During our time in the Yelagiri Hills we got to know a local family Sathiya and Parimala quite well (mainly through Parimala being very patient with us and teaching us how to cook). We were offered an amazing opportunity to visit Parimala’s village and stay with her family during the festival of Pongal which we couldn’t refuse. For those of you that don’t know, Pongal is a 4 day-long Hindu celebration where they thank the Sun God (Surya) for their harvest.
So, we made our way to the small village of Aathur Kuppam where Parimala was brought up and her family still lives. This involved going on one of the local buses (15 rupees each, for an hours journey) down a narrow winding road past hundreds of cheeky monkeys waiting to pounce on the thrown out rubbish and at any unsuspecting tourist caught in traffic with their window down. After the hairy bus ride we caught a tuk tuk to Parimala’s Uncle’s (literal translation in Tamil is “little Daddy”) house.
Our tuk tuk ride was scenic to say the least; we passed through tiny rural villages, colourful Rangolis and fluorescent painted houses. Rangoli are hand drawn patterns painted outside front doors with white flour to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck. During festivals, the local ladies go the extra mile and paint them with brightly coloured powder (the same used in Holi) and make the patterns more intricate.
Parimala’s “little Daddy’s” village was sandwiched between the main highway and a railway line which we had to walk over rather quickly to escape becoming dogs dinner (quite literally). Her aunty and uncle were extremely welcoming, and after several broken conversations in English (and lots of smiling) we were invited to sit down for lunch. It’s customary for visitors to eat before everyone else, so despite us saying we were happy to wait, they insisted we ate first whilst every family member watched us offering more and more food until we could pop. We sat in a food coma resisting sleep whilst the rest of the extended family ate until Parimala told us it was time to go to her family village.
Both of her family homes could not have been more different. Her brother’s newly built house was 3 storeys high with marble floors, granite worktops and 6 rooms, whilst her parents house was in the back garden on the same plot of land. They only had 3 rooms (one of which was a shrine) with a tiny front door and a traditional fire-pit cooking stove outside. It was incredible to see such a stark contrast between the generations.
Word must have spread around the village that we were visiting as there was a constant stream of people walking into their home just standing, staring and smiling. We felt a little awkward but we couldn’t blame them as we later found out that we were the first white people to visit the village. Parimala kept introducing them to us as her sisters, and we went with the flow as larger families aren’t uncommon in rural India. Little did we know… this term actually meant close friend.
After following the loud drum music being blasted out from several huge speakers, we reached the temple to find about 500 villagers all circled around 3 performers. We cannot stress how loud the music was! Within seconds, a man on a microphone was beckoning us to walk down the aisle of men to sit at the very front!
We couldn’t find anybody to fully the explain the meaning behind the dances but it seemed like the 2 ladies (we think were dressed as peacocks) were vying for the attention of the joker character. It ended up getting pretty frisky which was surprising to see in such a modest country.
After a while the master of ceremonies interrupted the dancing to honour the elders of the village with white robes, it was a surreal situation, however it was to get even more surreal as “Jack get up, get up!” was hissed at us from behind. The MC came towards us to put white robes around our shoulders. feeling rather silly but also like royalty we thought to ourselves “What is going on?!” We received the loudest cheer from the locals for seemingly doing nothing, which really did make us feel like royalty!
We were told the dancing would continue all night as they made their way through the village so we went for a tactical nap before Parimala woke us up again at 2am. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the SAME dancers from 6 hours ago still full of energy whilst we looked and felt like zombies! Beautiful women in their sarees were holding baskets of fruit, coconuts and flowers on their heads as offerings to the Gods. There was a parade float-esque shrine following the dancers carried awkwardly on stilts by about 20 men whilst fires were lit. A health & safety nightmare….TII!
The next morning we were invited to Parimala’s (actual) sister’s house in a nearby village for iidli sambar, a very common breakfast made of poached rice balls and curry sauce. We caught the attention of some young engineering students who wanted to practice their English with us. It wasn’t long before their father invited us into their house for some chai! The Indians are so hospitable; it doesn’t matter whether they have a tiny 1 room house or a mansion, they always want to make you feel welcome.
We were soon summoned back to Parimala’s village as the bull racing had started. The bulls are dressed up like Christmas trees with coloured rope, tinsel and bells. The cows were lined up and made to race down the main road of the village. It was very entertaining to watch but the cows were treated pretty roughly and we couldn’t help but think that it was probably the only day of the year that it wasn’t great to be a cow in India. So, we found it hilarious when they decided to buck and run into people’s houses!
After watching over 100 bulls gallop down the street, it was time to leave as we had to get back to work. What an opportunity of a lifetime. Money couldn’t have bought the experience and we are so grateful to Parimala and her family for their hospitality. Until next year!