Published: February 14th 2013February 14th 2013
Notes From A Dug: Chennai to Mahabalipuram
On this part of the trip, the Three Women and a Dug found their collective voices and it involved a lot of barking. Leaving Chennai, our first stop on the road to Mahabalipuram was at the temples of Kanchipuram. Our guide for this stop was a Brahmin priest who was also a part-time tour guide. If anyone could present a context to the stream of temples we have been seeing, it should be this boy. Unfortunately, he was also a part-time English speaker. The only context he could provide was, "This is Lord Shiva. This is his wife, Parvati. This is the cow jumping over the moon." In other words, we learned nothing. However, what we did learn, once again, (remember the priests at Pushkar that had us recite Sanskrit mumbo-jumbo and try to get us to commit to a $40 donation to their church?) is that, given an opportunity, a priest will do what he can to work the tourists for his benefit. After leaving the temple, this holy man asked the driver to pull over and said, "Do you want to see a factory (three looms) where they hand-make silk
fabric?" Deb, the weaver amoung us said, "Sure, that would be neat." Not neat (more like disturbing) was seeing the only person (a woman) working in the "factory" on one of the looms under the one fluorescent light that was on. Not neat was being herded into their "showroom" where the owner hoped we would buy and the priest hoped he would get a commission. Even our driver, Mr. Vinkie, was upset as he said this guide had taken too long with his tour and was also not supposed to stop at places where he might receive a commission. He promised tomorrow we would have a much better guide. What he really meant was that we would have a guide that he liked better. Yes, he was friendly. Yes his English was better, sorta. But, did he know how to guide? Hardy, har, har. How does this sound, "This is Lord Shiva. This is his wife, Parvati. This is the cow jumping over the moon." In other words, we learned nothing once again. Yes, all our guides are government-approved. Yes, they take a course (30 days). Yes, they learn nothing. The course involves learning how to act like a guide
(i.e. don't try to suck commissions). No learning the history of the area. No learning how to make that history come to life. No language proficiency expected.
Our barking intensifies. Our teeth are showing. Our rabies shots are wearing off.
We reach the conclusion that we can do a better job ourselves by walking though these temples on our own with our guidebooks in hand. Mr. Dug sends an email to Indo-Asia and throws in a request for a newer, cleaner, more powerful vehicle. Yes, we had been spoiled in the North. Deluxe model. Spiffed up inside. A rip-roaring engine. Happy, happy all-round. Credit, though, to Indo-Asia. They responded in 60 minutes. They acknowledged that the guide situation in South India is not comparable to the North. They say we will have much better guides from our next stop onward. They will also send a new vehicle and a new driver. Uh, no. We're happy with Mr. Vinkie. A new, clean vehicle with a real motor in it would be great but not at the expense of Mr. Vinkie. Unfortunately, it appears the drivers are wedded to their vehicles. A new vehicle means a new driver. When I
think about it, for some reason, we were given a vehicle upgrade in the North. That happened just when we were to leave Delhi. That meant, after two days, with one driver, we got a new driver (the magical Mr. Bobby).
So, we stick with Vinkie. He works his pinkies raw to clean the van as best he can. I think clean is a relative term in the Vinkie male DNA. The windows are spiffed but the rest of the interior will continue to look like the interior of Mr. Vinkie's on-the-road accommodation. As we've been told, "Sir, this is India." We're just along for the ride with the affably lazy, Mr. Vinkie. Shake it off!
Pondicherry on the horizon.
There are more photos below