Friday, 31 March 2006

Serampore - a shadow of Denmark's past

I took a day tour out of Calcutta to visit the old Danish Trade station of Serampore situated on river Hooghly north of Calcutta. It is lesser known than Tranquebar in Tamil Nadu, allthough an important part of Denmark's colonial history. It prospered initially, but later after continued harassment from the British based in Calcutta, Denmark was forced to sell off Serampore to the British for an almost symbolic sum of money in 1835.

College of Serampore, founded by the Brit William Carey under license from the Danish King. The iron cast gate was a present from the King to the College.

One of the beautiful, old, colonial buildings, now in a state of sad but dignified decay. The whole town is filled with buildings like this, still inhabited but not particularly well cared for.

What might have been one of the main streets of the bustling Danish trade station in the late 18th century is now a sleepy little street with only a few cows and bicycle rickshaws to look at the old buildings.

Some of the buildings have been restored - in this case half a building has been made into a school where the other half stands untouched.

River Hooghly, the lifeline of the Danish trade station at Serampore. My ancestors would sail down this river to the Indian Ocean to begin a gruelling, long journey back to Denmark.

Monday, 27 March 2006

Another side of Calcutta

As promised a few days ago, here are a couple of pictures showing a somewhat different side of Calcutta.

This is Victoria Memorial, one of the city's most impressive and famous landmarks. Of course it was built by the british (using plenty of Indian labour of course), it has been kept well unlike so many other colonial buildings in Calcutta.

Park Street, the street where the rich and famous go to dine, shop and all those other things rich and famous people do. The restaurants and shops here are very chic and trendy. The picture itself wasn't that successful, but I think it still conveys the sense of a modern, busy, lit-up street.
Religious life is still very important in India, and Calcutta is no exception. The most important temple in Calcutta is the Kalighat Temple, dedicated to the bloodthirsty wife and incarnation of Shiva, Kali. Kali demands blood constantly, so up to several hundred ritual beheadings of animals (primarily goats) take place at the Temple each day. The people standing at the gate are observing the sacrifical pavillion.

The sacrificial pavillion up close. Notice the birds hanging out here to get in on the action. It all seems very brutal and almost barbarious to the western outsider, but it has to be said in all fairness that all the meat from the goats is being used (as far as I could understand to feed the poor).

A shop outside the temple sells all sorts of religious artifacts. Everything a devotee could wish to gift the Goddess or hang up on the wall at home.

Friday, 24 March 2006

Goodbye South India - Hello Calcutta!

I bypassed Tamil Nadu's capital Madras (Chennai) alltogether and instead flew to Calcutta in the north - capital of West Bengal and former capital of British India.

This picture illustrates nicely the current state of Calcutta. Everywhere you see the imposing, old colonial buildings, but here it has ben turned into a bustling, chaotic bazaar with signs, shops and garbage everywhere. Probably not the destiny for which the british raj designed this building.

Calcutta is one of the few places in the world, where a poor man can be hired to pull another man around without any aid of an engine or even a bicycle. t is seen by many as degrading and exploitive and it has even been officially banned by West Bengals communist government. It is, however, also, many peoples' livelihood and therefore the phenomenon continues to be widespread on the streets of Calcutta.

Another example of what we westerners would consider a quite bizarre job. This man makes a living taking apart old computer ink cartridges on the sidewalk. I don't know exactly why this is done, but I assume it serves some recycling purpose.

Another example of the decaying, old colonial buildings setting their mark on Calcutta. this must once have been a beautiful, massive building, but now the facade is crumbling and ugly signs, plastic covers and eletrical wires cover much of the front.

A serene spot in the middle of a chaotic city. This is Park Street Cemetary housing a number of british graves from the late 1700s and early 1800s. It is overgrown with plants and only few of the grave monuments are well maintained. This beautiful old stone cross tablet was resting randomly on a tree.

A different part of Park Street Cemetary, a very serene but also somewhat bizarre and eery place. Most of the grave monuments are these huge, decaying, grey stone pyramids seemingly competing to reach the tallest and be the most massive.

All this might paint an image of Calcutta as a decaying, poverty stricken city, but that is not the full picture. To be fair Calcutta is also a quickly developing city, with many modern districts and facilities, a large well educated middle class and some impressive sights. I will have more pictures showing a slightly different side of the city in my next post.

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Mamallapuram

Mamallapuram is a small coastal city a bit south of Madras (Chennai), famous for a series of elaborate stone carvings and various caves and temples. Here are some photos from the town:

Some of the many carvings and in the background the city's old lighthouse.

The whole complex of temples, caves and carvings are strewn across a fascinating landscape filled with rocks, boulders and little canyons and densely forested. You can see the ruins of a small temple at the top of this hill.

Me in a silly pose by the so-called Butter Ball one of the largest boulders, balancing in a seemingly impossible manner on the downwards slope. Or is it really me holding it back?

Here can be seen a cave, some carvings and some boulders in the same picture. The reliefs are all exceptionally well made, much more than 1000 years ago.

The Shore Temple - the oldest stone temple in all of India. Originally it was constantly being hit by the waves of the ocean, but now a protecting stone dyke helps preserve the ancient temple, but also removing a bit of dramatic effect.

It wasn't all culture. Mamallapuram is one of the few places in Tamil Nadu with anything resembling nightlife, however much the cops try to strike down on it for constant bribes. Here we managed to get into a private birthday party at the smartest new lounge in town. Here Mike is seen dancing with the birthday boy.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Pondicherry: A little piece of France in India

Pondicherry is an old french colony situated on the east coast of Tamil Nadu. It has to a large extent preserved a very French ambience, especially in the blocks near the sea.

A typical most un-Indian Pondicherry street. In general Pondichery is filled with tree lined boulevards, actual sidewalks (a rarity in India), little cozy cafes and nice town houses. In other Indian cities, by contrast, the poor live in slum like conditions whereas the rich hide away in big mansions hidden behind big gates and tall walls with barbed wire. Pondicherry is also generally much cleaner, less trafficed and less crowded than any other Indian city.

Rob and Mike walking down the beach promenade of Pondicherry. This could be any mid sized french mediterranean or atlantic coastal town.

In many other Indian cities most English place names have been changed to Indian names (even the cities themselves, Bombay now being Mumbai and Madras now being Chennai). However in Pondicherry, which is an independent Union Territory, the french street names have been kept. All names are displayed in French and Tamil as the picture shows.

Another example of Pondicherry's Gallic heritage. Asterix is a familiar cultural icon here being used in this wall painting as an advertisement for a take-away diner. Notice the french product description in the top left corner, while Asterix is speaking to us in Tamil.

A beautiful and typical French style town house covered by blooming flowers.

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Trankebar

I took a bit of a detour from the beaten tourist track to get to the old danish trade station of Trankebar (in english Tranquebar, in tamil Tharangambadi) situated on the southeastern coast of the Subcontinent. It is not a huge place but one of the few remnants of Denmark's colonial past, so it was worth the trouble.

Fort Dansborg, Danish fort which managed to withstand the tsunami in 2004. Solid stuff. The only military installment in Trankebar.

The ruins of a nearby hindu temple, that did not do as well as Fort Dansborg against the destructive forces of the tsunami.

The front of Ny Jerusalem Kirke (New Jerusalem Church), with the logo of Danish King Frederik the 4th. It is currently undergoing serious renovation as can be seen.

The old Danish city gate of Trankebar, this time with the royal logo of King Christian the 7th.

Kongensgade (King Street) leading from The city gate down to the coast and Fort Dansborg. Lots of colonial buildings along this street.

Friday, 10 March 2006

Trichy

On the way from Madurai we had a few hours stopover in the large city of Trichy in which time we managed to see a few of the city's biggest attractions.


The Rock Temple, towering over the centre of Trichy.

View over a small part of the city from the top of the Rock Temple.

The biggest temple complex in all India, know by the catchy name of Sri Ranganathaswamy temple.

Election campaigning Tamil style. State elections are coming up in Tamil Nadu and here is represented the main opposition, the DMK. The figures are showing the main DMK Chief Minister candidate alongside the former Chief Ministers that the party have had. The DMK (Ally of the Congress party) are challenging the larger-than-life Chief Minister Jayalithaa. She is a former film heroine, she allegedly has almost as many pairs of shoes as Imelda Marcos and she currently holds the Guiness World Record for hosting the world's largest wedding banquet. 150,000 people were invited to her adopted son's wedding! Oh, and surprisingly she is also by most measures corrupt, autocratic and routinely abuses her power to harass opponents.


Four locals eating south Indian food the traditional way: Served on banana leafs and eaten with their hands.

Thursday, 9 March 2006

Madurai

Madurai in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu is known mainly for its magnificent and imposing Sri Meenakshi Temple. We went there straight from Kerala.

One of the many elaborately decorated and colourful towers of the temple.

A close up of some of the decorations.


Inside the temple Mike studies a figure of a deity whilst a hindu woman has just finished her puja (prayer).

Here I am getting blessed by an elephant inside the temple. Anyone could get a blessing after putting a coin inside the elephant's trunk.

Sri Meenakshi being hit by the very first rays of the sun (We were up VERY early that day).

Madurai and Tamil Nadu in general has little nightlife. Of the few places to get a drink in Madurai by far the coolest was Bar Apollo 96, made with a perfect starship theme. Drinking here was like being at the set of a 1970s sci-fi movie.

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Botanical special: Useful plants of Kumily

Our tour of local spice garden was so inspiring that I am bringing some more pictures from it. It is quite fscinating to get out and see where the final product that we modern people consume actually comes from. Therefore this will be a bit of a botanical special, showing the plants of Southern India, which are turned into useful stuff. If anyone thinks this is too nerdy or too educational to be bothered with, they can just skip this post and come back tomorrow for something completely different.

Cardamom flower.

Vanilla.

A young pineapple.

Pepper.

Cloves (Nelliker)

And most Europeans' favourite: Coffee.

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

Spice and Tea Tour in Kumily

In Kumily (the city next to the national park Peryiar) we decided to use the opportunity to go on a tour of nearby spice gardens and tea plantations. Here are a few pictures of the tour itself - more pictures are coming soon...

Yours truly, at a tea plantation.

Inside a local tea factory. It looked like it had been out of use for centuries, but this was in fact only two weeks after the season ended. Most of the machinery used here was left by the british (who went home in 1947), and at least one machine still in use was more than 120 years old.

Me, Rob and Mike in front of a viewpoint. Not a great picture - the light is a bit weird - but it is the only one I have of me with Rob and Mike. They have now left for Delhi, but we ended up travelling almost a month together. (You can check out their website here: http://www.getjealous.com/robandmike2006 or a site dedicated to Mike's teddy bear: http://www.getjealous.com/getjealous.php?go=Scottybear)

Tamil woman sorting spices in Kumily. This was not part of the tour, and it was not something done for tourists. This is just everyday life in a city so dependent on spice trade.