Tamil Nadu: Part 2

March 2, 2011

This is part two of my Tamil Nadu post, so read part one first (at least the intro) if you haven’t already!

From Thanjavur, I took a beautiful train ride up to Pondicherry, where I took a few days off from the day to day traveling. Pondicherry is a former French colony, and like Goa, it still retains its “Frenchness” (Portugueseness in Goa’s case)  in its architecture, language, food, and street signs. It is also the setting of the beginning of the book, “The Life of Pi,” which I happily finished there. I made a new friend and drinking buddy, Imran, who is a drum-selling street-vendor from UP. We rented a scooter one day and headed up to Auroville, which is a big commune that looks like its straight out of the States, complete with a massive building, the Matri Mandir, at its center that looks a bit like a gold version of Boullee’s Cenotaph for Isaac Newton.

-Pondicherry’s mornings mostly consist of dads bringing their kids to school on scooters.

-My first Indian accident happened on the bus to Pondy. The driver tried to overtake another stopped bus and cut back in too soon, resulting in some loud noises, everyone turning around worriedly, some pretty intense cosmetic damage, and some emotional shouting between drivers.

-Cows cross the road just like people do, inching their way forward and praying they don’t die.

Mahabalipuram was probably one of my favorite towns in South India. It has temples, ruins, beaches, and a strong expat scene (which means a super laid back atmosphere and all kinds of food). Its not too overwhelming; you can walk across town in ten minutes. The ruins here are all in one nice grassy park, with goats happily grazing next to families having picnics in the shade. The area is historically famous for stone carving, and as you explore the ruins, you stumble across stunning bas-reliefs, caves, rathas, and temples, all carved straight into the rock. During the day, I met a fellow traveler and guitarist, Nils, from BC, and then spent the evening with him and a didgeridoo-playing friend jamming out in open-D♯ on the street to a crowd of locals and tourists.

-A real highway between Mahabalipuram to Chennai! No potholes, clean, wide, its like being back in America!

-The decrepit buildings flying by outside the window, once gloriously designed and freshly painted, they are now crumbling, crowded, soot covered remnants of what they once were. But their age gives them inherent value, strengthened by the juxtaposition of life seen in the potted plants and colorful clothes hanging to dry outside.

-And oh, the smells. You have no choice but to love it. Burning trash, low tide, high tide, bus smoke, auto smoke, people smoke, sewage filled rivers, slums… That subtle mix of exhaust and burning trash, with a hint of occasional sewage is defining of India. And not in a bad way; I mean, it is bad, but somehow I love it. It is a constant reminder of where I am.

And finally Chennai, which everyone told me to skip, but I was determined to see, mostly because I was curious to see what a massive Indian city besides Mumbai was like. And, perhaps because I was there on a Sunday, or perhaps because I met some great people there, I rather enjoyed it. Sure, it was crowded, dirty, dusty, smelly, loud, pushy, sticky, hot, and overwhelming, but where isn’t? I stayed in a great old Muslim neighborhood, with old narrow streets and plenty of neighborhood spirit, and spent a half day with another taxi-tour guide friend, Raja, who charged me 50rs ($1) an hour to see everything, as long as I went and visited some souvenir stores he got commission from. Deal! I got to sneak into and photograph a truly stunning building, the empty-on-Sundays High Court of Madras, and I took advantage of Raja’s store visits by learning all about Pashmina scarves, wood carvings, and semi-precious stones, and worked on my bartering technique… although I never ended up buying anything.

And, as if it couldn’t get any better, on the plane’s radio on the way back to Bombay, “Low Rider” came on right as we touched down. Perfect.

2 Responses to “Tamil Nadu: Part 2”

  1. Hal Spitzer Says:

    John,

    The trip of a lifetime. How exciting! It’s been a real pleasure to tag along with your comments and pictures. Why back to Mumbai and where do you go next?

  2. Mom Says:

    Hi, I was in CT with Beegha this past week and she showed me this site. Very, very beautiful pictures and so good to know you are having a truely spectacular time of a lifetime. I like the pix of you best because I DO miss you, but am happy in your happiness.
    I love you,
    MOM


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