30 minutes – this is how long does it take to don a sari, which’s the traditional dress worn around the Indian subcontinent. From Pakistan in the west to Bangladesh in the east. From the Himalayas in the north to the beaches of Kerala in the south.
Watching the colorful robes of the local women, somebody might get the impression that to wrap the piece of material around the female body, is as easy as donning a scarf around the neck. Nothing could be further from the truth! It’s a long and sophisticated process, which patiently bears Agata – my compatriot and Monica from Philippines, in a cozy little hotel in Trivandrum – the capital of the state of Kerala.
Communism still strong in South India
Locally I dressed myself as well (kurta – a traditional male dress) and so we set off into the city. Which was also a colorful but with a predominance of red. Because the main thoroughfares of the city are lined with crimson flags with the hammer and sickle. With that sight I’m overwhelmed with wonder. After the devastation which this doctrine made in Eastern Europe after the tragedies of the rule of Kim Ir Sen in North Korea, or Pol Pot in Cambodia, here symbols of the hated doctrine are present at the most representative (if any of these can be actually found here) areas of the city.
But communism in India is quite a different story. It’s a kind of rebellion and opposition to the so-called “Indian fascism” – when the the government in Delhi attempts to unify the term “Indian”. According to it, the Indus, which is a citizen of India is also a Hindu, speaks in Hindi and his ancestors are the legendary Aryans. Thus, this category doesn’t include the mass of people from other regions who speak other languages, other religions, or have a different skin color.
Additionally, you have to give the Communist Party of India that, it has achieved a lot of success here. For decades, they emphasized on building schools, bus service for children from even the remotest villages and what’s the most important made basic education free. Today Kerala has the lowest illiteracy across India. 96% of people can read and write, while for example in state of Bihar or Assam, illiterate is even half of the population.
Not without their share also, the fact is the peaceful coexistence of the three religions, that is, Hindu (54%), Muslims (24%) and Christians (20%).
Temple full of treasures!
Most are Hindus and so they have the richest temple. And not only in Kerala but in whole world! Since its inception, ie since the days long before Christ, treasury of Padmanabhaswamy Temple dedicated to Vishnu, step by step, filled up with gold. According to local custom, the ruling families filed the shiny metal for the success of various events. From the birth of a new member of the family, through marriage, till a military expedition.
Years passed, and the treasury swelled. In today’s world, however, the whole story was just treated as a legend. In addition, few attempts to explore the underground temple was torpedoed by the local community, claiming that what has been given to Vishnu in his possession should remain.
In 2011 the Supreme Court of India decided otherwise and ordered to investigate what lies beneath the tabernacle. 5 of 6 vaults were opened and the eyes of witnesses of the event were amazed with the truest treasures! 800 kg of gold coins, 18-foot long gold chain, a shaft of gold weighing 500 kg, over 2000 gold ornaments, the throne of pure gold decorated with hundreds of diamonds, and a lot of other valuables. Treasury estimated on $ 20 billion of US!
But it’s not all. Last crypt hides treasure supposedly far exceeding the value found so far! There it wasn’t decided to open it till now neither what to do with the treasure. The Indian government wants whole gold to be melted and distribute among jewelers to meet the rapidly growing appetite of Indians for gold. Naturally, totally opposite opinion has the temple authorities and local believers, making stalemate continues till today.
To the temple itself, unfortunately, we couldn’t enter, not to mention seeing the treasure. Admission only for Hindus dressed in festive costumes. So kurta and sari didn’t help…
Beautiful side of Kerala
The city bears the sins of all other cities of the country. Dirt, noise, large air pollution, gaudy, or lack of respect for pedestrians. Fortunately, Kerala has a more beautiful side then its cities. Lush, tropical vegetation and infinitely long sandy beaches carved by the Indian Ocean, where we reach the second day.
Happily our stay here lasts 42 hours instead of 24 hours as it usually happens after a flight of that length. On the beach, here and there can be observed groups of people. However, in the ocean no one. In India, despite the shoreline of several thousand kilometers few people can swim.
Swimming in the ocean is to the natives at most the entrance to the waist belt. When you see a figure in the water waving his arms and legs, this is most likely a European or American tourist.
A visit to the home
In Trivandrum there’s not much tourists as there’s not much to see. For me, however, it was another after Chennai and Calcutta, the discovery of how actually India looks like, of which population I have so much contact at work (majority of passengers), or every day in Dubai (the largest group). And meeting with someone from the local community for me was definitely the most interesting experience during my stay in Kerala.
As usual, extremely helpful was the portal couchsurfing.com, through whom I met Jay and which in addition to rides around the city, endless conversations at dinner
he invited us to his home, where we had opportunity to meet his entire family. So simple hospitality to me turned out to be something amazing and unique, something that allowed me to feel like a traveler, not just a tourist. Thanks Jay! Namaskar!