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!

1 comment:

  1. Yeah!.....can't wait to get on the road again etc. You two look like a couple of kids (from outer space) on that machine! We are really enjoying your blog. Faithful followers (never leaving home). Just finished a very tasty lamb stew cooked by Kim and now we are going to watch the 3rd instalment of Masterpiece Theatre's Foyle's War. Blissful Christmas Eve so far though teaming rain. Love, Edith