Final Days of India -- Chennai


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February 3rd 2006
Published: February 8th 2006
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CMCT -- Saving the slum kidsCMCT -- Saving the slum kidsCMCT -- Saving the slum kids

CMCT takes 900 children off the streets and provides a good education and square meals.
Finally reached Chennai where I visited the Christian Missions Charitable Trust which runs a school for kids from the slums and an orphanage. Also,visited the tomb of St. Thomas (doubting Thomas) who brought Christianity to Madras in 52 AD and viewed the world's largest Banyan tree.

Since Jan has a wonderful way with words here is her diary entry for her last few days in India:

"I left off with our afternoon in Pondicherry. Hugh and I went
shopping -- I for a new pair of sandals that would make blisters in a
different place than the ones I brought, and Hugh for sari silk for
Suzanne, his wife. I was very taken aback at the civility of all the
street stalls. They allowed us to browse unmolested, and thanked us
for stopping by as we left without purchasing anything. I've never
experienced that in India. That evening, William and I went to the
Sri Aurobindo Ashram for group meditation. There was about a half
and half mix of Indians and westerners in attendance. We were there
about a half an hour before it started and sat leaning against a wall
and watched everyone. The gates were closed and
CMCT -- Saving the slum kidsCMCT -- Saving the slum kidsCMCT -- Saving the slum kids

CMCT senior students studying mechanics
locked and lights
put out for 30 minutes of total silence. I had the same kind of
experience I've had in group meditation here with my TM group.
Deeper faster drop into the meditative state, but lots of very odd
random thoughts I never have during individual meditation. Someone
rang a tiny little bell to indicate the time was up. It sounded like
it was right next to my ear.

For dinner we went to a very snazzy boutique hotel that reminded me
of places way out my price range in New Zealand. There was a roof
top bar and restaurant with a la carte menu, and a sumptuous buffet
on the ground floor. We picked the latter and pretty much pigged
out. Only Hugh refrained from dessert and the rest of us had
multiple helpings! Good Indian and western food.

The ceiling fan in Hugh's room didn't work, so he had to keep his
windows wide open. He very accurately described the action next door
as fifteen cabs playing a game of who can honk his horn the most
times before leaving the gas station. Great way to spend his last
night before leaving on his appr.
CMCT -- Saving the slum kidsCMCT -- Saving the slum kidsCMCT -- Saving the slum kids

CMCT -- training poor women how to sew and craft
30 hour journey the next day! We
all had mosquito net rigs that looked like giant toaster covers --
two corners hooked to the wall and the other two propped up by poles
inserted in brackets at the foot of the bed. Seemed to work. Up
until that point in the trip I was pretty much bite free (one on my
left knee). I was starting to think I wasn't to the taste of the
mosquitos in India, but would learn better later.

Next day we all took a taxi up the coast to Mammallapuram. This is
close to the Chennai airport which is south of the city. It's a
beach town with ancient temple complexes, but most well known for
huge bas relief sculptures and temple fronts carved into monolithic
rocks. We were hoping to stay at the Lonely Planet's #1 pick hotel,
but it was full. We ended up in modern rooms with air conditioning,
TV, phones, running hot water complete with western style showers,
and soft big beds. Hugh at least got a good shower out of the place
later that evening before he headed out for his marathon flight.

We found another good eatery,
Chennai -- streetsChennai -- streetsChennai -- streets

Street vendor deep frying bananas
Santana's, right on the beach and had a
leisurely lunch with beers. Don't faint everyone, but I've been
partaking of that in very small amounts on this trip. After lunch we
strolled down the beach and went to the only ocean front temple in
Tamil Nadu. From the time we left the beach temple until our next
stop we were beset by hawkers trying to sell us small hand crafted
figurines and post cards. That was my first exposure in the South to
the shove something in your face technique, combined with the
attempted guilt trip that his (the hawker's) is a "small business".
Next stop, by tup tup, was the 5 Rathas, a collection of temples and
sculptures carved from the monolithic stone in the area. They are
all in various stages of completion. Someone explained to us that
they are carved from top to bottom. Ratha means chariot in Tamil.
The structures supposedly look like chariots, but to me they just
looked like rounded topped rectangles. The stonework varies in style
and at the 5 Rathas doesn't follow any kind of master plan. To me it
looked like they were created at different times, and location and
aspect
Chennai -- streetsChennai -- streetsChennai -- streets

Little girl in vendor stall
were determined strictly by the positions of the original
rocks, which are huge. None are anywhere near as big as Uluru (Ayers
Rock) in Australia, but they are the same type of monolith,
protruding out of the earth, plus lots of large free standing
boulders.

Hugh left by cab for the airport around 5. The rest of us set out to
find an internet cafe and get dinner. In the community center,
downstairs from the internet place we found, there was a large
gathering of people celebrating part of a wedding. The festivities
go on for days and this was a gathering of the groom's family. The
groom and several female members of his family were waiting outside
until musicians finished the piece they were playing. His mother
asked me to take photos, so you'll see some of that when I get
pictures together. After searching for a warm place to eat (William
was feeling a little chilled), we gave up and went to an upstairs
open air place that was a few blocks in from the ocean. While we
were waiting for our food, William spotted Victoria, our friend from
Madurai. She joined us briefly, said she'd been
Chennai -- streetsChennai -- streetsChennai -- streets

Woman waiting for bus
feeling a little
under the weather and didn't stay long. After simple food we all
went back to the hotel and to bed early.

I was up at 5 the next morning and decided to get out and shoot some
dawn photos and explore a little. An older man approached me at the
monoliths and offered to give me a short tour. I usually don't go in
for that kind of thing, but thought, "why not?". He was very
knowledgeable so it was a pleasant surprise. On the way back to the
hotel I ran into Hambone, out doing the same thing. All three of us
went back to Santana's for breakfast, after which Hambone left for
Chennai. He was off to visit an orphanage there that he's involved
with, and then going on to Mumbai. William planned to visit friends
who are spending the winter in Tiruvaanamalai (Tiru). That appealed
to me more than the big city.

On the taxi drive to Tiru, we stopped first for a Thali meal at
Gingee, and then an 800- to 900-year-old fortress complex. It would
take several days to see everything there. We were there on a
weekday so it
Chennai -- beachChennai -- beachChennai -- beach

Teens at the beach
was very uncrowded. We hiked to the top of the lowest
hilltop fort that included temples, barracks, a granary, and several
other buildings. William and I both enjoyed it as much, if not more
than the temples we've visited. We decided to stop Sunday on the way
to Chennai and see as much of the rest as we could.

We arrived in Tiru in the early evening and got settled in a guest
house of small rooms. William was disappointed that he couldn't get
one of the suites in a different building where he'd stayed before.
We cleaned up and walked toward the center of town. I realized I'd
left my battery charger and one of my batteries at the hotel in
Mammallapuram and tried to telephone them from the local internet
place with no luck. That's when I learned that mosquitos, in Tiru at
least, adore me. They feasted on me whenever I forgot to liberally
apply insect repellent. I have new sympathy for my brother John --
if there is a mosquito within 50 miles, it will find and bite him.
We went to evening chanting at the ashram and then dinner, where we
watched people and
Chennai -- streetsChennai -- streetsChennai -- streets

Man enjoying a Tahli meal (lunch)
William told me all his gossip about the local
characters. There is a large community of westerners there. On the
way back to the guest house we met "Orange David", a very funny
Englishman, and his companion "KGB", a Ukranian (I think). We had
stopped to pick up some mosquito repellent and snacks and got caught
in the crush to buy fresh bread that had just arrived from Auroville.
The next morning Mike and Janet, William's friends from Albuquerque
who are in India for the winter, came by to see us and make plans for
later. William and I went to breakfast at the Tasty Cafe, a great
place that reminded me of the old days on the North Shore Oahu in
Hawaii. We had a very leisurely meal. Afterwards I parked myself in
the internet cafe next door to write one of my updates. At 3:00, we
were supposed to go to satsang conducted by a guru named Werner
(William calls Tiru a guru training center), but never connected with
Mike and Janet. William and I hiked part way up the path to the
ashram caves in the mountain above town to look at the view of the
Chennai -- streetsChennai -- streetsChennai -- streets

Salesman in silk store

city, and then wnt to the evening chants. We were supposed to meet a
group of people to go to dinner, but there was more miscommunication.
Parvati, a 60ish Danish woman was the only person we hooked-up
with. Everyone was there looking for each other, but somehow one
group didn't see the other. Eventually, most of us ended up at the
hotel restaurant and we enjoyed a very good, if erratically served
meal.

Our last day, we hiked up the same trail as the night before and
scrambled up some boulders to William's favorite city view spot.
Then we had another breakfast at the Tasty (I wouldn't have
considered anyplace else). We ran a few errands, edited our bags and
gave away whatever we didn't want to lug home, and said goodbye to
everyone. Then we were off to Gingee, but only after another Thali
meal. We made it almost to the top of the highest fort, which is
twice as high as the one we'd explored on Friday. It was much more
crowded on Sunday, but with Indians -- we only saw a few other
westerners. The views were spectacular and revealed that there was
much more
Chennai -- St. ThomasChennai -- St. ThomasChennai -- St. Thomas

Tomb of St. Thomas
to the complex than we had imagined, even after studying
the map. Included was a large temple complex like the ones we've
visited in cities, only this was in a rural setting. I'm sorry we
didn't have time for that. When we were almost at the top we started
doing some time calculations and realized we'd better head back" (and start the long trip home).

Below are some pix from Chennai.


Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


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Chennai -- BanyanChennai -- Banyan
Chennai -- Banyan

Worlds largest Banyan tree
Chennai -- streetsChennai -- streets
Chennai -- streets

Street workers repairing potholes
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Chennai -- streets

Fruit vendors


5th February 2006

India
Nice Pics once again. See you soon. Pete
6th February 2006

Doubting Thomas
I think that's soo kool tht you got to see that. What's a Banyana tree? It looks like their beaches are pretty good, are they anything like san diego? Keep having fun and thanks for the pictures. Muthoni.

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