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A Return to India 2

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A Return to India 2

Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a six!week trip to India by way of London" Qatar" and Dublin" from January # to February $#" %&$&' Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard" copyright %&$&'

A Return to India 2

A Return to India 2

A Return to India January 7 - February 17, 2010 I have never been aware before how many faces there are. There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several. -- Rilke

V. 2 1

Thursday, January 21


Another merciless wake!up call"#:$$AM" but had gone to bed early and it did not seem too bad% A&er a warm good!by from the Oberoi sta'( the complementary hotel car whisked us to the airport in record time% A good thing( as the line for security snaked almost the length of the terminal% Got in line immediately( even though our Jet Lite )ight was not to leave until *:$+% Saw a side of some Indians I did not care for: a woman with a child cut the line in front of us and was soon joined by her husband% Then additional friends and acquaintances joined them until at least eight had stepped directly in front of us% Once we got to the scanning area( it was every man for himself% People were grabbing the bins we had pulled out for ourselves and stepping in front ,and almost on- us% Once on board the Canadair!.$$( settled down for the #+!minute )ight to Bhubaneswar( the capital of the state of Orissa% A driver from the Trident Hotel was there to pick us up with a sign for /George Edward Leonard III%0 On the way( were impressed by w id e( tr ee!lined avenues and r am b ling m od er n administrative buildings% The Trident Hotel is attractively furnished with antique textiles( stone( and metalwork and


we were delighted with our accommodations% Jake made arrangements with the hotel1s travel desk for a driver to take us to the Hindu temples for which the city is noted% At 2:$$ a&er breakfast( Ashok( a driver from Avis( met us at the front of the hotel% The temples were built according to strict templates that were recorded in the Shilpa Shastras a thousand years ago% Most consist of two main sections( a soaring deul or tower and an adjoining porch( the jagamohana% Our plan was to start at the earliest temple and work our way chronologically in order to see how the temples developed% The Parasuramesvara Mandir dates from around 3+$ AD% Its squat beehive! shaped tower is indicative of the style of the *th century% Gritted my teeth and took o' my sandals ,I will have to get used to this again- and walked around the structure( enjoying the sculpture ,lions representing Hinduism and elephants representing Buddhism- symbolizing Orissa1s conversion from Buddhism to Hinduism in the +th century% Flirtatious( busty women and lacy detailing covered the tower in profusion% A short walk brought us to the garden setting of Muktesvara( a compact and more elaborate temple that dates two hundred years later%

The temple has a graceful gateway! topped by two reclining female "gures# The un"nished Siddhesvara stands nearby but is much later $%%th century&# Just around the corner! another %%th century temple! the Rajarani Mandir is set in a pleasant park! shaded by trees# I loved the profusion of sculpted "gures that decorate the '()foot high tower: the dikpalas that guard the temple and the alluring female nayikas that separate them# Short stop at a temple that was not in the guide book; it was devoid of decoration save for four garish statues on the sides but the brilliant red gladiolas in the garden made it worth the stop# The Brahmesvara Mandir is also in a lush park with a $somewhat algae)infested& stepped pool re*ecting its towers! all of which contain linga guarded by brass cobras# We were not permitted inside the main sanctuary! but a holy man who was impossible to understand tried to lead us around and explain everything# George gave him a small tip and he le+ us alone# From there we went to a huge temple complex! the Lingaraj Mandir# Non)Hindu visitors cannot visit this active shrine! but we climbed up to a viewing platform and tried to capture its magni"cence in spite of the a+ernoon sun in our faces that made photography di,cult# As we descended! a man came up and asked us to

sign his -o,cial book. with name! country and the amount of our donation# Looking at previous recordings! we saw that preposterous -donation. amounts were listed# Obviously the -clerk. had made sure to add several zeros to encourage the generosity of those who followed# Ashok took us around to the somewhat garishly painted main entrance and we watched the activity! as brightly dressed pilgrims came and went and beggars and small children asked for baksheesh# Nearby! we visited the Vaital Deul! erected around /(( AD and "lled with Indian tantric erotic sculpture# Before returning to the hotel! we stopped at the Orissa State Museum! a run)down! barn) like building that unfortunately was poorly maintained! like so many museums in India# What brought us there was its collection of palm)leaf manuscripts and the chitra muriya! folk murals that decorate the walls of the village houses around nearby Puri# They were absolutely charming and if it were not for the fact that I was starting to feel ill! we would have stayed longer# Deciding that two trips to the museum0s Indian)style WC was plenty! we headed back to the hotel and spent a quiet a+ernoon! foregoing shopping for renowned Orissan arts and cra+s# Hopefully! a+er an early night! I can beat this by tomorrow#


Parasuramesvara Temple


Muktesvara Temple




Brahmesvara Temple


Lingaraja Temple



Vaital Deul


Friday, January 22


Fortunately! I felt "ne this morning and was ready to visit several special places outside Bhubaneswar# Met Ashok at $:%& and headed "rst to Raghurajpur# About '& kilometers away! on the road to Puri! Ashok turned down a narrow unmarked lane# One and a half kilometers further! we came to a faded sign for a Heritage Cra( Village! known for patta chitra! classical Orissan painting; and chitra pothi! etching on palm leaves that have been bound together to form a canvas# As we got out of the car! a group of young men clustered around us! giving us some concern that our visit would be an unpleasant matter of dealing with aggressive vendors# However! each politely asked if we would visit his particular little shop! and the group accompanied us as we walked down one side of the village road and back up the other# The village)s simple buildings were all painted in a simple folk style where three "ngers are used to apply white rice paint# Families and children were out to watch and say hello with smiling faces# I found the e*ect quite charming# As we would enter one man)s shop! the others made no comment! patiently allowing their neighbor his moment with us# When we le(! we had purchased two delicate palm leaf paintings! one miniature patta chitra! and a set of +' ganjifa cards in a box# Ashok stashed our treasures in the trunk and we continued to Puri to see the mighty Jagannath Temple! built in the ,-th century to honor this Lord of the Universe! an incarnation of Vishnu who is an unstoppable force .hence the derivative word! /juggernaut01# As cars are not permitted near the temple! we took a bicycle rickshaw from a parking lot a kilometer away# We were pedaled amongst thousands of pilgrims who daily 2ock to the temple! the women wearing their brightest saris# Got as near as we could to the temple gate in order to sample the atmosphere; were amazed at the numbers surrounding us# As non3Hindus are not permitted to enter! we crossed the street to the decaying Raghunandan Library! where the librarian

accepted a donation and allowed us access to the roof where we could gaze across at the temple)s immense tower# Our rickshaw man was waiting for us when we descended .he had not yet been paid1 and we returned to the car# Drove along Puri Beach for a glimpse of the Bay of Bengal! camels silhouetted against the blue water# Forty kilometers south along the coast! we arrived at one of the highlights of our trip: the Sun Temple at Konark# Built in the ,% th century! it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site# A temple to Surya! it was built as a giant chariot! with ,- pairs of wheels to carry the sun on his journey across the sky# We engaged the services of Mr# Upendra Nayak as a guide .or rather! he engaged us1# Ordinarily! we prefer to go at our own speed! but decided! since he had a Government of India badge and his name was listed on a metal sign at the entrance! that we would let him show us around# Very glad we did! for he opened our eyes to so many aspects we would have missed# The sculpture is phenomenal4and explicit# Every possible sexual style! situation! or position was depicted somewhere amongst the thousands of unique sculptures that cover practically every surface# Climbed the steps to the intricate door of the inner sanctum where we watched worshippers smashing coconuts on a shelf as a contribution# As it was a holiday! there were swarms of people visiting the temple and the colorful saris once again added great beauty to our pictures# We departed as Surya was beginning his journey towards the horizon and turned back toward Bhubaneswar! stopping brie2y at the village of Pipli! the appliqu5 capital of Orissa# Shops edge the road! displaying brightly colored lanterns! hangings! umbrellas! and bags# Although we were not interested in purchasing anything! we dodged the tra6c in the narrow road and took photos along the way# Tra6c was heavy as we pulled into the Trident at 7:%&! precisely when the concierge had predicted we would# 15




Jagannath Temple, Puri




The Sun Temple, Konark A Unesco Site




Saturday, January 23


Up early; Ashok dropped us at the airport at !:"#$ where we learned that our Jet Lite %ight to Kolkata was cancelled$ and we would be unable to make our a&ernoon %ight from Kolkata to Chennai' Our domestic Indian air track record now is #()$ with two of four %ights cancelled' This consistent unreliability is another example of the di*culty of travel in India' As we sat in the terminal$ hoping to get seats on an Air India %ight to Chennai this a&ernoon$ observed the di+erent reactions of travelers to the news' While the Europeans and Americans around us seemed fairly resigned$ the Indians were outraged' I listened as a man near me unloaded on a hapless agent$ threatening to call the Jet Airways chairman and make him lose his job' Our Scottish friend$ Peter$ had mentioned to us in Varanasi that Indians are extremely hard on each other when they perceive a class di+erence' On the other hand$ the agent could not have been more accommodating to us$ considering the circumstances' He cancelled our tickets on Jet and said our money would be refunded' He then went across the street to a travel agency and booked two seats for us on an Air India %ight$ leaving at ":,(' We had a long wait$ but eventually the %ight was called about -# minutes late and a bus with a broken door took us to an ageing Airbus .,(' The plane must have been at least ,( years old from the look of it' A bit of nostalgia as we settled into our seats: old/fashioned seat belts$ those smoking0non/smoking lights$ the twisty air conditioning controls I remembered from long/ago trips' And everything pretty tatty' Picked up a discarded newspaper$ immediately reading that Indian airports are now on high alert due to intelligence of possible attacks' Took another pill as we got underway' Ninety/minute %ight to Chennai where we were met by a driver from our hotel and taken to the Taj Connemar' We found that the roads were excellent and seemed to be 28

devoid of the chaotic tra*c that has become far too fam iliar' Passed m any m ulti/story shopping m alls interspersed between blocks of moldy$ tacky shops and an abundance of signs' At the hotel$ were disappointed upon check/in that there was some kind of misunderstanding and the heritage room we thought we had booked did not materialize' Were simply shown to another room with no explanation in response to our continued questions' We are only here for one night so we just let it go' Had read about Giggles$ a quirky little bookstore on the hotel grounds; went around the side of the building and found it' Tiny indeed$ with books stacked so high in the doorway that I don1t see how anyone could actually go inside' Books were laid out on the pavement outside in random piles and Nalini Chettur$ the owner$ was sitting on the doorstep' She was probably 2( years old and had a kind$ intelligent face that immediately invited conversation' In spite of the clutter$ she really knew her collection and m ade lots of recommendations' Chatted with her while Jake went to 3nd an ATM; found her very charming' Nalini showed me an illustrated book on Indian games; decided to buy it when I saw that it had a good section about ganjifa cards' Only problem was that I must have been sitting in a swarm of mosquitoes$ for discovered that my feet were covered with tiny red welts when I came inside' I hope that my malaria pills are e+ective' Jake and I had dinner in the hotel1s Hip Asia restaurant' The hotel was hosting a series of noisy parties and we feared a long night ahead' However$ were pleased that our room was adequately sound proofed and nothing disturbed our sleep'


Sunday, January 24


Early breakfast in our room! and a strange meal it was "almost took a picture of the French toast! as I#d never seen anything quite like the black mound on my plate$% Checked out and excitedly went to meet Salimon! who was to be our driver for the next &' days% Only it wasn#t Salimon% The friendly man waiting for us informed us that Salimon! our carefully vetted driver! was ill! and he would be taking over the job% Nothing should surprise me in India! but still%%% He introduced himself as Shiju Jose from Kerala% We piled our luggage into our roomy Toyota Innova and o( we went% Not much time to explore Chennai! but we did visit Fort St% George! Britain#s )rst bastion in India! and the East India Company#s principal settlement until &**+% The city is now the capitol of the State of Tamil Nadu% Walked the streets of the fort! passing the Secretariat! the museum! and the old parade ground! to St% Mary#s Church! the oldest Anglican church in Asia! where a small service was just getting underway% Found the whole area rather decrepit and retaining little to evoke its rich history% As it was nearing &,:,,! we needed to get on with the day#s itinerary% Driving along the Marina! passed the impressive Indo-Moorish buildings of Madras University and the Neo-Mughal National Art Gallery% Cleared town and got on the national highway toward Kanchipuram% Although I was somewhat apprehensive about another .expressway/ a0er our truck experience with Javed! NH + was a beautiful road% With light Sunday tra1c! the trip was a breeze! carrying us past huge manufacturing


facilities2Motorola! Borg-Warner! and numerous Indian )rms% Further on! we saw a Nissan factory and the mammoth planned site for a new Daimler plant% Generous economic incentives are bringing in big business% It was nearly noon when we arrived at Kanchipuram! a small temple town that is one of seven particularly sacred Hindu cities% First visited the largest temple! the Ekambareshvara% Was surprised when Shiju suggested we remove our shoes before leaving the car so that they would not be stolen% I put on some little socklets I had in my bag; Jake just went cold turkey% If someone told me I would be walking the streets in India barefooted! I would not have believed it! but there we were% Entered the temple complex with crowds of pilgrims% Saw many women wearing saris of a beautiful crimson color and learned later that they were from Om Shakti Temple and were making a pilgrimage on their festival day% They certainly brightened up our pictures! The women and little girls were wearing white 3owers braided into their dark hair; the e(ect was lovely% The temple contains a legendary earthen linga and a sacred mango tree that is said to be 4!,,, years old% We were able to enter the temple and move around as we wished! except for the inner sanctum where the linga is housed% Just inside! a group of young men were chanting over a )re; their voices created a haunting sound% As we entered the side of the shrine where the mango tree grows! saw a family taking pictures of two small and very bald children% Learned from them that they had just

donated the children!s hair to Shiva" Also went to the Kamakshi Temple# dedicated to Shiva!s consort# Parvati# and a third Shiva temple# the Kailasanatha# built in the early $th century; there are beautiful sculptures there# despite some clumsy restoration work" Quick peek at the Devarajaswami Temple# which was closed; were allowed to peer through the doorway until a policeman told Shiju he had to move on" Kanchipuram is also famous for its silk" Silk saris from Kanchi are an essential part of an Indian bride!s trousseau# and their design and elegant color combinations are renowned" We stopped at Sri Suryan Silks# an old family business# where third generation Mani showed us the techniques of this style of weaving and invited us into the showroom" Along with several Indian families looking at saris%such a purchase is obviously a family a&air%enjoyed the opportunity to savor the beautiful textiles# which were surprisingly a&ordable" Jake wanted me to have a sari# and it was fun to have the female assistant show me how to wear the stunning red and gold one we picked out" Back on the road at ':() to Mahabalipuram# another UNESCO World Heritage Site" Started with the Five Rathas# monolithic temples and rock*cut shrines that date from the +th century" The site was packed with visitors; this time# the tourists were both European and Indian" It was late in the a,ernoon and a frustrating

place to photograph# as everyone seemed to be posing for silly pictures%pretending to hold up a building or pushing over an elephant" We did the best we could and then went on to the nearby Shore Temple while the light was still good" Perched on a promontory by the sea# the temple has withstood the ravages of time and erosion and was glistening like gold in the late a,ernoon sun" The site was teeming with visitors# and again# the women in the red saris added to the lovely scene" Battled a huge amount of tra-c and parking congestion in the area" Went brie.y to see Arjuna!s Penance# a long panel representing the descent of the Ganges# carved on the face of a great rock" Just as we got out of the car# a small truck went by# blowing thick clouds of vile*smelling anti* mosquito smoke and I jumped back in" I am not sure which is worse%mosquito bites or a whi& of that concoction" Jake went on ahead and I caught up with him when the air cleared a bit" Dusk was coming fast and Shiju did not know exactly where our hotel was so we took our pictures quickly and drove the twenty kilometers to the Taj Fisherman!s Cove" More of a beach resort than a hotel# the place was open# airy# and full of tourists# both Indian and European" King/shers in the bar# followed by a Tamil Nadu dinner bu&et did a lot to restore our good spirits a,er a long day"


Fort St. George Chennai


Ekambareshvara Temple, Kanchipuram



Kailasanatha Temple, Kanchipuram





The Shore Temple Mahabalipuram A Unesco Site


Arjuna’s Penance

Monday, January 25


Breakfast bu!et in the Seagull restaurant where we had dinner last night" In place of the dinner selections# Western and Indian breakfast dishes were lined up# with watery porridge and an Indian soup side by side in their silver steamers and an omelet bar that replaced last night$s cooked%to%order mackerel station" Met Shiju at &:'(" Jake told him that we wanted to go to Gingee and then to Pondicherry and showed him the route on the map" In spite of Jake$s explicit directions# Shiju chose to go to Pondicherry directly# ignoring his instructions" In the process of discovering his mistake# we realized that he does not have a map# nor does it appear that he knows how to read a map" Thus we drove south to Marakknam before realizing he had ignored the turn we needed to make to get to Fort Gingee" This resulted in an additional )(% kilometer drive" In spite of the delay# we saw fascinating village scenes as we drove: garishly painted roadside temples# women working in rice paddies# men laboring in salt *ats# buildings constructed of palm%leaves" Have concerns about Shinju: his unfamiliarity with maps# his slow and sometimes erratic driving# and his hesitancy to pass slow%moving vehicles" As Jake pointed out# he even yields to bicycles# thus upsetting the unwritten Indian road rules that the larger# faster vehicles have the right of way" Got to Gingee in the late morning" Fort Gingee +or Senji# as the locals call it, dates from the and -/th centuries and consists of three citadels perched atop three hills" The site of the ruins of this once%great fortress is in a park that is both pleasant and evocative; the absence of crowds made it a perfect place to stroll and enjoy our surroundings" Shiju had never been there and seemed impressed that we had showed him a place he had not known about" Le0 around

-:((# planning to stop at Auroville# founded in -1/& by Mother Mirra Alfassa as a utopian community" Shinju said he knew just where it was# but he missed it and instead we went directly to Pondicherry" He was about to double back into the tra2c but we told him to skip it" Shiju told us he knew where to 3nd our hotel# but drove up and down several streets until Jake pointed out the correct turn" Arrived at Le Dupleix# the -&th century residence of a former town Mayor" Asked Shiju to back the car away from the hotel entrance so that we could discuss plans for tomorrow" Again he either did not understand or ignored Jake$s request" Checked in at the front desk and I noticed that the brochure listed the hotel as a member of Relais et Chateau" Shown through an attractive outdoor dining area with a large mango tree to our room# o! to one side" The high ceiling# antique bed# and quirky furnishings were intriguing# but the bathroom made us realize that there was no way the hotel could remain a Relais et Chateau" Dropped o! our bags and went out to explore Pondicherry before happy hour got underway" As we walked the tree% lined# uncrowded streets# noticed the French names and in*uences that had permeated Pondicherry since it was established in -/1) as the capital of the French colonies in India" Our walk took us by the Raj Nivas# now the residence of the Lt" Governor; Government Square# in an attractive +but litter%infested, park; and Goubert Salai# the boulevard that runs along the Bay of Bengal# lined with once grand colonial buildings and a statue of Mahatma Gandhi" Returning to Le Dupleix# spent a pleasant cocktail hour under the mango tree# followed by Pondicherry cuisine in the attractive hotel restaurant; reasonably good# but not great"






Tuesday, January 26


Republic Day Asked each other the questions from the newspaper!s Republic Day quiz over our breakfast tea" Met Shiju at #:$$; on the way out of town saw groups of costumed girls running to take their places in Pondicherry!s Republic Day parade" Headed south %# kilometers through Cuddalore to Chidambaram& passing rich green rice paddies on both sides of the road; this is the 'rice bowl( area of Tamil Nadu" In the center of town is the Sabhanayaka Nataraja Temple& built by the Cholas& where Shiva is enthroned as King of the Cosmic Dance" Disappointed that we could not take photos inside& but did get a chance to watch one of the priests& with white robe and top)knot& chant over lighted candles as a small group huddled around him" Above him was the Nataraja& the icon of Shiva as Lord of the Dance& dressed like a doll in clothing" Noticed several heavily carved *%)foot high temple chariots parked across the street as we returned to the car" By +$:,$& we were on the road toward Gangaikondacholapuram -'The Town of the Chola who took the Ganges(." Again realized that we were going to have to be our own navigators& as Shiju tends to head o/ without any idea of where he is going" This time we passed 0elds of sugar cane and wheat being harvested and loaded into large trucks in neat& geometric piles" Interesting how all the loading is done right on the highway and that spaces for trucks are saved by the placement of logs or tires right in the road" Cars just maneuver around them&


no problem" We arrived at Gangaikondacholapuram& a UNESCO site& at noon" According to one of our guidebooks& the Brihadishwara Temple is usually 'forlorn&( as few visitors come there" However& being Republic Day& 1ocks of schoolchildren were everywhere& running around the temple park& waving little Indian 1ags and asking us to take their pictures" The temple is a warm golden color& with Chola sculptures all around the exterior walls" However& it was hard to concentrate on taking pictures& as the children kept coming up& asking our names& and begging for pens and coins" At +:$$& drove on to the city of Kumbakonam& where there were several sites we planned to visit" Found the Mahamaham Tank& a holy place where a festival is held every +* years when thousands of devotees come for a sacred dip" Did not 0nd it particularly impressive and moved on quickly" Shiju said that he knew where the next temple on our list was located" Going against our better judgment& we let him drive us four or 0ve kilometers out of town& although the maps in our guide book clearly showed the Nageshwara Temple about %$$ meters from the Tank" A battle of wills and time wasted going to the wrong place" When we 0nally found it& were disappointed; kind of creepy with its dark chambers& pigeons cooing in the ra2ers& and no one around" Eventually we located the Sarangapani and Adikumbheshvara temples in Kumbakonam but both were closed; they did not look all that signi0cant anyway" But in

Darasuram! four miles west of town! the Airavateshwara Temple! another UNESCO site! was impressive" Built by the Cholas in the mid#$%th century! it is also dedicated to Shiva" The main hall is designed as a horse#drawn chariot; the columns are rich with carvings of musicians! dancers! and acrobats" Along the exterior walls! basalt statues of Shiva in various incarnations and other gods are delicate and detailed" The temple complex was so peaceful and quiet; our visit was the highlight of the day" Four kilometers further brought us to Swamimalai &meaning 'God(s Mountain)*! where we are staying two nights" As we turned the corner! came upon a band of people dressed in orange! marching down the street to the beat of drums" Some were carrying colorful umbrellas and others were holding icons decorated with peacock feathers" Stopped two men and Shiju asked where they were from; they have taken one week to walk %++ kilometers to the Swaminatha Temple! particularly sacred to Hindus" Noticed that they were barefoot" Just outside of town and down a lane! came to the Anandham Swamimalai! an $,-. Tamil villa that was completely restored in $--." The place is hard to describe/kind of like a heritage home! summer camp! and hunting lodge with a touch of India" Warmly greeted by Mr" Paneer at the thatched cottage that is

Reception" Given 0ower leis! a blue drink! cold towels ‌ and a foot massage with a fragrant red oil" Have the Royal Suite! an amazing array of rooms! including an open#air bathing area enclosed in glass and located in the center of the room" Could not help but think of Peter Drury(s comment in Varanasi that in India! the better the room! the more extra furniture and useless space it has" An impressive bank of switches on the wall made turning on a light seem like managing the grid at Com Ed" Explored this eclectic place and took pictures of interesting details" A1er sharing a King2sher in the garden! visited the Rajan Icon Industry on the hotel property" Suresh took us through the lost wax process of bronze casting/the same used by the Cholas to create their bronzes ten centuries ago" Carefully chose a beautiful image of Parvati! Shiva(s consort" However! it weighs over three kilos and we are concerned about being able to get it back home" At 3:++! had the dining room to ourselves for a South Indian meal and additional King2shers" Strolled back to our room and sat outside our door! listening to a nearby concert of classical South Indian Carnatic music with two Indian violins &played in a seated position* and a mridangan &two#headed drum*! including a session of what can best be described as 'Tamil Rap")



Brihadishwara Temple Gangaikondacholapuram A Unesco Site


Airavateshwara Temple Darasuram A Unesco Site




Wednesday, January 27


Although Jake was up at !:""# raring to go# I felt more like skipping breakfast and getting another hour$s sleep% However# he prevailed and we were ready to meet Shiju at &:""% Drove 'rst to the Swamimalai Temple# one of the holiest shrines of the Tamils% It was buzzing with activity% This time kept our shoes on until we reached the entrance# hoping we would 'nd them when we came out% As we were entering# a beaming bride and groom were just leaving# decked with (owers and accompanied by happy attendants% Once inside# we found another wedding in progress% The priest# dressed in a white dhoti# was barking orders at everyone involved% The bride was seated on the (oor; in front of her were o)erings of fruits and (owers% She looked absolutely miserable% Ascended several (ights of steps to the sanctuary# above the somewhat tawdry lower level% Watched a group of women light small ghee candles on a large tray before an icon as others lined up before the inner sanctum% Several small children with bald heads painted with protective yellow sandalwood paste indicated the sacri'ce of their hair% Descended the steep steps slowly; tried not to touch the sticky railing while still keeping my balance% There were carvings of hands and footprints in the granite steps all the way down% Rejoined the wedding on the main (oor% The bride and groom were now seated together% He looked just as miserable as she did% Was able to stand next to the photographer and take advantage of

his location and his (oodlights to take my own pictures of the not*so*happy occasion% A little boy dressed in an embroidered jacket was 'dgeting during the ceremony while his mother tried to keep him entertained% She was delighted to let me take his picture and pronounced the results +Super!, As we le- the temple# caught a glimpse of some kind of dedication ceremony for young people taking place in a side room% Another bride# her hair done up in pearls# was just arriving# along with group of marching men and boys wearing orange dhoti and chanting; three horizontal lines of ash to honor Shiva were smeared across their foreheads% A ./*kilometer drive through tiny villages and coconut plantations brought us to Thanjavur 0Tanjore1# where we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Brihadishvara Temple# built by the Chola Dynasty in 2"2"% Dedicated to Shiva# the temple is constructed of granite and decorated with sculptures and intriguing inscriptions that cover the six*foot high base around the entire building% While Jake le- his shoes in the car# I used the +free, shoe drop*o)# as have had my 'll of walking in the dirty streets leading to temples% An elephant greeted us at the 'rst gopura 0gate1; it had been trained to take a coin from your hand with its trunk% Jake held out Rs% / and said that the trunk felt kind of slobbery% Spent a couple of hours at the temple# observing the activity 0it is a popular pilgrimage place for Hindus1 and taking pictures%


A short distance away is the Royal Enclosure! Bought an assortment of tickets that allowed access to various parts of the complex! At the Saraswati Mahal Library" perused its quirky collection of moldering manuscripts housed in ar chaic d isp lay cases" includ ing t he illust r at ed Punishm ent s in China" a ser ies of sket ches of physiognomy in which animal characteristics are sketched as human faces" and several weird medical manuscripts! However" there were also delicate miniature palm#leaf manuscripts and religious books with $ne calligraphy! Wondered how long these manuscripts would last in the light and humidity! Brief visit to the personal museum of Raja Serfoji II for an entry fee of one rupee that was worth no more than the price of admission" and to the palace compound to see the elaborately decorated %&'( Durbar Hall! Just around the corner was the Thanjavur Art Gallery! Most of its substantial collection of Chola bronzes date from the %%th and %)th centuries! There was a whole room of bronzes of Shiva as Nataraja! Interesting to compare the di*erent facial expressions through the centuries! A+er an ATM run" drove back to Swamimalai at %:,,! Before going to the hotel" visited Shri Rajan Industries" a large enterprise where local youth are


taught the art of lost wax casting! Suresh Kumar showed is how the larger statues are made! The largest one they have fabricated is a three meters in diameter Nataraja for the Particle Accelerator in Cerne" Switzerland! In the shop" was delighted to $nd a Chandra" the god from The Moonstone! Had been looking for one when we were here last year and was convinced that it did not exist! Jake was intrigued with a detailed avatar of Krishna! How are we going to manage the weight of getting them home? Back at the hotel" beer and spicy" crunchy masala pakora in the garden! Stopped at Reception to see if there is a CD by the musicians we heard last night but there is not! Also wanted to know about the white chalk drawing on the pavement outside the hotel cottages! We have noticed them on the doorsteps of many of the places we have visited in Tamil Nadu! Learned that they are called kolams in Tamil and are designs" geometric or pictorial" seeking the blessings of health and wealth! They are created each morning using rice paint! As I sit and journal" the sound of this evening-s Carnatic concert .oats through the window! This unusual place has really made me realize that I am in India" where there is a surprise around every corner!



Brihadishvara Temple Thanjavur A Unesco Site





Nataraja Lord of the Dance though the Ages 71

Thursday, January 28


Departed promptly at !:""# passing through Thanjavur again and on to Tirvchirapalli $%Trichy& for short' on sections of ()lane divided highway* An obvious question is why the highway was completed in a series of patches# with diversions back to the old road every few kilometers* Disconcerting# as one is never sure what side to be on# and equally unsure what direction other vehicles will be going on your side of the road* None of this seemed to concern Shiju; he instinctively seemed to know what to expect* Six kilometers north of Trichy# crossed over on a %weak bridge& $what exactly does that mean?' to the island of Srirangam to see the Rangantha Temple* A sprawling complex dedicated to Vishnu# the temple has evolved between the +"th and ,"th centuries into a confusing set of seven concentric courtyards* There was bustling commercial activity within the temple con-nes* This was interesting to observe# but pretty unpleasant in bare feet* Intrigued that people are so insistent about having their picture taken* We were asked to take pictures countless times and Jake even had a spontaneous assembly appear in front of him# posing for him to take an extended family portrait: eager jostling to see the results and lots of smiles of appreciation* An old man in an orange dhoti with the ash markings of Shiva on his forehead indicated his readiness to pose for me; mumbled solemn prayers as I took his picture* But when I gave him Rs*+"# he broke into smiles and hammed it up for the camera* The temple has ,+ ornate gopuras and some impressive sculpture# particularly a series of rearing stone horses with mounted warriors that line one of the great halls* In the center of town# we paused for a view of the Rock Fort on 72

its perch atop a massive sand)colored rock* Continued to Madurai# arriving at (:""# just before the a.ernoon opening of the enormous Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple# dedicated to Shiva# in his incarnation as Sundareshvara or %The Handsome One& and his consort# Parvati# in the form of Minakshi# %The Fish)eyed Goddess*& Wended our way around the perimeter# looking for the north entrance that Shiju assured us was cleaner* Grimaced once again# as we had to leave our shoes and socks at a stall /" meters from the entrance* Extensive pat down and security search; carefully examined our cameras and cell phone* They were not too sure about Jake0s rice)-lled camera pad but -nally let it go* The temple was not crowded# although as soon as the doors opened# there was a rush by the Hindu faithful to enter the sanctuaries* The ritual in this temple is fascinating1 much of it relating to the sexual energy of the two gods 1 and it was a disappointment that non)Hindus are not allowed to enter the holy places* Jake was disturbed that the Potramarai Kulam# or tank# was not -lled* He remembered his last visit when the water served as a mirror for the colorful gopuras that surround it* The columns and carvings were lovely; some colored and some not* A temple elephant blessed anyone giving a coin# gently touching its trunk to the top of the head* Stayed only an hour or so as we plan return in the morning when there should be more activity* At /:2"# arrived at the Gateway Hotel# located on a lush hill* Enjoyed showers and a change of clothes# followed by drinks at Harry0s Bar $cozy and old)fashioned' and dinner al fresco at the View restaurant overlooking the city# under a perfect full moon*

Rangantha Temple, Srirangam



Friday, January 29


A leisurely day at last! Breakfast on the veranda; while we were sipping our tea" a peacock jumped up on the table in front of us to try and snag a bit from a woman#s plate! She shooed him away with little concern! At $:%&" Shiju drove us back to the temple! Along the way" made a video of the profusion of political posters" banners" 'ags" and constructions (many with loud speakers attached" blaring deafening music) bearing the bespectacled" jowly face of Mr! M!K! Alagiri" Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers and favored son of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister! In spite of the fact that Madurai has enacted a ban on political posters" the ruling party" undeterred by this ban" has literally painted the town red to celebrate his birthday! *Long live many years Madurai#s longest history Emperor+ and *Heartly wishes to our King Maker+ were among the posted tributes to father and son! Cannot imagine what it would be like if this were an election year! Problems ,nding a place to park: Shiju had to lead us through back alleys from where he was able to park the car" to the north entrance where the shoe depository was located! This time" knowing I would have to shed shoes and socks" it did not seem so bad! On Fridays" the temple is the most crowded" and rituals and ceremonies were going on all around us! The color and


the spectacle were overwhelming! Although we were forbidden access to the temple#s sacred inner chambers" we never sensed that our presence was resented in the adjacent areas where we were permitted; the people either ignored us or encouraged us to take their pictures! When I stopped to photograph a wedding party" they motioned for me to move in" although I declined to be so intrusive! Watched as tiny cups of ghee were lighted" as gods were anointed with oils and pastes and draped with colorful cloth" as hands and knees were rubbed with ash" as heads were bowed or eyes were raised" as bodies were prostrated! Women#s sweet singing voices merged with the chant of holy men over the so- rumble of muttered prayers! I imagined this chorus of humanity rising to a listening God: worshipping" thanking" praising" pleading! When we returned to the car" found a little calf nestled nearly under the right front wheel! Spent the late a-ernoon in our room" going over pictures" checking email" and enjoying a little downtime! Dinner on the veranda at the View again! Noises of the city 'oated up to us: a call to prayer" the passing of a train" a dog barking! Memories of Karachi came 'ooding back to me as I recalled being on our roo-op and hearing these same sounds!


Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple Madurai







Saturday, January 30


Departed for Kerala at !:""# The $at% dry landscape began to change to palm trees and green expanses# In the distance% hills came into view# Began to climb through lush forest through Kumily to the Shalimar Spice Garden Resort% arriving at &&:'"# Warm reception with sandalwood paste applied to our foreheads% followed by welcome drinks and cold towels# Were shown to a thatched(roof cottage with a view of the garden# A little a)er noon% toured the Connemara Tea Factory% located &* kilometers down the road in Thekkady# Our guide was Jaydee% an older man who apologized for his poor English% but who gave an excellent overview of the history of tea and explained how it is grown and processed# There are !+ varieties of the tea plant ,a member of the camellia family- but only three can be made into drinkable tea# He admitted that the tea made at his factory is good but not India.s /nest% as Thekkady is +%+"" feet% while Darjeeling is !%""" feet high% with the cool air that is best for tea growing# Tea plants can grow to a height of 0" feet% but they are cut down to &! inches every /ve years to keep the leaves tender and young# Old women harvest the leaves either by hand or with a pair of scissors attached to a box# In the factory% the leaves are dried and chopped% fermented and roasted# The end result is either tea granules or tea powder; the factory does not produce any leaf tea# Sampled both varieties a)er our tour; the powder is far stronger# Jaydee told us

that tea is an excellent health drink but should be consumed black and limited to eight cups a day# Drove next to Eden Spice Garden where Shreeda% with her lovely smile% pointed out various spices and ayurvedic remedies as we stumbled along a narrow% stony and sometimes precipitous path trying to keep up with her# Returning to Kumily% Shiju bought tickets for us to a Kalaripayattu martial arts performance at *:""# Walked around the town of Kumily% enjoying the scent of spices that emanated from the neat little shops that lined both sides of the street# Stopped at a restaurant for a beer% but learned that because today is the anniversary of Gandhi.s assassination% no alcohol is served in public; talked over Pepsis until it was time for the Kalaripayattu show# It is the oldest form of martial arts and draws its inspiration from the power and strength of animals like the lion% tiger% elephant% and snake# It is steeped in ritual# The young performers wielded a variety of dangerous weapons1swords% sticks% razor wire% and /re1and performed in an almost choreographed manner# The show lasted an hour; we returned to the hotel for a dinner of Kerala specialties# Jake had spiced /sh /llets fried in banana leaves that were delicious# My dish of vegetables and coconut was not as good as his# Shared cold cardamom sou23 for dessert; good% but tasted more like cardamom jello# Then to bed% as it will be an early morning again#






Sunday, January 31


Unbelievable! Here we are" sitting in our own personal kettuvallam" a luxurious two#bedroom Kerala houseboat" motoring gently down a canal on Lake Vembanad! It is late a$ernoon" the sun is starting to sink lower and the transport boats %rice" coconut" and people& we pass are veiled in a light haze" making them seem far#o' and giving us the sense that this is our own personal paradise! Our boat is from the Kumarakom Lake Resort! There are (ve in their )eet; the rest of the guest quarters are on dry land! Had arranged for a boat with a single bedroom but were upgraded to the larger boat with a crew of three! There are two air#conditioned bedrooms with private baths" a dining room" kitchen" and a shaded veranda! The boat is covered in woven rattan and has a thatched roof; there are eight large glass windows on each side! I feel like a maharani" sipping my wine and watching the world go by in our own bit of heaven! The resort itself" set among coconut palms and )owering bushes" is nestled on the banks of the Kumarakom backwaters! The reception and dining areas are open" and with fans blowing" the air is fresh and dry! Antique carvings and (xtures add elegant touches everywhere! Arrived at noon and enjoyed a sumptuous bu'et lunch as they readied our kettuvallam! Earlier in the morning" we descended through the Western Ghats from the Periyar Game Reserve" where we had taken an early morning *tiger cruise+ on an old double#decker boat" the Jalaraja! The upper deck was closed" however" because a similar boat capsized last year" drowning ,- people! This was the (rst week that the cruise had resumed! Saw no tigers; the wildlife consisted of several birds roosting on the dead

trees in the water" and boar" deer" otters" and monkeys in the distance! As we stepped onto the boat" ran into Steve and Crissy Mayers" a Birmingham" England couple we met yesterday at the tea plantation! But returning to our houseboat! Our skipper" Sateeth" %who controls the throttle with his toes& took us down a narrower canal" skirting little villages where we saw women washing their hair and scouring pots" boys getting up a game of cricket in a nearby (eld" and colorful laundry hanging out to dry! We progressed as far as the outskirts of Alleppy! There was a problem with a bridge ahead and we had to turn back to the main canal again; Jake commented that it was starting to look like rush hour" with so many boats out" honking at each other just like cars in the city! A (sherman paddled up to the boat with fresh scampi; we bought three! Tied up just before sunset" next to a row of banana trees! With the motor o'" we could hear the wind rustling the large leaves and the call of various birds; the water lapped at the sides of the boat! Jince" our chef" ./ years old and from the local area" grilled the scampi in fresh Kerala spices and we enjoyed them with glasses of chilled wine as we watched a crimson sun disappear into the horizon! Dinner was served at 0:/1! As Jince brought in a steaming bowl of spicy rassam" he spilled it all over me! I did not want to make a fuss" but was surprised that he merely went to get a fresh bowl and said nothing about it; I even had to ask for another napkin! A$er our big lunch and the scampi" we unfortunately had no appetite for the large portions he brought us! The sun and fresh air made us sleepy and we retired early to our comfortable room! 93

Periyar Game Reserve




Lake Vembanad


Journal kept by Susan Hanes during a six!week trip to India by way of London" Qatar" and Dublin" from January # to February $#" %&$&' Photos by Susan Hanes and George Leonard" copyright %&$&' v'%


2010 India 2  

Independent travel through India

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