Marlys and Jim (my cousin and her husband) and I arrived in Bangalore on January 16th, having started out on the 14th from Minneapolis! I had to do some housework and shopping since I hadn’t been in Bangalore for three months. Unfortunately there were cockroaches under the kitchen sink—not too pleasant! But I had some insect stuff, and bought some mothballs and so fixed the problem. Now when I leave for a week, I put mothballs in all of the drains, just as a precaution. I think Marlys and Jim were quite shocked at India at first, but as they acclimated to the dust, noise, dirt, and confusion, they began to like it. In Bangalore we visited a nursing home in which a friend of a friend of Marlys’ is involved.
After about three days of seeing the sights of Bangalore, we got our car, a Maruthi van with a driver that spoke English. Well, it was almost like the van I wanted but it had very dark tinting on the windows so you couldn’t see very well from the backseat, and the driver didn’t exactly speak English, but close enough! His name was Prakash. Except I had heard ‘Rogash’ and so called him that for the first week.
We drove over VERY rough roads about six hours to Kanchipuram, near Madras, straight east of Bangalore. The driving is really something–lots of horn honking, passing oxcarts, and trucks meeting us on our side of the road. Occasionally there was a dotted line down the middle to indicate the two halves of the road, but that seemed to only be taken as a ‘suggestion’ since the trucks and buses didn’t pay any attention to it! It was extremely difficult driving, but Prakash was very good, except he drove us crazy by not shifting gears while going slow or up hills. He had a monkey god hanging from the rear view mirror, on which he would hang fresh jasmine every morning. When the roads were really bumpy (which was all the time) the monkey god would hit the windshield and squeak. He also had a black god on the dash, with blinking colored lights that showed at night.
Then we came upon a street procession for a funeral. We watched a flower bedecked stand in the street where many people had gathered. Three musicians were drumming—they would stop and heat their drums over a little bonfire from time to time (this all was happening outside of the house of the deceased). Then they brought out the body (not covered) and raised him up above their heads, and then put him in the flower stand. At that moment, a HUGE display of firecrackers went off, which lasted about a full minute. They had been rolled out in the street in front of us. The men raised the body on the stand onto their shoulders and poured grain under the body. Two mourners rolled in the grain, and continued to roll down the street under the stand with the body, as others scattered flower petals as they walked.
We followed for quite a while, but eventually had to give up—it was very HOT weather, and I don’t know how far they were going—-to the crematorium??
Kanchi is a city of temples. Each South Indian temple is similar. There is a big goparum over the gate. The main temple is inside the gate with many other monuments and temples. These are all made of stone and elaborately carved. There is always a tank, which is a stone water enclosure about 100 feet square—well, really oblong. You have to tour all of this barefoot, which is really annoying, as there is cow and dog crap all over, plus the stones get very hot. These temples were mostly built around the 12th.C. Wow, what resources they must have had. There are jillions of these temples all over, and they’re huge.
Next was Mahabilipuram, my favorite, which I had seen before. In fact this was the only place that we visited on this trip that I had seen before. Driving between these cities, we observed the rice cultivation activities—now there’s a job I really don’t want!
We stopped at the hotel where I had stayed to see if I could get my email as I needed to keep in touch with my work. We couldn’t get it as they didn’t have the right connections. We spent two nights at a great resort, quite low budget, but air-conditioned and it had a wonderful beach. We visited the 7th century temples and carvings, which are stupendous. The big one is called Arjuna’s Penance. There are many Rathas near the shore and even some that are in the water.
We visited Tiger Cave where Jim made himself comfortable and then admired Butterball Rock, a huge rock thrown up from the sea in some long ago tsunami. There were children sitting in the shade of the rock, which shows how big it is, and how powerful the wave that brought it must have been. Why doesn’t it roll down the incline?
We ate at the Tina Blue View Restaurant and had barbequed fresh tuna. We had great food, a great view of the ocean and shore temples, and good Kingfisher beer—that is the BEST, and of course, since it was hot, we drank quite a bit of it. It’s made in Bangalore, so we couldn’t always get it out east. In Mahabilipuram I bought a bronze dancing Nataraj, which looks really nice in my living room. It’s about three feet high, a dancing god with four arms in a ring of fire.
Driving down the East Coast, we next visited Pondicherry, which was a French settlement at one time. We stopped in an ashram, which had a very solemn atmosphere with lots of flowers and incense. Next was a small temple with a temple elephant, which blessed Marlys by putting his trunk on her head. Pondicherry has a huge compaign about ‘keeping your town clean’ which it was! It really works! The town had signs all over, and was noticeably cleaner than any other. I wonder if the Mayor is a woman?
Sometimes we would see a temple ceremonial cart that had just been used in a parade.
Kumbakonen, of course, had more temples. We visited the 12th century Airatesvera Temple where the priest explained some of the carvings. One was an ‘animal’ that had one body but two heads, ram and elephant.
Thanjuwer, another pretty clean city, offered a great hotel with a beautiful swimming pool, which we made full use of. The weather was pretty hot—and this is the coolest time of the year. I didn’t mind it, but I must be getting used to it. Jim thought it was really hot and ran the air conditioner all night in their room. I just used the ceiling fan and was comfortable. In each of these cities we visited, we ate Indian food. In Thanjuwer we ate a South Indian thalli on a banana leaf with our fingers with four waiters watching our every bite with rapt attention and making comments about us that we couldn’t understand. We also came upon a political rally involving speeches, bullhorns, with flags flying on the autorickshaws.
By now, Marlys and Jim really began to get into it. India is a little off-putting until you get over the shock. The heat was a factor too. We would leave the hotel about 8:00, and drive, or sightsee, until about 11:30. Then we would go back to the hotel to read, rest, talk, eat, swim in a couple of cases, and then go sightseeing about 4:00. In fact, almost everything, including the temples, closed from 12 to 4, which seems like a sensible way to live in this heat. What must it be like in the summer?
On to Trichy—short for a long name that I can’t spell, where we walked around a bazaar that Jim really enjoyed. He bought a bronze pot in Thanjuwer and a bronze boar head in Mahabilipuram. Marlys had fun buying lots of things for her grandchildren. We also saw a big Christian Church in Trichy.
After several drives of only about 40 miles in two hours between cities, we had a long six-hour drive that brought us to a city at the base of the Nilgiri hills, which is a hill station. There are many in India, where the people used to go in the hot summer as it was cooler at the high altitudes. This one was about 8-9000 feet above sea level. We took the narrow gauge steam train to Ooty, short for Ootacammund, but it has a new (unspellable) name now. The train ride lasted four and a half hours. It was a BEAUTIFUL ride on a gorgeous day. There were wonderful wildflowers along the tracks, producing beautiful scents, especially lots of eucalyptus, and beautiful tea plantations as we got up higher. We stopped about three times and could get off for a few minutes. What a wonderful ride! The engine pushed us the whole way, which made the steam and smoke billow out behind us so it wasn’t a problem. We were FIRST CLASS at the very end (beginning) of the train, and so had a wonderful view. A newly married Indian couple was in our compartment and the bride still had the henna designs on her hands and feet. The compartments were all open to the outside.
I had a suite with two rooms, two fireplaces, big bathroom, as did Marlys and Jim. We made a fire or rather the boy did with big wads of kerosene-soaked stuff as the wood wasn’t the driest! Marlys and I visited a church where the Indian secretary told us its history. Indians took over the church in ’81. There was a list on the wall of all of the ministers (priests?) since around 1800. The secretary played the organ and the harmonica for us. We also stopped at the Ooty club, but weren’t allowed in!
Then we had lunch at the Savoy hotel, which was very British. Jim had gotten a cold—see, too much A/C! He stayed quiet at the lovely hotel, with wonderful sunshine. It really wasn’t hot here and we wore jackets in the evening. The daytime started with a sweatshirt, but at noon, just a short-sleeved tee. It actually was the coldest night of the year when we were there. It got down to about 38 degrees F.
I’ll leave you here in Ooty. We’ll be continuing on our journey.