Adventure

Golden California

Since graduating this past December, I’ve been on a bit of a sabbatical from any form of organized writing, just jotting down half-formed thoughts here and there. In the meantime, Remi and I have been living in the California sun and snow and mountains. From our perch in Mammoth lakes, I’ve been rolling and roaming these mountains of the Eastern Sierra, our temporary home on the road.

Panum crater. Above mono lake, soaking it all in.
Panum crater. Above mono lake, soaking it all in.

With our time here quickly coming to a close, I’ve been feeling conflicting urges in equal parts: on one hand, there’s that persistent desire to nest and nestle deeply into a place, to make home and to be home. And then there’s the powerful opposition, the nagging itch to fly away, fast and high; it’s the rush of exploring new lands, meeting new people and wandering from established roots, the freedom of vagabonding. These two urges are in constant ebb and flow in my life, which I’ve become much more attuned to during the past few months in California. As I explore this world, I feel the pull that orbits me around the ones that I love and the homes I create all the while moving forward and, at times, back.  These cycles make our lives and give them deep meaning.

A shot of our trip up the scenic route 1, a truly impressive road!
A shot of our trip up the scenic route 1, a truly impressive road!

It was at the beginning of February that we bought our adventure mobile in Los Angeles, a 2001 Subaru Forester. We ready for the California mountains, sand, dirt and other elements and so sure of our route; ready for the road we set off north up the scenic coastal route via the historic Route 1. But riding life’s curves, one quickly learns that even the best-laid plans change and evolve, matching the rhythms of this new horizon and its unique syncopations. That’s one of the things that’s been so liberating about this new phase of my life; I’ve been delivered out of academia, suddenly into a wondrously, overwhelmingly vast natural world bright and blinding and deliciously unknown. There are no more semesters to organize my world around, so one month became two became three and this little town in the Eastern Sierra has started to feel something like a home. We’ve worked and we’ve hiked, ran and swam, laughed and cried here. It wasn’t part of the plan but just a part of life, a darn beautiful part and my memories are drenched in the California sun that will light up my memories for time to come.

Our trusty subaru at the foot of the mountains that had a big part in convincing us to stay.
Our trusty subaru at the foot of the mountains that had a big part in convincing us to stay.

These California sunrises and sunsets are the final act in a play that is performed every night, stretching out over the vast mountainscape or seascape, as if the sun itself expands to fill this great space, the sky is just a staging area for the creators creative whim or caprice, with a little bit of a different flair come every dusk or dawn.

Southern california sunset
Southern california sunset
Sunset over the sea, somewhere on Route 1
Sunset over the sea, somewhere on Route 1
The final act
The final act

Adventures in Time Travel

Beautiful beaches galore: in New Zealand, the coast is never far 

Beautiful beaches galore: in New Zealand, the coast is never far 

It is a grey rainy day in Wellington, the capital of this country of kiwis. I’m sitting in the van now, one week of voyage has already gone by, flashing by in a kaleidoscope of new landscapes as I await the ferry that will take me and my Cheri and our dear van across oceans to the southern island of New Zealand. We crossed the North Island heading south in our trusty Honda step wagon ’97; we left the urban cityscape of Auckland to immerse ourselves in the magnificent countryside- rolling hills of rural pasture land, sheep aplenty, stunning wild beaches of black sand, volcanic mountains with steam spewing over their edges, and strange pools formed from magma deep in the earth bursting to the surface in sulfurous bubbles, in this country that precariously straddles the divide between two of earth’s major tectonic plates. With one week down, we’ve quickly realized in this island-country, water is never far. The ocean coast is never more than few hours’ drive; rivers run like veins, coursing between the rolling hills, as the roads themselves also snake along these natural transit systems. Mountain lakes created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago appear suddenly, unexpectedly, coming into view along the roadways.

Soaking up the sun! Coromandel Peninsula, Northern Island
Soaking up the sun! Coromandel Peninsula, Northern Island

The van has quickly became home- messy, but not too messy, lived in, an improvised chez nous- our transportation, our bed, our kitchen all contained in this vehicle that comes with its own quirks: a broken window that we had to prop up, a finicky electric system that has locked us out and locked us in, in turn, and one dead battery to count. We’ve adjusted pretty quickly to these idiosyncrasies, taking them in stride just as we’ve had to do with one another. Even after five months apart, Remi and I have quickly taken up our old habits on the road; maybe it's the diversity of landscapes here- jungle, desert, expansive coastlines, hard wood forest- but every new scene we come across here seems to incite a flood of memories, other continents, other scenes, other times. And now, Remi has officially lanced himself in the English language! In spite of his French-born and bred resistance to this language, his three month stay in Australia has given him a delightful range of new expressions; ay mate, heaps (?), and I think his all time favorite expression: I'm losing my shit, pissing laughing. I think he's just happy to be able to speak English as vulgarly as he can express himself in French. It's also a whole new language for us to explore and experiment together; it’s fun to play with my mother tongue together and being the teacher for once, and, as always, student at the same time. That’s one of the things I find so beautiful about languages, you never really stop learning it. Every day is a new expression, a new accent, a fresh translation, or a different interpretation.

Home on the road
Home on the road
Pretty pools for a picture, not a swim
Pretty pools for a picture, not a swim
Hot springs, hot colors
Hot springs, hot colors

We’re a day ahead here in New Zealand, so coming here was like doing a bit of my own time travel. The decalage horaire hasn’t been holding us back though, far from it, with long days on the road, hiking a new summit, or cooking inventive Christmas feasts, camping style. Absorbed in our itinerary, neither Remi nor I have seen the time go by, nor taken the time to watch it go by, I confess. We woke up on the 24th (or so we thought), ready to celebrate Remi’s 25th birthday together, but exhausted from a near precarious hike across the Tongariro Crossing the day before. With virtually zero visibility and dangerous winds at the peak, onwards we had fearlessly marched, too stubborn to give up on a walk over Lord of the Ring’s ‘Mount Doom,’ (which we couldn’t actually see, given the thick clouds that covered everyone beyond an arms reach). On the other side of the ridge, a bizarre mechanical noise greeted us, to our great confusion. Could it be? We had taken the name of the mountain to be simple semantics; did doom really await us ahead? It couldn't be coming from the volcano; this noise was clearly manmade. Had they come for… us? Finally, emerging out of the fog, precariously perched just at the edge overlooking the Emerald Lakes, it loomed in front of us, finally visible, it's metallic legs coming to a sharp angle against the stark mountain peak- a genuine chopper! It wasn't the mountain winds that had gotten to our heads. Luckily, we realized, it had not come for us; doom was not on the schedule for that rainy, windy day. We were lucky enough to have fared the dangerous conditions comparatively well, as we watched the helicopter airlifting one of the less fortunate hikers that day, who had called rescue services after tearing a ligament in his knee. A bit astounded at this turn of events, we scarfed down left-over sandwiches before slodging on to a soggy finish 13km farther, chilled and exhausted from the day’s trek. More or less intact, we hitched a ride back to our van that we had left on the opposite end of the track, 20 kilometers and 5 hours of vigorous hiking away.

The march ever onwards into the great beyond
The march ever onwards into the great beyond

[youtube=http://youtu.be/_eAwFA6W-6o] So the 24th we let ourselves wake up slowly, a bit dismayed at the rainy scene that greeted us outside of the van’s windows. A rare (and brief) ray of sunshine afforded a fleeting glimpse of Mount Taranaki, 150 km west of the mountain we had summited blindly the day before. She disappeared an instant later, consumed by hungry and dark storm clouds that promised rain. The quick glimpse was enough, however, to entice us over for a picnic lunch and brief tramp through the woods around this stunning volcanic mount, in the hopes of another peek. Absorbed in our mountainous activities, it wasn’t until we left the mountain later that afternoon that we became especially befuddled; all the stores were closed a day early! Frustrated, we had planned to do our shopping for a Christmas meal a day early, since surely everything would be closed Christmas day.  The gears were slowly churning in our collective mind- our gazes met and... Really, Remi?! We had done it again. It already was Christmas! It must be. We didn’t dare to ask anyone, “oh sorry mate, what’s the date today?" I didn’t even want to imagine the reaction we would incite from the poor passerby who would have to inform us that yes, indeed, today was Christmas. I had still been calculating on US time- somehow I had missed a day, skipped a beat, I suppose… Once we recovered from our initial shock and processed the absurdity of the entire situation, we had to laugh at ourselves. It was a birthday and Christmas neither of us would forget for a long time.

I suppose the moral must be, somewhere in this absurd turn of events, if you’re going to play with the elasticity of time, you better be prepared for it to snap you in the ass when you least expect it. If you don’t mind the sting, the ride can be a lot of fun.

The coast is never far
The coast is never far
Just east of Wellington, because you haven't seen enough beaches
Just east of Wellington, because you haven't seen enough beaches

I Learn to Fly

Beautiful people, beautiful babies!
Beautiful people, beautiful babies!

Arrival in Bangkok, Thailand! Sweet reconnection to the cyber world at long last! My apologies long lost friends, blame my near month long disappearance off the face of the earth on India (I admit to enjoying it). And now: Lights, colors, new exciting savers and spices to overwhelm the senses in this tourist Mecca of consummation: alcohol, sex and scantily clad women galore (we're not in India anymore Toto). Have these six past months really gone by so fast? Have I truly left India behind? Bangkok seems like a neon mirage, induced by some crazy hallucinogenics rather than the reality: nearly 70 long and grueling hours of train, bus and plane to arrive at the long imagined destination that is now concrete reality. It is unbelievable how the time has flown and yet all the moments that I have lived packed into the past months of my life. Oh, India. Country of madness and impossibility. Country that drove me crazy and left me enamored in turn. A country where you can never have quite what you want when you want it and yet where 'everything is possible'. Fascination and frustration all in one big, messy, greasy package: india.

Hitching a ride to Kaza, a much more pleasant alternative to the bus
Hitching a ride to Kaza, a much more pleasant alternative to the bus
Mako: the birds eye view
Mako: the birds eye view
Turbaned up and ready for adventure
Turbaned up and ready for adventure

The past month Remi and I took refuge from the summer heat in the stunning Himalaya mountains of Himachal Pradesh, a beautiful state tucked into the north east niche of India. A heaven on earth for mountain lovers and a haven of calm and serenity in the calamity of a country such as India. So yes, you may have guessed, while disconnected from the outside world I have been quite enjoying myself, thanks. We advanced slowly on the windy mountain roads by bumpy bus rides, with each passing hour delving deeper and deeper into the mountains. The roads snake along the river that lines the bottom of the valley, 14,000 ft snow capped peaks towering above on both sides of the road. I felt us moving farther and farther from civilization with each nerve wracking kilometer (landslides, inundated roads, evil ravines: pick your poison), truly going to one of the most lost corners of the earth, only accessible by the one road we were on. It was this one road that could lead us to our final destination in India, the one place that we had sought since the beginning of our arrival in this vast country. Now, thousands of kilometers later, we have crossed the entire country from south to north, consumed countryside after beautiful countryside, suffered fatigue and diahhrea to arrive here, only a few hours (or 10) from our destination: Ki Gompa. It was thanks to only one picture of this mountain monastery (a favorite of the dalai llamas) that we had set this objective for our trip: find ki Gompa! Our inquiries were futile in the south, where I might as well have asked for directions to Chittenden for the blank stares our questions evoked. The closer we grew and more and more clues led us to the right path, the one road that could lead us to our destination, a road only accessible few months out of the year. But luck and good timing were on our side this time, and we advanced on our way by a road recently cleared of snow and yet to be blocked by flooding streams, breathing in the beauty of this place.

Stupa style in himachal Pradesh, outside of dhankar
Stupa style in himachal Pradesh, outside of dhankar
Stunning Dhankar, city perched on a rock
Stunning Dhankar, city perched on a rock
A stunning sunset from the trek up to Dhankar
A stunning sunset from the trek up to Dhankar

All that would have been all too mundane however if we hadn't decided to realize one other dream along the way: it was time to take flight! The proposition of a paragliding course at an indian price was too much to pass up and for five days, Remi and I ate, breathed and dreamed paragliding. We pitched the tent and woke every morning to walk a few hundred yards to our training ground of Solang Nullah, a ski mountain by winter and an Indian carnival/bordel (remember your French vocab??) by summer. And by bordel I mean a true mess- the place just embodied chaos. Stoic mountains abound and yet Indian tourism just does not seem to share this same reverence. Irreverent it was in all sense, an irony up against the majestic backdrop: horse rides, huge transparent zorbing balls zipping down the slopes, para gliders galore coming in for full speed landing in the midst of a crowd of Indians on vacation, who were geared out in full force ski unitards in spite of the relatively warm weather... Full power, Indian tourism at its finest. And it was in the midst of this scene that I was to learn to fly for the first time. Remi and I did have to be careful, but not for the reasons you might guess (passing a bow and arrow stand was one of our daily obstacles on the way to the slopes and from firsthand experience i can assure you thatan Indian with a bow in hand is a much more frightening concept than the potential casualties of flight).

Our training grounds in the wee hours of the morning
Our training grounds in the wee hours of the morning
Remi in flight
Remi in flight

The technique was surprisingly simple (I shouldn't have been surprise after 4 months in India): latch yourself in and run. A few botched attempts and then things seemed to be going better- I was successfully running down the slope, my glider in tow, bobbing along cheerfully behind me when... Eeeeeyooow! Airborne!!! Help man! I have no idea how to steer this thing! I'm flyiiiing! And so my heart racing, adrenaline flooding my veins, I flew for the first time: over the unitarded Indians, the giant zorbing balls, my instructor below hand motioning frantically at me so that I should properly manipulate these wonderful new wings. The freedom!! The mountains all around, brilliant sunlight and then, wham! Back to earth. Hike back up and start over. Times 20... And it wasn't all smooth sailing; the wind reminded me (repeatedly and violently) who was boss. Bam, dragged along the ground, wham slammed down by a gust of wind, ouch, painful landing in the rocks, ankle twisting, hands rubbed raw, ribs bruised. And yet the trials and tribulations did not end there. Back at our home base another danger lurked in the shadows of our cozy tent. The night was peaceful with the huge starry sky above, a window into another world as we philosophized over the deeper meaning of our rather comical hoppings into flight. Morning time came and my mind was on the challenges to come, mastering the glider, or at least making a convincing attempt. Our tent was baking in the morning sun when, before i had even emerged to stretch my aching, bruised body, an ominous black shadowy creature dashed out from under my pack. Dastardly insect! A scorpion with one direction in its path: the tent. Remi was intrigued, I less so. Channeling Athena, I hesitated not and lifting a pointed rock as a make shift dagger I went in for the kill. Adios scorpion! And we won't see you next time, for which you may now alternatively refer to me as scorpion killer.

Scorpion killer on guard
Scorpion killer on guard

And so after a week of exhilirating, exhausting flight, scorpion killer and Remi moved on with their shiny new flight diplomas in search of the famed ki monastery. Farther and farther the road led us on, every night a new village, almost untouched by the outside world. And then: there it was, rising out of the rocks before us, lost in the midst of mountain peaks that surround it from all sides: ki Gompa. From there, you know the rest: an incredibly masochistic 70 hours to kalkutta with a relaxing (thats a joke) Pitt stop in Delhi for a lovely forecast of 47 degrees Celsius. And here I am, somehow having made it all the way to Bangkok in a new country with some many new adventures awaiting. Somewhere along the 70 hours it took me to leave this country it hit me that I will miss India deeply. Even in leaving, I know that I will return here someday, for it is a country that takes time. In my six months here I will have crossed the country, what i set out to do, and yet I am so far from seeing it all! Its as if each region i visited multiplied itself into five more that i have yet to stumble across, each new place distinct from the last, unique in its traditions, its language and its people. It is a country that has taught me not to ask why, to let go of those questions since what is really important is not necessarily to understand but to live, to live each moment to its fullest and trust that that is enough. India defies analytics and neat explanations, something my scholar self had a hard time accepting. But to accept incomprehensibility, that's part of having faith. And the past six months have certainly taught me to have faith in myself in all sorts of unexpected and kooky and yes sometimes scary situations. To go with the flow and just trust. So its for that, that India will forever remain the country where I learned to fly.

Mountain lakes above Ki Gompa
Mountain lakes above Ki Gompa
The hills are alive with the sound of yak!
The hills are alive with the sound of yak!
Women at work, outside of Kibber
Women at work, outside of Kibber
View of Dhankar from above
View of Dhankar from above
The zen look is but a facade.. Did I mention they serve scorpions kebab style in Bangkok?
The zen look is but a facade.. Did I mention they serve scorpions kebab style in Bangkok?

India, according to Remi

By Remi, translation by Amanda 

Over two months that we are in India, we love it, a country full of surprises. It has been an explosive and spicy cocktail of noises, colors, smells, life, poverty, love, hate, spirituality: an awakening of all the senses. It is a country where each town is like a new country, a country that defies comprehension, a country where the most important rule is not to ask yourself why. Everything is possible in India! And the first person that you get to know here is yourself, yourself in your vision of the good and the bad, yourself as a white person with all of the representations that go along with that identity in this country: the positive and the negative. There is no half-way or half-assing here; you are always in the extremes. The tolerance threshold in this country is beyond the humanly possible limit. Anything can happen, from the worst to the best, from one instant to the next, from one city to another, the bearable to the unbearable.

We are solicited without end. Traveling in a couple attracts the curiosity of so many Indians; people here cannot conceive that we are traveling together without being married. All day long, obligatory photo sessions because the Indians want to take a picture with you above all else. You say yes to one an then find yourself obliged to continue two minutes later with some thirty-something indians taking your photo, paparazzi style! Or they want to pose with you, like a photo session with some star. Extreme in every type of situation. And that is every time you are outside of the tourist circuit, impossible to pass incognito. It's direct, just being there is a spectacle. Sometimes relationships can be fairly superficial or even primitive here, certain people look like they'd like to take a whiff of our butts as we pass by. Spending time with a westerner is often seen as a status symbol here, also perhaps explaining the photo obsession. We are often invites to eat, sleep, etc. Then after the solicitation without end from these people so full of kindness and curiosity, you decide to rest awhile on the beautiful white sand beaches of the Indian Ocean. You tell yourself, it will e a bit more touristic, I'll have a chance to breath and to relax, only then to find yourself with 90 percent white people, with more money than they know what to do with. They come to stay in an all inclusive, to put their big butts on the beach, and tripling prices in this little paradise. The turtles that used to come to lay their eggs have long been scared away, not to mention the lives of the locals that have been likewise modified. The price of the fish harvested from their oceans is now inaccessible, and new rules have been imposed by whites in search of cleanliness and calm.. Or the identical reproduction of what they already know from home, while the Indians work at the service of these ultra capitalist colonizers of the 21st century who continue to modify entire ecosystems to build their fucking hotel, restaurant... accessible only for one clientele. Once again, the extremes. All said and done, you can find your peace and quiet here, but all you want is to get out of there, so you no longer have to participate.

Into the Kerala

From the edge of the world, we crossed into a new state, leaving the Tamil Nadu behind us as we entered the Kerala. We have now passed the one month mark of our time in India (wow, correction: two months, where has the time gone?), and starting to get into a more or less nomadic rhythm. Nonetheless, entering the Kerala was a shock to both of our systems. Gone were the dirty streets, littered with trash, the beaches with water of a questionable odor and the incessant solicitations of locals. To the contrary, going to Kovalam was as if I had taken a return ticket back to the United States: clean beach, board walk, big beautiful hotels... too beautiful. Another observation: all the bikers wore helmets, also weird. By the night of light, I could just make out the expensive looking facades. Things didn't look much better the next day, in clear sunlight. Kovalam was clearly a paradise with its white sand beaches and clear blue waters, but it was a paradise that was only accessible to few, and those few were mostly white. Even the Indians that did frequent this beach had abandoned their saris for jeans and European brand t-shirts. I realized that I was no longer in India, at least the India that I had seen up until present. What had happened here? Remi and I asked ourselves.

Playing in Kovalam, sorry Remi!
Playing in Kovalam, sorry Remi!
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It wasn't until our homestay host invited us to a delicious home cooked dinner that we were able to pose our questions, getting a few answers. He had lived in Kovalam since his childhood, and he had witnessed the drastic changes that had transformed this town in the past 20 years. He recounted a different time, when rules imposed from the outside didn't dictate local life, when villagers could afford the fish that came from their ocean, a time when the village wasn't polluted by light at night, and sea turtles came by the hundreds to lay their eggs. But all that had changed as tourism to Kovalam increased over time: the more foreign tourists, the more prices had risen, as businesses (many foreign) had began charging European prices, inaccessible for a local salary. Slowly, the locals moved outwards as the tourists moved in. As we have continued to explore the Kerala, the more evident it has become that this kind of tourism is a destructive force: prices inevitably go up as foreigners with their wallets open and eyes closed spend blindly. People come from abroad, not to see India, but to recreate their own comforts and mentalities, with the superficial excitement of a 'foreign' country. With the influx of foreign currencies worth 50x the value of a roupie, these beautiful places lose their authenticity that is so little valued in this type of tourism.

Kovalam itself, in all its glory!
Kovalam itself, in all its glory!
Sea Urchin: an improvised snack on the beach (leave it to a Frenchman...) I preferred the pineapple.
Sea Urchin: an improvised snack on the beach (leave it to a Frenchman...) I preferred the pineapple.

The Kerala is stunningly beautiful, especially its countryside. The religious tourism and fervency we found in the Tamil Nadu are replaced by an awe for naturally occurring temples: the mountains, the oceans and endless skies. We moved up the coast for a short stay in Varkala, which was like a less intense version of Kovalam, more hippies, lower prices and less grandiose development (while we only experienced the shock of Kovalam once, this type of western development is far from rare, especially concentrated along the beautiful west coast beaches). It didn't take long for us to move away from the coast, up into the mountains where the cool air was a welcome relief from the oppressive heat in Cochi. The road to Munnar wound its way up the steep road for nearly five hours, as the government bus we were riding swayed dramatically back and forth. Munnar is known for its tea plantations that surround the hills of this old British mountain station. When the sun shines the fields shine a brilliant green, reminding me of the emerald palace in the Wizard of Oz. More and more recently I have been reminded of that book, the wonderful adventures of Dorothy and her gang that animated the bedtimes and consequent dreams of my childhood. It wasn't just the Wizard of Oz, but a whole series written by L.L. Baum, inherited by my mother from my grandfather and read to me with great animation. Now I realize that L.L. Baum must have been a traveler himself, because each story is a voyage, colored with incomprehensible encounters in a world far from home. Baum understood that its the search that makes the voyage the adventure. I smile to think that many of my nonsensical interactions could easily find their way into one of his volumes.

Tata Tea Empire, brilliant green tea fields of Munnar
Tata Tea Empire, brilliant green tea fields of Munnar

Tata Tea Empire, brilliant green tea fields of Munnar

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IMG_0622

A few new authors have been coloring my time here as well (lets be honest, even away from school, I can't go too long without a good book). The philosophical Michel Onfray, Theorie de Voyage (Theory of Voyage) as well as the Jain monk turned Gandhi disciple, Satish Kumar in Tu es, Donc Je suis (You Are, Therefore I Am) in its (not) original French (no, the irony does no escape me, perks of traveling with a French man?). Onfray's Theory of Voyage presents a poetry of geography, pretty words to accompany the natural beauty of the Kerala. The mountains were impressive, overwhelming even, and Onfray adeptly emphasizes this power in his poetry:

Et si des signes d'eradication des differences, de suppression du Divers se reperent evidemment, on aurait tort de confondre les mouvement fluctuants de l'histoire et la permanence de la geographie indexee sur la perennite geologqiue. A l'evidence, toutes les grandes villes de la planete se ressemblent a s'y meprendre. Mais le reel de la planete ne se reduit pas a elles seules. Penser le monde sans les ruraux et sans les paysages, voila vision et obesession d'urbains. Car le paysage dure, persiste, meme mis en peril par les hommes. Et le Divers reside en lui, dans les campagnes, visible et reperable dans les epiphanies naturelles, loin des artifices de la culture.

Making friends with a goat in Marayoor, she wanted to eat everything!
Making friends with a goat in Marayoor, she wanted to eat everything!

And if the signs of the eradication of difference, the suppression of Diversity take place evidently, we would be wrong to confound the fluctuating mouvements of history and the permanency of indexed geography with the perennial geology. All of the large cities of the planet resemble each to the point of repetition. But the real of the planet is not reduced to them alone. To think of the world without her rural areas and without her countrysides is to see the vision and obsession of urbanity. Because the countryside endures, persists, even when put in peril by men. And the Diversity resides in her, in the countryside, visible and recognizable in the natural epiphanies, far from the artifice of culture.

I was reassured. It was as if the words of Onfray were written in the mountains and the fields of tea that surrounded me as I traveled from Munnar to Marayoor: a reminder of the relative insignificance of our individual lives, and even that of our history. The world goes on, despite our attempts to get in its way. Kovalam exists in all its white glory, but (happily) so does Marayoor where traditional sugar cane production has yet to be industrialized, westernized, colonized. The beach town of Kovalam was easy prey for an invasion of western tourism, but the mountains and the wild life reserves of Marayoor seem to resist this type of takeover, maybe an inherent trait of this more rugged turrain. On our journey well taking the road to Marayoor was a symbolic shift as we went from the well-traveled and well-indicated circuit to uncharted territory. Gasp! Not in the guide book! Marayoor is a gem, 18 kilometers from Chinnar national park (giant squirrels, wild elephants, oh my!). Our mode of transport for visiting the park: motorcyle. Right at the entry to the park we met a threesome of some French biker dudes, traveling through southern india on their motorcycles. They invited us to hop on for a ride and a wild ride it was, elephants included!

Beautiful sunset over the lake in Hampi!
Beautiful sunset over the lake in Hampi!

Admist these impromptu adventures, I was devouring Kumar's work, which gave me an Indian specific perspective on foreign influence in India in his sort-of-manifesto where he reprises Descares famed “Je pense, donc je suis” (I think and therefore I am). Kumar makes a declaration of dependence (human, earth, cosmos), and he seeks to deconstruct, or at least to question Cartesian dualism aka the ruling Western mentality (philosophy) since the Enlightenment (I was admittedly into it). He gets to the point in a blunt way, asserting that: “The independence [of India] proclaimed in 1947 was not truly one. [With the assassination of Mahatma] the [Indian] government lost all imagination. It preferred to industrialize the country with the Britannic model than to put into place the measures that Gandhi had envisaged” (299). The literal British rule had ended, but in its place was a way of thinking that remained: the accepted reality that the way forward was through occidentalisation and the god of the western world, Development. The influence of the western world has all done nothing if not increase. As Kumar puts it: “That is the tragedy of this country: the flag has changed, but the system rests the same” (276). He contests the increasing loss of traditional practices and values, that are little valued in an industrial Westernized and capitalist system: displaced artisans, small scale farming, close community, spiritual enrichment. Even as a newcomer to this country, the undertones of this relationship with the Western world have been clear, especially as tourism is increasing every year. The regard in peoples eyes is polarized: either bright with admiration or dark with resentment. English is everywhere: in schools, on tv, even between Indians who come from different states and English is their only common language. Larger than life billboard ads feature only the palest of Indian woman, projecting “white” as the image of beautiful. In a capitalist system the accumulation of material goods is emphasized and annual GDP carefully calculated but, as Kumar points out, often the most basic spirituality is forgotten.

“Une societe qui se croit riche alors qu'elle souffre de pauvrete spirituelle vit dans l'illusion la plus complete” (Fritz Schumacher) 219

“A society that believes itself to be rich, although she suffers from spiritual poverty lives in the most complete illusion” (219).

While I love this idea, and the above quote that accompanies it, the reality has been admittedly a little more problematic. Arriving in the Karnatka, we visited our first Jain temple. Beautiful statues, new architecture, and... really pushy priests! The first interaction was an insistent request for donation, followed by priests in every subsequent temple almost obliging us to partake in their ceremony which culminated with an obligatory donation from our part... No thank you. Needless to say it was hard to relax and actually enjoy the visit, let alone take in and understand what we were seeing. Actually accessing the people or the spirituality of this place felt impossible; the relationship was reduced to a monetary exchange that left me feeling uncomfortable and unsatisfied. I know that the spirituality and the humanity of India exists, but up until present its not been in a temple that I have found them. The spirituality I have found has been far in the mountains, lost in a field of tea, between the sun and the soil. The humanity is in the genuine people that I have met, the family in Marayoor that invited Remi and I in for tea just before a deluge of rain hit the valley, the people who take the time to say hello, and share something of themselves: a smile, a story, an explication of some inexplicable element of India.