The People Who Make Coffee

Life at a coffee plantation can be arduous, laid back, dangerous and at the same time fulfilling. I haven’t lived at a coffee plantation but we got an opportunity to glimpse at this slice of life by visiting and staying at plantations in Coorg, Chikmanglur and in Bali (Indonesia). Most coffee plantations are situated remotely with coffee shrubs interspersed by tall silver oak trees. It is not unusual for the plantation to be visited by elephants, tigers and wild boars. The coffee planter would ideally have his bungalow in the middle of the plantation with the next neighbor about 30 kms away.

But if you look carefully, a plantation is not just the coffee planter and his wife and kids its a micro community of sorts with staff at the bungalow, permanent workers at the plantation, drivers, people at the plant, migrant workers, coffee pickers, people working at processing. If it is a large enough plantation  then there would also be schools, creches, co operative shops and a whole gamut of people and services that running a plantation involves.

The stories that the people whose life revolves around coffee tell is very interesting. Living at a plantation is a different experience entirely as you get to immerse yourself in their world for a short while and see the world from their eyes. You would hear stories of being scared when confronted by a lone tusker, stories of catching a majestic tiger, coffee flowers blooming early or about coffee planters awaiting spring showers.

Stories by migrant workers from Bengal who would leave after the harvesting season is over to some other part of the country where work would be available. Childhood memories of helping one’s mother at coffee picking as wages are determined by weight and then skipping off to play once snacks had been brought for the workers. About the rare bird sightings and the excitement of that conjures. Greetings from a post master from the nearby town who connects the people tucked away at the plantation to the rest of the world.

School going children who are accompanied by their parents going to work for coffee picking or any of the other tasks that forms the life line of coffee. Younger children running amok among the rows of coffee shrubs lined with tall trees with their parents on the look out for a wild boar or a herd of elephants crossing their paths. People always on the look out for each other as life is tough and a friendly greeting or a timely warning can make a big difference in an otherwise simple life.

The life at a plantation rises with the sun and sets with it and follows a lifestyle hidden to the city dweller . The conversations revolve around coffee amidst the fragrance of coffee blooms while sipping a cup of the heady brew. Visiting a plantation is great for the body and soul with the fresh mountain air, wholesome food and friendly faces and smiles that one can earn just by being present in the moment.

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Making New friends at a Coffee Plantation in Indonesia
Children Playing between Coffee shrubs

 

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Heading out for work
A Post Woman at a one room post office

 

A Photowalk Through the lanes of Kalpathy

A road trip to Palakkad for our little family had a very delightful consequence as we were able to explore the culturally rich lanes of Kalpathy. Kalpathy is an early bramhin settlement or village  known as agraharam in the city of Palakkad. many scholars, eminent IAS officers find their roots in this village along with many other Tamil Brahmins who migrated to Kerala a couple of centuries ago.

Many temples, rituals and scripts and interpretations of the vedic scripts are part of the soul of this historic village. The agraharam for most part is well preserved as the people maintain their way of life through rituals and strict codes of conduct. As we explored the village on a hot day just before afternoon we found women gossiping on the front porches, men returning from the morning rituals at the temple, grown up kids who had come for vacation leave for their own cities.

The village had sleepy look owing to the heat. Few groups of women were talking about the evening pooja and the next meeting as they walked back from the temple. The language has a unique quality as it is a pleasant mix of Malayalam and Tamil giving it a sing song quaility. Kalpathy village has a rich heritage of singers and it is said it be quite difficult to find a tone deaf person from this lineage.

Kalpathy has been named a heritage village and is one of the first in Kerala to be named so.There are very few places that have been unaffected by the passage of time and this is one such place which we must preserve. A few houses seemed to have been abandoned and held the stories of the family that had called it home once upon a time. The city of Palakkad itself is a laid back city with rivers and mountains encompassing the city and adding to its natural beauty.

Kollam in front of the house
Kollam in front of each house
A typical house in Kalpathy
A typical house in Kalpathy
An old gentleman outside his home
An old gentleman outside his home
A house that also operates as a press
A house that also operates as a press
A post office a site which is becoming increasingly rare
A post office a sight which is becoming increasingly rare
The sleepy agraharam
The sleepy agraharam
A goat getting ready for its siesta
A goat getting ready for its siesta
A board proclaiming heritage village Kalpathy
A board proclaiming heritage village Kalpathy
A woman sitting on her front porch
A woman sitting on her front porch
Kalpathy river
Kalpathy river
A water pipe
A water pipe

Pictures credited to Razor Rasu and a property of Traveling Noodles

Everything You Need To Know For Traveling In India

I recently sent some emails to a friend on how to complete booking for her travels in India. It led me to understanding that nomenclature and terms that are used in India like ‘tatkal’- used for making urgent online booking might not be known to a tourist visiting India for the first time. Hence this is my attempt at creating a comprehensive post about different ways of transportation in India and how to go about booking your journey. I hope you find it useful when planning your journey.

Traveling in India can be very exciting, and can be done no matter how deep your pockets are. There are those who backpack across India and love the trains and then there are those who have driven across India in cars or bikes. If you are traveling to India for the first time, here are some tips that might come in handy while booking your travels in India.

Trains

Everything You Need to Know about Transportation in India
A train station in India; photo by Daniel Incandela (Creative Commons)

India has a very extensive railway network and traveling by train in India is quite an experience. Indian trains need prior reservation, which can be done online. While booking your train, you will notice that there are different classes, which are directly proportional to comfort and crowds. The classes start with First Class, Second AC, Third AC, Sleeper Class and General. General class does not require prior reservation but on busy routes, you might not be able to enter the train because of the rush of people.

As a student I used to travel in Second Class compartments, but as a working professional who can afford a little comfort I choose Third AC on most journeys. Some cities like Mumbai have local trains along with a metro system. These local trains also have a class system proportional to the cost and comfort, as well as aladies compartment where men are strictly not allowed. These compartments are essential for rush hour when jostling for space with men can be tedious.  During rush hour, the ladies compartment will be filled to the brim as well.

Planes

Everything You Need to Know about Transportation in India
An Air India Express jet; photo by Kentaro IEMOTO (Creative Commons)

The fastest way to travel a vast country like India is by flight. There are private as well as government-run airlines such as Air India, Indigo, GoAir, and SpiceJet, with new ones added frequently. The easiest method to book tickets is online through websites such as yatra.com and cleartrip.com, among others. There are economic as well as full-service carriers, and between smaller cities that are close by, ATR flights are quite common.

Buses

Everything You Need to Know about Transportation in India
A bus in India; photo by Hafiz Issadeen (Creative Commons)

India is connected by private buses as well as state government-operated buses. You can book most bus tickets online at some popular sites such as redbus.in or you can always head over to the nearest bus hub or tour company in order to book tickets. Some states, like Maharashtra and Karnataka, have great state government-sponsored buses and roads.

Most local buses dedicate the first half of the bus to women, and women are expected to enter from the front of the bus and men from the back of the bus. In most cities, tickets can be purchased from inside the bus for local travel. You may also purchase monthly passes for local buses and trains at the bus depot. Major cities have recently started hop-on-hop-off services but keep in mind, that there is often a ton of traffic.

Taxis and Autorickshaws

Everything You Need to Know about Transportation in India
Autorickshaws; photo by Chris Goldberg (Creative Commons)

Taxis are not a common mode of transportation in India, yet rickshaws are very popular. Rickshaws are supposed to run on meters starting with a minimum charge, which is different in different cities. Different cab operators have cab services, which include Meru, MegaCabs, Ola, and Uber. You can refer to this website for a comprehensive auto fare and cab fare in each city in India.

When taking cabs or taxis, it is important to look for approved taxi services as unfortunately there are many swindlers who see tourists as soft targets. At airports it is always a good idea to take pre-paid cabs/taxis or hire from one of the aforementioned services. A good way to distinguish between taxis/tourist vehicles and private vehicles is by the colour of the registration plate. Private vehicles have white plates whereas tourist vehicles or taxis have yellow coloured registration plates.

Driving

Everything You Need to Know about Transportation in India
Driving in Calcutta; photo by Ashley Coates (Creative Commons)

While bigger cities grapple with traffic problems especially during peak hours, some cities like Bangalore have rent-a-car services such as ZoomCar. Because Indians are always on the lookout to save money and gas, there are few automatic options available too. In places like Goa, renting a scooter is a great way to go about beach hopping or traveling in general. Riding a scooter can be a fun way to feel the wind in your hair, but watch out for sunburns! Indians drive on the left side of the road and have nonchalant attitudes about traffic rules. So if you choose to drive, you need to be a little extra careful.

Walking or Cycling

Everything You Need to Know about Transportation in India
A bike in Bombay; photo by Meena Kadri (Creative Commons)

Indian cities are not great for walking or cycling as most cities do not have consistent pavement. Cities like Delhi and Chandigarh are better designed in this aspect. Travelling on foot or cycling to and from work is something that a lot of Indians do even though it is not a comfortable option. India is not stroller friendly so parents with kids might want to leave the strollers at home. Strollers are useful only if you are taking your kid for a walk in a gated community or a nearby park.

Each different region in India has a distinct landscape, which becomes evident on long journeys. You can actually see the landscapes change from plains, to forests, to deserts, to hills and mountains. Every city in India is steeped in history and it is not unusual to pass a 400- or even 1000-year old building or monument on your daily commute.

Welcome to India! I hope you have a wonderful time exploring my country.

Top photo by Anju Jayaram

This post has been published on the International Travel magazine for women – Pink Pangea.

Imagine Lothal

  Boats and ships dock at the port with men scurrying to and fro wearing the finest linen in the land. The merchants stamp ox and unicorn seals as the shipment comes in and goes out to far off lands of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The bullocks take the shipment of grain to the granary where men unload them and officials inspect them. There are women who take the account of the grains as they come in.
In a street nearby children play with their toy bullock carts made of clay which have wheels. There are a row of houses on a hillock where the top administrators or the rich live. Down the block there is the bustling market befitting the great port city. Take a left and you can reach the glass furnaces where the glass beads sought after in the far off countries are made. There are works of metal that are held valuable and designs much ahead of the time.
An able city administration can be seen at work by any person who reaches this great city, each house has an advanced drainage system. The houses are made of clay bricks and the streets and roads are made with great forethought. The people of the city speak and write a heirloglyphic language which will be lost in years to come. There are dances which are held in the main center of the city. A happy and prosperous city where people come to fulfill their dreams from far away.
This is Lothal 2500 BCE as I imagined sitting in my fifth grade classroom and peering at the artist rendition in the text book. And I fell in love with this great city near the sea and decided I would one day see it.So years later, travelling from Ahmedabad to Rajkot for a business trip, I see a sign saying Lothal turn left and I turned left.
The arid land mound with no river or sea in sight tantalized my imagination and I am in awe of nature and its work. This lost sea faring civilization awaits its rosetta stone when we will be able to decipher this Indus Valley city whose name we have forgotten. Lothal – An artists redition