Chennai to Tirupathi & Back Again

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September 1st 2007
Published: September 1st 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Ahhhh! So much happening, so little time to write!

August 28 was a day of jam-packed traveling. We made our way by train from Trichy to Chennai, leaving at 9:15am(ish). We took the non-A/C car this time, which I vastly prefered to the frigidity of the A/C chair car. Sitting by the window with the sun and wind on my face, we made the 6 hour voyage, speeding through fertile rice and sugar cane fields back to the density of Chennai. I really loved Trichy, with its friendly people and village sensibility and was sad ro be leaving it. The train ride was really amazing though and I listened to my iPod (U2, Achtung Baby, to be exact) and watched the palm trees roll by.

Back in Chennai, we dropped Mona Chity and Sangi Mama off for their departing flights home, repacked smaller bags for the next journey and set off in a hired car for a pilgimage to Tirupathi in the state of Andhra Pradesh. We were given a beautiful display of lightening in the night skyes and arrived in a new state, a new city 3 hours later.

With the help of Snageev's brother-in-law, Madhu, we secured lodging on the mount of the Venkateshwara Temple. This is one of the most sacred temples to Vishnu and sees more pilgrims every year than Mecca or Rome. Our accommodations were dodgy (I killed 7 cockroaches before going to bed) but I was happy to be roughing it a bit and experiencing what I believe to be closer to the 'real' India. While I had been tremendously excited to visit the temple the next morning, and great pains had been gone to to ensure my entrance (as a non-Hindu) fortune (and biology) would have it that my monthly cyle started and I was not allowed to go. I felt most accutely like an outsider at this point, being told that if I entered it would be sacrilidge, but not being told why and I was left as the others made their way for their appointment with the god. This was really hard to bear as I knew that if I had been travelling with non-Hindus it would have been a non-issue, but I could not disrespect my host family in such a fashion, so conceeded myself to this fate and walked around a bit.

I found an international phone booth and made a call first to Sonam, the owner of the guesthouse we will stay at in Ladakh (YAY!) to confirm everything and then to Yotam in Brooklyn to share my disappointment and receive some warm words. Both of these calls made me feel much better, more grounded and less alone and I walked around for a bit more, taking pictures along the way and trying to enjoy this new place.

Upon the pilgrims return from what was accounted as a awe-inspiring visit, we went for a tasty (and expensive!) lunch and then for tea at Madhu's house. We were warmly received by Sangeev's sister, given customary sweets and bestowed with gifts before our departure. I was surprised to receive one as well, and was once again touched by the generosity embedded in Indian culture. I think they were as disappointed as I had been about not going to the temple and they both told me "next time."

The drive back to Tamil Nadu was spectacular and the best experience I have had since arriving. THe scenery was made up of rolling green pastures, soaring palm trees and huge hills jutting up rugged red rock into the open blue skyes. I was awed by this journey and it built upon my ready growing anticipation to get to the mountains of Ladakh. We stopped at one point at a small village temple, and having learned my lesson earlier that day, contented myself with walking around outside and takingphotos against the setting sun.

At this point, a woman approached me with a curious smile and pointed at my camera and the temple trying to comomunicate. I could tell she was earnestly interested and not trying to sell me anything se we laughed for a few minutes at our inability to understand one another. FInally she said something I understood, "chai," and gestured me over to her stall, and offered me her stool. As her partner one stall over made tea for us, I pointed at two tattoos, one on each of her inner forearms and showed her mine. She smiled broadly and went onto motion the tattoo needle with her hands and I noded knowingly. With the tea prepared, she poured it between cups to cool it and spilt it in half, one for each of us. We sipped in comfortable silence until my companions emerged fromthe temple, looking questioningly at me sitting behind this woman's stall, giggling and sipping tea. It was time to leave but I asked her if I could take a picture of us first, and she agreed shyly. I showed her the image and she beamed, shook my hand and we thanked each other with our eyes. Although I don't know her name, and I will likely never see her again, this woman touched me deeply and I shall never forget her.

Arriving back in the busy, rush hour traffic of Chennai was a gross shocj after the openness of our journey. We reconvened at a family house where we were generousely given food and good conversation. At this point we left Abi's Ama for her departure back to Toronto and made our way for our own departure shortly thereafter by sleeper train to Bangalore. Another state, another city.... more adventures to be had, no doubt...

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9th November 2007

Great blog
Hey - great blog. Your positive energy is very apparent in your writing. It's too bad you were told you can't enter Tirupathi. Hinduism, if you will observe the past and present, has been so exclusionary and inclusive at the same time. You will see that the religion's theology is all embracing, but its rituals and practices can exclude people. This whole non-Hindu bit in major temples of India seems to be a reaction to what goes on in other religions' important places of worship - but that is also a cop-out. I don't see a problem with a non-Hindu wanting to enter a temple - I wonder if the argument is that a non-Hindu's irreverence can be found to be offensive for Hindus? Would Christians be offended if there were non-Christians walking around the Vatican with hands in pockets and looking curiously at Catholics paying their respects to the Pope? The same question applies to the Muslims and Mecca. Should Hindus, Christians and Muslims be so insecure with their religion so as to deny entry to others? I guess insecurity is the best possible answer for this attitude/policy. I have to tell you that a lot of Hindus have a chip on their proverbial shoulders (and in many cases rightfully so) - for they feel that the Mughals and later the Victorian Brits did all they could to malign Hinduism and portray it as negatively as possible. I think they now don't want any more judgments passed on their practices and take draconian measures - which is what insecurity begets. That's my $0.02 - do let me know your thoughts on this. Don't you find this experience in Tirupathi in direct contradiction with the otherwise hospitable nature of India/Indians? I'd appreciate an email response ( when you have a few minutes.

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