India was split into two distinct experiences – for the first part we hired a driver and explored Appley via houseboat and Cochin via car, and on the second we joined a SAS trip. Our houseboat experience can best be likened to camping. Our houseboat complete with beds, crew and chefs, was very rustic and we shared our accommodations with a family or two of ants and other bugs. It was an interesting experience, but not one I would recommend to anyone. In Cochin, we visited many sights including Fort Cochin, Chinese Fishing Nets, Dutch Palace, and a couple of churches. We had great curries and of course tried the local pizza made with Indian paneer cheese. We also took in some traditional martial arts, and Kutiyattam Sanskrit theatre. These two art forms were preformed entirely by men. This form of theatre predominantly uses neta abhinaya (eye expression) and hasta abhinaya (the language of gestures), and presented a story about a king trying to gain the affections of a young girl, who tried to deflect his attention.
For the second part of our stay in India, we joined a SAS trip to the Koottickal valley, where we stayed one night at the Mundkayam Club and a second night with fourth-generation Keralan planter George Abraham Pottamkulam, his wife Anju, and their son Abraham. Their home sits on the 50-acre Evergreen Estate, which looks out at the Urumbi hills through slender rubber trees.
As our bus wound around the narrow roads and carefully navigated many hairpin turns, we enjoyed the views as we dropped into the Koottickal valley. The valley was lush and filled with tropical greenery, coconut, pineapple and banana palms, and forests of rubber lined the slopes all around us.
We were taken on a guided plantation tour, where we saw the factory and the workers bringing in the liquid latex to be weighed, for their pay. The factory smelt strongly of the coagulating latex and formic acid, even though no rubber was being made on this day. I can only imagine that the conditions do not make for good health. George described the process for turning the latex into various forms of rubber and showed us the many different grades of the solid latex they produce. We then visited the forests, where the tall, spindly trees were stripped of bark and had little cups strapped to the trunks to catch the milky latex fluid. The “tappers” get up early, before dawn and carefully cut thin strips of bark to release the milky fluid, collect it, and then bring it to be weighed.
Some other highlights of this homestay were: the house in the trees, that boasted a tree house, and a pond formed from an underground spring, where the children and students took a refreshing dip; the children bonding, with their new friend, Abraham over a game of ping-pong at the club, while the students and adults talked about the rubber plantation history; and our being invited to a Muslim wedding to meet the bride and wish her the best and to see her arms adorned with drawings of henna.
It was during our stay in India that Caitlyn gained an obsession with henna body art. During an evening outing to find henna in town, we were invited by a local to come to a wedding, primarily to see the beautiful henna done on the bride and wish her well. Since the invitation took place between our Indian friend and a local resident we did not know what was transpiring until we arrived at the wedding and were introduced to the bride. To our surprise the bride and her family were very excited to take photos with us and show us the henna artwork that laced the bride’s hands and arms.