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Elephants in the Reserve

We woke up early to do a Jeep tour in Periyar Tiger Reserve. Our driver got a call that there were elephants nearby. We drove over and saw a few elephants. The elephants had to cross the road to get water so they were waiting for us to leave. We moved on, and our guide told us about natural remedies and what plants can be used for. Even Sapna, other tour guides and shopkeepers could identify plants and tell you how to use them at home.

We ate breakfast at the reserve then put on “leech socks.” The leech socks went over our pants and into our shoes. They tied underneath our knees. We started walking in the reserve and there were tons of leeches! They were on leaves and would stick straight up trying to attach to something. We also sprinkled salt on the leeches to get them off the socks. We had to put salt in our shoes to get all the leeches off. We were so tired, we were nodding off on the drive back to the hotel.

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Taking a rest, notice the leech socks?

 
 
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In the mountains on the way to Thekkady

We left Cochin and drove about five hours to Thekkady. The drive was a little nerve wracking since we were driving around curves in the road and dodging traffic. The views from the higher elevations were really nice, though. The area looked like a South American rainforest since it was so green. It was also rainy since the monsoon season started. We went to a place with elephant rides. There was a guy on the ground with an umbrella that he hooked around the elephant's ear to get it to move where he wanted. Three of us went on an elephant. I felt uncomfortable with the way the elephants were being treated. They had chains on their ankles and were chained in place. I felt bad after the elephant ride.

We stopped at a spice market near the hotel and bought some spices and coffee.

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Students riding an elephant

 
 
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Chinese fishing nets

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Home of Hope Orphanage

We went on a guided tour of Cochin today. The city was very touristy with many little shops, cafes, and some internet cafes. We saw Chinese fishing nets. They were wooden docks with long poles sticking up over the water. The fishing nets were attached to the poles. The poles were lowered into the water and then pulled up to catch fish. The fishermen will let you help pull up the net, then charge you money for it.

There was a Dutch and Portuguese influence in the area. We saw two churches and a synagogue. We also went to the King of Cochin’s palace. It was set up like a museum with some reconstruction inside. We saw pictures of royal women that used to be topless before the British came over. Then the royal women started wearing a loose shirt with no sleeves. It seemed strange since women dress so conservatively now.

After lunch we went to the Home of Hope orphanage. A group of girls greeted us by singing a welcome song. It was their summer break, so not many girls were there. The girls ranged from 2nd to 10th grade. A few of them did some choreographed dances to three songs. They wanted us to sing and dance for them, too. We sang the beginning of “My Girl.” We all danced together for a while.

After our visit there we went to a small beach on the Arabian Sea. The water was warm, but the beach didn’t look very nice to swim in. A man caught some fish with a cast net. A funny sight there was all of the goats. We saw some of them jumping up on walls and eating posters.

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Stepping in the Arabian Sea

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Catch from the cast net

 
 
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View from our hotel dock

We left Mysore and headed back to Bangalore. At a stoplight we saw transvestites. Men dressed as women knocked on the side of the van. We ignored them and they walked to a different car. Sapna, our tour guide, said they threaten to curse people so people give them money. They are part of a whole mafia.

We got to the airport and said goodbye to our driver Monjunot. We had to get luggage tags to put on our carry-on bags. At the security checkpoint we didn’t have to take liquids out of our bags. Even full water bottles were allowed through security. Each person is patted down and wanded in separate male and female lines. The flight was only an hour and a half but we still got a vegetarian sandwich and a bottle of water.

We arrived at the Cochin airport and drove an hour to get to our hotel. The hotel has a dock right on the water. We saw a traditional Kathakali dance show. Men have to train for at least six years. They can be a drummer, singer, actor and more. They put on elaborate face make-up. Before the story they played music, sang, and showed us what some movements mean. They isolate parts of their face, such as just the upper cheek and move it. There was very little speaking and more face and body movements.

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Traditional Kathakali dance show

 
 
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Infosys Campus

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Employees with their green Infosys provided umbrellas

We headed to Infosys, a software development company. We were stopped at the entrance gate and checked for bombs. The campus was very modern with lots of landscaping. We were offered tea and biscuits before our meeting. The HR manager talked to us about the basics of the company. One interesting aspect of employment was after two years of work, employees are allowed six months of leave at 50% salary to work for a social organization. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. After the meeting we rode around on golf carts to see the rest of the campus. There were bikes and umbrellas out for the employees to use, and only electric vehicles are allowed there.

We also saw the housing, like dorm rooms that the employees live in. There were recreational facilities with a pool, gym, bowling alley, pool tables, racquetball courts, and a movie theater. Most of the trainees there work 12-16 hour days so I don’t know how much they can use the recreational facilities. After training, employees have a one year contract. They are expected to stay for about three years and then move on. There is also a curfew of 9pm and no alcohol allowed on campus. We had lunch with some of the trainees and they were really interesting.

After Infosys, we left to go to the University of Mysore to meet with the Women’s Studies Director. There were 8 or 9 students that listened to our presentation on Women in the United States. We were given tea and cookies and a tour of the museums on campus. There were some old dolls, string puppets, and paintings on thin leather.

Some of us went shopping after the university. We went to a Mega Store, which is similar to WalMart. It was extremely crowded with lots of different items and three floors.

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Infosys movie theater

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Infosys pool at the recreational facility

 
 
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Chamundi Temple

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Boys dressed up to take photos for money

We hired a guide to give us a tour of Mysore. His name was Joseph and he took us to the Mysore Palace. This tourist attraction had a lot of people lined up to visit. We had to pay an entrance fee and we were only allowed to take pictures of the outside of the building. We had to take our shoes off to go inside, which I found odd since it wasn’t a temple. The palace was hundreds of years old with lots of carved soapstone and wooden doors. The ceilings were also painted with carvings unique to each ceiling panel. There is an annual procession in September that has been happening there since the 1300’s. There were so many people inside that it got very warm and I kept getting bumped into. I expected India to be like this everywhere, but I’m glad it is not this bad everywhere. As we were leaving we saw two snake charmers. One was holding a monkey while playing an instrument. They asked for money if you watched them at all.

After the palace we drove to Chamundi Temple. It is another tourist attraction with a lot of market stores by the entrance. We also saw monkeys hanging around, which was the first time we saw them up close. There was a huge line to get in the temple so we walked to a smaller Shiva temple. We drove down the hill a bit to see another Nandi temple. There were three young boys that were all dressed up with make-up. They posed then asked for money.

Next we went to the tallest church in south Asia. It was a huge Catholic church, I was surprised at how many churches we saw in India. I also shopped at a government-run store. You have to ask an employee to hand you clothes. I had to go into an office room to change, and the female employee came in with me. I don’t know if it was for service or if they are afraid of things being stolen. It was uncomfortable, but I really liked the shirt and wanted to try it on.

After the store we went to an open market. It was kind of crowded and had brightly colored paints, cookware, vegetables, bangles, oils and more. People kept asking where we were from and for some reason people start playing the Titanic song on the recorder when they see us.

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Huge Catholic church

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At the open market

 
 
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Lord Bahubali statue

We left Hassan and drove to Indragiri Hill to see the famous Jain temple. This was another tourist area with pushy sellers and tourist shops. We took off our shoes and started the long climb of about 660 steps carved right in the rock. The Jain religion was modified from Hinduism and there were some small sculptures similar to things from other Hindu temples.  

When we made it all the way to the top, we saw the giant (58 ft high) statue of Lord Gommateshwara, also referred to as Bahubali. All of the temples and carvings must have taken a lot of work to finish. There was a priest who was blessing anybody that walked up. Walking back down was harder than going up. We finally made it down and went to lunch…and saw an emu! It looked similar to an ostrich.

We kept driving and randomly stopped at a sugar cane processing place. There were about 15 people there that process the sugar cane stalk in a machine to expel the liquid. The liquid is heated and stirred and it looks yellowish as it hardens. It is kind of like clay since you can mold it while it is warm. The clay consistency is split into smaller balls that will be sold in the market. It tasted like sugar with a hint of molasses.

We drove into Mysore and checked into our hotel. It seemed cleaner and less hectic than Bangalore. There were trees lining the street, but still a lot of traffic.

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Sugar cane processing

 
 
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Pressing the nuts to expel the oil for biofuels

We woke up by 5am so we could leave the hotel by 6am. We drove to Hassan and saw some small villages and rural areas along the way. The land is pretty dry with red soil and big rocks. Most of the population is farmers, with only a few other jobs in rural areas such as shopkeeper or teacher. We stopped at a biofuels center that provides farmers with seeds. The farmers plant the seeds on waste lands and then harvest the nuts. The nuts go into an expeller machine to extract the oil. It seems like a good idea if they are not using agricultural lands to grow the biofuel crops.

We also traveled to Belur and Halebid to see the famous temples there. They were both very large and had lots of people. They seemed to be more catered to tourists than the local temples in Bangalore. Many people were yelling at us and trying to sell us things. It was a bit overwhelming.

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Hoysaleswara Temple in Halebid

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Chennakeshava Temple in Belur

 
 
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Pouring milk as a daily ritual on the Nandi

Today was an extremely busy day. We left the hotel at 7am to see the Bull Temple. We had our first experience with a beggar. He had a bandage on his ankle and was asking for money. We took off our shoes and walked around. The temple had a huge sculpted bull, called Nandi. There was a boy playing an instrument inside and the priest did a daily ritual, pouring milk over the bull. It was really interesting. The back of the temple had a small sculpture of the god Shiva. When we finished looking at the temple, we walked back to get our shoes. The beggar asked for money, so we gave him a little. As soon as he walked away he took off the bandage on his ankle.

After the temple we went to an Asian spa. We all tried the "Fish Spa Exfoliation." You stick your feet in a fish tank basically and the doctor fish start swarming around your feet and legs that are in the water. They don't have teeth but they are suctioning/nibbling on your dead skin. It was the strangest feeling and kind of tickled.

We stopped at Greenpeace India and heard about some of their campaigns. Their office was in a residential area. They were all young and they were interested in our viewpoints on Americans and Indians. When we left we saw two really cute kids and talked to a woman that works at a call center. She said she wants to visit Disney World.

We stopped at Fab India, which is a pretty cool store. I tried on some Indian camises, which are long, light shirts. They were too small and I didn't have time to try some bigger ones.

Then we went to a working women's hostel run by nuns. They teach girls from villages English and give them training to help them find jobs in Bangalore. It was really fun. The girls sang us a welcome song in English and then 3 did an Indian dance. They were so interested in us and friendly. We broke off into groups and talked to about 8 girls. They really wanted us to sing! They asked me to sing the Celine Dion Titanic Song. Then we all tried to dance for them by doing the Cupid Shuffle. I think they were laughing at us, and then they showed us some Indian dance moves. That was the highlight of the trip so far.

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Doctor fish nibbling on dead skin

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Today we went to the Center for Sustainable Development in Bangalore. It is a non-profit that is doing some research projects and working on sustainable development policies. We also talked to an e-waste management group. E-waste is waste from cell phones, computers, and other electronics that has heavy metals and toxic materials in it. It also has plastics, gold, silver and other re-usable materials. There is a big informal market in India for e-waste and the United States sends a lot of waste here. 

We also visited a large private hospital , Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital, with cancer and cardiology research centers. It was very new and nice. We learned that many American hospitals send cancer scans to the Indian hospital. The Indians analyze it and come up with a treatment plan. The time difference is useful since the Indians work on it at night in the USA so the next morning the American doctors can have the plan.
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Modern Cancer Research Center

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Shrine inside the Hospital