Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Tile Factory Chettinad

People come from all over to commission handmade tiles from Chettinad area factories - and for good reason. They can pick colors and designs and the handmade process produces a long-lasting tile with individuality. We met an excited family busy building their dream home and they insisted that handmade tiles from Chettinad were worth the effort. "You can't get tiles like these anymore," indeed.

A humble factory, in the middle of fields. This form of tile making isn't a high tech process. All you need is some base materials, paint, a skilled tile maker and curing areas. An example of the tiles they produce.

How are the tiles made? start with a glass bottom (tiles are made upside down), add a frame and then a metal paint guide/divider. Pour in your design and then pull the guide. Fill the frame with the tile mixture.

Ta-da! A finished tile, ready for curing. After drying, off to the cleansing bath and you're done. Beautiful.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Grand Mansions Of Chettinad

The South Indian community of Chettinad is known for its long ago concentration of merchants, bankers and a general monied class that spared no expense in living an opulent lifestyle. Most of the families are long gone, but a lot of their mansions remain.

Homes date back a hundred or more years and were built to house an extended family. Private bedroom spaces are small, but the communal living, dining and hanging out areas are huge. The places were meant for gatherings and parties. Any chance to display the wealth. Let's takes a tour.

A typical mansion, a combination of colonial and South Indian architecture.

Fine tile work on a porch, a local talent (more on tiles in an upcoming post). A detail of window shutters.

An opulent, double height interior.
Many finishing materials were imported. Don't forget to have your portrait painted! And you deserve it, after commissioning those incredible wood carved columns.

A dining hall for 50. Why have a regular railing when a nicely-carved, high relief elephant is possible?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Post No Billy Goats

Murals are all over India, leaving few expanses of blank wall unpainted. The subject matter tends to be repetitive: political figures, lush landscapes or advertisements. If you're lucky, a wall surrounds an institution that offers its own set of images. Say, tanks and airplanes for a military compound.

At an elephant reserve, someone decided the walls were a good opportunity for an animal survey. Beyond the subject matter, what makes these images great is the accidental stylistic results, especially the cubist black bear and a yak with an incredible hair-do.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Kathakali, The Dance Of Kerala

Enough fishing, cruising and living off the land. Time to check out one of Kerala's highlights: theater.  Kathakali is an elaborate, all-night ritualized temple theater/dance performance. Lasting from 10 pm or so until dawn, the show is about gods and demons and always features certain stock characters.

Part opera, part actor sign language, the dances are propelled by trance-like drumming, hand gestures and sophisticated facial expressions. There's no actual dialogue or singing so pantomime is the method of communication.

The main character of the dance and often the hero, a green "Pacca." The makeup takes hours to apply - with the actor lying down for most of it - and always includes the green design, complete with fanciful white appliance. Another actor getting ready backstage, looking vintage Bollywood.

The show.

A couple more of the grand characters, each representing a certain type. Men play women's roles.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Jew Town, Kerala

In the eastern part of Cochin, there's a port area called Mattancherry, which contains the tiny remnant of a once thriving Jewish community. You can count on your hands how many Jews are left in the town, but one principal attraction seems to be going strong - the old synagogue. For better, but mostly worse, the temple is on the tourist trail and tons of people are dragged every day down a small dead end lane to see the place. The area also holds historical value for a once thriving spice trade that's still alive today. But the cruise ship folks seem to be required to visit the synagogue.

The sad irony is that there's no active community to keep the place running - most people having immigrated to Israel. So a synagogue is left behind for non-Jews to pick over like an archeological site. The final irony is the lane leading to the site is lined with souvenir shops, mostly owned by Muslims from Kashmir.

The synagogue complex. The actual temple is in an inner courtyard, through the door to the left. Unfortunately, no picture-taking inside. The lane, a gauntlet of souvenir shops taking advantage of the sideshow at the end of the block.

A couple of signs. Jew cemetery, Jew road, it's coming up Jew everywhere. "Please, buy our stuff. It is OK to go off the cruise ship, leader guide edict!" That's the spirit, make sure the shopping experience is genuine.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A Rice Respite In Kerala

One of the nice features of an overnight backwater boat cruise is the place you dock for the night. Since the waters are so calm, any place along any canal is a potential port. No need to find an actual dock, pick a patty and camp for the night.

Moored and ready to hop off and explore.

A little bit of fauna pecking among the sea of flora.
One of the rice fields.
More fauna, this time a little group of goats, always game for portraits.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Basking In The Backwaters Of Kerala

The most popular activity in Kerala is a trip through its lovely backwaters. The region is blessed with endless, calm waterways of lakes, canals and areas surrounded by rich rice fields. There are a zillion boats plying the waters, but it's a fairly new enterprise. As the industry of moving rice through the waters declined, a lot of barges stood empty. People started converting them to passenger tour boats and they became a hit. It's easy to see why: the scenery is beautiful and the ride relaxing.

The popularity shows at one of the packed ports. A typical boat, a thatch-covered barge.

Scenery along a canal. Tea on the boat with a couple of happy customers.

The captain, trolling along, satellite dish ready for action. One of the smaller, side canals.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Fishing Fort Cochin

Besides the colonial architecture, Fort Cochin's iconic image is a row of fishing nets. For good reason, as the elegant nets take on the look of sentries in the harbor and are still in use daily.

One of the fishermen, still plying the traditional trade. A great outfit - and somehow color matched to his bucket. Beautiful blue crab, ready for a loving home with a big steam pot.

Don't forget the fish. The area is also a social spot, schools of like beings found everywhere.

Seller and buyer, in a price standoff. The old woman and the sea.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Holding The Fort (Cochin)

In Kerala, a prosperous state in Southwest India, there's an old part of the city of Kochi, known as Fort Cochin. There's a lazy, laid back feel to the place and a relaxed vibe, enhanced by the historical, colonial architecture and the still active fishing scene. We'll take a closer look at fishing in another post. For now, let's poke around the town.

A small ferry, still busy. An old church sits in the center of town, right next to the traditional parade ground.

A laid back town deserves a laid back way of getting around. Or simply a radical place to hang out.

With the sun beating down, squint and Miami or Key West might appear.

Two main attractions of the area, featured on a sign: traditional dance and a massage. A pachyderm piper.