Friday, 6 April 2012

Kanyakumari & Madurai

After one amazing chapter of my journey spent in 
Varkala, Kerala I took the train down to Kanniyakumari.
This southernmost tip of India is where three main bodies of water meet & offers
the unique ability to perceive the sun rise & set across the Arabian Sea, The Bay 
of Bengal & The Indian Ocean! I traveled here to spend one night
as it does not boast the most diverse range of appeal compared to
many other places in the Indian subcontinent!

Being a center for religion, art & commerce it has hosted many routes of trade for 
thousands of years. One of the most pronounced is the pearl trade. On almost every 
street corner, there were all sizes & colors of pearls being sold. Set in necklaces, rings, 
broaches or simply on there own. If one knows what they are looking for, this would be 
an amazing place to make some amazing deals!

Seen above is the Mahatma Gandhi memorial where his ashes were kept after his
cremation. They were on public display before being spread in numerous locations
across the world, though a portion were offered back to the ocean here - where these
three great bodies of water meet.
 Seen above is a very brief timeline of the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Most eminently known for his leadership is the Indian Nationalism movement
during the reign of the British ruled India. Through his main doctrine of non-violent
civil disobedience he catalyzed the liberation of India's independence in 1948.
Then sadly, 5 months later he was assasinnated by an extremist.
Across this beautiful country, He is known as the "Grandfather of India".

This photo is of a hole in the ceiling directly above the pedestal where
his ashes were kept. On Gandhis' birthday (october 2nd) the sun passes
directly overhead and aligns for a short period of time emitting a ray of
sunlight which beams downwards onto the altar seen below.

The curator seen here, offered a briefly expanded history
of the memorial. Through broken english he was obviously passionate about
relaying details about Gandhis life. In 2009 there was a 10m Tidal wave which overtook
this southernmost town & significantly damaged this memorial. 
Gandhi is seen here in his early twenties. The photo was likely
taken when he spent 20 years of his life in South Africa,
developing his political, ethical & leadership skills.
Here is a quite small variety of mangos clearly very unripe!
I have been searching for a mango season just about to go off~
Tropical Fruit seasons are really fascinating to me & I dont really understand
them as there seems so many different seasons in each place that I visit.
Confusing, though one day it will make more sense!
In india there are numerous tiers to the enormous railway system which is
responsible for the majority of the daily commuting in India. The range begins with
general class, where you pay a very cheap price to simply be on the train. It was
a frequent occurrence to find a family of sitting in your seat & unable to clearly ask them to move you
would simply have to sit elsewhere! At the very least, it got you to where you needed to go!
Then there was sleeper class (SL non AC), third class SL AC, second class SL AC & first class SL AC.
With each tier it got exponentially more expensive/cleaner/colder! This caption is of a SL non AC cabin.
Traveling upon the trains here, are certainly a crucial aspect of an authentic experience of true India!!!
After a very brief visit to the southern tip of India, 
I ventured forth northwards to Madurai. At this point I had set my intentions to
make my trip to the north of India quite expedient, so as to meet up with Aya again & 
other fellow Canadians from the west coast.
One of the major attractions in Madurai is the Meenakshi Amman Temple. This site is
dedicated to Meenakshi, which is one of Parvatis' manifestations & also to Lord Shiva.
I had a brief couple of hours to explore this extensive complex which was build close to 400
years ago. There are many sections which are inaccesible to non-hindus as it is a fully operation
temple with rituals being performed daily by more than 50 priests!!At the same time, it has within it
a museum with one of the most extensive collections of ornately carved statues I have seen so far in
india. Hundreds of carvings, with incredibly elaborate detail were found here -
a treasure trove depicting the Gods of the Hindu Religion!
These mandalas were found painted upon the roof inside the Meenakshi Temple.
Many of the paintings here, even though the originals are hundreds of years old - they
are under layers and layers of updated & touched up versions.
A large quartz carving of the deity Ganesha!
This member of the Hindu Pantheon has a sanskrit mantra associated
with him which can be used to alleviate "obstacles from ones path'.
Traditionally one would meditate upon him & chant his mantra to
help remove excessive struggles & to simplify the processing of
karma in ones life.
Portrayed above are elaborate statues of Bodhisatvas.
 In Buddhism these are enlightened beings whom have been motivated by great
compassion to seek Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings!
This statue on the left is a representation of Lord Shiva in the form of Nataraj 
embodying the cosmic dancer known as Koothan. This 'Lord of The Dance' 
symbolizes the death of the weary universe & the destructive aspect before it 
undergoes creation, again! The Mythos of the Hindu Pantheon is so far beyond 
extensive that I oftentimes ask Hindus along my travels how many Gods there 
are in India. Behooved, many of them laughed, some became unnerved while 
others would reply in the thousands to millions. The best answer that I ever 
received was from an older well composed gentlemen whom replied, 
"In India, there are as many Gods as there are rivers, stones & mountains."
Once I received this answer, my desire to further this inquiry had been stilled.
Aum Namah Shivayah.. Aummmm..
I am uncertain as to what this carving depicts exactly, though it seems fairly obvious it 
is associated with Sun worshipping & the wheel of samsara (the wheel of incarnation).
The cycle of death & rebirth in the sea of 'maya' or the world of illusion.

In this video, the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam or "Hall of a thousand Pillars is portayed.
This miraculous work of art & engineering was constructed 
in 1569 & it actually contains only 985 pillars!

This photo is taken from the entrance to the hall &
at the end of it is the effigy of Lord of The Dance,
Shiva embodied as Lord Nataraj!
Keep dancing, the time for a new world is upon us!!!
After an albeit brief though densely packed journey through the hectic town of Madurai, 
I left the temple to catch my train northwards to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. 
The next destination on my journey north along the east coast of Southern India. 
A beauteous land of endless temples of devotion, phenomenally 
colored marketplaces & incredibly loud traffic jams! 
I was never more than an arms length away from a pair of 
earplugs - crucial for travels in 
this part of the world!

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Varkala, Kerala

'Gods own country'
A statewide slogan for this place
This clay pot has found a restful place.. Likely remnants of a past ceremony
My adventures southwards from Port Kochi
 have brought me across this magical corner of Kerala, it is less of 
a corner & far more of a sprawling oasis-like beach destination! It is quite
easy to observe the days slipping effortlessly into weeks here as life can 
(if you allow it!)gracefully unfurl in a diverse range of relaxing experiences. 
Traditionally this place is quite sacred to those of the Hindu religion. The main 
beach here is called 'Papanasam', as it translates into 'redemption from sins' it is 
very popular as a Hindu pilgrimage site. Many mornings on my way along 
the beach for my sunrise yoga session, I have come across preparations for 
purification (pooja) ceremonies. Holy men, accompanied by a small group of 
disciples are usually found methodically reciting mantras (incantation or prayers) 
while burning incense & splashing rose water on offerings placed on banana leaves. 
Each time the ceremony would move into a new stage by having the bundle 
sacrilegiously tossed backwards over one of the disciples heads into 
the ocean! Ending with a distinct sense of joy overwhelming them 
- as if knowing their prayers had just been received!~

The beach is seen here from up upon the
cliff. It is facing westwards into Arabian sea,
the northern section of the Indian Ocean.

 Emerging along the cliff there are many freshwater springs that meander effortlessly
along hosting diverse ranges of wildlife & biodiversity, before eventually draining off
into the ocean. Here a white crane is seen, lazily passing the heat of the day away
before continuing the hunt (near sunset/sunrise) for small fish, crabs & other edibles.
Intricacies of the natural movement
of underground water from the aquifers
form these unique branch-like patterns
within the sands. Oftentimes resembling
tree-branches, the alveoli of the lungs or
mountain ranges as seen from a
birds eye perspective.
'Natura naturans'

Alas the 'Wish fulfilling tree' or in sanskrit it is known
as 'Kalpa vriksha', 'the tree which provides all the necessities of life'.
Those who live here have an incredible range of purpose for these palms.
Ranging (but not limited to) from; food, building materials,
natural fibre sources, medicine & ceremonial applications.
There is a saying by the locals here,
"water the tree for five years, reap coconuts for life".

On my way to the beach, one of
my favorite places to stop first thing
in the morning was to see this gentlemen.
The 'Purveyor of Coconuts' as I referenced him!
He was one of the most skilled in his art
that I have seen in india thus far. He could accurately
determine the ripeness of a coconut simply by taping his
blade on the outside and observing the resonance of the coconut.
If you wanted thick & mature coconut meat as more of a meal,
the message would be conveyed through saying "to eat, to eat"
& motioning towards your mouth. Though if you wanted a really
soft & sweet young coconut, you would simply gesture "jelly, jelly".
If you only want one to drink, you would say just that - 'to drink, to drink'!
Numerous times I saw him going off into the jungle with his son to
harvest coconuts. His son, usually carrying the thick coconut
rope that would be used to climb the palms.
A family adventure~!

Above is the traditional method for eating the coconut meat.
After enjoying the water, he would quickly halve & cut a portion of the shell
off into a 'spoon-like' utensil! How utilitarian can these people be?!?
Then I am reminded about how many thousands of years of
practice they have had~
For the duration 
of my visit here in Varkala, I was living in 'south cliff'. 
I found a clean & welcoming homestay located about 3 minutes from the beach, 
it was called 'Nikhil Guesthouse'. I really enjoyed having a juicebar in the same 
building that I was staying in (all juice 30rps- $0.60cnd), though sometimes it 
appeared that they had trouble getting fruit!
A quandary I wouldn't of thought of in the tropics, especially
if it is in season! One morning I was inquiring about an orange juice..
I was told that they would be delivered in '10 minutes', indian time...
 Upon my return that evening, they still had not received the oranges & again
told me they would be here in '10 minutes', at 10:30 at night! For all of the readers 
out there who know of my 'peculiar' relationship with time, I am beginning to 
taste this same medicine! Oh how the great wheel of karma continues to spin! Hah~

Of the Hundreds of cups of 'Chai' that I've come across at the countless chai stands.
This guy has some of the best presentation that I've lent witness to. It is not simply
about the way that he effortlessly makes each cup of chai with such attention to detail.
His posture, composure & overall state of 'being one with the chai' is ever-present!
One of the secrets I have found in composing a perfect cup, is in the texturing.
Pouring from one cup to another (varying heights infuse qualitative differences
amongst the degrees of frothynesss' - if thats a word :P) completely
dissolves the sugar & combines all ingredients soo ideally!
I love it so much~!!!~

childs footprint
ephemerally imprinted
upon these sands
soon to be

Papanasam beach is one of the major tourist attractions on the coast
in Kerala. Rightly so as it is so rich with so many avenues of culture,
both domestic & international cross-pollinating in this haven.
The government of Kerala seems dedicated to cleaning up the beaches
here & making them more appealing to an international crowd.
Seen here is a group of ladies who are part of a group funded
to travel the beaches(frequently in the heat of the day!) & tidy up.
A service that is fairly unique to this little part of India.
They love they're beaches & so do many others.
One of the cleanest freshwater creeks that I have seen, draining into the ocean.
This one is downstream from innumerable coconut & banana plantations.
Common hunting ground for many different types of birds.
In the evenings walking along the beaches here, hundreds
of crabs could be seen scampering about.
Some moving dazzlingly quick for their size.
The larger ones were near to impossible to sneak up upon,
as their sensitivities to detect predators had been honed incredulously.
The smaller ones, not so much! I made a game of catch & release with them.
It was a game of wits, to see who could move faster!
The moment I had one clasped in my hand I would release
to avoid the incoming pinching attack!
I stand unbeaten, never once pinched - Mwaha!
A pleasant site to see in India.
Open prohibition towards littering
is nearly unheard of in the majority
of where Ive been sofar.

The land is held sacred here just as much as the water is revered.
Looking closely, a labyrinth has been etched into the sands.
This symbol has been used for thousands of years as a
meditative tool. Walking the path into the center, allows one to
loose track of direction & disconnect with the outside world
thus rendering a deepened contemplative state.
"It is a confusing path, hard to follow without a thread, but,
provided [the traverser] is not devoured at the midpoint, it leads
surely, despite twists and turns, back to the beginning."
-Plato, from the socratic dialogue 'Euthydemus'

Here the beaches are oftentimes scattered
with ruins of old sand castles, spiraling sacred symbols &
abstractions of human expression.
A Hindu lady is seen here selling various
plant materials. Bundles of paan, necklaces
of mint/various flowers & strings of jasmyn
flowers which can be customarily
seen tied into the hair of young
girls or offered by many
at sacred sites.

This caption is of the pond at the Janardana Swami Temple, it is another
site of Hindu pilgrimage in the area. Janardana Swami is
another manifestation of Lord Vishnu. According to tradition,
unless you are a devout Hindi you are not typically
welcomed to bathe in these waters. A custom that is commonly
held at many of the temples around india. Also the general public is normally
welcome into the outer portion of the sacred sites, though the inner sanctum
is typically 'off-limits' to those who are not Hindu.
The is Meenakshi - an avatar of the goddess
Parvati, a consort to Lord Shiva~
She is portrayed here slaying a demon, an aspect of 'maya':
the illusory world that misleads seekers of truth.

The steps leading upwards to The Janardana Temple Site.
Here many Hindus come to make offerings to those departed
souls of their forefathers/mothers, this is considered very highly.
There are four poojas(religious ritual) held here each day. These 
ceremonies involve an offering or gift, usually in the form of currency to
various deities or significant beings in exchange for their blessings.

Here, I saw a tree
with thousands of toy dolls tied within the branches. There was a 'holy man' 
whom explained to me that it was called a 'naga tree' and that many couples who 
were seeking to have a child, would come, make an offering & 
hang a doll in the tree, symbolic of 
the prayers they have made.

~An eight petalled lotus
a merkaba
equipped with
the sound of creation~


'Say that five times while upside down & drinking a coconut'...
come on double I dare you!~
These uniquely uneven stairs were an effective mode for traversing
down to the oceanside. Seen below, this is the only place along
the coastline of southern Kerala that has cliffs alongside the Ocean.
They are known to geologists as the 'Varkala formation' & are considered
a Geological monument as declared by the Geological Survey of India.

They have formed into almost column-like pillars in some points.
They've reminded me of the 'hoodoo' formations native to southeastern Alberta slightly.
Innumerable days can be easily spent on the beaches during a visit here.
Many of mine certainly were! Temperatures ranging from 34-38c are quite common
around this time of year. During the heat of the day while lounging upon the sands it
is not unusual for the thermometer to exceed 40c. A local man is pictured above
 wearing an umbrella hat. Standing next to a fishermans boat that will likely
venture out to set fishing nets shortly for the evening catch. 

Unbeknownst to the untrained eye, the currents on the beaches of Varkala
are incredibly strong. Numerous times while out swimming, drifting out past
the toppling waves I found myself out quite significantly further than 
I had intended to be! 'Dont Panic' is the essential reasoning which
meticulously diffuses any such situation. Proceeded by swimming as 
horizontally as possible (closest to the surface), without straining 
you shall return from whence you came in a jiffy!

Out walking along the sands
one afternoon, this weathered
image of Shiva & Parvati was nestled
amongst the rocks.

An cxecutive resort cottage hut is seen above.
Where I was staying I was spending 400rps($8cdn) a night, a comparable
rate to many other guesthouses in the area. It was a 1000sq. foot
room with a private bath attached with decently fast wi-fi included,
a respectable rate considering how welcoming & clean the guesthouse was.
The cottage hut was available for 4500rps a night, it seemed slightly underkept
 & entirely vacant though it certainly had character!

Through happenstance, one day I found bulk raw almonds
available in the local marketplace (500rps/kg-$10cnd).
I was ecstatic, shortly after I began soaking & sprouting these
precious little protein packages of raw life-force enchancing energy!
It was hot enough for me to dehydrate them simply by leaving them
in open air after soaking them for 12 hours or so - in my room! They were
fully dehydrated in less than 3days - with the delicate crispy
texture that I so love about sprouted almonds~

A contemporary form of
Shiva in an artfully expressive mural.
He has received some serious style in this incarnation!~
~I love it~

In 1957 Kerala democratically elected a communist government!!! – the first 
place in the world to do so. Kerala’s unique blend of democratic-socialist principles 
has an impressive history. It has been labelled ‘the most socially advanced state in India’ 
by Nobel prize- winning economist Amartya Sen. The literacy rate (being 91%) is one of
the highest of any developing nation, though the strong history of education stretches 
back centuries to the days of  righteous rajas and active 
missionaries canonizing the locals!

Amidst the marketplace along the ridge, I came across
an artists booth who had an array of politically charged pieces.
I found particular appreciation in the one pictured above. The juxtaposition
of a figure normally associated with violent opposition has
been transformed into a mercenary of piece!

A traveling artist is busily recreating
this mural, located adjacent to the beach.
This is one of the only places in india
where I have seen openly
expressed graffiti styled art.

In Varkala, there is a section of vendors
clearly from Tibet. Boasting a diverse
array of Tibetan wares, the "Free Tibet"
movement has a strong following here.
A portrayal of Ganesha in one of his many forms.
Upon further investigation (with the artist whom I found working on it numerous times),
he had invested around 3 months of painting into this piece(sofar & it was nearly done).
Though with the nature of the work not necessarily being consistant, it had considerable
intricacy woven within it. Much of which is not available to be replicated by this
photo. It was a custom piece which he was selling for $600 euros.

Another of many meandering pathways
slithering downwards to the sandy

Many local fisherman could easily be found in the shade
(esp. during the heat of the day) laboriously preparing for future journeys
out onto the open seas. Either repairing damaged nets or
(as seen above) sewing sections
of new nets together.

Fishing is a family activity & has been for thousands of years.
Here is a son of one of the men whom just recently returned with the days catch.
Though not quite old enough to journey out onto the open seas, he seemed more than
ambitious in helping to collect the fish once they had returned to the beach.
One evening there was a what looked like a 'rock-fish' - a specimen with extensive
spines & sharpened points protruding along the fish (not large - 8" or so).
This young lad freely handled it as if there was nothing to it!
Naturally born to be one with the sea.

The local catch is an important part of the income
for many families here. The seafood can be incredibly fresh, though
it was quite frequent to see many fish being packed back up after a night on the 'ice' & not sold!
I pondered upon the fate of these fish & never quite came to any conclusion! It seemed that the
majority of the fish sold, normally would be cut right in front of you upon request. Frankly though,
the majority of the reviews of the seafood were emphatically positive about the quality available.
Red cod, swordfish, squid, octopus, tuna & tiger prawns frequented many-O-plates here!

Alas the fresh sacred spring waters of India have been found!
Along the cliffs here are numerous aquifers of freshwater freely flowing
into the Arabian Sea. Many of them occur with just enough flow to trickle softly,
bubbling gently out of the sands after being filtered for thousands of years by the earth. 
One day, walking along the beach I came upon a group of people freely filling
bottle after bottle of this fresh spring water. After thoroughly questioning many groups
(upon several visits) of people of the purity of this water & having each testimony
lending to its validity of being clean drinking water, I further proceeded to enjoy
these refreshing waters - straight from deep within the earth!
Many of the locals whom I inquired with about these waters, told 
me how they've been consuming them for years with no ill-effects. 
Abundantly bountiful India - strikes again!
Sitting cliffside at 'Abba', one of the restaurants here
where I have found the salads to be quite agreeable with my body.
Above is a spinach salad with various fixings & a lemon-mint juice.
This was one of my favorite ways to 'break-my-fast' in the mornings after a
sunrise session of yoga on the beach. There are many different places here that
offer many forms of yoga instruction, though I have none to lend testimony too!
I found focus in my self led practice with others upon the beach, listening to the
crashing waves, breathing deeply & observing activities involved in the
blossoming of a brand new day. 

A sunset.
The closing of a cycle.
Hindus have been coming to this beach for thousands
of years to offer the cremated remains of they're
relatives back into the ocean. Belief in the sanctity
of these waters has long been revered.

~'Aum Namah Shivaya'~