It’s like California, is the Indian state of Kerala in that it contains both huge mountains and a bountiful seacoast. But that’s about the end of the similarity. Instead of high-altitude conifers and snow-capped peaks, the Kerala mountains are jungle–full of exotic creatures feathered and non. Tigers, elephants, kingfishers, boar. There’s lots of rice in both places, but it was to Kerala that the world came for all those spices that sparked voyages and wars and changed global food and economies and history. A quick tour of Abraham’s 23 acre mountain garden, one of the 80 best gardens world-wide–gives a notion of what they came for.
It’s not one of those neat-row western plots, but a true jungle that looks to our eyes like chaos. Then Abraham points to a pod the size of a walnut. Inside, a soft material that is that Mace you use in baking. Inside, a hard nut we call nutmeg. See that thing that looks like a butternut squash randomly hanging off the side of a tree? Cocoa. Yum. You begin to realize this is not chaos, but a treasure chest.
Slice a piece of bark of this tree? Cinnamon. How about the 23 different varieties of bananas? Can’t miss those. But you might miss the little beady strings hanging from this bush over here. If you do, you’ll have walked right by the pepper. And so it goes on and on and on. And that’s just one guy’s garden.
Drop on down the mountain, and on to the coastal plain and those rice fields I talked about. You can still see people washing clothes or bathing fully clothed in a canal. Not all poor, thought, by a long shot. And the kids dress up very cute for school.
The river Pamba’s full of houseboats filled with cruising middle-class Indians–and western tourists..
Down the road in Cohin (now Kochi) you find yourself in a prosperous urban city with computer stores, a full helping of the arts, both visual and dramatic. I haven’t found space for all the dance and drama we’ve seen along the way, from classic Indian dance to a modern raga concert that featured a trio of violin, two-headed drum, and clay pot that really, really, rocked.
Famastic shopping here as well. Even I had a good time with it. Original and very fine merchandise and exciting bargaining. We shipped a bunch of stuff home for less that it would have taken to stuff an extra bag and schlepp it around to the airport and beyond.
Today, we fly to Mumbai. The most densely populated city on earth. Up for it.