I have been driving for nearly 40 years. I drove in Boston where people are very aggressive and drive with one hand on the horn. In Texas, drivers are too busy checking their makeup, singing along with the radio or driving too fast to pay attention to the road. In India it is an entirely new and unique experience. Just don’t try this at home.

 

As the cars we hired in each city maneuvered through the heavy traffic, each vehicle vying for the next inch of space advantage, I was amazed that I began to understand how the traffic moved. Here are the key rules of the road:


The first rule of the road involves the use of the horn. You honk as you come up behind another vehicle (single short toot). You honk as you pass them (multiple short toots) and you honk as you cut in front of someone as you merge in around a turn (long toot). Finally the horn is also used when driving on the wrong side of the road, cutting in without right of way or doing something that is very risky (both long and short toots).

 

Bullock cart on the road competes with autos in India.

Bullock cart on the road competes with autos in India.

Even though lane markers and center stripes were painted on the larger roads at significant cost to the government, they are largely ignored. Since the vehicles are narrower than the lanes, they move over to make more (ad hoc) lanes to get more vehicles on the road and get them moving (supposedly) or snarl the traffic more completely (most likely). With cars of all sizes, auto-rickshaws, bullock carts, motorbikes, bicycles, why waste space that could otherwise be occupied?


Red lights don’t always mean stop. If you don’t see anyone coming on the cross street, why waste the time? Just go for it. At large intersections, the government installed timers so you can see the number of seconds remaining before the light turns red or green. That way you can start out maneuvering the next guy.


Next, there is a hierarchy of who or what gets the right of way. Cows because they are sacred are at the top of the list and no one bothers them. Next on the list are the big German cars followed by the other imported cars. They are new and expensive so they must be important. City buses take the right of way because they are huge and just roll down the streets. Next are the cabs followed, in order, by auto-rickshaws, bicycles and hand carts. Pedestrians are last because they have no horns or metal around them for protection. They can also jump out of the road.


Another rule is I have the right of way over you. Driving is a game of strategy, like multidimensional chess. Since there are so many vehicles on the road, I must win.

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.

We took a day trip from Chennai to Kanchipuram which is about 2 hours away to see the historic temples. The first one we saw, Ekambareshwarar, is the largest and most popular of the three we saw. I have to say that its size, both its height and the area that it covers, makes it a very impressive sight. Next we visited the Kamakshi Amman Temple since it has the same name as my mother-in-law.

 


Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram near Chennai, India.

Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram near Chennai, India.

 

It was the last one of the day that had the largest impact on me due to its beauty and age. The Kailasanatha Temple was built in the 8th century during the Pallava dynasty which also built Mamallapuram which is about 35 miles away. It is a small, intimate temple that was constructed of sandstone.


As you enter the temple, as in all Hindu temples, you must remove your shoes. We arrived here just before noon with the hot sun beating down on the stones. Since the air termperature was in the mid 90s, the temperature of the stones was much hotter. Stepping on them was painful. We hopped from the street to the temple. I made a quick stop in the grass just to let the soles of my feet have a break. We must have looked like crazy American tourists!

 

Inside the temple grounds, the stones were partially shaded by the buildings so we could walk normally as long as we stayed in the shade. I appreciated that our guide pointed this out to us as we entered so we could take our time and enjoy the amazing works inside.

Art inside the Kailasanatha Temple

Art inside the Kailasanatha Temple

Around the temple and its courtyard is an intricately carved wall. Around the inside of this wall are over 50 small meditation cells in which a person would sit to pray. These nooks were lined with plaster and then painted with beautiful frescoes. Unfortunately most of them didn’t survive the centuries. A man who works with the Archaeological Survey of India pointed out the best ones so I could photograph them. The best preserved fresco had lovely geometric designs painted in many colors of the spectrum.

The walls and pillars that surround the temple and the tower were carefully carved in great detail. The intimate size and the accessibility of the pure beauty at eye level make this one of the most treasured temples of South India. The simple elegance and the history of this temple made much more of an impression on me than any others that we visited.

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.

During our Kochi travels, we spent a few hours at the Hill Palace which was the home of the royal family of Kochi. This palace was built in 1865 on the top of a hill after the original palace was flooded. Upon arriving at the palace grounds, one can climb straight up the steps to get to the front door or take the smooth winding road. Both sides of the steps are huge gardens filled with flowers and trees. After reaching the top of the hill, one has a magnificent view of the entire city.


The majestic front steps of the Kochi Hill Palace in Kerala, India.

The majestic front steps of the Kochi Hill Palace in Kerala, India.

 

 

Upon entry to the museum a huge elephant carved from rosewood with ivory tusks greets every visitor. Inside the palace the rooms are large and airy. The walls are beautiful and floors are wood or mosaic. The rooms have glass windows but some, especially along the walkways, have shutters to let the breezes flow through. On display are the maharajas’ treasures from all over the world including Japanese vases, a magnificent gold crown that was given to the king of Kochi by the Portuguese (it weighs over 3 pounds) and an elevator that was imported from England. Different rooms were filled with sculpture, jewelry, antique currency, weapons and carriages.

 

The front lawn of the Kochi Hill Palace in Kerala, India.

The front lawn of the Kochi Hill Palace in Kerala, India.

I am glad that the palace is being preserved by the local archaeological society for all to see since all of the princely states are long past.
 

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.

During our tour of Mumbai we made a stop at Mani Bhavan which is a simple two-storied home on a quiet street. Today this house is a museum and research center but it was where Mahatma Gandhi called home between 1917 and 1934.
 

The most impressive sight is the room in which Gandhi lived and worked. His bed and desk are displayed in a simple but lovely room. In another part of the house, a series of scenes of miniature figures depict significant events in his life including his trip to London to meet Queen Victoria, harvesting salt from the sea and his death. These displays help to reinforce his life visually. Another room is filled with authentic photos and copies of important letters.

A room in Mani Bhavan, the home in which Gandhi lived while in Mumbai, India.

A room in Mani Bhavan, the home in which Gandhi lived while in Mumbai, India.

This quick stop is not to be missed when visiting Mumbai since it reminds us of Gandhi’s contribution in shaping India and his influence on the world.

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.

I have always loved reading maps of different parts of the world. When Google maps came out I was like a kid in a candy shop – all the maps I wanted were available whenever I wanted them. No more buying maps. No more attempts at folding them back into their original size. Just a few click of the mouse was all I needed to find any map I wanted. 

 

Recently I thought I would search for Parappanangadi, the village where Kachi grew up outside of Calicut in Kerala that is just a short drive from the Arabian Sea. It is the site of her family’s home that, until recently, had been in the family for generations. Her parents raised their seven children in this home. The village’s dramatic history can be traced back to the 9th Century. Today, Parappanangadi boasts one of the oldest railway stations in Kerala that links the village to other parts of the country.

 

The most remarkable feature I remember of Parappanangadi is the lush green banana and coconut trees that grew everywhere. It was a beautiful and peaceful agricultural and fishing area that didn’t have the rush and congestion of the big cities.


In writing this blog entry, I asked Kachi and Balakrishnan what the population of Parappanangadi is today.  Thinking that it would be about 50,000 people, I learned that I was incredibly wrong; the village has grown into a city of about 400,000 people that has attracted large companies and a lot of people. I think of it as the romantic village it used to be.

 

Google has made the world a much smaller place with its maps. Click here to see the map:

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?ftid=0x3ba652ff08cdb9c3:0xf5607330816eb433&q=Parappanangadi,+Kerala,+India&hl=en&sll=11.048949,75.856647&sspn=0.021903,0.032015&doflg=ptk&ie=UTF8&ll=11.054388,75.846112&spn=0,0&t=h&z=16

Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.

 

All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.