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Madurai

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 – the heart of Tamil Nadu

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

Chidambaram

Chidambaram might be considered by many just a stop over on the way to central Tamil Nadu. Yet just passing by would be a pity, because to the locals this is one of the most important places in the land. The Shiva temple in the town center is considered to be the magnetic equator of the world. The place is sacred to Hindus, because it is here, where the energy streams criss crossing the globe form a knot. And it is here that Shiva danced his Tandava, the dance of destruction and creation. It is from here that the dancing image of Shiva in the form of Nataraja was formed, multiple arms, surrounded by flames and balancing himself dancing on the body of a demon. It is said, that if you conquer your ego (the demon, destruction) the universe will open up and grant you all its secrets (ring of flames, creation). To Hindus this place is therefore holy as it is said to grant passage from our limited intellect into the knowledge and wisdom of the universe, known as Moksha. The temple is open to all visitors and allows us to witness the rituals at the main shrine.

Kerala’s CGH Earth – the one and only

Kerala, so amazing, so colourful, so friendly and such a treat for your soul. Its time to pack your bags.

Come stay with us at CGH Earth.

wide awake ears and eyes wide open. The song of a bird, the rustle of the wind and the sound of monkeys. Confined into a space of a resort – yet wide open to nature and its smells, whispers and songs – Spice Village

Palms sway gently in the evening breeze, amazing sunsets. Sitting on a bench surrounded by a cloud of butterflies. Ancient houses give the sense of tradition. – Coconut Lagoon

The sound of the sea, the soaring eagle above, sandy beaches to wiggle your toes in while the sun dips in thousand colours into the Arabian sea – Marari Beach Resort

CGH Earth – where humans meet humans, where any other distinction falls away. Come stay with us, connect with us trough a smile, a chat and a gentle gesture. Come home!

All pictures here are taken by Beat Germann. In case you want to use any, please ask with a smile 🙂

The story of a masterpiece

Recently my daughter gave me two shawls she was given by her mom after our divorce. She thought that I might like them since she had no use for them. I could not believe my eyes, she handed me  the very two shawls I had bought from a small cooperative shop in Leh, in Ladakh in the early 90ties. The cooperative was an initiative of two elderly Ladakhi, to assist their people to get a decent price for their pure pashmina wool. They told me that most of the wool was bought over by merchants from Kashmir and the local people were given a very small amount of money for their precious products and then sold with huge margins in the cities.

Since I had just spent times in the plains of Chang Thang and had taken shelter with the goat and Yak herders I knew about the effort to collect the wool and look after the goats that were grazing the plains around Tso Morari.

Sadly a lot of my pictures I had taken those days got lost during my travels and shifting of residences over the years.

Goat herding is a job mostly for the elderly men. They bring their animals to the grazing places during the day and return them in the evenings to the summers camps that were setup by the shore of the lake. Collecting wool is their job as well. They look out of the goats touch shrubs and leave some of their fluffy fur behind. Sometimes they take out their combs and brush them gently to get the fine and soft wool from their chest and below their chins. Herding goats is also a walking exercise, since goats are very picky eaters. While following their herds these men become artists and weave the wool into strands that could be used for weaving. Weaving was then mostly done by the women between their daily chores.

These days the wool we get is mostly from China and Mongolia, where thousands of goats are kept in corrals and sheared like sheep to extract the maximum amount of wool, which is then processed by machines. Fortunately the traditions of keeping goats in the Himlayas has not changed since ages. Till today you can see the grazing herds on the high altitude plains in summer.

What my daughter handed me back was an act of love. The respect and care of the herder to his animals. The caressing comb that the goats enjoyed and the wool that was all woven by hand and finally sold by two humorous and story telling grandpas that were looking out for the wellbeing of their people.

Thirty years later I still have this wonderful piece of workmanship.

One of the pictures I had taken from the website: http://nomadicwoollenmills.com

Please have a look at the site.

Things I love about Pondicherry

Haven’t really counted, but I am sure its more than 40 times that I have stopped at Pondicherry, that amazingly underrated city on the east coast, just three hours south of Chennai. Honestly I have no idea why this place has not turned into one of the prime attractions long ago.

I am not talking here about the two great exceptions, the Auroville and Aurobindo Pilgrims, once united and now a highly divided lot of “Peace on Earth” seekers. But those I do not really count as the curious culture travellers like myself.

Just imagine a place, so french in style that even the French rub their eyes in disbelieve. Hey and this quite little french riviera place is surrounded by a loud and lively Indian city. Where on Earth do you find a place like this?

Now there are a few places I think you just need to see.

Riksha ride

Take a Riksha in the Morning and see the city from the perspective of a Riksha driver. Its entirely their project and they are so proud to show you their city. Stopp at the tea stall and share a hot cup of typical Indian chai with you. For Information ask the front desk of Maison Perumal or Palais de Mahe Hotel.

Goubert Market

Wow, this is a place like no other! From the rather smelly fish section with the endless squabbling selling ladies. Last time I was there, I really had that very evil thought of understanding why those fishermen spend all their nights at sea, listening to nothing but the comforting sound of the waves and the wind.

If you manage to survive this noisy and fly invested hurdle, the veggie section seems like heaven. The voices reduce by half and the fragrance change is rather welcome. The array of veggies and fruits is just amazing. But this is not all, folks. If you pass from there towards the temple you will find yourself suddenly in the world of flowers. Rose and Queen of the night fragrances linger in the air. The stalls are turned into artists workshops and its amazing how fast those nimble fingers create works of art to be offered at temples or worn by bride and grooms at weddings.

Then there are tailors and textiles and a host of other shops, selling pulses, sugar and lots of other daily needs.

Last time I was there with a group. Gave them one and half an hour and at the end I had to drag them almost out of the place. Thats the magic of Goubert Market, my favourite place in the city.

Heritage walk

INTAC is a organisation that tries to protect the architecture and the cultural value of the city. They offer a walk trough the french town in the later afternoon. Its the great opposite of the Riksha tour in the morning. From the raw view of the man of the street you get now the intellectual inputs of an architect and the struggle to retain the cities charms. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. A walk not to be missed!

Evening at the temple

There is no better light to see a temple than in the evening, especially if its a living city temple, bustling with local families. The fading light of day and the candles turn these temples into an oasis of peace. Even the otherwise happily chatting kids become silent and their eyes lite up. The temple has another really nice touch in the evening – music. The ancient flutes and drums create that special ambiance of reverence and peace. More so, there no organised and pre fabricated rituals. Its a great reminder of this vast and feel-able difference between mythology and religion.

dscf0521Honestly, I am not too fond of the poor elephant standing outside the temple on this tiny platform, raising tirelessly his trunk and blessing people for a few coins. But then I am not fond of catholic priests sodomising boys either and both seem to get away with it since centuries. Religion is a funny thing that somehow turns a blind eye on injustice to animals and humans, as long the packaging promises relief from sorrow and pain.

The evening promenade 

If you have not taken a stroll in the evening along the sea promenade, its like you have not been to Pondicherry at all! This is another completely different take on life, nowhere else found in India. A street that is being blocked for traffic from the evening till the morning, so people can walk and children can play! And its not just a street, its the absolut main street of the city and this not just at some rare holiday.  No, its blocked everyday. Families, friends, guest, visitors all end up in the cool evening breeze, strolling up and down carefree along the sea. People come to read, chat, meditate and watch their children play. This promenade reflects the true identity of India, its lived and practised secularity. Just love the place.

Evening at PondicherryFood & Shopping

Pondicherry would not be Pondicherry without a Baguette and a good coffee. You find it in Baker street and other cosy corners of the city. Pondicherry really a good number of real nice restaurants and bars.

Restaurants, bars and shops are often run or influenced be the two large communities of Auroville and the Aurobindo Ashram. Both communities are involved in the creation of wonderful and eco friendly products like textiles, paper, furniture, Incense, fragrances and jewellery. There are many boutiques with really nice finds and of a otherwise not available quality. Pondicherry is definitely also worth a shopping stop.

You might wonder, why my list does not feature the famous Auroville or the Aurobindo Ashram. After all a large tribute for the upkeep of the city goes to these two societies. My take is that if you are not part of it, they are not more than visiting a museum. Both have very restricted policies towards visitors and Auroville is basically just a nice walk in the forest to the gold plated Globe (Matri Mandir) and back. If you stay longer in Pondicherry they are definitely worth a visit

If you are in Pondicherry I would like to recommend the following accommodation:

www.cghearth.com/palaisdemahe or www.cghearth.com/maison-perumal

Hey, please leave me your inputs. As a traveller I am always open to learn and experience new things. Please drop me a line.

Men and the sea

Its a hard life for these men going out at sea almost every day of their working lives. All night they spend on a small boat out under the vast canopy of the endless sky, trying to bring home the catch that nourishes the family.

Hardship that shows on their faces and on their hands. The fishing they do is not dominated by huge winches, but solely relies on the camaraderie  to bring in the precious catch to ensure a decent life for their families.

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Braving the storm.