Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jan 1st Kodai - Richard reflects on India and family

Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, India – Jan 1st, 2011

India is a kaleidoscope – shake the mirrors and the picture changes.  Sights, shapes, sounds, smells and feelings vary all the time, and one’s reactions to it all vary with each image presented.   It’s great to be doing this portion of the trip on a classic Royal Enfield motorbike.  There is no protective barrier between us and the country and one has to be constantly alert to traffic, people, animals and the road.  We stop for breaks at least every hour to ease our sore bums and stretch our legs.  Sometimes,  the stops are for delicious roadside snacks` and sweet milky tea or coffee.  We attract surprisingly little attention – there must be other whities who pass the same way on bikes or the Indians are too polite to make us into a show.  We are on the road for 4-6 hours when travelling, doing some 120 – 200 Kilometres in  a stretch.  The main highways are great and we zip along at 80k/hour.  Villages and towns are traffic nightmares and often pot-holed where we slow to walking pace as we weave through the melee.  We stay in most places for a day or two.

I like the fact that the bike makes our trip a bit of a challenge, I want to feel a small portion of the challenges that must have faced my grandfather when he came to India in the 1800’s and my father who was born here in 1905 and who died in 1952 and is buried in Bangalore.  It also must have been a challenge for my mother who came to India in the 1930,s, married my father in Hyderabad in 1933 and had three children here 1937 – 1940.  They must have really liked India, because they chose (and were allowed to) stay on after India became Independent in 1947.

For us the challenge is, as it must have been for them, to learn how to travel and live in this frustrating, fantastic and intriguing country without the benefit of guides to hold their hands at every step.  We have to learn how to get where we want to go, what to eat, how much to pay and how to get what we want.  We make lots of mistakes, but slowly we get better and learn how it might be possible to make a home here.`
Our ten days in North India (Delhi, Agra & Varanasi) were great, but, whenever we went out, we were constantly assailed by auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuks) drivers, touts and shopkeepers, that it became quite tiring.  Here in South India, we are approached a lot less and, having the bike, we are free to make some  of our own travel choices.  In the big cities, we park the bike & take tuk-tuks, because the road signage is a nightmare (many diversions, changes in road names, no signs or none we can read etc).

State Bank of India (Madurai)

The entrance

Outside the Manager's office
It has been moving for me to trace some of my family’s footsteps.  In Madurai, we found the bank where my father was manager (called “agent” in 1948).  We met the manager & staff who expressed delight that we were there.  They gave me a leather bound bank diary for 2011.  There was a small glassed in area of historical documents from the bank – they said the building itself is over 100 years old – and among the photos was one of the last house (small colonnaded mansion) we lived in before I was taken to school in England at the age of 8.  The house was later used as an admin centre for the bank & has since been pulled down.  

Monkey & child on road to Kodai

We have also driven from Madurai to Kodaikanal, where my sisters & I were boarded at a Catholic Convent School.  My parents must have done the drive many times.  About 80k along the Deccan plain, though lush fields and crowded villages, then 50k up the ghats (hill roads) to Kodai.  I remember the many twists and turns made us car sick years ago, and the road seems like it has not had any upgrades in the intervening years.  Buses, cars & motorbikes compete to pass, even on blind corners and around the many monkeys.  The temperature drops noticeably as we climb to 2000m.

Waterfall off Kodai road

Kodai lake
Kodai  has grown to a population of 32,000+.  The lake, which I was always too young for the long walk round, does not look very big now.  This is obviously a popular holiday destination, as crowds throng the stalls and families pedal and row small boats on the lake.  The road round the lake is under repair in many places.   The town busy, busy like all other Indian towns.  The big difference here is the hills.  Many streets varying from inclined to very steep.  A real challenge to manoeuvre with the traffic, and a bike that stalls if you are in the wrong gear or fail to release brake or clutch at the wrong time.
We are in the top right suite

We are staying in a house built with 4 rental suites.  We chose an upstairs suite with balcony for Rs1,500 ($34) per night ”with breakfast and all facilities.”  The suite is very nice – new, clean & hot water & western toilet.  Built on a hillside, with a great view of the valley.  Quiet at night, but constant (distorted)  music from nearby all day.  “Jingle bells” & “We wish you a Merry Xmas” were played in repetition for ½ an hour.  The owner lives in Chennai and the caretaker speaks no English.  Breakfast was a disaster, and simple things, like a table & cutlery are not supplied.  Peaceful though, so we are staying 

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful that you are making this pilgrimage. I am sure the emotions and memories are intense for you Richard.