Chennai, India (formerly Madras)

So we pulled into Chennai a little late—this busy port didn’t have a berth for us at 8 a.m. but one became available at 10 or so. The dock (two levels) was full of cars. 

Cars ready for shipping

Cars ready for shipping

We later learned that Hyundais are made in Chennai and shipped all over the world. It was like a ballet—you’d go to bed with all the cars facing the ship and in the morning there would be fewer cars parallel to the ship. By evening there would be lots of cars again, but in the morning, fewer and in the other direction. Someone said they ship 26,000 cars a month. And now we know what the huge slab-sided ships hold because we saw the cars being loaded one evening when we got home after dark.

We were right at the edge of town, with taxis and motorized rickshaws (also known as buzz bombs) lined up to take us into the center. We’d been warned that this is a fairly conservative city, and that Indian dress would be appreciated. So hordes of us descended on FabIndia, a cotton and silk emporium with wonderful styles of clothing. My credit card bill just came in, and I was a good customer. So after buying the salwar/chemise set (actually 2) we came back to the ship to cool off. The next day the AFPs started, and I was busy getting people off the ship and updating information. So the three days passed in a blur. David went off to Bangalore for a looooong day (4:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. the next calendar day with no hotel in between) while I skipped out one afternoon to go to Mamalapuram Temple site with friends who were not on AFPs.

There were four of us, all people who can enjoy anything without complaint and with real pleasure. It was a wonderful group to go with—Isis, the psychologist, who is always calm and easy to get along with; Lowry, who comes from Maine and has lived and worked on human rights issues in those countries north of Afghanistan that require a lot of patience and courage; Ashley, who was suffering from a cold and didn’t let it stop her at all.

When we arrived in the area, it was time for a late lunch, so we went into a hotel with a dining room. We washed our hands, as is proper, and then tried one of each of the four dinners they were serving. We had lemon pilau, vegetable pilau, another vegetable pilau, and a chapatti-like (but thinner) bread meal. After eating a quarter of each of our meals, we passed the plates to the left and had another quarter of something else. All were delicious, some were hot, and some were HOT. I could feel my head clearing as I ate.

Then we drove to the first group of temples—some of the newer ones from the 16th century. Those were models (in case you wanted to order a temple, I guess) that had not been consecrated because they were carved out of a ridge of rock and not separated from it. Most of their statues were in good shape, ranging from all sizes of gods to a huge—more than life size—elephant.

The second place we went was a park with stone temples, some dating from 700 BC, Right at the beginning was Krishna’s Butterball—a huge roundish rock balanced on the rock floor.

Krishna's Butterball

Krishna's Butterball

They told us the British were afraid it would fall so they attached 6 elephants to it with chains, but they were not able to budge it. So there is it. Still looks as though it’s going to fall. The temples were everywhere, not all together, but set around the park, so we looked at a couple, then climbed up a rock into a cave to see some more carvings. Then I walked out on a huge, almost flat, rock to take a picture and saw that there was a row of temples on the other side of the rock. Isis and Lowry walked along the ridge to see them, and Ashley and I went back to the parkside to see others. It was incredibly hot with very little shade and yet we kept walking because there was always something more to see.

Elephant Wall

Elephant Wall

And then we went to the famous 50 meter long carved wall. All of life is depicted in varying sizes. I liked the mother and child elephant, but it was all well done. And more temples, a painted and garlanded Ganesh, a Shiva linga, and lots of statues everywhere. We were climbing in and around narrow doorways and up tiny steps to peer into rooms full of carvings. Every moment a new thing to see.


And then the shore temple, which is the oldest of the lot. It was very worn, but in a beautiful location on a hill overlooking the Bay of Bengal. And then we drove back into Chennai and on to the ship, tired but happy.

The next day the AFPs were over, so David and I joined with Ashley to go to DakshinaChitra, a sort of Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village of four provinces of India: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. There were typical houses, craftspeople, music, dance, food, and a puppet show.

Puppet Show

Puppet Show

We got there about 11 and stayed until 4:30. We watched a guru teach four young boys to dance, admired incredibly carved doorways, life-size appliqués of people and villages, heard music, Ashley and I had our hands henna’d and had a lovely vegetarian buffet, made a little more complex by the need to keep the henna away from touching anything until it dried.

Finally, we drove back toward Chennai and decided to stop at Golden Beach Resort. We were in search of a cool drink and, of course, sand. Well, there was a lot of sand, but Tata was having a mixer for its staff at the restaurant, so drinks were not available. So we walked along the beach toward the public side. There a guard stopped us because we hadn’t paid to come on to that beach. He couldn’t let us step on the beach, but he was perfectly willing to walk across to the stand and buy us a couple of bottles of water. So, returning to our own side of the invisible, but well-guarded, line, we sat on a sand dune, watched the waves in the Bay of Bengal, and drank our water. Then I walked to the main gate (followed by our taxi) taking photos of the many plaster statues showing daily life and all kinds of religions and animals and workers—even the 7 ages of man appeared in one huge panel. Then we again started for town.

But not yet for the ship. We wanted to get some water and some beer to take back with us, and by the time we’d navigated a supermarket (the taxi driver told us it was the best in town—all the Brahmins go there. Yeah, and Brahmins are teetotalers too.) So we just got the water after turning down non-alcoholic beer and wine. Then there was a restaurant practically next door, so we washed our hands and sat ourselves down for another excellent vegetarian dinner. Absolutely delicious—and this was at a chain restaurant that has a branch in Sunnyvale, CA. How’s that for small world. I wonder if they have sinks for handwashing before dinner there too. I’d tell you the name, but I’ve forgotten it.
And then finally back to the ship.

The next day was Sunday, so we got the same taxi again (after a complicated mixup because some other people from the ship convinced him we weren’t coming, so he took them to the train. When he wasn’t in the usual place, another driver tried to get us, but we asked the man in the store to call our driver to see what was up. He “dialed” the number I gave him and there was no answer. Well, I know that number works because we’d called it before to set up the first trip. So we hemmed and hawed until Persaud showed up and off we went.) The first stop was St. Thomas Mount, the place where the Apostle Thomas (yes, the doubting one) was martyred.

St. Thomas statue on Mount St. Thomas

St. Thomas statue on Mount St. Thomas

Climbing up the long flight of steps to the top of the hill was not impossible, but pretty hot. And then they wouldn’t let us take any photos, but I’ll remember the statues of Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, who visited, and the gold plated Crucifixion scene only slightly larger than life facing out over the city. We wondered if we’d get across to the sea to the St. Thomas Basilica for the 12 noon English Mass by 2 p.m., but actually it took only half an hour and we were barely late. There were lots of seats and a good sermon, so it was a good experience. I do enjoy going to new churches in new places to hear the same old thing. Then after Mass we—surprise!—went shopping. Dad had heard of a village that wove good silk cloth, but the driver wanted to take us to a store he knew that he said was cheaper because Indians shop there and just as good. I don’t know about that but I got a gorgeous piece of raw silk (the thicker weave) in bronze. It was exactly what I’d been looking for. And then because it was pretty inexpensive, I got enough of a dark green to make a skirt.

Then Persaud took us to a Kashmiri shop (hey, we didn’t have anything much planned, and the drivers make a commission even if you don’t buy anything). So I have two Kashmiri shawls from the 70s that have succumbed to moths. I wanted to get a new one and I found a lovely shawl in off-white with autumn colors of embroidery. Again, I couldn’t have wished for anything better. Then it was off to the same chain restaurant but in a different location, air conditioned (a blessing), and with a different menu. Again a lovely meal in the company of people in the most elegant saris and salwar/chemise sets. It was a fashion show as well as a meal. And then, refusing to go to any more tourist shops, we found a lower class market and got our beer and some more water. The desalinated water on the ship is still salty, So we buy water when we’re in port and drink half of one and half of the other. It helps even things out. And so back to the ship.

The next day was our final day in port. ETL (whatever it stands for, that’s the time all passengers have to be on the ship—it’s two hours before we leave) was at 4 p.m., but there were business meetings scheduled all afternoon. So in the morning Lowry and I walked over to the store right on the port. The owner had introduced us to Persaud, and he was such a success that I felt I had to buy something from him. So I got a couple of gifts and two yards of the highest quality silk (for a small fortune compared to the raw silk, which I love, but it has a lower reputation) for a blouse to go with the green skirt. Hope we can find a dressmaker in Cape Town.

And so goodbye Chennai. I really love India for the fantastic craft work, although we didn’t buy any door hangings or statues this time, and especially for the food. I’ll miss it.

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