Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dec 26th Pondicherry

 One of our last excursions at Mamallapuram was out to visit a children's charity home 
 - one of a few in the area that take in
children from the street or from families who can no longer take care of them  - either because of
extreme poverty or parents sickness or death.

We drove out to this particular one since we were approached by a man in town who gave us his card and urged us to join him later in the day when the children would be getting their Christmas cake treat and their new clothes and would be dancing.  It was clear he was looking for money, and we decided what we would give ahead of going there and made the trip to the village.
The children saw us and ran out shouting and waving.  They took our hands and pulled us inside and each one introduced him or herself and asked our names.  We had to sit on chairs while they hugged the wall around the small room and groups of them danced - quite long dances....but performed with such energy and enthusiasm and watched by the other children with such evident pleasure and pride that we enjoyed the sight of both dancers and spectators.  Their teacher, a young woman whose salary, we later learned, is 2000 rupees a month or about $850 kept them in order but gently.
Eventually, the owner showed up - his wife was already there - and after we had taken a little tour, he invited us to review his accounts and activity and make a contribution.  He himself was raised in an orphanage he said and had decided to do this kind of social work which would also provide him with a reasonable living.  The children looked very healthy and happy and all go to school and will stay at the home until they finish high school.  It looked like a successful place all round and we went back next day to add to our contribution and take some treats to the children. 

Hosanna Childrens Home, Poonjeri

The Home on the ground floor is rented from the building owner who lives upstairs.

23 small children with their Xmas cakes

The cook, owner's wife,  teacher, owner's son, & Wendy

The Enfield (c) outside our Pondicherry hotel

 In Pondicherry, we cruised around looking for a place to stay and lucked out at Villa Helena - a haven of an old colonial house with high ceilings,an inner courtyard green with palms, bamboos, banana plants and vines, and furnished with  an eclectic range of chests and stone carvings, bronzes, wood benches and, on the walls, old Chinese movie posters and vintage photographs. Plus! comfortable beds, hot shower, and wifi and marble-topped desk etc.  We could stay two nights - they are booked after that.

Pondy hotel room (luxury - a soft bed & hot water!)
Pondy (ex-French) church

 In the evening, we walked the promenade along with a few thousand others on Christmas Eve.  With the road closed to traffic, it was very pleasant.  There is no real beach in town - it was all large black rocks with the tide right up - maybe sandy beach at low tide...

I am very conscious of looking like a brown sparrow among birds of paradise - the women  in their saris all look beautiful, no matter how humble.  Unfortunately, some young girls are choosing jeans and T-shirts though some wear their jeans with a gorgeous tunic - which seems a happy and comfortable compromise

Next day we drove around looking for a garage or a mechanic on the street who might be able to fix the oil leak we noticed - but had no luck with that  -

Xmas crowds on the beach
 lots of activity everywhere but no mechanics.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dec 24 with additions

Our room at Mamalapuram $13.50 per night

Mamallapuram is a seaside town mainly known for 10 monuments/temples, many of them carved right out of hillocks of rock - the original 12-15 foot diameter boulders seem to have inspired the stone-cutters or the priests or both to construct temples.  We decided there was enough to see to stay a couple of  days.
  1. The beach guest house we found was clean and cheap and staying seemed a great option right on the beach, especially after our two hour trip
from Chennai and numbed bums that needed a break!  It was bare as you can see and very minimal, but adequate.

The bathroom (no hot water)
 We were given towels but supplied our own toilet paper, soap, shampoo...
Happy travel in India depends on 3 things:
1.cell phone
2.toilet paper
3. patience

Thus equipped, the good nature and willingness of everyone overcomes any impediments.
The apparent owner of the guest house was an energetic young man who also seemed to be running a stone sculpture shop, a laundry business and a roof top restaurant, the area for which he was opening the day before we left, apparently expecting an
 influx of visitors, who were not much in evidence as guests. 
One young couple with a 5 year old boy moved into the room next to us.  They had come from Germany to volunteer, she in a hospital and he on a farm for four months - they were travelling on a motorbike as well.

Buying crockery & cutlery

We have seen stalls laden with fruit but generally haven't eaten much nor had the salads we are used to - so we went to buy bowls and plates and forks with the idea of making ourselves a salad sometime. We're wary of the water used in washing veggies so have not sampled the raw mixes that are for sale on stalls.

Truckload of singers & Father Christmas bring cheer
 We were out having a meal in the evening when
suddenly the street in Mamallapuram was resounding with a big clanging and,
to our ears, raucous untuneful singing - it turned out to be a loudspeaker belting out the singing and a truckload of young people supplying accompanying percussion.  The Santa jogged around ahead of the truck shaking hands with passers-by.   That was the extent of Christmas in Mamallupuram.

The roof-top restaurant opens in our hotel

View of beach hotels (incl ours in the distance)

7-8th Century shore temple

The temple at the end of the beach was this fairly large complex that was actually two buildings with  an amphitheatre and what appeared to be rooms  adjacent.

Bats live in the temple

Side view of temple carved from living rock

These school-girlswanted to be photo'd with Wendy


While it is usually us taking photos of the people we see, this was a shift.  Batches of school girls, one leading, asked to have a photo taken with me - Richards was included in some as well!
They spoke English and when asked, one of them said it was their mother tongue. She said where they are at school, but I didn't understand. We have been delighted to see so many girls
in school - a big contrast to what is happening to girls to the north.

One of the monuments was at a lighthouse - there was a broad pathway up to the steps, along which most people walked to climb up to a lookout.  Richard, of course, preferred his own route that required squeezing
between the boulders and defying gravity to
"Why do you make me do these things!!!"
scale the smooth rounded head. 
I was less  than eager but it was not much easier to go back and my shoes have good gripping soles and it was not far to slide back
so I went up only to see ahead the path we could have taken!
Inland lighthouse

Elephant carvings
  This bas relief is apparently one of the greatest of its age. Inscribed into huge boulder, Arjuna's penance "bursts with scenes of Hindu myth and
everyday vignettes of South Indian life. A herd of elephants marches under armies of angels, while Arjuna  performs self mortification so he can be granted Shiva's most powerful weapon, the god-slaying Pasupata."

Vishnu's butterball held in place with one hand!

Wendy's ankle - burnt by m/c exhaust when we fell

 Since it was getting to be around time for a beer after our treks around to the sites, we set off to the liquor store.
Unfortunately, it was nearly dusk and by the time we were to return to town, it was dark and Richard discovered that he could not get the lights to work.  We were thus driving along with all the traffic without lights.
At some point, almost in the town,  there were heaps of sand along the side of the road that would have been quite visible, if clearly in the way and having to be got around, but without lights, they were visible only when we drove straight into one of them and the wheels, meeting some resistance, came to a sudden stop and the bike fell on its side and we fell off - me with my leg caught.  I yanked myself out as fast as I could, but got some burning on my ankle.  No great harm done and useful to know what happens when the bike tips over  :-)

The Bay of Bengal

Still standing !
 The surf was very strong and the waves high - our waiter told us that two 20+ year old guys were drowned the day we were there. We figure they were not great swimmers or went dangerously near the rocks. The water was lovely and the waves fun.  Hard to keep my bathing
suit on though!

Kids find a great plank for a see-saw.
They laboured for some time to haul it to  a bundled net
 and lay it across so they could play on it.

The log goes on the fulcrum

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 22, 2010

Today was our first on the Royal Enfield Machismo 500cc motorbike and our plan was to travel from Chennai/Madras about 80km south to a heritage site on the beach at Mamallupuram.
It was a memorable day.

But before I recount these adventures, I want to return to where I left off in Varanasi when the internet cafe closed down and I was about to write about Sarnath where we spent a very interesting day at the temples and the excellent museum.

Sarnath is a holy site for Buddhists, being the place where the Buddha gave his first sermon after his enlightenment.  Since our tour of Buddhist sites was significantly abbreviated by our unexpected travel plans, (courtesy of our brainlessness and our charming Delhi agent) we were eager to go to this town a short distance from Varanasi.  There is a Jain temple there and also a Buddhist shrine and beside the latter, an enclosed area with a larger than life size statue of the Buddha surrounded by four disciples and a series of inscriptions in multiple languages on stone, probably marble tablets, of the first sermon.

Within this enclosure also was a Bodhi tree that was apparently grown from a cutting of the original Bodhi tree.  We were spied by a couple of young men (again), one who had been sweeping and the other who had been guarding shoes - bare feet are required in all these holy places.  They gestured us toward the tree, us infidels, and unlocked the gate that prevented intruders from coming too close to the tree.  Richard went in and was handed a white silk scarf which he was to tie to the tree and wish - I guess.  I then was given the same privilege and while I tied my scarf, Richard was handed a tin of water and told to water the tree.  Which he did, of course.  We came out and paid the two men.  Although we guessed that they soon went to retrieve the scarves and keep them for others to use (there were no other new scarves on the tree, only a few shreds of white fabric) it was still quite a moving experience.  They also gave each of us a leaf of the tree which we have pressed into one of our books and hope to use to remind us of all the ways in which we should  behave and be in the world.

We also visited the Jain temple and were there treated to an extremely interesting lecture on the Jain by a young man who said he is a disciple. Since he was not naked and has not yet manually pulled out all his hair, two of the requirements of the faith for its last stage followers, he is at an early period in his training.  Very earnest and articulate.

As I mentioned before, we decided against a 24 hour train ride 3rd class to Amritsar.  Irfan was very good at contacting his counterpart in Varanasi and alerting him to the proposed change which meant getting a refund on our train tickets and a transfer of the Amritsar hotel  voucher to an extra night in Varanasi.
Nandu sent his minions to collect us and we were driven miles out to his office on the edge of town to be told what we already knew and then shipped to the railway station, Nandu's deputy with us to 'help' us get the refund.  What happened was that he had us line up for over half an hour - me in the ladies line and Richard in a men's only to be peremptorily told when we reached the counter of the ticket agent that we were in the wrong place and had to go to the tourist office and, in Richard's case, that there were no trains to Madras.

So, after all that, the deputy had no choice but to take us where we should have gone in the first place.  We quickly and efficiently were able to cancel our tickets and get new tickets for Chennai on the day we wanted and at the proper list price.  Such an office was also available to those in Delhi both able to get there without being sidetracked and able to resist the touts.   A great service for visitors.

The train to Delhi left about 9 pm so most of the time we were in our bunks and sleeping.  Once we arrived, we went to see Irfan and get him to refund our tickets, not at the price of the ticket as listed, but something close to what we paid for them.  After some shouting with his boss in their cubicle, he gave us what we asked for so our pride recovered a little.

We spent most of a day in the main National Museum and also a good many hours at the bike shop or going to and fro to it from our hotel.

Which brings me up to today, December 22nd!

Madras - bike loaded

Replacing rear-view mirrors

At last - ready to go!
 We were ready to leave the hotel about 9:30.  Richard spent quite a while consulting our map on how to get out of Chennai and on the road south to Mamallapuram.  He checked with the reception staff, noted landmarks to watch for and put the map in a plastic holder for me to hold and use to guide us.  The first turn was left out of hotel driveway.   The next turn was left to cross the river.  That was as far as we got with the directions and the map, never mind the landmarks.  After that, it was a matter of keeping from being squashed between bus and autorickshaw or hooted onto the sidewalk and guessing where we were going - which turned out to be mostly in circles - large circles - distressingly large - since we were sure we had been down Anna Salai half an hour ago and that guy said turn right at the lights but we weren't sure which lights and anyway had ended up down a  narrow street 3/4 taken up with vehicles and pedestrians and not the main road we expected.  Our most successful request was to ask the way to the beach - and luckily we were not far away and going in the right direction.  Once there, we were more likely to keep on the right road - we thought.  Even then, we faced a choice of one road that inclined left and one right and we took the wrong one.  The map was utterly useless.  Signage misleading unless you knew the city.

Once we thought we knew where we were - about 11:30 by this time - we stopped for a Coke - the only way to clean out the stomach of any lingering bacteria - and some cookies.  Great cookies they make here!

The open road.. the open road! (at last!!) (Toad said)

After another hour or so of teeming traffic - but less aggressive traffic than Delhi's - we hit the open road and a wide, well-paved highway and tooted along breezily for another couple of hours to Mamallapuram where we will stay for a few days - there is a lot to see and do here, including having a swim. 




We rented a clean basic room in a guest house by the sea and have a little private balcony where we can have a beer and look out at the beach and the fishing boats and the people - like the three who were filling trays with sand, carrying it on their heads about 10 feet and dumping it on an area that had got wet and mucky - or the cows being herded along by a small boy.

View from our (private) balcony

Anther shot of the beach

4am - fishing boat launching



At $12 a night it seems like a pretty good deal, though we are waiting for towels and have to provide our own soap.  To get a beer we had to take an autorickshaw 2 km out of town to the liquor store.  This is a small caged shed-like place with a sign we couldn't read and inside, boxes of various kinds of alcohol - beer in a fridge.  To buy, you say what you want and hand your money through the bars.

Today we had fish for lunch and dinner - a treat after a steady diet of vegetarian dishes some of which are mostly liquid to be mopped up with roti or parathas.  Food is delicious but we enjoyed the change.  Also had knife and fork.  Yay! I am quite hopeless at eating with just my right hand and no utensils - always resort to a spoon.

Buying beer - 2km out of town!

We declined this tour - did not go to enuf places!

More Photos

Loading the bike - just prior to falling over in the middle of the road with it!

Packing bike prior to loading on train in Delhi

Docs for rail shipment to Madras

Poor W had to wait for hours!

Waiting for the train

On train - note tent to hide Thai Muslim woman sharing compartment!

Wendy offered R these left-overs!

Indian friends on train

I caught her face with this one!

Watching movie together

Arrival in Madras

Unloading the bike

Electric engine that pulled us for 35 hours Delhi - Madras

Unpacked bike - just needs gas & then ready to go

Fort George museum- mostly on British India. Lots of prints

Materials for making prints

Model of Fort George

Anstruther was captured by the Chinese, beaten, bound & transported in a small wooden cage.  He was eventually released & told the tale

The small cage

A birthday treat for this little boy

Wellington hospital - where Helen (R's sister) was born in Madras