Animal Aid Unlimited – Udaipur, India

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Animal Aid is an incredible place. The description on their website describes it as a “vital rescue center, hospital and sanctuary for injured and ill street animals in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India” that “rescues thousands of hurt and sick animals each year and provides sanctuary to those who need life-long care.”  It was started by Jim Myers and Erika Abrams, an American couple who began living on and off in India in the early 90s.  They felt sorry for all the street animals they saw and wanted to do something to help.  In 2002 they founded Animal Aid Unlimited in Rajasthan.

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The Honking System (also: Crappy photos from a bus window)

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The 5-hour bus ride from Cochin to Munnar was one of the most terrifying rides of my life.  The first hour was city driving, but then we hit the mountains and for the next four hours I was just waiting to die.  We were on a narrow two-lane road with skull-and-crossbone signs around every corner warning drivers to go slow. But I was on a bus with the world’s most aggressively maniacal driver who was making it his mission to piss off everyone on the road and scare the shit out of his passengers.  Imagine, if you will, every single bad driving habit that exists (speeding, tailgating, illegally passing, driving in the wrong lane, slamming breaks, cutting people off, belligerent honking, yelling out the window, talking on a cell phone, etc).  Now, most Indians do most of these things most of the time. But, this guy was doing all of them… all the time.  He even yelled out the window at a traffic cop who was scolding him for driving in the oncoming traffic lane, which he did so that he could pass, like, three cars.

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Munnar & South India’s hill stations

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I cannot say enough good things about Munnar.  Well, not Munnar town exactly, but the area around it which is comprised of the Western Ghats mountain range.  This geographically-stunning area is suffused with lakes, rivers, waterfalls, tea plantations, rolling hills, and green, green, green everything.  Everywhere you look is picture-perfect.  It’s beautiful, clean, and chilled out.  It also has Colorado-in-the-springtime weather, with days in the 70s and nights in the low 50s.

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The Kerala Backwaters

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Perhaps the most famous attraction in the state of Kerala is the backwaters, a large network of lagoons, canals, and lakes that flow into the Arabian Sea.  It adds up to more than 900 km of waterways that run up and down the length of the state and there are many cities and towns that are points of entry.  You can rent a boat for a half day, full day, or even hire a houseboat and live on it for a week or more (which is very expensive!).

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Fort Kochi, Kerala

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Fort Kochi (also Fort Cochin) is the first city I visited in the state of Kerala.  It’s really only known for the Chinese fishing nets that local fishermen use to catch a wide array of fish from the Indian Ocean, which they then sell whole to locals and tourists.  After purchasing the fish, you can walk it a short distance and have it cooked at a nearby restaurant.  Because these large, manually-operated nets are the #1 attraction in Lonely Planet, they have been turned into a bit of a tourist trap.  If you walk near them, several fishermen will  approach you and show you how the net works and allow you to operate it for a few minutes, and then turn around and ask you for a tip.  Unfortunately, although Fort Kochi is a peninsula and therefore surrounded on three sides by water, there are no swimmable beaches in the city because they are all littered with either fishing nets or trash.

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Kathakali

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One evening in Fort Kochi (Cochin, Kerala) I decided to check out this cultural center that was advertising traditional Indian performances, specifically something called Kathakali.

 
Kathakali is described as a “dance-drama” and I thought that sounded interesting, so for about $5 I bought a ticket and went to the show.  They said to arrive at 5:30pm for “make-up.”  I wasn’t really sure what that meant, but I knew I didn’t want to miss it.  

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Victoria’s Unintended Lesson on Love

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The other day I was roaming around Fort Kochi when I popped into a tiny art gallery and met Victoria.  Victoria was the artist of all the paintings and owner of the gallery.  I never got her age, but I imagine she is in her late 50s or early 60s. She introduced herself and immediately invited me to sit down and join her for a cup of chai and medu vada (a savory South-Indian snack that is made out of lentils and looks like a doughnut).
We talked for about 45 minutes, mostly about her artwork.  She showed me a book that she had made of at least 25 pieces of her art, paintings and poetry. As I learned more about her art, I learned more about Victoria.  And as I learned more about Victoria, I learned more about Indian culture.

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The Indian toilet/Getting sick in India

All the advice online and in guide books for staying healthy in India says:

  • Don’t eat street food
  • Don’t eat anything that’s not steaming hot
  • Don’t drink tap water
  • Don’t consume drinks with ice
  • Don’t eat fruits and vegetables that you don’t peel yourself
  • Don’t brush your teeth with tap water
  • Wash your hand often
  • Only eat at busy restaurants
  • Avoid salads and fruit juices

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The Overnight Train

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The overnight train was like heaven compared to the overnight bus.  Again, we were assigned beds, each one about 6 feet long by 2.5 feet wide and we did NOT have to share a bed (yay! Team Train for the win!).  The ride was pretty smooth and everyone was quiet as a mouse. Lights were turned off, but each bed had a personal lamp if you wanted to use it.  Our coach also had AC and I was actually pretty cold, although we were provided with clean sheets, wool blankets, and little pillows.  It was a MAJOR step up from the sleeper bus.  Overall it was really easy, especially since my stop was the end of the line so there was no confusion about where to get off.

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