I went back to India. My sister-in-law has been there since January, her fourth year of teaching in Chennai during the winter months. This time I stayed with her in a very nice little apartment in Nungambakkam, instead of the other way around. She had taken a temporary membership at the Madras Club, so even got to swim in their gorgeous and chlorine free pool a few times! The mosquitoes were bothering her terribly, but they hardly touched me. Guess my blood was too thick from the cold weather... (in the picture you can see Roberta with her ubiquitous and trusty mosquito zapper!)
Very little in Chennai had changed in the 14 months since I had last been there, though I immediately noticed the lack of hoardings (except political ones, of course) that had resulted from a recent court ruling. The overpass near the airport and Guindy was finally complete. Other than this, during my 12 day stay, I often felt like I was in a time warp--as if I had never left.
The trip provided a welcome respite from Michigan winter, and it was great to see everyone again. Roberta and I took a trip over to Cochin and Munnar. I had been to Cochin a couple of times, but never to Munnar, a hill station about 3 hours from the airport. I have posted the photos from this trip on Flickr (above) and a selection on Facebook as well. It rained while we were there, and the lush greens of the tea plantations came out marvelously. Roberta was anxious to take photos of "ladies picking tea" and we were not disappointed. On the day we toured the area, we passed a group having a morning tea break, and then later on a group that was picking in the rain--complete with their rain garb.
I had been to Darjeeling before, and expected Munnar to be similar in terms of the tea estates. But there were important differences. Like Darjeelling, tea had been introduced to Munnar by the British. But we looked in vain for the high grade and "tender tip" tea that I had found in Darjeeling. Munnar is at a lower elevation--the highest plantation is about 7000 ft above sea level--and the really high grade tea grows at elevations above this. Still, the tea was very good. The plus about Munnar was the spice plantations. We toured one, and saw nutmeg trees, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla beans, all being grown and harvested. The vanilla plants were particularly interesting because vanilla is pollinated by the hummingbird, which isn't found in India. Therefore, pollination is done manually, and is quite an intricate and delicate process (as you might imagine from contemplating how small the beak of a hummingbird must be....) At a fraction of the price you would find in the U.S., I bought spices and brought them back (you need to declare them but Customs was quite accommodating).