i have covered so much territory since leaving varanasi, it seems ages ago that i was there.
pondicherry, also, is thankfully far behind me. it was raining on my last day there and i couldn’t have the nice walking view of the the city during that day that i had planned, so i just sloshed about in drizzle looking into train and bus tickets. i decided to take an afternoon bus to kanchipuram, where another of the temples i was looking for is located.
this was a local bus, but i’ve been getting used to taking them in the south. i usually grab the front seat by the window behind the driver, which is usually full of ladies who don’t mind sitting next to me and my backpack fits perfectly beneath the seat, my smaller pack in between my feet and my guitar on the skinny rack above the seats. this is how i made my way to kanchipuram, the sun starting to emerge now that i was out of hateful pondicherry and back in the countryside. even if they speak no english, the ladies next to me frequently are curious about me and try to get some questions across to me.
i got off at kanchipuram and went walking in search of a guesthouse or rickshaw driver. unlike pudicherry (pondy’s official name), kanchipuram (kanchi for short) is a temple town. i wandered with my things through small dark streets – it was night by then – and finally looped back to the main street to look for an autorickshaw. a french couple on the bus with me had had a guidebook, which i scanned for guesthouse names and the first driver i spoke to mentioned a place i recognized from the book, so we went, he charged a fair price, and the place was perfect: 850 rupees with wifi and hot water, a balcony, and a south indian restaurant below. a bit expensive, but less than pondy and the staff was all friendly. not long after i arrived and was safely ensconced in my room, the rain began to pour down outside. at nearly ten it was wrapping up and i left to get food. i decided to walk further than the front door and went to another place down the street.
the next day i lazed around a bit then went in search of some electronic things: a new adapter, as i had left mine (a makeshift one, anyway) at the hotel in pondy. with some instructions from the front desk, i walked across to a small (muddy from the rain) street and at the first place bought a new adapter for 70 rupees and a new universal charger – which looks janky, but charges my camera battery for 90 rupees. problems solved. let’s hope they work in egypt!
i went back to the hotel to drop off my purchases and try them out: success! then i waited, as the temples were closed at noon and would reopen at 4 pm, so no need to hurry out now. i enjoyed the peaceful room until it was time to venture out to a late lunch and wander to locate the temples. i walked along the main street and ducked into a place called krishna bhavan (i think). a small local thali or “meals” place. i bought a 50 rupee ticket and went up to where the meals are served in their own section of the restaurant. the waiter beckoned me and chose a nice banana leaf since the one at my place had a spot: the banana leaf is your plate. it is splashed with water and the water dumped off and then the food arrives: first rice, and then several different kinds of vegetables, cooked in different spices. beetroot, green beans, spicy sambar (thin lentil soup with veggies to top the rice) and several others. waiters approach with pails full of different dishes, should you want more. bowls of salt and pickle are on the table to taste. there is always a bit of a spectacle in such places, because i am bound to be doing some things incorrectly. sure, i eat with my fingers, but i mix all the dishes, which may be uncouth, and i eat slower than the men, who gobble twice the rice at twice the speed.
one result is that the meal is over more quickly than it might otherwise be for me. no lingering over a coffee after you finish: you get up and wash your hands and another banana leaf is set out for the next customer. meals are all about variety in volume. the banana leaf is thought to have medicinal properties which get infused into the food as they sit on it, and transferred to you as you eat it!
i had over an hour to kill before the temples would open and it was steamy out in the mid day sun. i wandered and bought some jasmine for my hair and located all the temples i wanted to see, then stumbled across one i didn’t know about. the indian archaeological department is working to better preserve one of the older temples in town. while the others were closed, i could at least tour the small temple and admire it, though the lingam in the sanctum was closed behind doors till the appointed time for darshan.
after water and a chai, i went back to the shiva temple and it was open. i went in and was able to see the ancient mango tree – which looks suspiciously not so ancient – and the central lingam, one of the 5 i was visiting. the place wasn’t especially grand, but it had nice vibes.
next i went to the parvati temple – kammakshi amman – but there the feeling was not so peaceful. i spent some nice moments by the tank and a small altar in the back of the temple, but the line to go in was large and in the end i didn’t brave it. i fed bananas to an elephant and went on my way, no small change to give to the myriad beggar women there.
i stopped by the bus stand to check times for the buses to tiruvannamalai the next day and a woman selling jasmine gave me some on my way back to the hotel. everyone was being so friendly, i took pictures of rickshaw drivers gathered together in their browns.
i went back to my hotel to pack and prepare for an early morning. i had dinner at saravanna bhavan next door and next morning awoke to catch the bus to tiruvannamalai. i got there in just enough time to get the bus, though i found out too late that when i thought i had ten minutes, i had less, and i missed the bus as i bought provisions for the ride. it was nearly an hour till the next bus, so i pulled out my guitar and played a bit till the bus came. and i got on early!
another long winding rode to tiru, but you see the countryside and the people taking trains and buses. i got there just after 1 pm and found jacqueline and her friend esther near the sri ramana ashram – which is apparently famous. i was tired from the trip and showered off before we went to eat. the quiet place across the street turned out to be packed with westerners eating salad. it turns out tiru has a big european and foreign contingent, especially during the just ending season. jacqueline is a fan of sri ramana, a sage who spoke about and exemplified life’s unreality, among other things. but the real attraction is the mountain.
there is a large, attractive mountain plunked down right in the middle of tiruvannamalai. it is the mountain which makes it a sacred place, the temple something that came later. this mountain is said to be sacred to shiva, one of his abodes, and sages have come there over the centuries to meditate in its caves. as did sri ramana.
after lunch we did some shopping at the mostly kashmiri shops around the ashram. that night we had dinner in the ashram, eating from plates of leaves woven together with stems, piled with rice and veggies, a banana on the side.
the next couple of days were a bit of a blur with the beginnings of shivaratri. esther and i walked around the mountain and the three of us went up it a ways to visit some of the caves.
i had planned to visit one more temple, but realized my time was short. i visited the one in tiru and then decided i would forgo the last one and head instead to bangalore where i would visit my friend darshana and her family and then continue by bus to goa for a few days of sun before i leave india, my trip coming so swiftly to a close.
i took a long local bus to bangalore and had a shower and then dinner with darshana. bangalore is so western in places! i took a bus that night to goa and arrived after fitful sleep on a semi-sleeper (true to its name). i took a rickshaw to robert’s place, and like that, i was back, almost to where i started. drinking coffee with robert.
the last few days in goa were spent shopping and hanging out with usha and robert, drinking coffee, going to markets and beaches and finally a pool party on friday. we cooked a hasty repast at robert’s before i needed to get going. though the taxi couldn’t find our place, we found him and he got me to my bus in the nick of time.
i arrived in mumbai yesterday morning and went to elephanta caves, a ferry ride from colaba and the gateway of india.
and today: to egypt! i am not sure when i will write next.
love and miss,