More of Kerala Culture

15 September 2019 – More of Kerala Culture

We have been in India now for 6 months. In that time, we have seen poles like this adorning the grounds of Christian Churches and Hindu Temples, but never at a Muslim Mosque. I’ve never seen such a pole, in all the countries I have visited, other than in South India.

I’ve asked several people what this pole is, and have gotten various answers – so I decided to do my own research. It appears that in South India, where fatal lightening during the rainy season is common, long metallic poles have been erected, to provide a good ground. Traditionally, these poles used expensive metals such as traces of gold, silver, copper, bronze etc, as they were found to be more effective (better conductors). Later, to prevent the theft, either small temples were made near these poles, or these poles were made part of the temple. After many centuries, it became then an integral part of temple and Church architecture. Today, many Kerala Churches, try to replicate the original design by including the metallic post, with a cross on top. In the present day, this post is typically used by the Church or Temple staff as a flag pole. They will hoist a flag or pennant at the start of temple or church festival.

Last week, we were invited to the private home of our friend Varghese for an Onam lunch. Onam is an annual Harvest Festival, a big deal here in Kerala, a 4 day state holiday – on par with Christmas back in Canada.

Though originally a Hindu festival, non-Hindu communities of Kerala participate in Onam celebrations considering it as a cultural festival. The meal, of course, was entirely vegetarian and home-made. It was delicious and had many different tastes.

Here, Varghese’s two sons pose with the family Royal Enfield 350 Bullet, fully restored. I love the classic look and feel of this bike.

Yesterday, we drove to Thrissur to witness the Pulikali (Tiger Dance), one of the ancient folk art forms of Kerala. On the fourth day of the Onam festival, artists paint their bodies like tigers with stripes of yellow, red and black and dance to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda. The Swaraj Grounds in downtown Thrissur plays host to this carnival that has people appearing in various unique hues and masks, with the locals and visitors alike joining in on the revelry.

As we were walking through the city (after parking the car), of course we stumbled upon the usual cows laying down in the street. Nobody owns these cows, they just roam around wherever they want. These ones, of course, are sitting in the shade on the road.

Then, of course, we made our way through the crowds to the city centre, encountering literally hundreds of people who want to say hello and take a selfie with us. Now, I’ve started the policy that if they want a selfie with us, then I want one with them!

There was kind of a drunken ambience with the crowds, although I saw no vendors selling liquor, nor anyone that seemed to be drinking alcohol or using drugs of any kind.
While waiting for the parade to start, we spent several hours “people watching” – just watching average people walk by.

“The streets of Thrissur swelled with people from across the State and the world to view this special event.” That description from a review sounds exciting, but there are a few facts missing. For example, I read in the news that there were more than 1,000 police officers on hand for traffic and crowd control. Yes indeed, I did see a lot of police officers but I thought they were largely ineffective. This is what we came for, what we expected to see, based on Internet reviews.

Together with Peter and Donna (from SV Kokomo), we sat on a steel water pipe from 2:20pm to 6:45pm waiting for the procession to pass by – and still there was no sign of the parade. We had initially been promised that the parade would pass by at 4pm, and that was changed to 5pm. I think if we had stayed, sitting on that pipe, it might have been 11pm by the time the parade passed.

The crowds were massive, in my estimation at least 100,000. The crowds were mostly well behaved but when you got near the dancers, there was a fair amount of pushing and shoving going on. It was dark and very, very crowded. I also read that there were more than 300 people (men and women) dressed up as tigers, but in reality, we probably only saw about 50. This is the first float we saw, and we were very close to it.

It was being reversed, yes, driven backwards down the parade route.

Although there were good viewing opportunities from the road side, side walk or neighbouring grounds, in my opinion the police made no attempt to clear the actual road way. The road was so congested with viewers, the crowds, that the floats and parade had great difficulty making any headway. It was dangerous, something that is not seen in any parade that I’ve seen in a Western country.

This is the second float we encountered.

After this float, a crowd of people followed that were holding a rope and pushing the crowds back, as the “Tigers” came into view.

Finally, we saw some “Tigers”.

14 the tigers.jpg

This YouTube video, although not in English, does provide a visual explanation of the effort that these artist undertook to get into costume.

In retrospect, I’m glad to have had the experience, but it was quite unsafe and overall left me with an unpleasant feeling. There were just too many people, and too much trash – and the crowds made it a risky venue. I would have much preferred to watch this event from the safety and comfort of my home, on the Internet. I have to recall that this tour was indeed my idea. Oh well, this is India.

New LiFePO4 Battery Bank

1 September 2019 – New LiFePO4 Battery Bank

Nearly 8 years ago, while we were in the Eastern Caribbean, we became “early adopters” of an expensive and promising new battery technology. We switched our house bank from lead acid (initially wet cell then AGM) to Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) technology. Starting batteries for the engine and generator remained as sealed lead acid batteries, primarily because they were charged with internally regulated alternators. That switch prompted the requirement for a new purpose built battery charger as well as some minor adjustments to our existing charging systems.

At the time, many people scoffed at us, saying that we were paying “big bucks” for unproven technology. The manufacturer, Lithionics in Florida, guaranteed a 5 year lifespan, which approximated to 2,000 cycles. There is still dispute amongst users as to what constitutes a “cycle”, but I estimate that we have had more like 3,000 cycles in the 8 years that we have been operating these batteries.

We are changing the batteries now, and the primary reason is that they have lost approximately 50% of their capacity. Why? Well, to start with, recall the phrase “early adopters”. Now, 8 years later, there are thousands of other users out there, consequently there is a lot more experience and understanding of how these batteries operate, what is good and what is bad for them.

For example, it is bad to charge a LiFePO4 battery to 100% and let it sit there for weeks at a time. It is better to charge it to 60% and then take it offline. It will easily hold the charge for a year or more. Once full, it is bad to float, or trickle charge Li batteries. Similarly, on a day to day basis, it is better to operate in the 20-80% range than it is to operate in the 60-100% range. It is said to be bad to fully charge the battery to 100% every day. This information was not known 8 years ago simply because there weren’t enough users out there.

All that being said, we realized about 10 months ago that our battery bank was dying. We were about to leave Thailand heading East to India, and although it would have been cost-effective to change it out in either Thailand or Malaysia, it would have also taken time (months) and we didn’t want to postpone our trip to India for a year. The components are rarely found on the shelf, and have to be ordered in primarily from China with lengthy and complicated shipping arrangements. So, we proceeded to India with the expectation that we could replace the batteries here, during our 10 month hiatus. A few weeks after arriving, we learned that importing parts from the USA is probably the most expensive approach, with the high cost of shipping and particularly high tariffs on goods made in the USA. To be frank, ALL of the manufacturers (namely North America, Europe and Australia) rely on Chinese built LiFePO4 modules, similar to the one pictured below.

Although our first LiFePO4 batteries were “made” in the USA, they used modules made-in-China, and still do.

I also investigated bringing in material from China (modules, Battery Management System (BMS), connectors etc), but I found that battery modules would have cost about $2,000 USD, with another $2,000 USD in shipping costs and more than another $2,000 USD in duty. That would have been an investment of $6,000 USD (approximately nearly $8,000 CDN) to make my own “bare-bones” 400A bank (same size as what I currently have). I found the Trojan battery dealer in India and considered buying the new drop-in Trojan Trillium batteries, but that was going to cost nearly $10,000 USD. Alternatively, I sought out and dealt with a reputable, experienced USA-Indian manufacturer, UltraLife (primarily a defence contractor), that worked with me to design and build a custom 400A battery for about $4,400 CDN (approximately $3,300 USD). UltraLife took the specifications that I provided (dimensions, capacity, maximum current draw, maximum charging current) and designed/built a professional solution to meet our requirements.

Last week we drove to Bangalore to meet with the UltraLife people and in particular the Sales Team headed by Jaideep Nandy. They provided us with a briefing to show how the battery was built, how we should operate it and what to expect. This is what the battery, and charger looked like on their test bench.

They cranked up the charging to about 55A and I had a good look at the inside. These are interior photos of the UltraLife battery showing the quality of workmanship.

When we brought the battery to the boat, it was fairly heavy at about 80kg, but it makes a very nice, neat package, ready for installation. The box is made of galvanized steel, with powder coated paint.

These are final, in position photos showing the installation. The battery is a good fit, and there is cramped but sufficient room for the two busbars and 3 current shunts (Magnum, Victron and Balmar) used for the metering systems.

Several months ago, when I was setting up this purchase, I requested a Victron BMV-712 Smart-Bluetooth Meter. This Victron meter is very popular and has been in the market for several years. A few weeks later, I learned that there is an even better meter on the market, the Balmar SG200. This is a very smart self-learning monitor that is said to give a State of Charge (SOC) reading that is accurate to within 97% after only two cycles. SOC is an important parameter to monitor, and one that has proven difficult for the industry to pin down. Most meters “slip” over time, and may give an SOC of 95%, when it could be only 50%. It depends on how long it has been since the battery has had a full, dock-side charge. This is apparently not the case with the Balmar meter, it self-learns with only partial charging, so I had to get one. My strategy will be to monitor current in/out using the Victron display, and at a glance see the SOC on the Balmar display. After using both meters for a few days, I much prefer the Balmar model. The Victron is quite hard to read, with or without the backlight. For this kind of money, they should have put a little more effort into human factors design. The Balmar, on the other hand is top notch.

Not related to the batteries, two months ago we had all our interior upholstery in the settee replaced. The material is excellent, much better than we had before. The workmanship first-rate, at a discounted Indian price.