Thursday, April 24, 2008

India, India, India: 2

So we only went to Kollam for this festival. This is very sad to admit, but I have no idea why they have this festival. Apparently it is a festival in celebration of the summer harvest (which by the way was really bad this year because of serious amounts of rain that shouldn't have happened).In a big field near where we were staying (on a very, very smelly lake) they set up the festival. We got to watch this process because we arrived at 5 -- everyone said it started at 3 or 4 o'clock, but clearly that was terribly inaccurate.The festival consists of more than 40 elephants (Barbara counted 41), each with three men standing or sitting on the elephants back holding 1) an umbrella, 2) furry pom-poms, or 3) fancy fans. They switch the umbrella every 10 minutes and then do a little dance with the pom-poms and fans. It is a little weird. But fairly interesting also.
The elephants, of course, are thoroughly drugged out of their minds and their feet are chained together. I have to say I'm happy they get some happy drugs because the number of people at this festival was making me uneasy, I'd hate to think how an elephant would feel.The best part of the festival were the kids. They little kids would run up to us and say hello and if they were very brave, try to engage us in a conversation to practice their English. Some were very shy, but their parents would encourage them to talk to the funny foreign ladies.After the festival they had a very long fireworks display, but we had already left for our hotel room. We could see the fireworks from our front door and hear them through the walls.Since the lake smelled so bad near our hotel, we decided to venture to Alleppey to hang out on the backwaters. At our smelly, lake-front hotel we met another tourist who gave us an excellent recommendation for a guesthouse in Alleppey, so we were fairly confident we'd be comfortable for a couple of days. The bus ride to Alleppey was more enjoyable by the sight of elephants walking along the road -- we believe these were all from the festival the night before now returning to their perspective temples or actually making the trek to Thrissur for the next festival.[This picture is actually the elephants coming into Kollam, but you get the idea.]

Alleppey is a cute little town on the beach and surrounded by Kerala's famed canal system. You can't really go swimming there (we tried), but you can pay someone to take you out on a very comfortable "canoe" and row you around the backwaters for a bit.Our "canoe" had two padded seats and a little cover to protect your precious fair skin from the sun (I'm only mentioning our precious fair skin because the driver commented on it). Actually the little cover was a little too low, so I couldn't sit up straight in my chair, but it was still lovely. You get to watch India wake up and do their morning routine while you sit and relax on a quiet boat.
Many tourists actually pay big money to go out on large motorized houseboats, which I did last time I was in India (actually, I didn't pay big money, my friend's parents paid, but I did enjoy an entire day sitting around on a giant houseboat). I have to say the non-motorized canoe option is much more pleasant.After our canoe ride we walked around town (again on the search for the elusive dosa -- seriously I don't remember this being a problem the last time I was in India). We found the umbrella shop. Who knew Alleppey is famous for umbrellas? We walked into several sari shops and fought with the other women to get to look through the piles of saris on the counter (must have been a good sale; I was literally pushed out of the way at one point).

Mostly we enjoyed sitting in the sitting room of our guesthouse owner's home and talking to her about life in India, her life in Chicago (she is Indian, but she lived in Chicago for many years), the differences between life here and there, etc.

Tomorrow: our trip to Kochi and home again.

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