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Created and written by Laurent Sauerwein
on the iPhone Pocket Publishing Platform

September 2009

I'm with my wife on a trip in South India, and about to start posting short BLURBS, written on the road, 140 characters at a time.

We left Pondicherry at 9:30, destination Elephant Valley near Kodaikanal, up in the western hills of South India. 450km, 8-hour drive.

So, this is our South India trip in tweets - not your regular travelogue, or slide-show. Nothing to SEE in fact. Read on. Imagine.

Beyond the usual lapidary headline with a link, I try to open a STORY in every tiny tweet. 140 characters. Not more, sometimes less.

Traffic on Indian roads is quite original. They drive on the left, but ALSO on the right and in the center too. All coming toward you.

Small lone character sitting in the shade, at the foot of a large unfinished construction, overwhelmed by what's left to be done ABOVE.

UNFINISHED, many things are in India. To some it spells despair, to others it means room for hope. For all, it simply means work to be done.

COWS are sacred in India. They're everywhere and their horns are often painted. Red, green, blue or the colors of a political party.

The sacred cows of India belong to people. Bought and sold, they wander freely all day and find their way HOME in the evening.

Every small Indian town seems to have its SPICK AND SPAN College of Engineering or Universal Teacher Training Institute. Booming business.

Miles of delicate FLOWERS border the
4-lane unfinished highway. Yellow trucks come to water them. The river under the bridge is dry.

INDIA - She is walking fearlessly, feeling the wind of speeding trucks, with nothing on her feet and a bundle of dry wood on her head.

NEW concrete box-like house near Trichy, Tamil Nadu, South India. All in vivid colors: tacky orange, acid green and dark deep blue.

The highway ends many times, with a sign: DIVERSION. It's like a series. Bumpy roads make you long for the next episode.

The highway is a boon and a calamity, BOTH. It cuts the landscape - and villages - in two. Walking accross is dangerous but frequent.

Villapuram, South India - He is sleeping, collapsed on a SANDPILE inside a filthy ruin, his arms thrown above his head. He could be dead.

HERDS of tiny light-footed black goats move 'en masse' over the fields and spill into the streets, like the shadow of a cloud.

Several large GRAY concrete skeletons of buildings alongside the road. "The students already paid, but the school isn't finished."

Schools are everywhere, girls with braids and ribbons, and boys in NEAT uniforms. Education is a priority in the world's largest democracy.

SIGN on the highway: "4 laning in progress". And suddenly it's crazy 4-way traffic. Watch out, a big red truck is coming straight at us!

Trucks are lorries. Gas is petrol. Stores are shops. The British were here once. They left WORDS, cricket and mixed memories.

வணக்கம் means WELCOME in Tamil. It is pronounced Vanakkam. The language dates back to 3000 BC (some say 5000 BC). It is spoken very fast.

ICON - He is barefoot, dark skinned, standing in the street with long black hair and just a white loin cloth, talking on his cell phone.

Tweeting on the Indian road. 140 CHARACTERS for how many miles? No, take your time. One character = one human being. Infinite equation.

Luscious green palmgroves, spicy idlis for breakfast, scarlet sari on dusty road. BEWARE of total immersion and seduction. Use your head.

In 10 years, 50 million farmers fled the countryside to become destitutes in city SLUMS. Agro-multinationals do not help (gross euphemism).

150000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in the past 10 years, mostly after FALLING behind in payments to voracious local money lenders.

Carrying a load of WOOD on her head, a woman holds with difficulty her green, partly undone sari, baring the dark skin of her body.

Deep in the shade of a thick palm grove, a small glowing hut, a goat and a dog, both black. A woman throws wood into the FIRE.

We're not tourists. We LIVE part of the year in India, which means that we don't really tour. We simply live, work, and let it all sink in.

INDIA - 10 crammed into a speeding, noisy, HONKY-TONK, honking, 3-wheeled motorized rickshaw, made to carry only 4 plus the barefoot driver.

A man urinating, unabashedly projecting an ARCH of piss from the top of a small hill on the side of the road.

Piss and crap, and not just cow dung: HUMAN. With very rare public toilets, it's everywhere. India is not for the squeamish.

India is not for the faint-hearted. Delicate beauty and filth, extreme poverty and growth, social change and inertia: SPLENDOR and SQUALOR.

LUSCIOUS GREEN are the mountains and forests of the Western Ghats in South India, less affected by drought than the rest of the country.

Bad luck for a truck: PUNCTURED tire just before a curve on the mountain road. The driver is crouched, traffic-side, his life at stake.

At every twist and turn of the road, in the dark, deep, silent Shola forest of South India, a sign says "PLEASE HONK".

We didn't see any ELEPHANTS in Elephant Valley, but it doesn't mean that they are not somewhere around the posh mountain resort.

In Pumbarai, PERCHED in the mountains, a small temple to Murugan, brother of Ganesh, both gods. Hindus have millions of gods to choose from.

HIGH in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, Chinnabalu the farmer raises carrots, potatoes, beetroot, garlic and cabbage in his terraced fields.

Chitra, his wife, pushes long thin logs into the fire. Surrounded by family, she offers us TEA with a hauntingly beautiful smile.

We would never have met these gracious mountain people without our friend and able driver THARANI. He has known and loved them for years.

Thar's little cell coverage up in them South Indian hills. So I can't tweet from my iPhone Peripatetic Publishing Platform. Have to WAIT...

OPTICAL safety: stark black and white wobbly checkers painted on tree trunks lining both sides of the road to Koddaikanal, South India.

We looked for 'kurinji', a mountain plant which blooms every 12 YEARS. People pointed in various directions. No luck. Blooms next in 2018.

Difficult to find a plant on the Indian mountain side if you don't know what it LOOKS like. Out of cell coverage no checking on Wikipedia.

Couldn't find blooms-every-12-years 'kurinji'. Just as well: you'll have to IMAGINE it. Or check fathomless Wikipedia: http://bit.ly/m82nM

In Pumbarai, up in the mountains, there are NO DESKS in the classroom. Young students are taking a dictation with notebooks on the floor.

No rigid ROWS in small Tamil mountain village classrooms. Kids are scattered or in circles, but teaching methods are alas less creative.

Life on the FLOOR in India: to learn, but also cook, eat, sew, work, play, make love, sleep, dream, give birth, watch TV and die.

MONKEY running away with a full bottle of orange soda snatched from a distracted tourist. Will he know how to twist the top off?

Ah, for a cool glass of water. No, it's a metal cup in India. But that's GASTRICALLY unsafe. Ah, for a bottle of mineral water then.

In the VALLEY, mountains are close. In the PLAIN, mountains are far. Right now, we're in between. Can't think of a word for it.

Funny, as you drive DOWN the mountain roads, the temperature goes UP. Go figure.

Blazing hot and dry today, the vast Southern city of Madurai was born, they say, from the perfumed drops which fell from SHIVA's hair.

It's in Madurai that GANDHI announced that he would wear only KHADI, hand-woven cotton, until India had won its independance.

A Hollywood movie on HBO in our hotel room in Madurai, South India. The movie is in English, and so are the subtitles: teaching you to read.

Three 12 year-olds piled up on a WOBBLY bicycle, defying the odds of heavy traffic and bullying yellow trucks blasting ear-busting horns.

Polychrome statue of a Tamil public figure wearing dark glasses, looking at the passers-by in Madurai with HIDDEN eyes.

LOUDSPEAKERS, on Hindu temples and Muslim mosques blast music and calls to prayer. Apparently whispering doesn't work. My cultural bias.

Men and women WHISPER their wishes into the ears of a sacred stone cow in the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.

The gently busy Meenakshi Temple has four soaring towers covered with thousands of colorful gods, many so high WE can't see them.

The 1000 Pillar Mandapam (hall) in the Meenakshi Temple is a quiet place. ONLY 985 pillars actually.

The huge Meenakshi Temple of Madurai has a gentle, FEMININE quality. Intense, casual, generous spirituality. Individual yet warmly shared.

KHADI, hand-woven cotton. Supreme elegance of simplicity and a highly symbolic reminder of Ghandi. Sold in State stores.

U won't find a lot of abbreviations in this modestly tweeted tale. Dont hav 2 uz em. And I actually enjoy the PAIN of doing without.

SWARMS of cycles, motor or pedal. Most bikers don't wear helmets, a few do, and some have one just plonked on the handle bar.

In Madurai, you see more HELMETS on motorbikes. If you are caught without: 100 rupees fine ($2). Second offense: $6, "except aged people".

Neat multicolored PYRAMIDS of piled-up motorcycle helmets for sale on the side of the road to and from Madurai. Thriving business.

Light bulb! <-- meaning brilliant idea. If someone invented ventilated helmets, it would save MANY LIVES in the tropical world.

On the rear window of a small Hyundai car, PICTURE of a life-size soccer ball shattering glass.

BUSINESS PLAN - 1 lakh down, borrow 2 (@ 1.5%). Buy Tata mini-truck. Carry wood, vegetables. Pay bank 4500 Rs/mo. Live on 5000 Rs ($103).

Leaving Madurai. Chettinadu is our next destination. NO RUSH. Instead of touring frenzy and surface circuits, we try to travel in depth.

POPULATION of India: 1.4 billion. But you don't think of that when Sadhana, 2 years old, looks at you, smiling, straight in the eyes.

Women walking miles back to their villages, each with a heavy cardboard BOX on her head: a free TV set, courtesy of the Tamil government.

MORE Hindu temples, a few mosques and Christian churches. Today people walked behind colorful FLOATS representing Ganesh, the elephant god.

There's TRASH all along the road, at least in populated areas: everywhere except in the rice paddies and up in the Tamil mountain forests.

IDLI, a small cake of steamed fermented lentils and rice you dip in a couple of spicy sauces. Luckily idlis come in pairs. Breakfast bliss.

MIRAGE on the hot tar road to Karaikudi, where we might have lunch. 40° C out there, A/C and many bottles of water in the car.

A/C is not precisely eco-friendly, I'll grant you. But these long drives across South India would have been LIQUEFYING hell without it.

Relief: SMOOTH highway to Trichy, except some people don't seem to have grasped that it's 2 lanes one way, 2 lanes the other. Chaos lurks.

THE BANGALA is where we had lunch in Karaikudi. In a beautifully breezy dining room, served on a banana leaf, the best meal we had in India.

Flat countryside. Suddenly a big rocky mound, like a giant elephant's head. Night FALLS at 7 pm. Sweet early oriental dreams.

TWILIGHT glimpse in Indian town - Traffic stalled to let by a bus, a truck and an elephant, in that order.

We got back to Pondicherry at 11pm. Small shops still open, people busy under NEON lights, sleeping cows and mischievous wandering dogs.

A few more bumps on the earth road and we're safely back in our little home in Auroville, surrounded by the sleepy tropical forest.



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