2 Weeks in India | 72 hours in Alwarkurichi & Video Diary

The sixth stop on our tour of India was a tiny little village called Alwarkurichi and it was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. While we were in New Delhi, I started to develop a sore throat which I assumed was because I was getting a cold. But, no other symptoms ever presented themselves so now I'm guessing it was all the smog and pollution that was bothering my throat. This wasn't helped by all of the smoke in Varanasi. So, by the time we made it to Alwarkurichi, I was ready for some fresh air.
We flew from Chennai to Tuticorin, which was the tiniest airport. It only had one gate and we took a little propellor commuter plane.

The views from the airplane clearly showed that we were going from a densely populated city to the countryside.
The reason for our trek to this remote part of India, almost at the southernmost tip, was because D's college professor, Bala, lives there and agreed to host us for a few days. He is an renowned artist (with a current exhibition in New Delhi, until May 2018, and he has a great TED talk, if you're interested). Bala and his lovely wife met us at the airport and drove us back to their home.
On the way, we stopped for some sugar cane juice. It was delicious and it is my new favorite beverage. Basically, sugar cane is squeezed between this hand-turned press; it's passed through a few times because a lot of liquid will come out of a small chunk of sugar cane. It's mixed with a little ginger juice and lemon juice and it's just subtly sweet and really refreshing. I highly recommend you try it if you've never had it.
Also on the way home, we stopped to look at some of the handmade woven mats that the village of Pattamadai is known for. They use a grass that grows commonly, strip it, dry it, dye it, and weave it into these amazing mats. The finer the strips, the softer the mat.
Bala's home was about a two hour drive from the Tuticorin Airport. Once we arrived we were introduced to Bala and Sharmila's son, who was adorable, and we were taken on a tour of the home. It was so lovely with essentially three areas: the kitchen/dining area, the main house which has an amazing courtyard, and Bala's new studio, which is currently under construction. I felt so lucky that he wanted to share his home with us.
For lunch, we had a home cooked meal. Because Bala is vegetarian, we were vegetarian while we were there, which wasn't even a big deal for any of us since none of us are big meat eaters anyway.
This meal consisted of a delicious biryani made with cinnamon and cardamom, spiced potatoes, drumstick (also known as moringa), and lots of onion raita and carrot raita. It was delicious. I especially loved the drumstick. Bala showed us how to eat it: you basically press it so it will split into its naturally occurring three segments and scrape off the meat inside, either with your fingers or just with your teeth directly into your mouth.
I also met the two cutest dogs, Ginger and Cookie. Ginger is the boy and Cookie is the girl and even though I tend to like boy dogs better than girl dogs (I'm biased because of my own son), Cookie was such a love bug and she and I became best friends right away. I also learned how to say 'dog' in Tamil: "nai."
It was pretty unbearably hot so we cooled down with some chilled watermelon as a snack in the afternoon.
For dinner, we all piled into the car and went into town.
We were introduced to paneer 65 and cauliflower 65, which is just the names of a dish popular in this area. It's breaded in a spiced batter and fried and it is delicious. I actually hate cauliflower but this is my new favorite thing ever.
For our mains, we each got something different so we could try everything. We got chapati, ghee roast dosa (which is one of my other favorite things), and rice noodles. We were given loads of different curries and chutneys to try - which were ladled into our dishes by servers carrying huge buckets - and we used our hands and ate to our heart's content.
We also got an assortment of uttapam, which are like savory pancakes and they are awesome. The onion one in particular was my favorite.
As an after dinner digestif, I had a ginger tea. It was similar to a masala chai, except less complex. It still had a great spicy flavor. I was confused by the presentation though and I asked, "Why is there a bowl underneath and why did they spill a bunch of chai in it?" Sharmila demonstrated that it's used to toss the tea back and forth so that it will cool down and be easier to drink. Genius.
The next morning, I woke up pretty early and was greeted by the whole family. Little S asked me to play some football and then we ate breakfast together.
I started with a masala chai, homemade of course, and a delicious savory cracker.
I also had some more hot breakfast, which consisted of pillow idly (which are made with lentil flour) and curry, as well as a fresh hot dosa.
I followed Sharmila into the kitchen so I could watch her make dosa and chai. For the chai, she started by adding a clove, cardamom pod, a knob of ginger, mint leaves, and cinnamon to a mortar and she used a pestle to break everything up. She added a good amount of milk to a little saucepan, added in the spices and heated it up. Once it was boiling, she threw in some black tea leaves and let it simmer for a few minutes before straining the whole thing into a cup.
Whilst enjoying our breakfast, we saw a peacock lounging on the fence, at which point I thought to myself, "Is this real life?"
After breakfast, Bala asked some of his workers to take us into town so we could buy spices as souvenirs. One of the guys was his driver and the other was the only one of his staff that could speak English.
I bought cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, garam masala, ginger, turmeric, and loads of saffron.
When we returned, lunch was ready for us. We had rice, curry, fried yams, a vegetable similar to green beans, and a tamarind chutney. Again, everything was divine. I suppose home cooking is the best cooking because it's made with love, right?
Bala's dad had prepared a delicious fruit bowl so we enjoyed that for dessert.
In the early evening, we all went for a drive around the village and to the nearby dam for a nice walk.
It was gorgeous at the dam. It was closed but we were still allowed to walk around a bit. One of the workers told Bala that we had just missed a cheetah eating some goats. It was crazy because we were told that there were elephants, cheetah, tigers, black panthers, and so many other animals in the surrounding forest and we did see warning signs for predators, including tigers, but we didn't actually see any with our eyes. I wish we had; it would've felt like we were on safari.
Though we didn't see any wild animals, we did see buffalo and cows being herded home.
At home, we all ate dinner together. We had roti with paneer, roasted beets, and carrot raita. It was a simple dinner but it was well-balanced and delicious. The beets were fantastic.
After dinner, we went into town because D spotted a bag while were at a gas station earlier that morning (during our trip to get spices) and she had to have it. It turns out that the bag is quite common and cheap so she picked out three different patterns to purchase.
At home, we tried a lemon and ginger drink with saffron. It was light, tart, and refreshing. Sharmila said that all the Indian girls like to drink saffron because it makes your skin glow; I told her, "I will be chugging saffron tea from now on."
On our final day, we all woke up early so we could accompany S to school and check it out. Bala and his wife actually built this school for the kids of the village, which I found awe-inspiring.
We started the day with another hot breakfast. I couldn't eat the delicious tapioca pearls that had been prepared because they contained peanuts, and I'm allergic; full disclosure, I did have a taste and they were awesome but I did pay for it the next day with an itchy throat. Instead, I had some leftover idly crumbs mixed with some spices with some yogurt, which was just as good.
The school was so beautifully done. The building itself was great, of course, but the thing that made this place super special was all of the learning tools, the toys, the decor; it was exactly the type of place I would've wanted to spend my pre-Kindergarten years. They also had the sweetest mini kitchen so that the kids could learn how to cook and they even had a little ironing station.
After the tour of the school, we left pretty swiftly so the students could get back to learning without us foreigners distracting them.
Bala had hired a driver to take us to some temples but he was running late so we stopped by the artisan learning center.
We watched artisans and artisans-in-training drawing elaborate designs and carving elaborate designs; it was mesmerising.
While we were waiting for the driver, the swami who runs the learning center gave us some a drink made with water, fresh buttermilk, curry leaves, and spicy peppers. I had a sip and it tasted really savory and I think it would be a great flavor for cheese but I couldn't drink the rest. I felt awful but they were all really gracious and told us we didn't have to finish it. Bala consoled me by saying that it would be used to feed the plants and it was fine.
Soon enough, the driver arrived and took us to some temples. Unfortunately, they were both closed but we enjoyed the drive through the countryside nonetheless. It was fun to see the landscape and to enjoy the rides through the little villages.
For lunch, we stopped at Ramana's. We had a difficult time communicating what we wanted to eat. We had to phone Bala to help us and in the end, we were pleased to be served a plate of cauliflower 65, pilau, noodles, and paneer butter masala.
I ate with my hands like a real southerner.
After lunch, we wanted to visit the nearby waterfall so our driver took us up the mountain.
I was hoping we'd see some tigers but alas, all we saw were some adorable monkeys.
All of the locals come here to cool down. It was interesting to see what people wore as swimwear. There were guys in full on jeans and polo shirts drenching themselves in the waterfalls. On the girl's side (yeah, the genders are separated for propriety), all of the women were in their best saris; I'm talking the kind of saris with gold embroidery.
After the falls, we were sufficiently worn out so we went back home for a rest. In the early evening, all of us recovened and we went into town for a ginger tea. It was hot and spicy and delicious.
We also went for a drive around the neighboring lands to check out the potential plots that Bala and Sharmila had explored before they settled on the current location of their house. We saw some gorgeous landscape and enjoyed the striking colors of the sunset.
When we got home, we enjoyed one last dinner together. We had the same delicious pilau we'd enjoyed on our first night, chickpeas, and a spiced egg dish. I learned you can do much more with hard boiled eggs than just eat them plain.
After dinner, we all chatted a bit and then went to bed. The next morning, we got up, had one last play session with S, and then we were on the road to our final city.
Here's the video diary: