My flight from Mumbai to Paris was about 8½ hours. Four of my fellow travelers had a much longer flight from Portland, Oregon to Mumbai with a layover on the east ooast.
After a humid night in a Mumbai hotel with the air conditioner running constantly, we took a flight from Mumbai to Chennai in southern India, where we had a layover of a couple hours.
From Chennai we flew for about an hour to Tiruchirapalli. We arrived about 14:30 when we boarded a small bus for a two to three hour ride on narrow country roads to the village of Kothamangalam, the center of the Chettinad region of India, our final destination for this part of the trip.
When we had finally arrived at Saratha Vilas, where we would stay for three nights, the staff welcomed us with warm smiles. It was nighttime. We could see little. We had not burned out but were ready to slip into sleep. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!
The day promised to be long and tiring. Our destination was the small village of Kothamangalam (Tamil Nadu) in southern India. It is one of four settlements, along with Kanadukathan, Pallathur, and Kottaiyur, in the Cluster I of Chettinad Villages of Tamil Merchants, a UNESCO cultural designation.
Our group of eight flew from Mumbai to Chennai and from there we caught another flight to Tiruchirapalli and then transferred to a bus that drove us approximately two hours to our Chettinad villa for a three night stay.
Kothamangalam is in the center of the Chettinad region of India, the reason for our visit.
I want to devote three posts to Kothamangalam. The first one will be short and show the people who live there. The second will offer a photo display of the exterior of the extraordinary Chattenad villas that the rich merchants of the area built. The third post will be a visit into one, maybe two, of these villas. We stayed in Saratha Vilas, a wonderfully restored Chattinad villa, and most of the post, if not all, will be devoted to it.
The children I saw and met in northern India (a previous trip) and southern India have two qualities: they make eye contact easily, and they smile. They laugh. Sometimes they are shy, but very few decline to have their pictures taken. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)
They like to pose. The candid photos are often hard to take. They spot a foreigner, and immediately they stiffen a bit, stand erect, and become serious. They love to see the photo after it has been taken. But wait, there’s more!
Giant alien creatures, they seem, thin but dangerous when seen in a certain light. Giant stick insects, Phasmatodea.
I saw them for the first time while walking the beach of Fort Kochi in southern India. They are Chinese fishing nets.
The connection to China, however, is possibly remote. The Chinese did not bring them to India; the Portuguese, who had colonies in China, did in the 1500’s.
Yet others will point to the Kubla Khan court and one of its explorers Zheng He who brought the nets to Kochi between 1350 and 1450.
In any case, they are an instant hit with tourists, including any flâneur who happens to wander nearby. A casual stroll on Vasco-da-gama Square in Fort Kochi, and one is bound to come across a number of these Chinese fishing nets, suspended in mid-air, alongside the seacoast. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!
Most who visit Agra, India do so, I suspect, because they must see the Taj Mahal. I would argue that the Agra Fort, a walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, might supersede the Taj Mahal in appeal.
For a photographer, especially an amateur one, the Agra Fort offers more ‘non-brainer’ opportunities for spotting a subject for shooting.
The Taj Mahal is monumental and certainly a surprise when one encounters it for the first time. However, a warning should be given. It does disappoint. I have seen so many stunning photos of the Taj Mahal that my internal image of it, my desire to have a postcard experience, and the initial excitement of being there, such as one might feel when seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time–the Mona Lisa is so small!–I was a bit disappointed.
However, few know about the Agra Fort. Disappointment, no. One can see many buildings and walk about the grounds and around the walls. The camera has more opportunities.
Here I stand looking from the same spot but to the left and to the right down two corridors, each as symmetrical as the other. What lies behind me as I turn and what lies in front of me as I pivot, pales in comparison to how I feel at the moment, looking in each direction. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!