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A Little Taste of India
My first taste of rural India was sipping a small glass of fresh-squeezed lime juice and feeling my shirt cling to my back from the heat. I waiting near a line of open-air shops on the dirt road, as the flat tire of our taxi was changed by some local fellows known by our driver. A young boy who worked at the food stand laughed as he threw the lime peels with perfect aim to the corner refuse pile.
The gait of the villagers slowed, even to a standstill, as they looked with curiosity upon us newcomers. Not speaking their language, we exchanged smiles, and reluctantly placed the cool glasses back on the counter.
The repaired taxi spiraled us up the mountain to our destination of Kodiakanal. The ride to the hill station in southern India offered stunning views and of the red and green Palani hills. The mountain woods and rocky cliffs were punctuated by car horns as they rounded bends and warned other drivers of their approach. Our driver kept a cluster of purple grapes hanging on the rear-view mirror. Two or three were enough to quench our dry mouths along the 2 hour ride.
The hospitality of the local villagers was much like the cascading flowers on the trees. The beauty of the people was in plain sight and offered in abundance.
A popular destination for Indiaís honeymooners, Kodaikanal is known for itís refreshing climate, romantic mountain lake, quiet surroundings, and a notable lack of mosquitoes and other insects. Paddle-boats, canoes, and bikes offer a way to leisurely explore the lake and surrounding trails. Astrologers and palm readers are also in abundance to provide their services to the newlyweds and tourists alike.
Having settled in to teach for a semester at the respected international school, I took in the sights and sounds of the local people. Most of my travels were done on foot, although mopeds often buzzed their way along the roads, with women usually sitting side-saddle on the back as the men steered.
Modest shops line the streets and avenues around the lake, offering bananas, papayas, mangoes and coconuts. Locals line up wood-carved souvenirs and Tibetan crafts on carts and ropes. Windows in peopleís homes display small bottles of oils for sale. Eucalyptus leaves are processed by hand near the small stream that flows through town, and the extracted oil is used for anything from bug-repellant to medicinal cleanser.
I inhaled deeply while walking past the baskets of soft white jasmine garlands, which women would pin in their black hair. Scented incense also wafted from the outdoor shops, and was a popular item in the marketplace.
I soon learned the cows had free reign. They wandered around the town during the day, grazing leisurely, no one paying mind to their loitering in the streets. Monkeys, on the other hand, gave some cause for concern as they scurried from tree tops to the building roofs. We were advised not to leave doors and windows open as they wreck havoc in the house and are a challenge to chase back outside.
In my experience, Kodiakanal was like a hammock nestled in the plains of India. Despite the monsoons that followed later in the season, it was a small slice of the ancient land that awakened the senses and refreshed the spirit.
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