Saturday, January 22, 2011

What I loved about going to Kerala India

I have a love affair with India, I can't help it. I find it fascinating, colorful, intriguing and full of adventure. I think the state of Kerala has the best slogan "God's Own Country". I completely agree with this title. I just got back from five days in South India with Mateo's parents and travel pal Jonna. I read Arudanthi Roy's "God of Small Things" before the trip so I loved having the book come to life. Something to note about Kerala is it has the lowest levels of poverty in India and the highest literacy rate of the country. Top two things I loved about exploring this region is the FOOD (lots of spices, fish curry, red rice) and the warmth of the people. Everyone wanted their picture taken it was really neat! I had no idea how much Christian influence there is in Kerala, nearly every corner had one of these mini Roman Catholic chapels:

Right beside Hindu temples...

These kids at a local school in Munnar are so darling...

Some students studying to become school teachers in Cochin were on a day trip....

The famous Chinese fishing nets of the Malabar Coast....

We had to give the fishing nets a for one time but hard if it's your living.

One of my favorite Portuguese churches b/c Vasco de Gama was buried here (his remains were later returned to Portugal).

I love markets in India.

We stumbled across a COW market, that's the first time for me. It was a lively scene of bartering, money exchanging, and cows being pushed and pulled onto trucks.

Kerala is where Ayurdevic medicine and massage of course we had to give it a go! I absolutely loved the oil massage on wood bed. This bowl is filled with oil and it slowly drips on your forehead and then is massaged into your hair and body. Absolutely rejuvenating!

We watched a Kathakali show, originally these plays/shows were done on temple grounds starting at night and going into the morning. Today, they are shortened for tourists, but the talent and skill of the performers is still impressive.

Cruising the Backwaters of Kerala

The most unique experience we had on this trip was our time on the house boats at Aleppy. We all loved cruising the backwaters of the region. It's a photographer's dreamland. So fascinating to watch every day Keralan life go by....

Check out Grandma how fast she can canoe to the market:

These friendly fishermen were quite agile on the mini rice barges.

Their backyard is their laundry room, bathing area, play ground and more:

Kids after school get home not by school bus but school CANOE! How cool is that?

We all loved the slower pace of life and just relaxing on board:

More beautiful scenes of the backwaters....

And some photos of how we lived on the Lakes & Lagoon Boat No. 7

Gavi Nature Reserve

There is so much natural beauty in Kerala. We spent a day at the Gavi Nature Sanctuary. Sharon and Howard had a lovely time boating on the lake, while Jonna and I went on a three-hour trek. We were on the hunt for elephants and tigers, but only saw bison, monkeys, foxes, and birds from the region.

The trek was an incredible experience!

We all enjoyed the jeep safari through the Gavi eco-system.

Spike Markets

Southern India is known for its SPICES! We enjoyed visits to various spice farms and markets. Our favorite was CARDAMON. We had cups and cups of Cardamon tea and enjoyed the rice pudding dessert of PAYASAM wherever we could find it.

Tea Plantations in Kerala

During our visit to Kerala, we drove a lot and enjoyed the amazing scenery.... views of mountains, lakes, and tea plantations were stunning!

The local women work hard to gather, weigh and bag the tea leaves.

We were intrigued by the scissors-with-bag-method they used to snip off the tea leaves. I'll never take another cup of tea for granted again.

Elephant Encounters

We definitely made sure we got Howard and Sharon on an elephant in India. Sharon promised her yoga friend that she'd have the courage to get on one - and she did!

Jonna and I were to impatient to wait half an hour for another elephant so we opted to take a ride on one that was not saddled up yet. I never dreamed I'd be riding an elephant bare back, much tougher than it looks! We pretty much just clung on for our dear lives and LAUGHED so hard b/c it was so absurd.

We felt so lucky when we stumbled across these HUGE elephants all dressed up in gold for a Hindu Festival. It was quite the celebration!

Lots of excitement in the air with the drums, trumpets, dancing and chanting. I LOVE the energy of India! What a great way to end our trip! I'm sure I'll be back because I want Mateo and the kids to experience this incredible region.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tiger Balm Gardens

Fifteen years ago, Mateo and I came to Singapore on our honeymoon. I remember watching some happy school kids on a bus and saying to Mateo, "one day I want to live here with my kids." And here we are! One thing we visited in 1996 was the Tiger Balm Gardens (now called Haw Par Villa). This park has over 1000 statues and 150 dioramas from folklore and legends of Chinese mythology. There is now a museum about the migration of Chinese people throughout the world. With an artistic Grammy in town, I thought this was an appropriate colorful place to take her to. Niko LOVED all the animal statues, and the one-on-one time with us while the kids were at school.

Curries, Noodles, Dim Sum, oh Yum!

We absolutely LOVED hosting the Hiatts in Singapore. I love my sis and her fam, and showing them around was a real pleasure. They came for a month and so we had time for my customary tour packages & more. Singapore is all about food, so we went sightseeing according to our meals. Here's Tom & Asia in Little India eating at Banana Leaf, where you eat with your hands on....Banana leaves of course!

I kinda fell in love with Mila....she's such a wonderful babe!

The kids were troopers about sightseeing in town, esp. when we stopped for ice cream sandwiches in the historic/museum district.

Asia's all grown up now enjoying the double Merlion (the real one and the mini one).

I never get tired of showing our guests around b/c Singapore is such a beautiful city!

It was special to celebrate New Year's Eve together. After we did a countdown party at home with the kids, we tucked them into bed, and went out for Japanese Italian fusion with friends and enjoyed fireworks over the Marina Bay (which is the area to the left of this photo).

Another night we went into Chinatown to see the festive Chinese New Year lights, lanterns and night market. Alma fell in love with ice kachang and loves it as much as I do (maybe even more...).

No Chinatown visit is complete without a stop at Mr Wong's hand-made noodles!

A very special meal together was Dim Sum at my favorite place - Teochew Imperial Cuisine - because we had both sides of the family there. Mateo's parents overlapped with the Hiatts for two days so it was a real family affair, which is what dim sum is all about!