Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chennamkary and Ernakulam (India)

Our final day in the Chennamkary homestay we rented a canoe to explore the backwaters on our own steam. The water is quite flat, and the current strong, so any passing ferry or houseboat creates a ferocious wake. We paddled over to where they were shooting a movie. If you ever see a Bollywood flick with a couple of foreigners zig-zagging in a canoe in the background, it could be us!

We arrived in Ernakulam on our last day in India with just enough time to catch a performance of Kathakali, one of the traditional dances of Kerala. Dancers train for over 10 years in order to develop the supreme muscle control required (tiny movements in the corner of one eye!) and learn how to perform stories from the two great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. If you come early to the show, you can watch the artist apply the elaborate makeup and hear them describe the significance of the designs. In our play, a prince (green face = good guy) searches for and does battle with a demon who has been harassing the townsfolk. Along the way, he encounters a fight between an elephant and a cobra. All the parts were played precisely by a single dancer accompanied by drums and a singer. The whole experience was interesting... but even with their painstaking pre-show explanations, I am afraid many of the subtleties were still lost on us. To someone walking in off the street, unfortunately, the performance could have easily appeared to be an angry cross-dressing clown prone to seizures! [Apologies for the cultural insensitivity.]

We thought we had just enough time left for a quick nap and shower before heading back to the States, but it turned out that our adventures were not quite over yet. On the way to the airport, an autorickshaw-van-conversion suddenly decided to turn right from the left lane, cutting us off on the highway. Our taxi driver had to brake hard, sliding past the concrete-walled median, and drive into the oncoming traffic for a while to avoid him. Traveling in Asia, near misses become an almost daily occurrence, but this was by far our closest call. We were probably going about 60 miles per hour. Richard reckons the impact would have killed the other driver, but I am not entirely convinced that we also would not have died or been seriously injured. We thanked our taxi driver (who was also shaken up) for his excellent reflexes, and, thankfully, the rest of the way to the airport was uneventful.

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