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.

In the backwaters

Everything in Kerala’s backwaters is in some way linked to the water. Rivers substitute roads, school buses are school boats and even super markets float from village to village. That water is life becomes increasingly apparent while gliding down one of the many waterways. Every aspect of live here is connected to the canals. In many places the ever green paddy fields lining the canals are much lower than the canals water level and have to be pumped out almost trough out the year, turning life into an endless struggle with the elements. There are even barrages to control the water flow to stop the salt water of the sea from entering the fields.  Traveling the backwaters comfortably on a boat, it seems that life is spread out like a story book.

There are the fisher men trying for their catch of the day, precariously balancing themselves on a dugout canoe. Coming closer to settlements homemaker’s are doing their laundry in the canal, occasionally raising their heads and smiling at the boats passing by. Further down a simple ferry criss crosses the larger canals, carrying shopping baskets, cycles and people on their way from one shore to the other. In the middle of a large canal, rice boats are moored to some poles. Beside one can see heads bopping in and out of the water.

Men in teams are diving for the precious clay and sand from the muddy ground that then is used for fixing leaking canals and all sorts of construction work. Close to a small village, boys and girls frolic in the water, playing games and diving for small items thrown in. A few older girls with their study books are sitting by the shore, feet dangling in the water, shy smiles lightening up their eyes as a boat floats by. Looking at this as a traveller from the outside, life here seems to be without aggression, almost a form of meditation. History tells me that here since Millennia people have diverted their minds to balanced living. Ayurveda, spices and simple greaseless food seems to have become their secret of life.

Meet Gopal at Marari Beach

Having travelled for more than 3 decades in India and having lived here for 16 continuous years I am literally daily amazed about the wonderful people enriching my life. At Marari Beach Resort there I met Gopal. Believe it or not, he is a 70 year old Yoga teacher, practising Ashthanga Yoga for the last 54 years. A man with a permanent smile on his face, peace and patience emanating from every pore of his being. Just to sit with him and not even doing half of what he shows you to do is an enriching experience. Small gaps between movements, to let the energy sink in. Kind words rather than harsh corrections and before you know it a feeling of peace sets in. Gopal is a man of few words, many smiles and kind gestures. He encourages you to go just a wee bit further than you actually believe you can go, a few extra stretches and you feel the energy flow increase trough out your being. To me, he is that link to our spirit we starve in the west. Age old wisdom flows from his eyes, his postures and smiles. Meeting people like him reminds me again and again how far we have embedded ourselves in superficial activities, like doing something good, by buying a new gadget, a pair of shoes and so on. The shallowness of this meaningless pursuits that fill just the pockets of few giant enterprises becomes so clearly wrong, just by sitting at a Yoga lesson and turning the focus within.

When we travel to India these are the true encounters making life more precious and giving a tour just that little bit extra we need so much.

Ramu from Visalam

Ramu from Visalam

Please meet my friend Ramu, he is our man for everything at Visalam in Chettinad. Ramu hails from a traditional Chettiar family. The Chettiars, after whom this region is called, were among the first traders to go to China and Africa. Because of a Tsunami in the early 19th century that destroyed all their villages, they decided to move their families away from the shore and settled in the region between Thanjavur and Madurai.
A day with Ramu gives you a great insight into the life of the region. He will take you to the weekly market, the tile factory, the small horse temple and many more places. Contact with him gives you an experience not just a mere sightseeing of the place.

Women power in Chettinadu

Women power in Chettinadu

You will be amazed to know that these women have decided to take fate into their own hands and started a very successful business in Chettinad, in Tamil Nadu. What was a favour once to a neighbour to create delicious sweets and spicy treats for a wedding function, turned into a steady flow of customers. Today these women are well organised into groups to share the workload and cater daily to shops and for all sorts of functions.
This project can be visited and sweets tasted and bought, while staying at the amazing heritage hotel, Visalam of the CGH Earth group.

Spice Boat Cruises, Backwaters, Kerala

Spice Boat Cruises, Backwaters, Kerala

Spice Boat Cruises were among the first boats to cruise the endless canals of the backwaters in Kerala. They are small, built with local materials and the air condition is run by batteries. Small house boats are a must for Kerala, as they have a much smaller water dispersion and do not destabilise the mostly hand made canals. Local materials like coir carpets and covers generate local employment. Battery driven air conditions eliminate the need for big generators. As a result there is neither smell nor noise during the night.
Sadly over the last ten years all reason has been thrown over board, by building ever and ever bigger boats, completely air conditioned, including flatscreen TV’s and jacuzzis. The guest are cut off from the feel of touching the land, the people and the soul of Kerala. And the experience becomes like a movie rather than a discovery. In many areas the boats move in long convoys as the cannot leave the wide canals. Pollution and noise increase every year.

CGH Earth and Spice Boat Cruises are the right choice for any traveler. Their small boats give you the feel of an adventure and connect you with the surroundings. Waste disposal and eco measures are in place and make sure that the world you enter is the world you leave behind.

Your hosts are simple fisherfolk men who know these waters because they were born here. Alternating between navigating the waterways, preparing meals and keeping the boat shipshape, they exude a sense of calm competence. Their smiling faces speak of a culture that is famed for its fun-loving ways. You can be sure this is hospitality from the heart, since none of them have been even near a hotel management course.

Young Tibetan Woman, Tibet, 1992

Young Tibetan Woman, Tibet, 1992

Much has changed for the inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau. Their culture has been overrun and uprooted by the Chinese systematically since the early 60ties. For this young woman formal education and integration into the new Chinese world order of materialistic pursuits probably has come too late. Today the Tibetans suffer the loss of their culture and traditions. Their plight is to be forgotten by the world, as the west is hampering for China’s attention in order to benefit from their increasing appetite for western goods. Then there is the greed ever growing greed for huge profit margins form out sourced manufacturing. Human rights seem to have no place in China’s growing economy and western greed for greater profits. Traveling to Tibet seems the only way to support at least a small number of local people and to get a first hand impression of a fast changing world behind the mighty Himalayan range.