Friday, January 25, 2013

The Community of Auroville

We are flying back to Chennai to spend our last two days in India in the community of Auroville.  Our early morning flight has been postponed for the afternoon and for once we are pleased about the unpredictability of India because it gives us one more lazy morning breakfast in our beautiful resort retreat.

We arrive in Chennai to find our transport to Auroville waiting for us.  So far so good…but we had asked Chand, our Intrepid guide to arrange this leg for us rather than following the directions of our host Ambre, who had asked us to contact a special transport service down in Auroville.  Lack of a phone and internet has made our journey in India a little difficult.  The problems arise when we arrive around 8 at night in Auroville to discover that our driver has no idea how to get to Nilanthangam, the forest retreat we had booked our accommodation in. 

We call Ambre who is not pleased to find out we had not followed her instructions and she directs us to the local taxi service who may be able to help us.  We find the taxi service in the little village of Kuilapalayam and persuade one of the chaps to jump in our vehicle to show us the way.  He finally agrees and we part with 150 rupees for his services.  We feel a bit nervous as he directs our driver to turn into a little dirt road.  The road veers into the jungle and in the dark the twists and turns of this windy road seem to lead nowhere.  Finally, we come to a gate at the end of this dirt road..but the way ahead is pitch dark.  We have arrived at our retreat but they are in the midst of a power cut.  A call to Ambre follows and finally we see the speck of a tiny torchlight in the distance. 

Collages2We had actually found our way to Nilanthangam, against all odds.  Our trepidation gives way to relief as Ambre greets us and shows us to our hut in the jungle.  It is basic but spacious with a loft that has a mattress on the floor for us to sleep on.  There is a basic open air, outdoor toilet that has been built discreetly in the bush near by.  We light candles and feast on the fruit we brought for dinner, feeling relieved to be finally here and to find ourselves in this incredible place.   The night is eerily quiet and we lie awake for hours listening to the strange sounds of the animals outside.   

We join Ambre and one of her guests for brekkie and get our bearings of the area.  Jahn. a German traveller gives us a well used map of the area.  We will have to make our way out of the jungle on foot, back to the village we had come to the night before.  From there, a rickshaw will take us to the visitors centre where we can learn more about this community.

Auroville is a unique place.  It has come about from the vision of a French lady lovingly referred to as The Mother in these parts.  Her vision achieved together with Sri Aurobindo, her spiritual collaborator and together they have created a place where people of all nations would live in harmony, combining the eastern dream of perfect spirituality with the western dream of a perfect society.  This place started in the sixties with people such as Ambre, who were rebelling against society in general.  The vision of these early settlers for this land which was a barren desert was incredible.  They defied all odds to create a green oasis which has attracted  about 3000 Aurovileans from about 40 countries around the world including India.  We watch videos and visit the Matrii Mandir, an incredible construction that has built to enable the settlers to meditate in their quest to discover their inner self.  The limited time we have here does not enable us to go inside the dome but we gaze on it from outside, amazed but the vision and creation of this structure.

P1230086Later that evening we chat to Ambre and the other guests and learn more about this collection of communities.  Some of the early settlers have gone back but there are many others committed and dedicated to this place which seems to be a little bit of Europe in the middle of India. 

There are numerous workshops on everything from dance and yoga to taichi and tarot card readings.  You can go for lectures and learn the principles of integral yoga and how it relates to your entire life.  There are numerous projects happening around the place such as at Sadhana Forest, a reforestation project of another desert area which we visit on our second day.  The eighty or so volunteers from around the world live in makeshift bamboo huts and are recreating another piece of Auroville.  During our walks around the area we have seen numerous communities, some of them gated, some of them set far back from the road.  We don’t have time to really get into the spirit of this place but it doesn’t quite have the vibe we are looking for. 

There are people here from all walks of life, looking for very different things.  Some of them are here to search for themselves, to discover their spirituality.  Some have come for that sense of shared community and others driven by a need to volunteer in the eco friendly reforestation projects.  We eat at the solar kitchen where visitors and residents are treated to a healthy lunch for a meagre hundred rupees.  The queue of people winds its way past the entrance and spills on to the street.  The cheap meal appeals to both locals and visitors alike and is obviously a popular component of life in this community.

We eat and make our way back to the forest.  Today, we leave Auroville to catch our flight out of Chennai that will take eventually take us back home.  This trip to the sub continent has been an interesting journey.  It was Steve’s first visit to these parts and although it was a fast paced and sometimes difficult trip it was an invaluable experience for him.  It has given him insights into Sri Lankan and Indian life as well as an understanding of Buddhist and Hindu religions.  Steve also tells me that he particularly enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with my extended family and share Christmas and the end of year holidays with them.  The time spent at Auroville will also be valuable in his research into eco villages and sustainable communities around the world.

This journey has ended but it is only the beginning of our travels together….


“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chilling in Goa

Goa was the perfect place to end what has been a hectic tour through Southern India.  We catch a morning train from Hampi to Goa.  The journey will take most of the day and so we are a little bit dismayed to find ourselves in a third class carriage that is grungy, noisy and crowded with local travellers.  We are already winding down at the prospect of a few days of sun and sand in Goa so we decide that for this last leg we might pay a few more rupees to upgrade to second class and complete this leg in a little bit of comfort. 

This trip has enabled us to travel close to the ground and really feel India in a way that is not possible from the comfort of a luxury bus.  But there are times when the whole experience can feel a bit overwhelming and this was probably one of those occasions.  It is another long day of travel and we feel the heat when we hop off our air conditioned carriage.  The trip concludes in North Goa and we find we have arrived in the midst of a music festival.  The town is crowded and busy and I am glad we have booked the next two days in the quieter southern part of Goa.  But it’s time to say goodbye to our friends from the last two weeks of travel.  We scrub up for our last dinner together and enjoy a relaxed evening together.  Tomorrow we will go our separate ways but tonight we will party. 


We have booked our accommodation for the next two days in a place called Palolem.  It is about 2.5 hours south of where the tour has ended but we are really glad we made the journey.   We arrive at Fern Gardenia to find a delightful little resort, close to the ocean.  We are shown to our little chalet and find a beautiful haven where we will be able to totally relax and unwind after what has been quite a tiring journey.  The place is charming and the staff only too happy to oblige with any requests we had.  Free transfers to the beach, ,a great restaurant and pool on-site are a few of the features we will enjoy in the next couple of days.


The beach has just the right amount of activity.  Little beach huts are interspersed with restaurants and shops that sell beach ware.  Indian families intermingle with foreign P1200028travellers in an atmosphere that feels more western than many of the places we have previously visited.  The seafood is fresh and delicious and the ocean warm and inviting.  We are glad of this break to do nothing but chill in a place heavily influenced by the Portuguese who colonised this part of the world many years ago.  White churches dot the landscape and we even find a little sanctuary in the beach. 

Our final night here is idyllic.  The beach is strewn with tables lit by candle light and as we dine on lobster and prawns we say goodbye to Goa….a place I had been wanting to experience for a long while.  Coming down to the south has certainly been worth it.

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If you see the world in black and white, you're missing important grey matter. ~Jack Fyock

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Hamlets of Hampi

We arrive in Hampi, a village in the state of Karnataka in the early hours of the morning having arrived on the night train and 2013 01 17 Hampi (6 of 254)then taken tuk tuks or rickshaws to get here from the train station.  We have a river crossing and a walk before we get to our tribal huts where we will spend two relaxing days.  The rural, relaxed feel of this place is already taking effect.  There is a distinct hippy feel to this village and some of the foreign travellers appear to have been here awhile and made this place home.

The temple elephant is having its ritual bath as we arrive.  I am not sure the pampering and scrub quite compensate for a life lived away from its natural habitat but such is life in India.

We spend a relaxing morning enjoying an English brekkie and the hammocks on our porch before wandering down to the local shops that line the walk to our huts.  I notice the German bakery and 2013 01 17 Hampi (20 of 254)make a mental note to visit tomorrow….the chocolate croissants and other baked goods are tempting after the many Indian breakfasts we’ve had. 

In the afternoon we set out to explore the surrounding countryside which is stunning.  The area is strewn with boulders which contrast with the bright green paddy fields that dot the landscape.  Some of us choose the option of exploring in a rickshaw while others choose to bike.  It i turns out to be one of the 2013 01 17 Hampi (23 of 254)most enjoyable days on this trip. 

We arrive at the lake and are disappointed we were not told to bring bathers.  But Chand, our guide is cautious and not prepared to run the risk of any accidents or upset the sensibilities of the locals. 

A man in a little tub woven from the coconut leaves tries to entice us for a ride but once again Chand says no….he is nervous the little contraption could brake apart!  I’m disappointed we can’t experience the water.  I’ve been in these tubs in Vietnam and know it is a fun experience. 

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We have fun scrambling around the surrounding boulders and enjoy the cool afternoon and spectacular views.  We head off to the nearby Monkey temple a little apprehensive 2013 01 17 Hampi (68 of 254)about what we might find.  It is a steep hike up the mountain and the views get more spectacular as we wind our way up to the top. 

I had imagined a temple teeming with monkeys but there aren’t that many and they are harmless.  This is the birthplace of Hanuman, the Monkey god and a special place for Hindu devotees.

It is quiet and peaceful at the top and we enjoy the views and the atmosphere.  There are just a handful of people and it is the kind of place that invites you to stay awhile, take it all in and reflect on life. 

The setting sun casts a beautiful glow and we feel relaxed and happy.  What a beautiful spot in Southern India, Hampi has turned out to be.

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We spend day two visiting the monuments around town.  It appears it is not just scenically beautiful but also a historically & architecturally significant place.  We have had a wonderful time here.  We have spent our free time enjoying some of the local bakeries and restaurants and had time to take in the beauty of Hampi.  I wish we could stay a little longer but after spending two nights here it is time to move on to the last leg of this Intrepid journey.

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Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds. ~George Santayana

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The City of Silk–Mysore

Our journey from Cochin to Mysore was always going to be tricky but we never guessed it would eventually involve almost 24 hours of travel.  We started off around 4 in the 2013 01 15 Mysore (9 of 137)afternoon and piled into private cars to travel to a restaurant about an hour away where we would stop for a leisurely dinner before catching the train.  The night train was air conditioned and more pleasant that the one we had been in previously.  However, we arrived at a station about 8 kms out of Bangalore which made the rest of the journey a little more tricky.  Our attempt to arrange a private bus to Mysore from this station failed and so we resorted to a couple of public busses to get us to Bangalore.  Getting on a public bus, weighed down with luggage was an interesting experience.  We were fortunate to get some seats but we had inadvertently sat in the ladies section, not realising that the front of the bus was reserved for women.  A group of noisy young women get on and start yelling at Steve – “Ladies, Ladies” they scream.  He looked around him and noticing that none of the other young men were making an effort to get up, firmly stayed in his seat.  A seat frees up next to him and 2 kids and a woman squeeze in, virtually forcing him off his seat.  I am reminded of my bus journeys as a child in Sri Lanka and am glad when we get off with everything intact.  It was an interesting experience but not one I will miss!

We finally have breakfast at noon in Bangalore, before 2013 01 15 Mysore (10 of 137)boarding our final bus to Mysore.  It is air conditioned and comfortable and we arrive at our destination about 24 hours after setting out!  Our time is limited in Mysore, so after a bit of a rest we hit the local markets.  They are a busy, noisy places and a jumble of colours and smells.  They are places where you can buy almost anything for a bargain and are similar to local markets in most Asian cities. 

Young men follow us around making conversation and tempting us with colourful jewellery.  The markets are a photographers delight…so I’m happy.  This city is famous for its silk, and so we eventually find ourselves in an upmarket shop where the girls have fun trying on Indian outfits and finding souvenirs.

The next day we wake up early to visit a Hindu Temple and the Dutch Palace.  Steve and I skip the hike up the hill and take the lazy option of driving up there in the van.  We take a circuitous route and enjoy the surrounding countryside. 

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We are greeted by monkeys feasting on coconuts and vendors selling offerings to the devotees already lining up to get in to the temple.   As soon as we get in the temple, we are quickly guided through by one of the temple priests.  A few flowers in my hair and a pottu on my forehead is followed with a request for a donation.  We part with a few rupees before making our way out.  It is a cool morning and an interesting place to people watch.  2013 01 15 Mysore (51 of 137)

India is certainly a country where religion plays a major part in people’s lives.  No matter where we went, people in their hundreds, dressed in colourful garb, can be found worshipping in what appears to me unquestioning devotion. 

After breakfast we make our way to the Dutch Palace.  It is a lovely walk through tree lined streets in this interesting city and we finally find ourselves in the palace grounds.  The palace is impressive and I think would have rivalled Versailles in its time.  The grounds are well kept and we wander around outside, taking photographs and enjoying the day.

We have enjoyed our time in Mysore and tonight we will catch another night train from Bangalore.  The journey back is more organised as we have decided to take a train to Bangalore, grab dinner there before catching the night train.  The sheer numbers of homeless people at the train station in Bangalore is incredible.  Despite the time I have spent in India I am still taken aback by the homeless men and women sprawled outside the station.  The incredible disparity of the haves and have nots in India is disturbing and I wonder if there will ever be an answer to this problem.  There is no doubt this is a country of extremes and I am not sure I could be confronted with this reality everyday. 

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“Truth is God”  Gandhi

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Kathkali Performance in Cochin

We arrive in Cochin to find a home for a night in a beautiful bungalow that is owned by 2013 01 14 Cochin (101 of 4)Intrepid the company we are travelling with.  The house is open and cool, but fans and air conditioning are also provided in the spacious tiled rooms we were shown too.  I let out a little sigh of pleasure as I open the door to our room.  Ah..this experience is just getting better, and I don’t really want to leave each new place I discover in the State of Kerala.  Without a doubt this is my favourite part of India.

After a farmer’s lunch at the popular Dal Roti cafe, we have a few hours rest before heading out to our first theatre experience in India.  It was an interesting walk through the Cochin fort and Steve remarked he was amazed at the number of churches in this area.  The influence 2013 01 14 Cochin (2 of 8)of the Portuguese is everywhere and the city is laid back and orderly and a far cry for the chaos of Chennai and Madurai.

We are here to enjoy a Kathkali performance.  On the way we are caught up in a colourful procession, vending its way to the local church which will be packed to capacity later in the evening.

Kathkali is a classical Indian stylised dance that originated in Kerala.  It is famous for its body movements, facial expressions and elaborate costumes that are accompanied by drums and the beating of cymbols.   As we walk in, we find the actors sprawled on the stage having their make up put on.  The hall is packed with foreign travellers who walk up casually to the stage with the telephoto lenses to catch a piece of this action. 

2013 01 14 Cochin (4 of 8)We have been given a written explanation of what the play is all about.  It is a rather simple story of boy meets a girl who is married, makes unwanted advances and is eventually slain by her adoring husband. 

Later, we are given a detailed explanation of what each of the hand gestures mean and one of the actors gives us a demonstration of the eye movements.  He can roll his eye balls to every part of his eye socket….it is certainly unnatural, looks strange and makes me feel uncomfortable and amazed at the same time.  The show proper finally starts and lasts about an hour.  It is the most slow moving  theatre I have ever seen and this is just a segment of what would normally be a 6 hour performance.  Other plays are known to go on for up to 12 hours and the die hard traditionalists in a village would probably be the only audience who could sit through all of that. 

Chand, our guide meets us after the show and we walk to the restaurant we have dinner in.  It has been an interesting introduction to Cochin.

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Ammu said that human beings were creatures of habit, and it was amazing the kind of things one could get used to.   The God of Small Things

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Kerala Backwaters Homestay…

Discovering the Kerala backwaters has certainly been a highlight of this tour.  The Kerala Backwaters are a network of canals, rivers, lakes and lagoons fed by 38 rivers with more 2013 01 12 Alleppey Home Stay (5 of 74)than 900 km of waterway.  The backwaters are formed by the action of waves which have created low barrier islands across the mouth of rivers.  This system which has been compared to the Bayou in the US extends to more than half the State of Kerala.  Now clever installation of barriers prevent the intrusion of the brackish water and enables two paddy crops to be cultivated here.  The light green paddy fields stretch for miles and lends a beautiful touch to the landscape.

We are soo glad to be here.  We arrive at the Alleppey train station after quite a journey.  We had taken cars, a packed local train and then transferred to a boat to get here…but it was certainly worth it.  The journey on the water was so relaxing after the hot and crowded train ride.   Steve and I sit outside to enjoy the light breeze, take photos and wave at the locals.  Women from the village wash their clothes and bathe on the banks of these canals and it certainly appears to be the place where you would catch up on the neighbourhood gossip.

2012 01 01 Collages

This area is famous for its houseboats, constructed 2013 01 12 Alleppey Home Stay (8 of 74)from thatching that has been woven from the local coconut trees.  Many travellers spend a night on a houseboat but we are here to experience life with a local family.

Our homestay is certainly different to any of my previous experiences.  I had been expecting  very basic accommodation so I was quite surprised to find our selves in a very comfortable middle class home that was beautifully tiled, clean and comfortable.   I had prepared Steve to expect an outside toilet and to sleep on the floor, so we were more than delighted with the comfortable room we were shown too, with a lovely double bed and its own ensuite.  Incredible India……..full of surprises!

We sat down to lunch of veg curries and rice and chatted to  our family.  Our group has been split to various homes and Steve and I are the only visitors here.  Our family is lovely and have a son studying 2013 01 12 Alleppey Home Stay (46 of 74)in Melbourne so they are pleased to meet us and share stories and photos about him.  The food here is very much like Sri Lankan cooking as they too use coconut milk in their curries.  We have an enjoyable lunch and catch a cat nap before joining the others for a walk through the village.

It is very relaxing here in the village we are staying at and unlike Varkala, which is quite a westernised little town this feels like a truly authentic Indian experience.  As we walk our host explains the benefits of the tropical vegetation we are surrounded by especially the coconut tree, which provides food, thatching, rope, furniture and many others uses for the people here.

Dinner is cooked for us by one of the other families and once again I enjoy the lentils, chicken curry and chappatis that remind me of my mum’s cooking.  I wish we were staying an extra night here but unfortunately, we will move on to Cochin tomorrow.  We wake up early the next morning to chat to our hosts and enjoy the early morning vibe by the water before saying goodbye to the back waters as we make our way back slowly by boat to the waiting transportation that will take us to Cochin.


Today has never happened, and it doesn't frighten me -Bjork

Chilling out in Varkala

We were thankful to get off the train at Varkala in one piece.  It had not been the most enjoyable of train journeys but we had been bracing ourselves for this experience for a few days.  While it was a second class section there was not much privacy in the 6 bunk bed compartment we found ourselves.  There was no curtain to close off the compartment from prying eyes or sheets on the hard benches that transitioned into beds during the night.  The rattle of the train coupled with the whirring of the fan and the cold night air that swooshed past seemed to keep me up for hours.  I finally fell into a half sleep but it must have been deeper than that because I had been completely oblivious to the comings and goings of my fellow travellers during the night.

2013 01 10 Varkala (4 of 27)The hectic chaos of Madurai has finally given way to the tropical, green rather wealthier village of Varkala.  As we drive by private van to our guest house I could almost have been back in Sri Lanka.  We freshen up and head for breakfast and our first view of the ocean from Varkala.   A steep cliff face falls away to reveal miles of beautiful beach and an inviting ocean.  We can’t wait to get down there….but our stomach are demanding we have breakfast first.

The menu has a refreshing mix of Western P1100025and Eastern cuisine and we tuck into sausages and eggs and wash that down with coffee and fruit juice.  The cool ocean breezes, the crash of the waves and the laid back feel of this slightly hippy village lends itself to a relaxed few days.  We are all excited at the prospect of finally unwinding in India.

The time here goes too quickly but we enjoy lazing about in the cafes, long walks on the beach, dips in the Indian Ocean and amazingly fresh sea food.  Perhaps the one thing that put a damper on my enjoyment was the groups of Indian men who seemed to walk up and down this beach just window shopping.  The strict rules that govern this culture means these men are not exposed to women in swim suits and have absolutely no shame in just staring.  I found it a little unsettling but realise that sadly it was the product of a culture that dictated strict rules for the interaction between the sexes and the clothing they wore. 

The other little oddity I found were the uniformed life guards that seemed to blow their whistles every few minutes and gesture madly at someone in the water.  Most people just seemed to ignore them and I wondered how they would fare in a real emergency given the fact they were fully clothed!

2013 01 10 Varkala (11 of 27)We give all activities a miss and indulge in the luxury of doing very little except to tear ourselves away from the cafe for a 90 minute Ayurvedic massage.  The ladies speak little English but keep asking every few minutes if the experience was nice.  Yes – I can vouch for that.  While there was absolutely no ambience in the place and the towels on the beds could have been fresh, they completely unravelled my knotted, travel worn body.  I promise myself to repeat this experience in Goa as well.

This place reminds me of Zanzibar, my favourite spice island and I vow that if we found ourselves in India again, I would certainly make another trip to Varkala!

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"There is more to life than increasing its speed."   Gandhi

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Madness of Madurai

We catch a day train to Madurai.  It is a long ride that lasts all day and allows us to do a bit more bonding with our fellow travellers.  Chand our guide joins in on the interesting debates about marriage and the differences of life in the East and West.  What is most 2013 01 09 Madurai (2 of 120)interesting though is the diversity of opinion about how life should be lived between the travellers from the west.  While some of us argue the benefits of flexible rules that allow for all types of arrangements between people who love each other, there appears to be a strong view that everyone should strive to live according to the more traditional rules of marriage! 

We arrive in Madurai to find a hectic, chaotic city.  The incessant blast of horns and the throngs of people going places never seem to stop.  After rooftop drinks that allows us to look down on the madness, we head to a local bar to get a taste of the real India. 

The bar is grotty and dark and the dingy atmosphere is one I would never have ventured in if I had been travelling independently.  The bar is patronised solely by men and they stare at us, perhaps wondering why we have disturbed their peace.  After a quick beer we disperse to clean up for dinner.   2013 01 09 Madurai (18 of 120)

We wake up early and head across the road for a breakfast of vaddai.  The stand is busy with men having a quick snack on their way to work.  I wonder where the women eat and wonder if I am breaking the rules again as I make my way to the counter and ask for our food to be parcelled up. 

2013 01 09 Madurai (8 of 120)The historic Meenakshi Temple is what has brought us to Madurai.  It is a temple dedicated to Parvati, also known as Meenakshi and her consort Shiva.  This temple is the heart and soul of Madurai and bare-bodied men in dhottis and women in various shades of red and orange fill the street leading up to it.  The temple attracts about 15,000 visitors on average, many Indians travel from far and near to worship here.   It is an amazing work of art and comprises many towers and sculptors.  It made the top 30 nominees for the New Seven Wonders of the World!

Madurai was a photographers delight.  The streets are filled with the most interesting people and I kept stepping back from the group to capture a piece of this city. 

We dine at a beautiful rooftop restaurant and are thankful to escape but we are still drawn to look down on the chaos of this city.  That night we catch the night train to Varkala. 

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"India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of mature mind, understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all human beings."  Will Durant

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Monuments of Mamallapuram

We pay a little extra to hire our own private bus and arrive early morning in Marmallapuram, in time to explore the monuments.  The earliest monuments here date back to the 7th century AD, and have been carved out of the surrounding rocky landscape.  It is a smaller version of Petra and remind us of the ruined cities in  Sri Lanka. 

We had planned to cycle to each monument but no bikes are available so we walk the 4 km instead.  It is quite hot and humid but the occasional breeze and shade from the trees give us a little respite.  It is interesting to walk the streets and experience life close up.  The trees are lined with artisans carving statues, and cows mingle easily with the ladies dressed in bright orange and red sarees.  These ar2013 01 07 Mamallapurum JPEGS (14 of 198)e the shades worn by the Hindu devotees unlike the white worn by the Buddhist pilgrims.  The colours lend a brightness and cheerfulness to the cities that is lacking in the laughter and dancing often seen in African cities.  I don’t get the same sense of happiness that I felt in Africa.

The monuments here are all from the Hindu faith and are mostly temples.  I was intrigued by the lighthouse which was constructed to guide sailors safely to shore.  The original structure, which was actually lit by fire stands next2013 01 07 Mamallapurum JPEGS (27 of 198) to the more modern construction still in use today.   We are quite exhausted by lunch time and walk down to a cafe on the beach.  It is beautiful expanse of white sand, littered with the boats of the fisherman who live here. 

Many sit on the hot sand, stringing or repairing their nets in time for the next catch.  The cafe owner’s bring out a tray with a tantalising array of fish, lobster and prawns.  We choose an assortment of seafood dishes ad indulge in the catch of the day.

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We walk on the beach after lunch to enjoy the cool ocean breezes.  It is a nice change to 2013 01 07 Mamallapurum JPEGS (151 of 198)be in a smaller town after the business of Chennai. 

After a bit of a rest, we visit the Shore Temple in the evening, so named because it is on the banks of the ocean.  A beautiful piece of architecture and a very scenic location.

We visit the Moonraker restaurant that night to dine on Tuna steak, which is tasty despite being drenched in garlic butter.  The restaurant reminds us that this area too was influenced by the 1970’s culture of the west.  We get a few staples for our train ride the next and turn in.  It has been a long day.  The hotel we are staying at is very basic but we are thankful for the whirring of the fan which allows us to drift off to sleep.

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“He who litters, opens Evil’s door” sign in Mamallapurum

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Postcard from Chennai

We arrive in India in the early hours of the morning and check into our hotel with out too many dramas.  It is exciting to be here with Steve and he is already realising that India is 2013 01 06 Chennai JPEGS (5 of 16)a slightly more chaotic version of Sri Lanka….and this is a Sunday.   The airport is more like a bus stop and except for the taxi stand and a few ATMs there are not too many attractions for visitors from overseas.  We get to our hotel without getting ripped off and after checking in decide to take a tuk tuk to check out this city. 

The guy at reception has instructed our tuk tuk driver to take us to express street.  We thought it was  a local market but it turned out to be a massive shopping centre.  He obviously hadn’t realised we were not that kind of traveller.  Still, the mall provided a respite from the heat and chaos and the smells and sounds of this city…2013 01 06 Chennai JPEGS (10 of 16)and we thought it might be a good opportunity to get a sim card.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  The misuse of the internet has caused the government to put a 10 day hold on activating a sim card!   Not too great for travellers…but there was not getting around this!  This was to be our first example of Indian Bureaucracy at its best.  So, despite the fact we had come prepared with a mobile modem, we were not successful in setting up WIFI access. 

That afternoon we meet up with our Intrepid tour leader and group.  We are 12 travellers in all.  Besides another couple from Sydney, 2013 01 06 Chennai JPEGS (13 of 16)the group comprises of all females from the UK, Australia and a girl from Denmark.  We make friends as we travel to the Chennai Beach.  The beach is another example of how different life on this continent is.   The beach is teeming with activity.  People are selling al kinds of wares and families are sitting around gazing at the water.   Strangely, there is no one in the water.   Our guide Chan tells us that at its peak there could be 50,000 people here!

I think the smells, incessant sounds of honking horns, chaotic traffic, people milling about and spilling on to the street have all taken Steve by surprise.  This is a little different to Sri Lanka.  We visit the local cathedral and head for dinner.  Most meals on this trip will be Indian and Steve is about to get a baptism by fire…!

2013 01 06 Chennai JPEGS (14 of 16)

In religion, India is the only millionaire……the One land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.  ~ Mark Twain (American writer)