Sita The Female Rickshaw Driver

Thanjavur is an especially annoying city when it comes to rickshaw drivers. For even the shortest distance, drivers demand a minimum of 30 rupees, the equivalent of $0.60. Yes, this is an outrageous amount in India especially considering that many people only earn about $1 a day. So 30 rupees for a few hundred meters is extortion.

After an extended argument with a group of smirking rickshaw extortionists over their inflated egos, I mean prices, we finally walked away ready to tackle the walk to our favorite restaurant. As we turned around the corner, a woman in a rickshaw driver uniform approached us asking if we needed a ride. We couldn’t believe our eyes. One year in India, and this was the first female rickshaw driver we had come across.

“How much?” I instantly asked. She grinned and said it was Continue…

Temple Socks for Sensitive Soles

Indians love to go barefoot. Every time you enter a temple, a church or a mosque, you are asked to remove your shoes. Not such an unusual request. Clearly removing your shoes before entering a holy building has its logic. Especially when the streets outside are so filthy.

But the request becomes a little more challenging when you are asked to remove your shoes before climbing a holy mountain or entering a huge temple compound in hundred degree temperatures. It’s not unusual to see foreigners, who don’t have massively calloused feet, running from Continue…

This Could Be Heaven

Quite disappointed about our bad timing to see the Sri Meenakshi Temple complex in Madurai (see below), we set out to explore the city in a bicycle rickshaw. Our first stop on the one-hour city tour was the banana market. What better place to lighten my mood – bananas everywhere.

Red, green, and yellow, the bananas dangled from hooks right in front of my face. The huge colorful piles filling the stalls overflowed on to the market floor. One after another, people marched in to the market with loads of bananas stacked up on their heads; they dropped them at my feet like some kind of fruit tribute. The fact that our rickshaw driver had just ditched us for Continue…

Bad Timing

The southeastern state of Tamil Nadu is famous for many things: national parks, temples and plenty of coastline. Our main motivation for coming here is to photograph the outrageous Dravidian temple architecture and mingle with the thousands of pilgrims worshipping at these places.

The Hindu temples here are mind-boggling – they are amazingly colorful and very different from other Hindu temples we’ve seen. Of particular interest are the temple complexes housing the soaring gateway towers (gopurams) which reach heights up to 50 meters (150 ft)! But size is not all that matters. Continue…

Periyar National Park

Thomas and I have spent the last two days exploring Periyar National Park on foot. We came here hoping to spot Indian gaur, often referred to as Indian bison, as well as lion-tailed macaques. (Yes, we have very specific wildlife needs.) Unfortunately, the gaur and lion-tailed macaques weren’t playing along.

We did, however, have several spectacular encounters with wild Asian elephants, which is always more of an adrenaline rush on foot than from the relative security of a jeep. One of the encounters required us to climb out on a steep cliff over thick jungle canopy to discover Continue…

Western Ghats

As we move into the Western Ghats, the mountain range that runs down the west coast of India, we wanted to show you some of the beautiful tea plantations that fill the valleys.

We are working our way to Periyar National Park for some trekking. We’ll keep you updated. Cross your fingers for some gaur, wild Indian buffalo.

3,18,38,619 People

Just a little bit of trivia, 3,18,38,619 is the population of Kerala as of the official 2001 census.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, what on earth is going on with Tony’s commas? What kind of number is that? Well, the above number highlights a rather bizarre aspect of Indian English. 3,18,38,619 is read three crore 18 lakh thirty-eight thousand six hundred and nineteen.

Native English speakers are often shocked to discover Continue…

Kerala Backwaters

Most visitors to Kerala will, at some point, explore the many waterways leading from fishing villages on the coast to settlements far inland. The backwaters can be explored on simple canoes, public ferries, fancy houseboats or a combination of the above. We decided to step it up a notch and, for a day, luxuriate on a posh houseboat taking in the scenery while munching on pineapple and grapes.

Modeled like a traditional rice barge from the outside, the inside of our houseboat was top-notch with three polished wooden bedrooms, a large dining room, and an upstairs viewing area. Not too shabby.

Follow along as we take off from Alleppey and explore Kerala’s lakes and narrow canals with French couples Gaelle and Julien, and Camille and Benjamin. VoilĂ !

Communists and Christians

Visitors to Kerala tend to notice two things (other than coconuts) which occur here in abundance and set the state apart from the rest of India. These would be Communists and Christians.

Now generally, in most of the world, Jesus doesn’t tend to be surrounded with hammers and sickles. Dare I say Communists and Christians haven’t had the best relationship historically? But not so in Kerala. And don’t mistakenly think that Kerala is some Continue…