One of the challenges of blogging this trip is trying to capture an experience that is hard to confine to the limited dimensions and senses of a computer screen. For any real-life-to-print endeavor that’s a challenge but India is a place that everyone describes as an assault on the senses.
Take today for example. I am now in Kochi (i.e. Kochin) in the western coastal state of Kerala.
How am I supposed to convey what it smells like to walk into a ginger wholesaler’s warehouse? I guess the obvious answer is that it smells like ginger – but imagine bags and bags of the dried root with stacks more waiting to be processed. This was all in the spice market in town which is a neat walk-around, particularly considering all the other handicrafts, essential oils and antiques that are on sale in the other stores along the route.
The aforementioned items are, of course, sold all over India. But now that I’m in south India, it really drives home the fact that India is incredibly diverse. Each state here is a country unto itself. While English and Hindi are widely spoken here, there are 14 other official languages: Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Sanskrit. (I’m in Malayalam territory now. The proprietor at my hotel pointed out that the word is a palindrome and I traded him “racecar” and “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama” which sort of impressed him.) Basically being down here in the south means the few words of Hindi I’ve learned are now completely useless.
Whereas the northern part of the country is getting quite cold now, it is warm and sultry here on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It is forecast to be between the low 70s to high 80s for the next week (22-31° C) which makes me particularly happy (a) coming from chilly northern India, and (b) remembering that it’s hovering near the freezing point back home.
Here there are palm trees, the men wear dhotis which they can never seem to get just right for their taste, and there is a real tropical feel to the place. Kochi (or Fort Kochi where I’m actually staying) is a fishing village that got hit fairly hard by the tsunami a year ago (it’s all relative next to what happened on the east coast of India). This morning I hung out with some of the fisherman who man the huge Chinese nets on the tip of the island; they even let me help haul them up. We didn’t catch much – although it gave me a good opportunity to take some pictures I wouldn’t be able to take in many places in the world.