Stuff I Know

Just stuff by me about me and my life, such as it is.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


The "backwaters" are supposedly one of the highlights in a visit to the state of Kerla. Backwaters refers to the rivers, and canals that wind their way inland from the coast through the villages and forest. And they actually are pretty nice.

The beginnings of the lake just outside Alleppey.

The best way to see the backwaters is to rent a houseboat for a few days and just cruise along at a leisurely pace. Some of these house boats can be rather grand, with large bedrooms, verandas, and air conditioning.

One of the more stately type of houseboats.

Of course renting a whole houseboat certainly isn't cheap. And it was prohibitively expensive for me to do it alone. One of the pitfalls of a solo traveler. There was an opportunity for me to join a group of people who were going to rent a houseboat, but at the cost they gave for just two days and one night, I still couldn't justify it to myself for this trip.

One of the canals.

Alappuzha, better know as Alleppey, is one of the entry points to the backwaters. There are a few cities that you can start a backwater journey from, but Alleppey has the advantage that there are two canals that run through the town which make accessing the backwaters easier. And those canals make wandering through the town a more pleasant experience. Parts of the canals are a bit over grown and consequently a bit drab looking, but generally they are in pretty good shape, especially considering what most city waterways look like in India.

Traffic on the backwaters.

While I didn't go on a houseboat trip, I did get a chance to see a bit of the backwaters while I was in Alleppey. I took a canoe tour. I sat in the bottom of a canoe while a guy paddled me around for a few hours. My guide/motor didn't speak much English, but he did tell me he was the number five paddler on the the city's boat in the annual snake boat race (kind of like a dragon boat race). Apparently the stronger paddler you are, the higher up your position is, one being the highest.

The trip was actually a pretty nice way to spend an afternoon. In fact, even though Alleppey doesn't have much else to see, it may be worth a stop even if you don't happen to take a boat trip.

This photo needs an explanation. It was an overcast day, and I took this picture of the reflection of the sun in the water.

Here are the photos for you. There is a special rare bonus photo of me in the bunch. I rarely have pictures of myself taken. And yes, that is pretty much the way I look most days of this trip. Enjoy.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008


This was my first real planned beach retreat. The guidebook says that the beach a bit further south, Kovala, might be a bit more picturesque, but the more upmarket hotels also mean it is more expensive. Well, that settles it then. Varkala and the cheap backpacker scene it is for me.

I thought the beach at Varkala was great. Of course you do have to walk down from the cliff (via stairs) to get to it, but hey, in that way it is a bit more special. There is a peculiar thing (not so peculiar when you think about it) you quickly notice about Indian beaches. Any beach that is easily accessed by the general Indian public is always dirty- covered by trash and sometimes scorch marks. If it takes any initiative to get to the beach, like walking more than five or ten minutes, or climbing hills or steps, that beach will invariably be much cleaner. Even beaches that are long stretches are always cleaner just a short distance from the bus stop/parking lot.

I spent the first couple of days at the beach a bit logy due to some sickness. I had a temperature of 102 degrees one night, but since the temperature did not return, I ruled out malaria. I guess it was just the flu or something. The next couple of days at the beach were nice. Just sitting on the beach, playing in the ocean, and overall relaxing. I didn't develop much of a tan there due to a combination of lots of suntan lotion from fear of sunburn, and a couple of overcast days.

A "tank" next to a Hindu temple a bit inland from the beach.

Two consecutive days when I and others were out swimming, a small group of dolphins came not more than 50 to 75 meters from the people in the water and swam around for a while. They would swim along the surface and occasionally leap out of the water. Once, one of them even did a flip, all without prompting. It was kind of exciting each of those two days, kind of like my own little dolphin encounter.

Not many picture from Varkala. Sometimes you have to just put down the camera and enjoy yourself.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008


The state of Kerala in India may be run by communists, but they must be doing something right. In the capital city of Thiruvanathapuram (Trivandrum) I did not see one single beggar. I even saw people who certainly looked like they should have been begging, but they weren't. Interesting. Just so you know, though, all of Kerala was not beggar free.

Having grown up on the tail end of an age where communism was the "one global threat", it was a bit odd to see the hammer and sickle, the symbol of communism, everywhere. Political party posters carried images of the communist trinity- Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. One poster had a regular panoply of communist characters. I recognized the faces of a few, but there were at least five or more I didn't know. Castro was there, though.

Trivandrum was more of a stopover than a destination. Maybe I have said this before, but I don't like taking bus rides of over 5 hours (unless it is a night bus and then only if it arrives at a decent time, not 3:00 AM). Even though it was just a stopover, I did take an extra day to wander around the city and visit the zoo. That is where most of these pictures are from.

Have a look.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

At The Moment

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In case anyway was wondering, this is where I am today, January 17, 2008. I will be leaving tomorrow, though.

You'll notice my photo posts are a bit behind my actual location.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Land's End

Just off the tip of India is a temple marking the spot where some swami meditated before setting off to change the world, and also a statue of a famous poet.

Kanyakumari, or Cape Comorin, was a nice change from the latest places I had been. There is not a lot to see or do there, but just taking the time to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea for a couple of days was relaxing. If I had been more energetic, I could have watched the sun rise over the Bay of Bengal and set over in the Arabian Sea all in the same day. But at that time, getting up at six in the morning was a bit beyond me.

As you can see, many people come to watch the sun rise and set here.

I did, though, stand in three bodies of water all at one time. How many of you can say you have done that? Kanyakumari is the southern tip of India where the Bay of Bengal, the Indian ocean, and the Arabian Sea all meet. Oh sure, purists will say it is all one big body of water. But I wasn't the one who named things. I just take advantage of what is already available.

Heading north, there is another small village and some beach just past a headland separating it from Kanyakumari.

There is not much actual beach at the tip of the subcontinent. There is a little bit of a beach further north along the western coast, but as long as you are in site of the Cape, the beach is not really worth the time for a swim.

I could throw in a lot of technical terms with this photo, but that would presume I remember them all. If you are a sedimentary geologist you'll like it without any explanation.

As a geologist, though, (Yes, technically I was trained as a geologist, but I haven't done anything related to geology in many a year.) I found the garnet sand beach interesting. The gneiss, overlain by a laterite, that is exposed along the beach is rich in garnet. Nothing gem quality, but when the rock weathers, the garnet grains "float" to the top and coat the beach in places. it is a red sand beach of a different kind.

Oooo, ahhh! Look at it sparkle. OK, maybe the sparkles don't show in the photo, but believe me, it sparkled.

From here it is north along the coast and into the state of Kerla. Enjoy my pictures of the Cape.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008


Not that this time is any more significant than any other, but I thought I would jot down a few things.

  • I have been on the road now for over four months.

  • I have been in India for over one month.

  • The odometer on my GPS unit has passed 4000 km. It should probably be over 5000, but somewhere in China it mysteriously reset itself.

  • After two weeks, I think I have finally gotten rid of the diarrhea. And it took until the last of ten pills to do it.

  • I don't know what my weight is, but my cheeks are starting to hollow out a bit, and I have moved to the last notch in my belt (something I haven't done in about four years).

  • The image numbers on my camera have wrapped back around to "_0000" that means I have shot over 10000 photos with this camera. No, not all on this trip. And definitely not all "keepers."

  • The cheap sunglasses I bought in Tibet have finally broken. I was wondering when it would happen.

No nothing monumental in those milestones. Just a way for me to measure time as it passes.

A Nandi near the big temple.

Madurai is an OK place, but I don't think it lives up to the praise given it in the guide book. The main sight for tourists, the Sri Meenakshi temple is definitely worth a look, but I had recently become frustrated with the pricing structure and considered the camera charge just too high this time. So the images will have to live in my memory rather than in photos. Also, some parts of the temple were closed off so I couldn't have taken many good photos anyway.

Drying in the sun.

Actually, just as interesting to me was the sight of the daily laundry chores in the Vaigai river as I crossed it to visit the Gandhi museum.

The old fashioned way.

A large part of the museum really seemed to be the struggle of India against the west, and the part that Gandhi eventually played in it. There was a lot of reading involved, and through it all I noticed one theme that I expect the museum people probably didn't see coming.

A lot of the stories focus on the struggles and battles and many of them say something similar to ... The Indian people fought a valiant fight against the British (or Portuguese or whoever) ... but lost.

I don't know if the museum folk are aware of how it looks in English. Indians fought the fight, may have rarely won a battle, but eventually they lost the war with the West. I expect that is not quite the message they had hopped to give.

Part of what is left of a palace. The place must have really been something special.

One more thing about Madurai. Not every white guy walking around the streets in the evening smokes marijuana. We aren't all druggies. And after being asked every five or ten meters if I wanted to buy some, I was beginning to resent it. I mean if you are going to do something illegal, at least show a little discretion as to who your clients are to be. One guy asked me every time I walked by him. But then I think he was using too much of his own product. Usually I tell them that marijuana is illegal, and then they say that no, it is no problem. When I ask them if we should go to the police and ask if it is OK, they usually leave me alone.

Not many photos this time. Enjoy what you can.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The State of State Museums

Still in Tamil Nadu state. Tanjore (Thanjavur) is a city with another World Heritage listed temple. (Maybe I should get a list and start checking off World Heritage sites.) And I think this is a temple that does deserve listing. It is rather impressive. Just the enormity of the main temple is a sight in itself.

This photo is deceiving. This tower is very tall.

Typical carvings on the towers. This particular tower has not been cleaned yet.

Also, the carvings around the temples are very involved. In addition, this particular temple has one of the largest Nandi (bull) statues in India. It was carved from a single piece of rock.

A big black bull which was the ride of Shiva (?).

Another site to visit in Tanjore is the Royal Palace and Museum. Sorry, no pictures inside the museum. It costs extra if you want to use a camera around the palace. Many places are like that in India, which is just another way to screw the tourist. Who goes on a vacation and doesn't take a camera?

Another thing about tourist sites in India is that some of them will have variable pricing schemes. Locals pay one price, but foreign tourists pay a higher price. This kind of thing really irks me. OK, maybe they want to raise more money to take care of the sites. Well why don't they charge the locals more. Usually more locals come than foreign tourists. Now before you think I am whining about a little bit more money, the foreigner price is usually 10 or 20 times more than the locals' price. As far as I know, no place in America charges foreign tourist a different price than local tourists. For whatever reason you do it, it still smacks of discrimination. Hasn't the time come to treat everyone as equals.

But I sneaked a picture from the top of the tower in the palace anyway.

The museum in the palace is "OK" but I do have to say it suffers the same fate as other state museums in India. Many state museums (at least that I have visited) seem very neglected. They are dark and dusty with peeling paint, moldy exhibits, and not a lot in the way of information or organization, and I don't just mean English information.

As you wander through a museum, you may be followed by a guard. It is not that he expects you will steal something. He is just there to turn off the lights and lock the doors as you leave each gallery. You may be one of the few visitors they have all day. It is a shame that the museums seem to have been forgotten by the people whom they were probably originally developed for.

There are often some very interesting, real museum quality, items hidden amongst the plethora of Hindu deities. You see something and wonder what is the story behind the "Decorative Glassware of Czechoslovakia." How did it get to this particular museum. And what really is the "Pipe like article made by blind boys of Jerusalem with silver inlay work of Arabic script."

I expect the cleaning lady sweeping up chips of paint fallen from the walls, who sees these items nearly every day, knows just as little about them as I do. It's a shame.

Here are the photos from Tanjore.

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