For me, Spice Village and Periyar have always had this feeling of finally arriving. I just love the nature, the walks and the clean fresh air. And there is always sound, its never still and quite, there is a constant buzz of insects, birdcalls and the “whoo whoo” of the dark and beautiful Nilgiri Langur. Once on a bamboo raft we heard the tiger call, real close. Frantically we tried to get some speed ….and got stuck on one of those ghost like trees jutting out all over the lake. Took us half an hour of swearing and a bath to get going again. By that time of course, the most noble of all creatures had disappeared into the jungle. Another time we finally laid eyes on the most amazing “jurassic” experience – the Great Indian Hornbill. What a sound, the “whoosh, whoosh” of its giant wings vibrates the air and literally sends a shiver down your spine.
But in the national park there in not everything about wildlife. Roughly two generations ago the Indian Government decided to settle the indigenous communities outside the park. For them it was a big change. They had been living off the forest by collecting honey, herbs, firewood, fishing and occasional hunting. Kind of homeless they withered away, men took to alcohol, drugs and turned to poaching. Luckily some good initiatives offer new perspectives. Spice Village adopted the traditional grass thatch to offer jobs and the wildlife department educated young men into guides and guardians of the forest.
Last time in the Periyar forest, Prateesh, our naturalist and me were accompanied by Vishu from the Palia community. His granddad was still living completely off the forest and inside the park. We asked about the changes within such a short time. Honestly, I came out humbled of the park. So many times I had been there and was never aware of what knowledge these communities really had. Vishu told us about their indigenous system of medicine that could cure almost any disease just by using plants, bark and roots. He knew how to deal with snake bites and attacking elephants. Just a few month prior he had saved a lady that was surprised by an elephant rushing out of hiding. Brave Vishu with bare hands attacked the beast till it shied away. He told me with a chuckle that they actually play with the elephants on the meadows a show of strength. The winner gets the right of way. So next time you venture into the park, you know you are protected by the masters of the wild.
Travellers usually arrive at Periyar after a week or more of intense culture, temples and wonderful sights from the plains of Tamil Nadu. Periyar is just the oasis you need to digest all that you have learned from the world of wisdom, architecture, culture and art. Here you can dive into the sounds of nature, away from the blaring horns of day to day Indian traffic. Its the place to fill your lungs with fresh mountain air, often laden with the fragrance of flowers and the scent of spices grown here in such abundance.
Simply take a day or two off from travel and get spoiled by nature, after all you have reached “Gods own country”, Kerala.
Did you know that pepper originally comes from these hills and became one of the most valuable trading goods on the planet? Take time and visit one of the many spice plantations that dot the hills. Follow the accent of cardamom from its long leaved plant to its final use in our 50 Mile diet restaurant at Spice Village. Just spend a few hours aimlessly wandering trough our garden, watch the monkeys jump from tree to tree and the dog sized Giant Malabar Squirrel litter the pathways with petals of his favourite flowers.
Take time to do a tour of the resort and learn about all the eco measures that were taken to respect nature, the communities and to leave a minimum carbon footprint, while still offering you the best of international comfort. Spice Village in itself is worth a journey.
Madurai is one of the oldest living cities of the world. The center and the reason for the city is the complex of the Sri Meenakshi Temple. The immense and colourful Entrance doors (Gopurams) are visible even before you reach the city. To get to the temple is an experience in itself. Since the city was build in a rectangular pattern around the temple long time ago, the streets are narrow and full of people, cars and other means of transport. Its a real challenge for the driver to negotiate his car trough these alleys and lanes. Once you are there, the complex just seems to spread without end in each direction. Once you have passed the main gate you realise that there is another wall within, protecting shrines and ponds. You enter into a city, vibrant with pilgrims, here to ask for favours, fix marriages, hold ceremonies and simply come to devote some time to their inner healing. There are halls with shrines, dedicated to the planets. There are temples for Ganesha, the bringer of luck and two main shrines, one for the goddess Meenakshi and one to Shiva her consort. Their duality represents the static principle (Shiva) and the emotional or dynamic manifestation (Parvati). This duality or inseparability is repeated in Hinduism again and again, signifying each time the manifestation of a different aspect of life and the universe. There is always just not enough time inside Meenakshi, there is so much to see, learn and simply witness. Besides the wonderful temple, make sure to pass by at the Tirumal Nayak Palace, a Palace full of influence of different European cultural periods.
Chettinad is kind of a holiday. Simple life, villages, small markets and great food. Chettinad cuisine is considered one of the finest in India, even tough it is not as well known as the Hyderabadi-, or North Indian cuisine. Fact is that the use of spices is nowhere as complex as here. Thats why we decided to put a big table into the kitchen so you can chat with the chefs directly, while enjoying your lunch. Just make sure you stay at Visalam.
Being here is taking a cycle and ride trough the quite village lanes, to visit small local handicrafts, where they show you how a Sari is woven, or at another place how floor tiles are made. Having a stroll trough the weekly market is another really happy experience. Chitchat with the banana seller and marvel at the variety of veggies at offer. Of course even here in Chettinad there is no escape from Shiva, but why would you, after all, he has so many forms. Here in the villages, he is worshipped at Ayyanar the protector of the fields. He rides a horse and not his Nandi bull as usual. And his temples are really worth a visit. The shrines are simple, and the entrance is kind of cute. Lines of funnily grinning terra cotta horses line the way to the shrine. They are offered by the communities each year as a thank you for a good harvest.
And of course if you come to stay with us at Visalam, we make sure that your experiences and excursions are guided by our local story tellers, because how else would you get that authentic flavour you are looking for?
In Chettinad stay at: http://www.cghearth.com/visalam
Imagine just for a while a world without money. Lets replace the value of money with curiosity and benevolence to the planet.
What a world would it be without the competition, without the unequal distribution of wealth? A world where we are all the same, no border, no banks, no politicians would tell us what to do. Things would be done because of the inherent curiosity and goodness in humanity. Today crime is at its peak and mostly because of money or the need to divide us into races and religions. Take away money and religion (make it philosophical instead) and there would be much less crime.
Imagine a man who loves gardening and a man who loves to create cars. The man with the garden, needs a car to bring his goods to the people. So he goes to the man who builds cars and explains his needs. The man with the cars tells him, just look around, take one, its there. The gardener happily drives his car to the people and tells them; hey if you’re hungry, take, its there. You can spin this thought to everything in life and realise, yes it can be done. There is enough curiosity to create technology that is beneficial to the planet and all its inhabitants. There is enough land to grow food for everyone. There is enough of everything if we take away the principle of what we are built on right now.
The monetary system we are bound to has too many flaws. It favours a few, divides people, countries and cultures and worst of it all it is based on a lie. It has never given the equality it promised, has not stopped hunger and exploitation as politicians, economists and bankers told us it would. In fact it is and has been the catalyst of all the evils of today. Its basic principle works like with an endangered species. Lets take Elephants, Ivory today is double the price of gold and the fewer there are, the more are killed, because in our system rarity promises higher gain. The same rule can be applied to everything in life.
So lets just sit back and fathom a planet without money …..
People call it the “big temple” and the talk is of the probably grandest structure in South India, the Brihadeshwara Temple at Thanjavur. The top of the temple is adorned by a 70 ton rock and till date the speculation is on, on how this giant rock was brought up there more than 1000 years ago. The tenple is not s colorful as many other and that makes him sort of a change. Is the size that impresses and its simplicity. The temple feels like an oasis, just a wonderful place to see.
If you are in Thanjavur you have to make sure to visit one of the famous Veena makers. The Sarasvati, or Rudra Veena is a South Indian classical instrument that hasn’t changed much since the times of the vedas, almost 3000 years ago. Its a string instrument made from the wood of the jack fruit tree and it takes a craftsman several weeks to create one instrument. To visit these craftsmen is like visiting a museum, where literally thousands of years greet you in a still active environment.
There is only one species that is going to change the consciousness of the planet – the seeker and the cross cultural traveller!
Some 30 years back the planet opened up. Countries that were closed because of internal policies, wars and turmoil became peaceful and opened their door to visitors. People left borders behind and took travel as a human right. They went out exploring, learning and connecting to other cultures, continents and places. Of course it was not all sunshine out there. Many western people realised the power of their money and brought suffering in forms of prostitution, drugs and other human abuse to many places and unfortunately to some extend continue to do so.
Yet, travel became the means to connect and getting to know each other. Because of this keen seeking to keenness to understand the world enjoys today a variety of wonderful manifestations.
We enjoy fusion music, world cuisine, student exchange programs, international researches in almost all fields, and so many more. Without the curious seeker, on whats beyond the boundaries of his home land much of this would never have happened.
If I look at todays world, it seem that travel is often no longer a human right, but slowly turning into a privilege. Right wing politics, racism, religion and “the so called war on terror” are closing down ever more borders and from the look of it, travel will even get more restrictive in the years to come.
Even the knowledge that it is just a few big conglomerates that benefit from the present war mongering is not going to change the situation as it stands.
However we can live without Avocados from Chili that turn vast landscapes into desert.
We can live without mangoes and beef from the amazon, who’s production destroys thousands of hectares of land each year. We can exist without changing the car every two years and we certainly can live without the handbags and shoes from high end fashion brands, because we know that they produce them at minimum wages in horrible conditions in Bangladesh and Vietnam.
What we should not live without, is travelling the globe. Experiencing new cultures, learning new ways of live and fill our memories with un-deletable pictures from what we experienced. Even the carbon print produced by travelling is offset by a long shot if we live a little bit more local at home.
Tourism is the only industry, not dominated by the very few big and dominant corporations. Its core drivers are local hoteliers, local money and local employment. Tourism weaves a string between cultures and is by all means forged by human spirit. If you choose well, you will always find the local spirit in where ever you go.
Easter is symbolically the resurrection of the spirit and if we travel, we will continue to use the experiences we make to transform our inside. Even Emperors like Akbar realised it in his vision of “Din-i Ilahi”; which says that if you merge all your knowledge and experiences of all cultures and religions, your wisdom and tolerance will be without limit.
Darasuram is not a living temple these days. Yet it is a wonderful place to see the astonishing temple architecture in a smaller form. Its nice to roam the premises in a place, where the intricacies of the workmanship are not in neck craning heights. The temple really boasts a wonderful insight into the temple art of South India including many fine and wonderful sculptures adorning walls and pillars.