One day I woke up to see the sunrise and I realized we must be in paradise already. The air was full of songs from birds and yes, we could see wild monkeys from our balcony.It was a long and sunny day, we returned back to the hotel at dusk. I decided it was time to eat my favorite snacks had I brought from Tamil Nadu: kadelei muthai, sweet peanuts. A Swede must try her best every night to survive until it is late enough for Indian restaurants to open.
Before and after the trip A’s parents were telling stories about great a grandfather, wild tigers and roaming dangerous elephants. While my ancestors were busy eating their boiled potatoes in Sweden and Denmark, some of his ancestors enjoyed beautiful views like this.
Munnar is most of all famous for tea. Every mountain, every slope, every village – it’s all about tea. It was so beautiful I felt like I should take the chance to make my own little Bollywood dance. This would have been such a great opening scene. “The hills are alive with the scents of tea …”
We couldn’t pluck tea, as it was all privately owned. But if someone else plucks tea and puts it into your hand – is it considered breaking the rules? Without worries about land owners our driver took us to the best places and plucked a handful of leaves for us to smell at.
When you pluck tea you should go for the newest leaves at the top of the plant. The leaves themselves has no special smell or taste of tea. It is not until after oxidation, drying and roasting the special tea smell will appear.
And this guy. I love him so much.
I relaxed and rested against my seat. Outside the window a new landscape rolled past, it looked very Indian but was still so different from the places I had seen in Chennai. Here the coconut palms were everywhere, and so were the white catholic churches too. Can you guess where we are?
If you know anything about South India you probably guessed it already: We are in Kerala. The west cost state famous for coconuts, fish-curry, tea hills and backwaters. And tourists. Luckily we avoided the high-season for travelling and we were mostly surrounded by other travelling young couples.
The first hours of the car ride was hot, but as we started ascending up the mountains the air became more cool and it was nice to roll down the windows and feel the fresh air.
Our driver, who we had assigned for a week, was a short white dressed Malayali man with a big white dot on his forehead. I liked him immediately as he was playing loud music non-stop all through the trip.
Before coming to India I had kept myself busy getting to know something about the contemporary Indian music. When we visited a shopping mall I could sometimes sing along with the radio hits, to A’s family’s amuse. None of the others were particularly interested in North Indian movie soundtracks, and I doubt they had seen Amir Khans movies. It was not until this car ride I felt like I could enjoy Indian music fully. Now and then I would ask A to ask the driver to tune the music just up a little more.
It turned out that our driver did not really speak English or Tamil, and A can’t understand Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala. Luckily they both could speak in Hindi. How many languages do you have to learn to be in this country?
One of the first places we stopped at was a local “Hotel” aka restaurant. (I think all the restaurants in Kerala want to be called Hotel, just to sound more special) We were hungry after a long morning travel.
After spending most of my first two weeks in India in a very safe environment, I honestly felt a little nervous to be out like this. What if I would do something totally wrong? I could think of so many possible scenarios: My big baggy punjabi-pants suddenly falling of, or dipping my dupatta in something disgusting. What if I would forget to not stare strangers in their eyes, or just mess up in general? What if I would eat with the wrong hand in public? What if people would laugh at the foreigner in Indian clothes? I tried my best to follow A and ignore that people were looking at me.
The driver showed us in to the restaurant and we were led to the special AC Family area. Apparently the main room of the restaurants here are mostly occupied by single (male) costumers, and groups would more likely pay extra for a calm family room.
Without seeing a menu A ordered crispy masala dosai and chai. And so he looked at me: “What do you want to eat?”. I had no idea what they served. My mind touched the unknown possibilities of what delicious things they might be making.
For a moment I browsed through a list of all the things I already had eaten, and the new dishes I still had to try. After a moment I remembered what the name was of the perfect choice. “I want a big Samosa!” Samosa is a crispy triangle-shaped snack filled with spicy mashed potatoes and peas. I felt like a samosa with a big cup of tea was the best breakfast I could possibly come up with. I felt proud over my creative answer.
When I looked up I saw that A looked at me in disbelief.
The young waiter couldn’t keep his face straight and had let out a sudden laugh, before he managed to stop himself. I had no idea what was wrong, but A looked so funny I had to laugh too.
After catching his breath for another moment A could finally speak again. “You know that we are eating breakfast, right? You cannot have samosa for breakfast. Samosas are only eaten as an evening snack.”
Apparently this was extremely humorous for everyone around. I just couldn’t get why. Finally we finished ordering, and soon we were both eating the big crispy Dosai pancakes with the thin Sambhar-sauce to go with it.
I dared myself to visit the restaurant bathroom. I am not exactly sure how it happened, but before I left I emptied half a dipper of the washing water over my dear Indian clothes. Now I looked like a five-year-old who had peed on herself too. When we left the restaurant I did my best to walk gracefully in my sticky wet pants, past the room filled with staring aunties.
India Susanna: 1 – 0 .
I am so in for this game!
This week of travels were so full of funny incidents. The coming days I was mixing North Indian Poori with the South Indian Sambhar, and say the wrong thing to the wrong person. A few days later I did what I was afraid of: I almost dropped my pants in public. Allan was at times bewildered, at times laughing and, sometimes, he saved me in time before I did the worst mistakes.
Yesterday night at 6.20 I suddenly felt my body started shaking.
I tore of my headphones and looked around me in the library. Everything looked normal, but it didn’t feel normal. It was not only me what was shaking. I stared with shock at my classmate next to me. Earthquake?
I grew up in a part of the world with no earthquakes. I lived my life on ground so stable often forget that things like this even exists. But now the entire building was rocking around us.
No one was running. No one was hiding. The Taiwanese students around us were simply sitting, looking up from their books. They did not look particularly afraid. What I noticed most of all was how the building sounded. The building materials over and around us was sighting and making sounds, like when you are rowing an old boat. The bookshelves, the giant windows – everything was shaking.
Modern buildings are constructed to wobble with the conformations of the ground, instead of standing stiff and risk breaking. As we were sitting on the fifth floor (of the Tsinghua University Library) the shaking was amplified compared to being on ground floor.
After maybe 15 seconds everything was over and the house became still again. I realized I was clinging to my friend’s arm with both hands. The Taiwanese students looked around a little bit before they started to study again. Someone walked past us reading a book. Like if nothing had happened at all. Well, that was it. My first earthquake.
The Central Weather Bureau reported that the magnitude of the eruption was 6.0 at epicenter, and that it stroke under the Taiwanese East Coast. In Hsinchu city the magnitude was around 2 on the richer scale –Wikipedia defines it as an eruption that is felt but not harmful for buildings.
(Picture repost from Instagram)