Monday, Mar. 30, 11:07 PM
Thrissur, Kerala, India
Since I came to this town with Lasse, who is resting his aching knee, we’ve taken many autos, 3-wheeled, 3-passenger-capacity rickshaws, and buses. This is a drastic change of pace from our normal cycling habit, and so this past week has been very different in this regard. Around Thrissur we’ve been taking autos everywhere, which I admit is quite fast, convenient, and thrilling (read: dicey), also much more costly (although cheap at 10 rupees for a 5 minute zip across town to 100 rupees for the longer 20 minute ride home to our couchsurfer’s village, 10km outside town. For all of our long trips to other towns, though (which we’ve visited 5 within a 50km radius), we’ve been taking the buses, (all of which are also ridiculously cheap and precarious!) The results have been interesting.
As for the buses themselves, some are great, some are not. What surprises me is, at least around here, they come regularly. That’s the easy part. Actually being able to fit your body inside one of them is not always so easy. It’s fun that you have to jump-in as the bus is moving, pulling yourself into the door as it zips away. There seems to be no limit on number of passengers. Today we were waiting for our transfer and the bus pulled-up and literally 25 people rushed the bus, throwing their bags into the windows (to reserve seats), as if this was the last life raft, their only chance of survival. When the three of us got on and waited for the dust to settle, we found the last 3 empty seats (thankfully). As we traveled, so many people piled in (standing room only) that, for example, at one point Jamey had his head sandwiched between an disparaging sleepyhead on one side, and some guy’s ass on the other, while Lasse had some guy’s hand on his bare (picture: man-skirt) leg for the last half hour. Taking public transportation really desensitizes you about lack of personal space. Even in the rickshaws which we share, I have to put my arms around my friends in order to fit comfortably. Upon exiting the bus, we literally had to step on 50 people to get out at our stop: the Waterfalls we came to play in (which were awesome, as were the monkeys everywhere!) But that bus sucked hard, (and also that, after the scene from Titanic, we had to sit there for 50 minutes before it departed, oops!) It was also a city bus, meaning the vehicle itself was merely a drab, utilitarian machine, no fun.
And then there are the private buses, which probably outnumber the public ones. These can be impressive, usually all chromed-out, hand-painted from headlight to taillight with fun scenic murals (of tigers, Sonic the Hedgehog, kittens, any bad-ass sh!t; we laugh all the time at their sheer randomness and admirable devotion to uniqueness and detail), usually blasting upbeat Hindi jams from a bumping sound system, and tricked out with psychedelic flashing colored lights and illuminated religious paraphernalia; each one boasts a commitment to somebody – any god will do! Tonight we took one of these open-air buses (no windows, just bars) just after sunset, an uncrowded and breezy roller-coaster disco with great music and a gorgeous view – a superb way to descended from the mountains, and a pleasure which rendered me smitten with the whole scenario.
I’ve said this a million times, and I re-realize it so often on this trip: it takes the Good AND the Bad to truly appreciate anything. Every good experience can be enhanced by knowing how BAD it can be, so all the bad ones make the good ones every so much sweeter. It happens with food, buses, beaches, hotels, people… it’s all good if you really think about it.
I also saw some cool things from my window-seat: not just one, but two water parks within 2 hours from Arup’s place. Next week, upon returning to the coastal heat after a week in the mountains, we will go to Dream World. These are no second-rate parks, either. Dream World had two giant, gorgeously sculpted dragons protecting the entrance to the 40-foot tall castle… heehee! As we drove one leg of the trip on a new highway, I noticed dozens of halved buildings. At first I noticed this town had some serious demolitions going-on, and in every case just half of the building remained, as if the growing highway just ate any building in its way. At least I appreciated the weird/awesome godzilla visuals. Oh, best thing today was the elephant on the highway. In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, Kerala is loaded with elephants – they’re everywhere, walking down the street, getting baths, cruising at 50km/hr down the highway on a trailer… unbelievably surreal. I am so excited for next week’s festival… 100 elephants in one place, all decked-out and so pretty! No way!
Another recurring beautiful sight, especially at night: Catholic churches. I thought, after visiting Europe and especially Rome, that I’d never be impressed with sights of the Church again (also b/c I got so bored with the subject matter), but the Indian church is a new breed. I’m not talking about tour de force paintings and sculptures here, rather the refreshingly Indian approach, which is much akin to Hindu temple worship. I’ve seen little shrines of the Virgin Mary back home, usually on the corner by a convent, or a molded concrete statue among somebody’s yard gnomes, but here there are Catholic shrines everywhere, beautiful, cheerful, colorful, vibrant, and frequented by an abundance of devotees daily. The statues of saints are often life-sized, sometimes encased in glass and illuminated throughout the night, the figures painted in detail, and the open-air ones adorned with flower garlands, burning candles, incense. Indians do worship right! It’s a fresh take on my own familiar customs, and it makes me happy to see such enthusiasm contrasting with my own subdued notion of Christ worship.
Another recurring sight which practically hits you over the head with a sickle throughout one’s whirrings around Kerala is the Communist Party propaganda, painted and postered absolutely everywhere. Kerala is the first (and only?) state, worldwide, which has had a democratically elected Communist party, and they’ve been in power since 1957. Their political stronghold is apparent, but what trips me out is how tastelessly they exploit the party’s history of using propaganda. Really, it makes me sick to see the same 2 guys’ faces everywhere I look, as well as the famous hammer and sickle logo painted on nearly every wall and street (yes, road’s width, right on the asphalt). There are so many posters around that it’s reached critical mass; sometimes I see them plastered in the funniest places, like on rocks, trees, or construction pipes in vacant lots. Only in its excessive audacity do I find some humor. In the beginning I was somewhat interested in the Communist political culture here, but now I’m just sick of seeing it and I default to distrusting any government with politicians who want you to see their face 1,000 times a day, in every store, chai stall, and on every restaurant, driveway, wall, and tree. Geez, well I didn’t intend to rant like that I guess I had to get it out. In case you didn’t know, I harbor great apprehension for brainwashing and manipulation.
I’ve seen a lot in the last week, a lot of it good, and I’m glad I’m still alive to tell the tales. Seriously, driving habits here are super-crazy, and I’m glad to be a cyclist 90% of the time. It may be slower-going and I’d get even sweatier, but it’s nice to change it up every once in a while. Thanks for coming along for the tour around Thrissur with me!