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Fourth Stop - South India

06 Jul ~ 22 Jul, 2019

Varanasi


As a guy growing up on an island, crossing border by foot is an very interesting experience for me. It is around a 10-min walk from Nepal side to India side. The only thing needs to be noticed is that foreigners have to go to the immigration offices of both sides to do the visa check by themselves.



The reason I chose this way is very simple. Cheap! After immigration check, you can take direct bus to the Varanasi. Since Varanasi is the holiest city in India, how could I miss such a good chance to not visit this city. But the whole trip from Sanauli to Varanasi is approximately 10 hrs.



As learnt, there are evidences showing the records of human activity since Archaeological period. As one of the oldest cities in the world, Varanasi is also the most sacred city in India. Hindus believe that who dies in the water of Ganger river can obtain heaven and could be remitted from the sins if their bone ash can be spread into Ganger river.




Although Ganger river is the holiest river in India, it is also one of the dirtiest rivers in the world. Hundreds and thousands of people live by, laundry their clothes, take bath and even are cremated here. It’s not difficult to image how dirty is the river.


Every night you will see many ritual ceremonies going on along the bank of the river. It’s learnt that those ritual ceremonies are 24/7.


Aside from the Ganger River, it is also highly recommended to wander in those narrow but fascinating alleys and take a close look of this city so that you can feel the Hindu religious atmosphere.

Since the days I spent in this holy city were cloudy and rainy most of the time, I had no chance to take a boat ride in Ganger river in the early morning to see the sunrise.


Chennai

Chennai has 12-km long beach. In addition, Chennai was also once occupied by Portugal, Netherland and British Empire, which the East India Company set up their overseas office here. Therefore, styles of building in Chennai are various ranging from classical south India style to western styles.



The Kapaleeswarar Temple was built in the 7th century in order to dedicate to lord Shiva. This temple has strong south India Dravidian style which is famous for its delicate sculptures on the top of the temple.

The Santhome Cathedral was built during colonial Portugal. St. San Thome, one of the 12 disciple of Jesus, was martyred here. Behind the Cathedral is a small museum that you can learn more about this church.


Fort St. George was originally used as the office of the East India Company and now is a museum. Inside the building most of decorations are well kept and maintained. It’s recommended to take a visit to learn about the business development history of the East India Company.


The East India Company is located nearby beach. After visiting the museum, I decided to enjoy the view of the beach while walking back to my hostel. I was surprised that it’s quit desolate here. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to see the sunset from the beach because of the location of Chennai where is in the south east of India.


Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is 60 km southern side away from Chennai. Although it is a small town, there are several World Heritages in this town. It is recommended to buy a package ticket that includes the Panch Rathas and the Shore Temple. The package ticket price is 600 Rupee.



Panch Rathas is featured for its buildings which are carved by a single stone. As learnt, they are built by the order of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I, but the construction work was ceased after Narasimhavarman I passed away. Until now the purpose of this site is still mysterious.


On the way to the Shore Temple you will pass by another attraction called Krishna’s Butterball. It is a huge rock that has been standing on the middle of small hill for over 1,200 years.



There are also some heritages nearby Krishna’s Butterball worthy to visit. Since the butterball is on the small hill close to the sea shore, you can have an overlook of whole Mahabalipuram town from the top of the hill.



From Krishna’s Butterball to Shore Temple is around 10 mins walk. The Shore Temple is also listed in World Heritages Site. The Temple was built at the 7th century and is the one of the oldest temple in south India.


Although Mahabalipuram is very small, I still stayed one night here. But it is enough to visit all attractions in one day. It’s suggested to take a short trip in Mahabalipuram on the way to Pondicherry. Moreover, the intercity bus between Pondicherry to Chennai is very frequent, so there is no need to worry about transportation. By this way you can have more time to visit more cities.


Pondicherry

Next day early morning, I took bus to Pondicherry while enjoying the breath-taking views. In 1674, the France East India Company came here and set up their office to start their business in India. As a result, lots of French people moved to here and settled down. Due to this colonial history, many buildings and street views in old town are designed in French style. If you’re tired of India culture and would like to have something new, old town in Pondicherry is a spot you won't miss.



There are lots of cafe shop in old town. If you have been walking all day long and would like to take a short break, it is highly recommended to come here to find a cafe shop to enjoy a French tea time.


At night, I went to a local pub close to the sea with people I met in hostel. In comparison to night life in North India, I felt it is more fun and chilling in South India.


By the way, Pondicherry is also the birthplace of protagonist of Life of Pi. There is an interesting story when Director Li An filmed the movie. In the novel, protagonist’s father in fact runs a zoo business, but Director Li An chose Botanical Garden in Pondicherry to represent the zoo, which is a beautiful mistake.


Close to Pondicherry is a place called Auroville which is an experimental village. Auroville was founded by Ms. Mirra Alfassa in 1968. The purpose of the village is to establish a place where people of all gender, countries, religious, politics are able to live together peacefully. Her idea attracts hundreds and thousands of people to come here. In 1966, Auroville was classified in the UNESCO. Anyone can come here and be a volunteer to contribute themselves to make Auroville a better place. If you stay here more than 3 years, you can apply Auroville citizenship.

There is a huge golden ball called Matrimandir which is the most sacred place to Auroville citizens. It provides a place for meditation for Auroville citizens. If tourists would like to visit this golden ball, they have to make an appointment in advance. Besides, Sunday is the rest day in Auroville, so you won’t to expect to see many things going on on Sunday.

Alleppey

Since I didn’t have much time to travel in South India, I skipped some places and directly went to Alleppey. The main reason I visited Alleppey is to experience Backwater. Kerala is famous for its beautiful nature and was listed among the 50 destination of lifetime by National Geographic. Especially in Alleppey, you will see many tunnels crisscross the town. Since Alleppey is also close to the lagoon, boats is the most important transportations for local people.


There are several ways to experience Backwater, such as staying one night in boathouse, taking a small boat, or kayaking along the tunnels. I booked a one day tour by taking a small boat to explore some views and look local people's daily life. Of course, if you’re confident with yourself, you can choose kayak which is more flexible to travel around and more interesting.



Since many rivers cross Alleppey, some villages are not connected to city centre which make those villages look like islands scattering in the ocean. Some places are even under the sea level, so they need to build walls or banks to prevent flooding from the lake.



With guide of boatman, we can see local people's daily life. In addition to houses, there are schools, banks and restaurants here as well.


Boatman introduced that boat is school boat and that school is where his daughter studies. Unlike students in most countries, they take school boat to go to school or home. Boatman also said some students may take 3 hours on the commutation due to the low speed of the school boat.


A traditional Kerala meal. They put rice, curry and some vegetables on a banana leaf. The food is prepared by boatman’s wife and is very delicious.


Kochi

After a short stay in Alleppey, my next destination is Kochi to watch the most famous traditional Kerala show “Kathakali”. Kochi is the most important city in Kerala and is also called “the queen of Arabian sea”. Kochi has highest development index in whole India. In the past, Kochi was the centre of spice trading for many countries. Therefore, Kochi had been occupied by Portugal, Netherlands and the UK. Moreover, Zheng He, the most famous Chinese explorer, had been to Kochi. In addition, Jews people are recorded to live here long time ago. So the culture is very diverse here.


On next day morning, I went to buy a ticket in advance. The show started in the evening, so I spent some time discovering the city. Most of attractions are around Kochi Fort. First of all, I went to the Jews town.


On the way to Jews town you will pass by the Mattancherry Palace, which is also called the Netherland Palace. This Palace was originally built by Portugal in 1555. However, Netherland East India Company took over this Palace and renovated. Now the Netherland Palace becomes a museum where displays many India mural. The ticket price is only 40 Rupees.



After visiting the Netherland Palace, I went to the Jews town. As its name, lots of Jews people used to live here. But most of them moved back to Israel after Israel becomes an independent country in 1948. Now not many Jews people live here.


When you are in Jews town, don’t miss the Paradesi Synagogue. The ticket price is 20 Rupees. It is not allowed to take a photo inside the synagogue, but you can see the story of how Jews people moved to India and history of this traditional synagogue. The etymology of Paradesi means “foreigner”. In the past Paradesi usually meant “white Jews”, who are mainly from Mid-East or European.


Similar to those Westerners, Chinese people had been to here. They also brought new technology of Chinese Fishing Net into Kochi. This new technology is more convenient since its main idea is by applying principle of lever to catch fish. Now these Chinese Fishing Net has become an attraction.


In the afternoon, I took a short break in hostel to wait for the show. When I woke up, I still had some time to take a walk to the church nearby the performing centre. It was very peaceful when I wandered in the city. I sat on the rock and saw students playing cricket while waiting for the show.


The etymology of Kathakali is derived from Katha which means “Story” and Kali means “Play”. Kathakali is featured for its no line but only actor’s facial expression and body performance to deliver the story.


Before show started, every actor will sit on the stage and show all the audiences how they put the make up on. Every character has its own specific makeup which its color is made of natural stone mixing with coconut oil. For instance, hero usually uses green color. After finishing makeup, actor will have a short performance to show how their deliver the emotions by only using his facial expression. I was really impressed.


Mumbai

Finishing my trip in Kochi, I went to the last city of my trip in India, Mumbai. Dhobi Ghat is the largest open air laundry place in Mumbai. It provides cleaning services for neighboring hotels and hospitals. The capacity is approximately 100,000 clothes/day. The tall buildings behind the site gives me a contrasting feeling.


Luckily, I found a host in Mumbai. I would say this couchsurfing experience is one of my most unforgettable memories.


My host’s name is Afroz Shah. He is not only a lawyer but also a environment protector. He lives nearby the Bersova Beach. In 2015, he noticed that there are tons of waste piling on the beach, so he spontaneously started to clean the beach. Although only himself doing beach cleaning in the beginning, his passion and environmental awareness gradually influenced other people. Until 2019, Versova Beach which is place no one wanted to visit has become the most relaxing beach in Mumbai. Now you will see many people gather here doing the exercise or watching sunset. (My host’s speech in Portugal)


During the stays in Mumbai, I joined my host’s weekly beach clean event. This time we were going to clean another beach called Dana Pani Beach. When I arrived Dana Pani Beach, I was completely shocked by the scene. The beach was totally covered by the waste. Moreover, due to tide, tons of plastic bags are hanging on the mangroves.


Around 50 volunteers, who are from women’s groups or schools, joined today’s event. Everyone is very involved in the beach clean event and hopes to change India environment through its own effort. Despite there is a long way to a better life, they are starting to step closer to their goal, no matter how big or small a step it is.


Within only 2 hrs, we had cleaned almost half amount of waste on the beach. Although there are plenty of waste buried deep down the beach, It was still very impressive for what we have done so far.


After morning event and short break, we went to the Versova Beach to do clean beach again. A company attended this afternoon event. My host was announcing some notices of clean beach and sharing his experience to company staffs.




Next day, I got a chance to go to slum where is nearby the Mithi River with my host. My host now is running a new project that they not only clean the river with residents but also increase local people's awareness of plastic separation from their living waste. After river cleaning, volunteers and I start to visit every house to collect plastic. When we started to yell out “Plastic”, every family spontaneously show their “results” to us. Within few minutes, our bags are completely fulled. As learnt from my host, these recycled plastic will be sent to a recycling plant for further process and reuse.


I was so lucky to meet such a good host who showed me a real, deeper India. In Taiwan, we are used to do waste separation at home. But for India, they just started and will continue moving on. They need more time and efforts to increase their awareness of environmental protection. That shows how important the environmental education is. It is nothing to do with your gender, position, races. Even though you live in a poor environment, you still can contribute yourself to make a better living environment starting from waste segregation at home.



Before I visited India, the things about India came to my head are those stereotype such as poor, dirty, scams, rapes. But those cases not only happen in India. Why we have those stereotypes toward India? From this trip, I deeply believe that most of them are not true. Most India people are very kind and hospitality. That makes me wonder how those stereotypes come from? Are those stereotypes from the Internet or medias who often feed you filtered information. Do we really try to investigate those misinformation? Maybe that's what makes us miss the chance to know about cultures, people, histories and natures of India. Despite I usually got annoyed by India people’s laziness or undisciplined, I still enjoyed the trip in India because it is part of traveling. Through traveling I learnt how to adjust myself in different situation and understand different cultures. By this way, I have more chances to discover the beauty of India. This time I only stayed one and half month in South Asia, but India is too big to travel around. It's definitely worthy to spend more time to explore India. I believe I will come back to this country I love and hate at the same time to find out more interesting people and things.

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