Stranger in a Strange Land
Tales of a Year Abroad

Tina's Top Ten Holiday Highlights: Part I

Greetings and Salutations! 

Steve, the Kid, and I recently returned from a little holiday to southern India--specifically Tamil Nadu and Kerela (see map below for specific details). Neither Steve nor I traveled south in previous trips, and we were traveling during the "high season," so we figured that Tamil Nadu would be a little less... crowded than Kerela or other parts of India. We made a list of things we each wanted from a vacation: Steve wanted to see a number of the important temples of the south, the Kid wanted to go to the beach, and I wanted to spend a night on a houseboat. With this vague plan in mind, we charted a course across Tamil Nadu and ultimately into Kerela (if you scroll down, there is a list of places we visited):

View India Holiday 2011 in a full screen map

 As with most vacations (and especially those in which groups of people travel together), there was a bit of stress, some truly awful hotels, and a few meltdowns. However, the fun moments far outweighed the stressful. Over the course of the next week or so, I'm going to countdown my Top Ten Holiday Highlights. Today I give you:

10. Miscellany (aka the items that I enjoyed in part, but not necessarily the whole): The Chennai State Museum, Kailashnath Temple in Kanchipuram, ceiling painings in the Shivanataraj Temple (Chidambaram), the Nagaraja Temple in Alleppey, and the tiled floor of the synagogue in Kochin. 

Watching Steve in the State Museum was like watching a kid on Christmas; camera clicking left and right, exclamations of excitement and wonder, and enthusiastically explaining the attributes of various statues, some of which he's only seen in the glossy pages of textbooks. 
Krishna from the Vijayanagar Period

We made an error when visiting Kanchipuram: we went to the Ekambareshwara Temple first. Now, let it be known that this particular temple is very attractive for a new temple. However, all three of us agreed that the much older (as in 1300-1400 years old) Kailashnath Temple was way cooler. Unfortunately, by the time we got to it, it was just about dark. Fortunately, a nice guide with a "torch" (aka flashlight) showed us around. It was well worth it for the paintings inside the meditation chambers. 

 Now, the Shiva Nataraj (the Dancing Shiva)Temple at Chidambaram was...not my favorite. I refer to it as "the Poo Temple" for the simple fact that there was more poo laying about than I was comfortable with. Let me make one thing clear: there is a LOT of poo in India. One must, on any given day, dodge various consistencies of animal feces on the street or sidewalk and it is not uncommon to see a small child popping a squat on the side of the road. Simply put, everyone poos in India. However, one does not expect to encounter large turds in places of worship. Large turds that I, personally, am not convinced were not adult human in nature. An initial sighting of a pile of the aforementioned poo set the mood for the whole temple. That being said, the ceiling paintings, which we were *technically* not allowed to take pictures of (and which we ceased doing once we were informed of such) were pretty awesome.

Shiva Nataraj (aka Dancing Shiva)

I was not permitted to photograph the last two items, the Nagaraja Temple outside of Alleppey and the tiled floor of the Jewish Synagogue in Kochin. They appealed to me because of their uniqueness.

The Nagaraja Temple contained over 30,000 naga (sometimes snakes, other times half-snake, half-human creatures) images and is presided over by an elderly priestess... something that Steve has only heard of in Nepal. The temple seemed to abound with contradictions: many snakes in India are poisonous, for example,  yet the temple is where childless couples go to pray for fertility. In nearly every enclave there were little stone "houses" with holes--my hypothesis is that these are places meant to encourage snakes to stick around the forest areas. For more information, see here and here.

The Jewish Synagogue in Kochin represents a branch of Jewish history dating back to the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine in 70 AD. They came to Kerela and were granted the right to create and maintain a Jewish principality within what is now modern-day Kochin. They became an integral part of the merchant and trade class of India for approximately seven centuries (~11th century to ~17th century). Now, mostly due to migration to Israel,there are only six Jewish families left in Kochin. The synagogue is unique in the fact that it's floor is comprised of hand painted white and blue Chinese tiles, no two alike, from the mid-1700s. More information here and here.


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Hodgepodge and Miscellany

The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Alladin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterday's bear date with the modering antiquities for the rest of nations-the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.
- Mark Twain

In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing.
- Appolonius Tyanaeus

If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.
-Romain Rolland