb. Perhaps the most beautiful gravestone in the world;-). Following our exploration of the Taj we went to the Red Fort a fort and palace where the king who constructed the Taj actually lived. This too is another amazing piece of Mughal architecture with marble baths, fountains, inlay work with semi-precious stones, massive walls, huge gates, etc. By this point in time the sun came out and it got VERY hot. The high today was 46C according to my guide. After the Red Fort and the obligatory stops at the craft shops we went to the B&B where I am spending tonight. A lovely lunch of egg curry, rice, roti (basically Indian tortillas), yogurt, etc was prepared. I had a bit of a nap and then set out to see some more sights.

The afternoon was similar to the morning - exploring the ancient history of Agra. Tomorrow morning I return to Delhi and will be with the sisters for meeting in the afternoon which will be very nice. On Monday I head to Darjeeling to see the tea plantations and hopefully enjoy some cooler temperatures in the mountains.

Hope all is well in Canada. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Welcome to Delhi

I arrived safely to my bed in Delhi approximately 0200 Indian Standard Time which is 30 minutes offset from the rear of the world. My flights were long but uneventful once I found a new flight to get on. One thing I noticed immediately upon exiting the airport ( other than the surprisingly dry heat) was the smog and dust. I suspect the rates of lung cancer and asthma and other lung diseases are significantly higher here than in less populated/polluted cities.

I'm staying in a very nice B&B. The lady who runs it is very friendly, upper class, and opinionated. However she is also helpful so it is quite enjoyable staying there. The apartment is very close to the sisters Bach and I plan to meet up with them this afternoon.

First Impressions:
1. So far all the developing world cities I've been in smell the same (they have a particular kind of stink which isn't terrible but not exactly pleasant).
2. Developing world drivers are all slightly crazy.
3. Westerners in general (myself included) are very ignorant about India.
4. I love mangos - we had some mango for breakfast today - they were delicious.
5. I woke up to the sound of wild parrots (or some related species for the ornithologists out there) which means in definitely not in Alberta any more.
6. I'm going to get fleeced left right and centre while I'm here.

Anyways, this morning I've been to a historical site with the tallest stone pillar in India as well as a famous iron pillar. The stone work on Qutab Minar was fantastic as well as over 1000 years old.

After taking the metro to Humayans tomb a stylistic predecessor to the Taj Mahal I wandered in the public gardens for a while. I then met up with the sisters (Olive R and Suseela) for a cup of tea and then McDonalds for dinner. There was no beef on the menu at this Mcdonalds and the flavor of my maharajah Mac was definitely Indian. I then made my way home and crashed for me first good sleep in days.

Today (Friday) I'm off to explore some of old Delhi so I'd better hit the road.