By JoAnn Cancro
Photography has taken me lots of places, none so far as the very southern State of Kerala, India, which has a population of 33.4 million and no traffic lights. Crossing the street was beyond challenging. Most times I gave up. The roads are clogged with motorbikes (with whole families on them at once and the women riding side-saddle in their saris), elephants, buses, trucks, cabs, tuk-tuks, cars, bicycles, and more.
India is an enigma. Home to over 1,326,570,000 people, India has more unemployed Ph.D.’s than any other country in the world.
We started in the old British-settled city of Fort Cochi, where ancient Chinese fishing nets dominate the Arabian Sea landscape and are still operated the same way. Strikingly large, supported by tree trunks, and raised and lowered with boulders and men hanging onto the massive roping. No winches, no motors….
While in Cochi, I had my laundry done and marveled at the method — beaten on rocks and bleached in the sun. Laundry was never pressed so perfectly nor folded so small.
Leaving the port city, we traveled to the mountainous and incredibly steep tea plantations of Munnar (where we escaped the intense humidity). There, women prune and collect tea leaves and carry 70- to 100-pound bags of tea on their heads in the mountains to be weighed each morning and again in the afternoon. Roughly 16,000 people are employed in the tea trade just in this region.
A bonus was traveling the backwaters and lagoons to Vembanad Lake and Allappey Town, where we stayed on houseboats. In the high season, over 3,000 houseboats compete for space, but I recommend it off-season.
In Kerala, a surprising number of faiths live peaceably side-by-side. Churches, synagogues, shrines, and temples dot the landscape and people pray in public. I loved seeing that.
Among the facts I picked up: Curry is the term for ‘seasoning’ of food and vegetables. It is not the aroma we associate with curry in the U.S. India has 600 varieties of bananas, 40 varieties of mangos, and is rich in the production of cardamom, pepper, coffee, tea, sandalwood, and gems.