Bangalore, Trivandrum, and decrepit mansions

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November 12th 2007
Published: November 12th 2007
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It has been a while since I last blogged, I did load one about a week ago, but it disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again. I am currently in beautiful Kerala in Southern India. This is the India you see in the tourist brochures and I can see why. It is a little slice of heaven and the logo for Kerala is 'God's own Country'. It is a stunning, breathtaking landscape of palms, tropical vegetation and a maze of backwaters.

Since Hampi I have been to Bangalore, and Trivandrum. Bangalore is a huge bustling city which is I.T central. The cheapest room I could find was 300 rupees and it was very dingy and filthy indeed. The 4 steps from the 'bathroom' to the bed resulted in the soles of my feet blackened with probably years of grime. However, I had a whole day to explore Bangalore, as my train did not leave until 9.45pm the next evening, so I gave Bangalore my best shot. I was pleasantly suprised. At first glance it looks like any other dirty, noisy, fume filled Indian city, but there is a difference. Bangalore is know as the garden city, and with good reason. It has huge areas of green open space. I took myself on a walking tour (I am pleased to report the astonishingly I seem to have aquired a sense of direction now that I have been in India for a while) and went to a place called Cubbon Park. It is 120 hectares of gardens which also house a museum and several galleries. I had a gorgeous day sucking in lungfulls of clean air and getting some cultural quality time.

After I left suprising Bangalore I made my way to Trivandrum which is the capital of Kerala. I like to go to the captial of each state I am visting, where ever possible, as it gives one a great sense of the energy and culture of that state. There are always interesting things to see in these places; galleries, museums, and usually an older part of town. Trivandrum is very laid back and friendly. When I got there it was drizzling slightly, which by evening had turned into a downpour. It rained all night and intermittantly throughout the next day. I went for a walk to find several downtown streets flooded. I was standing looking at the monsoon landscape when I started to hear voices and a bit of a racket. It was some sort of political rally (there are elections coming up) and you have to admire the Indian spirit of getting on with the job. Rather then cancel or re route the rally, those participating merely put the older guys in a canoe, rolled up their pants and waded through the flooded streets carrying banners and chanting. It was all pretty hilarous. As I was standing watching, the most dignified old gentleman came and stood near me to watch the spectacle. Standing with his lungi rolled up, round Ghandi like spectacles on his brown and wizened face, a black umbrella and huge gumboots on his feet, he cut a fine, if not extrodinary figure. He stood serene and dry amongst all the madness.

Trivandrum has large zoological gardens (the largest on the subcontininent) so I took myself there for a look, in the hopes of seeing some strange Indian critters. I was not dissapointed. The Indian porcupine was the standout. Think Dr Suess, on LSD, drawing a porcupine and it comes close.They are enormous, by porcupine standards, and have large yellow quills that fan out from thier backs. These quills have been known to kill tigers when aimed strategically, so if you should come across a porcupine in the wilds of India, give it the right of way. The whole time I was watching these beasts, they ambled slowly about with their eyes closed and a beautific smile on their curious round furry faces. Strange.

I am currently in Kollam and staying about 3 kms out of town in a crazy, spooky, magnificent building. It is called the Government Guest House and is owned by the Keralan government. It is used for government accomodation for travelling public services workers, training seminars and the like. There does seem to be an awful lot of police utilising the building. It is a relic from the Raj era and built by the British in about 1880. It is a curious mix of colonial and Keralan architecure. It is an enormous, magnificent building which is slowly decaying and falling apart. I have a wing upstairs at the back which consists of an huge room with 18 foot high ceilings. Attached to this is my own private bathroom, which is about the size of Tasmania. In the bathroom there are large wooden panels that have divided the room. To my great excitment I was able to prise one of these open to revel a seperate chamber which houses a now defunct staircase (it looks like the servants access) which goes to nowhere as it has been boarded up at the bottom. All very victorian and atmospheric. There are huge ballroom like rooms in the centre of the building with incredible peeling detail in the ceiling, with walls lined with stained prints of British naval officers. Surrounding the building are the forlorn remains of English formal gardens, complete with broken statutary. The builing looks like it has had a refit in the 1930's or 40's and some rooms have been closed off to make bigger rooms, and some extremely dodgy wiring has been installed. There is an enormous curved balcony between my wing and the one on the other side, half of which has caved in. To get to the middle where you can safely sit to watch the evening mist roll in, you have to creep around the inside perimeter holding your breath as the tiles beneath your feet move with a sigh. This whole extravagnza is set on the edge of a huge lake. It is incredibly cheap to stay here, within my budget, which is very basic budget guesthouses which are usually pretty grim, musty sad rooms. It is a joy to stay here, despite the fact that it is crumbling before my eyes.

Yesterday I went on a canoe tour of the backwaters in traditional transport, which is a long heavy black timber canoe propelled by a bamboo pole. We meandered lazily for several hours, snaking our way through villages and a network of canals. It was extrodinary to see village life up close, we were literally gliding past peoples back doors, getting a glimpse of daily life. Here a woman sitting on her step brushing her wet long glossy black hair, there an old man sitting in his lungi snoozing in the sun. I don't know how the locals felt about this voyeristic foreigners excursion, but in true southern Indian style, there were called hellos, waves and huge smiles.

I also went to the Police Museum the first day that I was here, and it was by far the most bizarre museum experience I have ever had. It was a few small rooms with the usual assortment of dusty muskets and ammunition, with one difference. There was a small room out the back which housed a weird and macabre collection. This included body parts with stab wounds and gun shots, which were floating in ancient jars with formulin which was slowly dehydrating, leaving some bits exposed and slowly rotting in the humidity. Some of these were labled, but many of them were not and I could only guess which doomed part of the anatomy they came from. Added to this horror house were huge graphic crime scene photographs of death by violence, gunshot victims, stabbing and hangings, along with a collection of autopsy photos. It was all very strange , and I wonder how many people actually visit this mad place. Interestingly, India has the highest rate of police deaths while on active duty. I am guessing it is the ones who are directing traffic!

This afternoon I am going to hire my own smaller canoe (25 rupees an hour, so less then 1 Australian dollar) and muck about on the lake. But first I am going to head to the local market to gaze at mountains of bananas and strange scary cuts of meat, which based on my other local market experinces, will include goat heads with staring glassy eyes, hung on cruel metal spikes. Why any one would need a goat head is beyond my culinary experience, and I am more then happy to stay ignorant of this.

Tomorrow I am off to an Ashram for a few days (by boat which makes a glorious change from the train and bus) to check out some meditation techniques and from there will continue to meander my way up the Keralan coast to discover more of beautiful southern India.


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