Welcome to Thiruvananthapuram!

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 15, 2010

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Where I stayed
YMCA, Trivandrum, Kerala

Flag of India  , Kerala,
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Posted by Genevieve.

After five nights of serious chill-out time in Goa, we started on the next leg of our adventure - an 18-hour train journey south to the state of Kerala.  

We had heard so much about Indian trains - both good and bad.  Indian Railways is the largest single employer in the world, with over 1 billion people working for it in some capacity.  Our train was a 3AC class train - meaning a sleeper train with three tiers of beds in each compartment, and air conditioning throughout.  (An essential element for a crowded overnight trip!)  The train was a mere 20 minutes late, and we piled onto the cozy (read: tight) carriage with our packs and made our way to our seats.  

 We got aisle seats, where there are only two tiers, which was a bonus.  Next to us in our compartment was a large group of colleagues, one couple accompanied by their five-year-old daughter, on their way home from their holidays together.  As we settled in, we were initially unimpressed with the state of the carriage.  It soon become clear, however, that the train had just finished another overnight journey, and soon the garbage covering the floor was swept away, and the piles of dirty sheets replaced with fresh (somewhat clean) packets and neatly folded blankets.  We made ourselves comfortable for what was going to be a lesson in efficiency.  Within 30 minutes our first meal, a cooked lunch, was served.  We soon discovered that our ticket price included at least three meals - and hot, relatively tasty ones at that!  Afternoon tea (including juice, chai, biscuits, samosa, and sweets) was served in the late afternoon.  Finally, around 9pm, steaming curry dinners were served.  

The little girl in our compartment was curious about us and finally became brave enough to approach us with a tentative, "Hello madam, how are you madam?"  When I responded positively, she was delighted, and her cries of, "Hello madam, how are you madam, goodnight madam!" became more animated and excited.  I invited her to sit with me and soon learned that her name was Malevika and her English was better than many adult Canadians.  She appointed herself my official teacher in a number things, including Hindi, English, and general cultural studies.  The first thing she taught me was how to say the National Pledge - holding her hand straight out in front of her (and requesting that I do the same) she recited in perfect English:

        India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters. 
        I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. 
        I shall always strive to be worthy of it. 
        I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy. 
        To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. 
        In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness. 
        Jai Hind!

Our friendship was impenetrable until she realized that she was missing out on a crucial part of "Madagascar", which she had been watching on a laptop before my existence distracted her.  

Before dinner, I began to prepare my upper bunk for bed and discovered that someone else had taken my packet of sheets.  We found the young man that had been delivering bedding and asked for another packet.  After he brought us new ones - with extra towels included - he mysteriously beckoned Kian over to the next compartment.  They whispered together for a moment, and Kian came back smiling but looking somewhat surprised.  The young railway employee had quietly offered him beer or whiskey "on the side."  Kian politely turned it down.   

Despite having left a little late, we arrived promptly on time at 5:30 am in Thiruvananthapuram (which means Holy Snake City), the capital of the state of Kerala.  For fairly obvious reasons, the city is often referred to by its colonial name, Trivandrum.  (Try saying Thiruvananthapuram after a Kingfisher or two and the decision to shorten makes a lot of sense!)  We made our way to the YMCA where Kian promptly passed out.  I decided to go for a walk.  As I was wandering the quiet streets, I felt a raindrop on my head.  I looked up in surprise, and a sari-clad woman, laughing at my expression, indicated that it was about to rain.  Sure enough, in minutes it was pouring.  I ducked into a doorway and watched the fat drops soaking the dusty road in delight.  It made me laugh - something about the rain seemed so glorious, so refreshing, in a way that rain never is in British Columbia.  The downpour only lasted about 2 minutes, and I walked slowly home in the fresh, damp air.  

Since then, the rain has surprised us a few times.  It has kept the temperature down and makes everything seem fresh and clean.  I never knew I would love the start of the monsoon so much!  

We spent an afternoon at the Zoological Gardens, where wild animals roam in landscapes meant to emulate their natural habitat.  We saw monkeys, birds, lions, tigers, bears, hippos, rhinos, springbok, crocodiles, and so much more, but the most fascinating thing on display was the array of human life.  This is the most traditional place we have visited so far, and the culture is reflected in the clothing.  Modest saris and salwar kameez is the norm for women all over the country, but here, dress pants and jeans on men have been replaced with lungi and dhotis.  A lungi is a long sarong-style cloth worn around the waist with a pleat in the front.  The dhoti is a similar garment, also ankle-length, which is then folded up through the legs and tucked in to the front.  I had seen images of men wearing dhotis before, and had expected to see them, but what I found so surprising was the combinations of clothes worn in the south: most of the men we saw were wearing button-down business shirts tucked into their dhoti!  Often the dhoti comes untucked and slips down to its full length.  As a result, it is not uncommon to see men constantly re-tucking and adjusting their dhoti as they saunter along.  

While we were staring at the mens' clothes, the local visitors were checking us out.  Too many times to count someone would approach us, usually a boy or young man, and ask "What is your good name?  And from what place do you come?"  Once we had answered these two stock questions, they would run off and report back to their groups, often informing a large group of extended family members including sisters, fathers, grandmothers, etc. of our responses.  Sometimes, if our interrogator's English was strong enough, we would be asked what our jobs were.  For the first time in my life, more people know what an Archivist is than a Counsellor or "Social Worker" as Kian has been (unsuccessfully) trying to describe himself!  However, our answers to this last question are usually met with polite smiles and then a satisfied walk away.  

We were admiring the emus when suddenly we heard someone clapping loudly, as if to get the attention of an animal.  When we turned to look, we discovered that the "animals" people were interested in was us!  A teenage girl stood amongst a large group of people, on the other side of a barrier in the park.  Because of the barrier, they couldn't get any closer to us, but were still curious and wanted to talk to us.  So they had been yelling to get our attention, but we didn't realise it.  She finally clapped and then proceeded with the usual interview from a distance, much to the large group's delight.  

The remainder of our time in the state capital was spent admiring 500-year-old temples and a 200-year-old palace.  The architecture here is beautiful, with innumerable intricate carvings surprising us around each corner and under gables.  We left the capital to go to Varkala, where we are now, another beach town, but much smaller than the last.  The monsoon is even more beautiful and refreshing by the ocean.  An easy place to spend a few days relaxing! 
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Kristi on

Wow, 18 hours on a train...fun times! Love the photos...especially the little girl and the baby hippo :)

Teresa on

This is very interesting. Thanks for keeping us updated.

Colin on

Fun adventures continue. Cool pictures. I hope you are being very canadian and ending lots of statements in eh, Like your an Archivist, eh.

Going to Canim this weekend, will see Rob and Tannis and I am sure it will be a beauty weekend, eh.

Love Colin

Michael on

ok so i have to ask, do the trains at all resemble the one in wes anderson's The Darjeeling Limited?

Val Pitman on

Wow, what excitment and adventure you two are having. I'm loving your reports and photos. Somehow your train journeys sound about as comfortable as travelling on British Rail!

Love Val & John

Ross on

I hope you tipped the bellhop or at least bought him a beer

malariamonday on

Well, yes and no. So far, they are not nearly as quaint - mostly just blue and rickety and a little dirty. But yes in some ways... for example, the variety of human life you see, the crowds, the noise, people talking to each other, etc. So maybe the atmosphere is like in the movie, but the look not so much? :) G.

malariamonday on

That was in response to Michael's comment about the trains, by the way!

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