Food is so integral to Indian culture; the states of the south are no exception. My favorite southern dishes were veg biryani and veg uttapam. Many people who travel India become vegetarian if only during their trip. This is because meat served here is generally quite iffy when it comes to sanitation practice; it is very easy to get sick from eating improperly cooked or ill-prepared meats.
Fortunately, the veggie dishes in India are phenomenal, and these are just two of hundreds of healthy, delicious options. Veg uttapam arrived on a thali-style silver dish, a rice pancake made with orange and green veggies inside. Dipping sauces of carrot chutney, sambar, and korma are placed in the dish’s recesses to complement the light rice pancake. I’d always immediately chuck aside the unnecessary cutlery, tearing into the hot uttapam with both hands. The messy nature of most Indian food means making edible creations, and eating your work.
Traveling in India is filled with small moments of beauty where you might least expect it. The country can be quite challenging, though the south is notoriously more relaxed than the northern states. Perhaps it has something to do with the abundance of beautiful beaches.
The encounters I remember most included watching tiny children playing in the shallow water with their parents. One moment stuck out in particular — a young girl playing with her father whose joy was so palpable that I almost wept. His large, toothy smile, wildly crooked, radiated with pure love. As he held his daughter’s hands up high, she cackled with glee at the water lapping up against her shins in its repetitive rhythm. Tiny sparkling bracelets hung from her wrists, almost right up to her delicate, little elbows. His unabashed pleasure in the moment overwhelmed me with its heartfelt simplicity. The sun, dimmed in the hazy mist, shimmered as if solely for them. She was in heaven; the scene was utterly idyllic.
Amongst the hectic feel that India inherently has, there are these quiet moments of beauty and peace; the juxtaposition between these two extremes only serves to make both sides more pronounced.
There are countless styles of traditional dance throughout India, many of which are still practiced and performed today. In Kerala, Kathakali is one of the more popular of the traditional classical Indian dances. Highly stylized, this dance drama is characterized by elaborate costumes, detailed gestures and complimentary live percussion music. The songs are sung in the language of Manipravalam, a mixture of Tamil and Sanskrit. Most songs are set in Ragas based on Carnatic music – heavy on microtones – with a distinct plain-note rendition. The latter is known as Sopanam, the typical musical style of Kerala. The actors of Kathakali endure lengthy preparation in makeup and costume before each performance. The show demands great concentration and stamina from its performers.