Sunday, 26 July 2009

Kutteeram & kidnapping to King George's Palace

Both Andy and I have been feeling the need for the sea recently, so we had a great plan to head to the Tamil Nadu coast for the weekend, which many people do from Bangalore. However, after we studied our plan in more depth, we realised that most of these people surely can't have kids - it would have involved about eight hours of travelling to reach our destination! Instead, we whisked Maya out of school on friday and in the morning travelled a mere hour and a half out of Bangalore to a beautiful hotel called Taj Kutteeram we'd heard about.

It was beautiful there - several individually designed cottages made from adove, tribal art painted on the walls, mosaic floored bathrooms and our own swing chair out the back. Another great bonus was that there was lots of garden space for Maya to run and Lily to crawl, plus a pond replete with ducks which I don't think Maya had really come into contact with much since our Godmanchester days and gleefully watched them from the bridge jumping into the water and screeching 'plop!' each time one had gone in.

On our first full day there, we decided to go on a morning walk to Hessarghatta Lake which we'd read about. This was where villagers once washed clothes and brought their sheep and cattle to drink. It was also home to the Bangalore Yacht Club, so when we reached the lake, we were shocked to see that it was dry as a bone. This was a stark reminder for us of the drought that India is facing and the very real effects of climate change. We were told that the lake has been dry for some time now and we watched as villagers herded past with their animals, all headed for a very small patch of water in the middle of the dried out mud flat. We sat on the banks of what was once the resevoir (picture 3) whilst Maya and Lily watched her parents trying to get the kite going and also the villagers go by. Where's the water, Maya asked, since we'd told her we were going to a lake. How to explain drought and global warming to a three year old? It was very sobering. I found this photo on the Guardian weekly website. This image speaks a thousand words about the situation that I cannot. Click here

Just to bring this home to an even greater degree, we then had a peculiar experience. We were all feeling quite tired and weren't that keen to walk back to the hotel so decided to hitch. It didn't take long before we were picked up in a jeep by three wealthy Bangaloreans: a man, his sister in law and his nephew who fed us plum cake and insisted we accompany them to visit their friend who lived on a farm. We said we thought we'd better get back for lunch but they kept driving anyway whilst the patriarch (who had an incredibly hoarse voice, probably because he shouts rather than talks) regaled us with stories of his friend, 'King George' whose farm we would now be visiting. Before we knew it, we were hurtling along a driveway after being cleared by the security guards at the gate and found ourselves at an enormous mansion with vintage cars, race horses and perfectly manicured lawns. It transpired that King George wasn't there but we were given a tour anyway of the house. The man took a liking to Maya who he called May-aaaar and kept trying to bounce her curls but the feeling wasn't mutual and she did a quick hop, skip and a jump every time he approached her.

The house was, in a word, obscene. The owners are from Bangalore and come to the house every other weekend, if that. Despite that, water is sprayed generously over the lawns to keep the grass green and springy, the enormous swimming pool is full and gleaming and staff move like ghosts about the empty mansion polishing the mahogany furniture and scrubbing the marble floors. King George is clearly an egomaniac as there are pictures of him everywhere AND (I shudder to write this), not only were there stuffed animal heads adorning many of the walls, but there was also a real elephant foot which had been turned into a side table and an elephant trunk in a hallway as decoration. Andy saw it first and hoped that neither Maya or I would spot it. Thankfully I don't think Maya realised what it was but I was so outraged by what I'd seen that I just could not help but say something. I tried to keep my voice as neutral as possible and as the old guy kept saying 'Isn't this an amazing house? Isn't it beautiful?', I intervened and said 'Yes, but it's not that nice having dead elephants in it.' He stopped walking, looked round at me in surprise and laughed 'That's not a dead elephant! It's just the trunk!' Oh. Right. Stupid me.

At this stage we were keen to get out of there, but we were first given a drink on the terrace before we got back in the jeep to be taken back to the hotel. 'This,' the patriarch announced proudly, 'is India.' Erm, no offence, I know we've only been here four months but frankly, this is bloody well NOT India. This is how 0.000001% of the Indian population live. Go and look at the dried up reservoir and the villagers taking their cattle to a meagre scrap of water. This is how millions are living. So yes, point made. King George's palace was good to see, and I know they were just being kind by taking us there. But they wanted us to be impressed and I felt far more sickened than anything else.

The following day we visited the Nrityagram Dance Village, right next to the hotel. Sunday is the day when local kids are given lessons by professional dancers. It was fascinating to watch and Maya, who now frequently refers to herself as a dancer, could not tear her eyes away from the class. She also made friends with a couple of English girls (first Brits we've met!) who were staying at the hotel too with their parents, and the three of them tore around the grounds making mischief. We're now back in Bangalore and we have two very tired little girls tucked up in bed, Maya probably still swinging in her sleep from the motion of the gently rocking swing chair and the hammock she spent so much time in.

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