Friday 27 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 7

Tue 12 Jan

Early start for drive to Thanjavur.  Passed through a lovely rice field and stopped en route to see rope making with coconut fibre.  We all had a go at teasing out the fibre.

We also stopped to see a mud house and family by the side of the road. We crossed a dam and saw many crocodiles in the water, bathing on the banks or in the shallows not far from where fishermen were sitting on little rafts with their feet dangling in the water.

Very pleasant South India lunch at the Paradise Resort mid-way on the journey. Arrived at Thanjavur approx. 3pm and dropped our luggage off at the Tanjore Hi Hotel. 

Guided by Mr Raja to the Palace to see the wonderful 7C – 11C bronze statues.  These are truly great pieces of art, mainly of Shiva and Parvati.  Late in the afternoon we visited the famous local temple with its impressive Nandi and great towers.  It was atmospheric to enter the interior of one of the “shrines” and observe Shiva in the form of a lingam.

After this, we went to a genuine small bronze-making business and observed the procedures for making bronze items.  We bought a little statue of Lakshmi and a little sleeping Buddha.  B and P bought a larger impressive Nandi.

Our evening meal was delightful sitting out on a balcony looking up at the starlit sky and a beautiful moon.  Nats helpfully suggested which dishes we should sample.  His advice in this area is a real bonus on this tour. 

Slept well in a beautifully decorated room.

Friday 20 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 6

Mon 11 Jan

Woken just after 4am by the very loud sound of the fishing boats heading out to sea.  This was followed by loud local religious chanting/singing, which we subsequently found was common in South India at this hour. When the sun rose, it streamed straight through into our door from over the sea.

After a lovely breakfast in the open dining room, we headed back to Pondicherry.  Along the way, we collected our guide for the day, Kamachi, who also happened to be a lawyer.  She spoke very good English.

In the early morning light we took a delightful cycle rickshaw ride through the French quarter, noting the influence of the French in the architecture of the buildings  with arched and wrought iron gateways.  Afterwards, we drove around in our van visiting two wonderful Catholic churches and poked our nose into the Sri Aurobindo ashram and saw the ashrams’ paper-making centre.  We then strolled through the absolutely delightful Pondicherry flower, fruit, veggie and fish market.

Lunch was taken at a French bakery, “Baker Street” with authentic French baking – we had a pizza and ham quiche – not exactly French but very tasty.  Also tasted some delightful sweet morsels.

In the afternoon we visited Auroville and were impressed with the imposing matrimandir – a huge golden globe that is used as a meditation dwelling only by devout followers.  Outsiders aren’t allowed in.

Returning to our village we relaxed with a cooling swim and dined at night in the restaurant. 

Friday 13 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 5

Sun 10 Jan

Early start to wander around the incredible sculptured rocks of Mahabalipuram, dating back to the 7th Century. 

We were accompanied by a very knowledgeable guide, Cholan, who explained all of the details of the carvings in the rock.  Visiting these sculptures was a rich experience which I’m sure will prove to be a highlight of our tour.  I captured lots of photos and videos of this enchanting place.

We got back to our Resort at midday in time to check out and went to a nearby vegetarian restaurant for lunch with Nats.  Had aloo gobi and a vegetable kofta curry.

We drove during the afternoon to Pondicherry where we checked into our accommodation right by the beach – Dune Eco Village and Spa.  Alison and I had a raised bure with a bamboo slatted floor.  It had an A-framed thatched roof and a lovely outdoor covered balcony.

Late in the afternoon we went to the French quarter of Pondy for a drink at the Seaview Hotel overlooking the beach and pier.  Nats ordered us snacks of various kinds, the best being chicken tikka and a Egg Bhurji (spiced scrambled egg).  After the sun had set we wandered along the promenade enjoying the atmosphere with other strollers.  We admired the huge sculpture of Gandhi.

Slept well under our mosquito net although the bed was a bit hard.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 4

Sat 9 Jan

Late start at 10am.  Lovely drive down to Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram), reaching coconut palms along the coast.  We stopped halfway to look at a fascinating crocodile sanctuary which housed crocodiles from all over the world.

Lunch was had at the Moonraker’s Restaurant.  It’s a small place but possesses a delightful ambience.  Started with a cold Kingfisher beer then squid pieces cooked in a batter followed a huge king prawns and a grilled snapper and rice.  All very tasty.  This was the street where Ric Stein wrote that he sampled the best curry in all of Indian – a fish curry at the Seashore Restaurant. 

After lunch we strolled down the colourful lane to the beach, stopping at Apollo Books to but some books on the Mahabalipuram sculptures that we were going to visit in the morning. Back at the Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort we lazed away the rest of the afternoon, swimming in the delightful long pool.

In the evening we went to a wonderful dance performance as part of the Indian Dance Festival held at this time of the year for a month.  We watched the Bharatanatyam Dance group.

Returning back to the Resort we had a wonderful meal of Aloo Gobi, crepe stuffed with tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms, a wonderful okra dish and dumplings in a spinach sauce. 

Sunday 8 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 3

Fri 8 Jan

Busy day today.  Nats and Anitha collected us at 7.45am and we drove through early morning traffic to collect our older guide for the day, a delightful 77-year-old woman who proved to be very knowledgeable about Indian religion and art – Mrs Anandhi (Mrs “Happiness”).

We went first to the Kalakshetra Foundation which is an indigenous arts foundation set in a beautiful compound with lots of trees and scattered open-windowed rooms and a big auditorium.  No-one else was around and we arrived to an open area under a massive banyan tree where about 100 mainly young female students were seated on the ground in the lotus position, singing a long very appealing chant.  It was captivating.

Around 9.30am they finished and dispersed to their various classes.  It was an absolute delight to wander around the compound watching or listening to the students performing dance and music.  Some were also learning to play various musical instruments such as the violin and the veena which is like a large-sized sitar, although the veena is more ancient than the sitar and there is no connection between the two.  Some of the dancing was thrilling to watch through the open windows or sitting on chairs inside.

After this wonderful experience we went to the DhakshinaChitra Centre, which is a huge compound where houses from various South India regions have been reconstructed in their original form – from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh – some from reassembled original materials collected from their home state.  Very interesting.  We watched an open-air dance performance, glass-blowing (Nats bought and gave us each a little peacock or elephant cocktail stirrer) and pottery-making.  There was an open gathering of artists from various villages who were selling their wares. We had an enjoyable South Indian lunch at this Centre.

In the afternoon we drove along the Marina Beach which is about 1km wide.  Locals were mingling on the beach but none were swimming.  We drove past an Ice House and Madras University and passed by old British heritage buildings. We then arrived at Santhome Church where St Thomas is buried.  We went in and observed his tomb.

We then visited a Shiva Temple at Mylapore, which you enter through an impressive gopuram adorned with colourful ceramic figures of Shiva.  A loud festival was in progress with crowds of people.  The chiming of a huge bell and the noise from the blowing of various instruments that sounded like South African vuvuzelas – a very penetrating a sound – was too much for Paul and me, so we retreated.  I was approached by an odd local who tried to convince me to take off my temple socks and experience the sensation of walking around the temple barefoot.  As part of a ritual, Nats prostrated himself in front of a shrine.  Anitha sat on the ground in the lotus position and swayed.  There was much ritual activity being performed all around us. 

Tired at the end of a long day, we went back to our hotel, showered and relaxed in a quiet bar for a Kingfisher beer and then settled for a meal in the hotel restaurant – Barbara had a nasi goreng, Alison a plate of samosas and Paul and I shared a very hot green chicken curry.

Saturday 7 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 2

Thu 7 Jan

Nats collected us at 9am and we went straight to the Valluvar Kottam, which is a memorial to a great poet Thiruvalluvar, who wrote a great tome called the Kural.  This is a long poem of 1330 couplets covering ethereal issues.  Sadly, the compound has been neglected and the massive chariot, which would look spectacular if in pristine condition, looks dilapidated.

An accompanying building houses granite-inscribed slabs with the couplets, and these are also in a neglected state.  The Kural dates back to over 2,000 years.  The gardens, which apparently were very pleasant, are now overgrown and occupied by the homeless.  

We then strolled through the Koyambedu flower market which consisted of a riot of colour with mountains of different flowers.

At lunchtime we had a magnificent feast in the home of Dr Sudarsanan which his wife prepared for us.  We were treated like royalty in their home.  We gave them a wooden entwined table mat and B and P gave them a lovely plate.

Late in the afternoon we visited St Andrew’s round church and then took a stroll down Mint Street, mingling with the throngs. 

Nats had a team member with us all day called Anitha, who is very pretty and a delight to talk with.  She is 40 but looks 20 and she talked freely about her arranged marriage and the difficulties of forging her own life.

Late afternoon Barbara and Alison shopped for Indian toys whilst Paul and I went to Raymond’s tailors where I was measure for some trousers which I collect tomorrow. 

In the evening we relaxed in the hotel with a Kingfisher beer and nibbles during the happy hour.

Friday 6 May 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 1

In January 2016, Nats accompanied two lovely couples from New Zealand - Al & Alison Rowland & Paul & Barbara Brookfield for 21 days through South India. Al had been keeping a diary of the entire trip. He has gracefully given us permission to publish it. We would be presenting the day by day musing of Al for the next 21 days. Here is the first day!
SOUTH INDIA TRIP 6 January – 27 January 2016
With Nats Subramanian from Take Me2India (now  known as TakeMe2The World)
Accompanied by our friends Barbara and Paul Brookfield.

We arrived in Chennai late on the 6th after two tiring flights – AKLD-SING-CHENNAI.

We already had our electronic visas so immigration clearance wasn’t too bad, although Barb and Alison were both finger-printed and for some reason the machine wouldn’t record Alison’s fingerprints which caused a little consternation.

Our bags came through on the carousel, thankfully, as we had only an hour in transit in Singapore.

Nats was outside the airport to meet us – a welcome sight.  He took us to our air-conditioned van and we met our driver for the trip – Babu.

Through late-night traffic we drove to our hotel – the Raintree on Anna Salai, and after a nice shower we collapsed into bed.