We just returned from a fabulous trip to the hillstation of Kodaikanal. I would suggest you check out the description on Wikipedia for basics, which is what I did, as I honesty can add nothing to the description of the actual town. Kate and Ramsey are at the end of a long-term collaboration with ODAM and wanted a chance to celebrate with their friends. I was lucky enough to have them make the trip on my birthday so they made quite a fuss over the day, though generally I prefer to ignore the entire getting-older event. Elavarasu, AKA “The Fixer”, lived up to his reputation by arranging a bus to take us (the four volunteers and 12 ODAM staff) and a bungalow to stay in. He also took care of ensuring we had ample opportunities to see the tourist spots there. We left on Friday afternoon, had lunch along the way, and made the long uphill trip to Kodaikanal during the afternoon. The change in topography and temperature as we climbed the mountains was wonderful, shifting from the heat of the flatlands into almost jungle environment into more standard forests. When we had light showers hit us on the way up, it was so refreshing I already felt a world away from the heat of Tiruchuli. I took so many photos driving up the winding road and can’t imagine these are particularly worth posting for the blog, but will try to post some of the shots I have looking out at the area around the city as that provides a really nice feel for the place. I saw my first family of monkeys on the side of the road as we climbed (probably an hour or so before we reached Kodaikanal) but I was so surprised that I didn’t capture the photo.
We arrived at our bungalow in early evening, made ourselves at home, and then went up on the roof to enjoy drinks and snacks. I have been pretty good about avoiding most of the greasier snack foods here – but I definitely had enough that night. We went in for dinner pretty late and I had the chance to enjoy cauliflower 65, which was the vegetarian version of chicken 65 which I had heard great things about. It was a very spicy dish and I enjoyed it a great deal. We then went to bed – but I’m afraid we rather misbehaved in the girls’ room (Usha, Begum, Kitu and I) and acted like we were having a slumber party till pretty late. At midnight Usha (who was checking the time on her phone every couple minutes) alerted the others and they all began singing happy birthday to me. Pretty funny group. I think we were the only bunch relatively sober and were probably the ones having the most fun.
I had ample opportunity to see more monkeys on Saturday when we visited an interesting pine forest which had apparently been planted during British days and which was quite popular with the Indian tourists. Our next stop was the three pillars, which were awesome monolithic stones and incredibly scenic. The day was quite misty so the lookout was not possible, but it was an attractive area, again heavily visited. Both of these areas had some roadside venders set up, many selling snack fruits and carrots. Some people seemed to purchase these items as much to feed the monkeys as to partake of themselves. I admit I have not seen carrots like these since I arrived – they must grow very well there. We then went to “Green Valley Point” which used to be called “Suicide Point” but was renamed because of the huge numbers of suicides the name apparently engendered. A large wall with high fence had been built to prevent further problems and with the mist, we really couldn’t see much at the actual lookout. However, there were a large number of venders arranged in a narrow corridor up to the lookout so there was a festive air about the place anyway. I had an amusing time as we were leaving when a couple young men asked if they could have a photo with me. Several photos were taken with young guys shifting in and out of the shot and then the first young man who had approached me asked for a photo with me kissing his cheek – which I had to admit tickled me a great deal. A woman turning 53 isn’t asked to kiss young men often. Having no reputation to uphold, I complied with the request, much to the amusement of the surrounding crowd. Kitu watched the whole thing and was highly amused that I was able to entertain such a crowd – and she greatly regretted not capturing the event for posterity. Perhaps this incredible photo will show up on the internet at some point! We ended the outing by renting boats to pedal around Star Lake, the manmade lake within the city. We filled four boats, had a brief race, tried to ram each other occasionally, picked waterlilies (which have truly ugly stems) and enjoyed the sunshine on the water in a very lovely location. We returned to the bungalow after the tourist excursion to give everyone a chance to rest up but I really wanted a chance to get out so took a walk toward the lake – about 15 minutes from the bungalow. It began lightly sprinkling about ten minutes out and I debated about going back but it was only a light rain and we had travelled through small showers so I hoped that was all this would be. By the time I reached the lake (a rather boring side of it I might add), the rain began in earnest. At this point I was getting quite wet and knew I’d be soaked by the time I returned anyway so continued on. I met up with two more young men (I guess I’m just a magnet for young Indian guys) as I walked toward a more populated part of town and we had a nice discussion. When we reached an area to part ways, they (naturally) asked if they could take photos with me as well. I must say I felt far more attractive and desirable than I would have on my birthday in the States! Delusion is such a wonderful thing. I wandered a bit in town but took a turn which lead me past carpenter shops and a couple cement manufacturers (probably not the usual tourist stops) and the rain just continued to escalate. At one point I stood under an awning waiting for the rain to abate a bit, but it really didn’t help – I headed back to the bungalow to ensure I was back before the next planned event (which didn’t actually happen anyway) and I was soaked to the skin by the time I got back. An hour and forty-five minutes of walking in the rain with the weather cooling down ought to have been a bad thing – but I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the outing and the rain on the lake was beautiful and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to enjoy such experiences if I hadn’t braved the weather. We ended up just hanging around the bungalow all evening, had a birthday cake (thank you Kitu) and had a great bonfire which burned eucalyptus wood and smelled lovely.
Sunday we packed up and headed home on the bus, with a couple stops on the way out of town. We went to Coaker’s Walk, which was a scenic walk about a quarter mile with quite a few additional venders. I kind of wished I could get into buying stuff but the venders were really catering to the Indian tourists and I didn’t want to buy imports from China. We went through a nice horticultural garden and then spent time visiting the row of venders there. Just outside of town we stopped at Silver Falls, which was pretty but didn’t have the water flow I’m sure it had during wetter seasons, We made one small stop on the descent in a small village (not sure exactly why) and there we saw the largest avocadoes I’ve ever seen – they were the size of a good sized grapefruit. They were so hard and though we discussed the possibility of purchasing one, we ended up deciding against it. The downhill trip was a bit more disconcerting and several of us complained we felt a bit carsick by the time we got to the flatland, myself included. Once we hit the flatland we stopped for lunch and it was probably the best meal we had on the trip. Kate ended up enjoying quail – which was an interesting dish to offer in the same way they had chicken and mutton (goat). Kitu and I shared veg fried rice and chili paneer, both items that Jayama doesn’t cook, so it was a pleasant change of pace. We dropped off Elavarasu’s cousin and visited with his mother for a short time – another opportunity to be hosted graciously in an Indian home. We arrived back in the office about 6:30 p.m. and ended up meeting back up for dinner (Jayama’s cooking) at 7:30. It was good to be home and perhaps good to be back in the heat – though you may have to remind me I said that later as it is HOT here.
That covers the weekend trip – so now to backtrack a bit on other things happening of late. Friday morning Kitu, Kate, and I went to Arapukutti by car with Nagalachmi (one of the women who coordinates the SHGs) to look at hand loomed saris at “the government store”. Somehow Nagalachmi didn’t really understand that was our aim so we started off at a fancy sari store (probably the nicest in Arapukutti) which had no hand looms like Kitu wanted. We finally got to the right place and went into the back room where the special saris were kept in a locked cabinet. There were some very interesting ones and Kitu selected one which was a different green than any we had seen. Most of the saris tend to be bright jewel colors so someone like Kate, who looks best in more muted shaded colors, has problems finding something that works with her skin color. Kitu paid quite a bit for the sari but was quite pleased with the quality. She still intends to meet up with the first gentleman we saw weaving so that she can special order another. I felt quite fortunate in finding a hand loomed wool scarf to purchase (Kate did too) for a very reasonable cost and hope it will make a nice gift.
The project is finally rolling again. This Wednesday Muthu and Sathya will begin working. We are going to spend three days setting up the work space and preparing materials. I am also hoping that they can assist me in working up the new doll project I hope to work out before I leave. We’ll begin actual production next Monday when the cotton waste for stuffing should arrive. This will allow me to supervise the work and assist in setting up systems for the first couple weeks of operation. Kitu will be around for about another month beyond my time and will help Usha learn how to manage and operate the three businesses which will be set up under ODAM Rural Crafts. I have decided to leave India earlier than originally planned as I feel good about the work I have completed here and enough is going on at home with Rusty taking on new challenges which I should assist. I will be arriving back in Texas on Sunday, April 17, and am really looking forward to shifting back to my new life and future job search.
Thank you for any slogging through this long email. All is going well here, my health is holding up, and I’m on the countdown with a little less than three weeks remaining.