So before the temple junkie diversion I had already taken you to Pondicherry where I was kissed by an elephant. What happened next? Damn I keep getting behind. Apologies for any confusion or repetition. The next day in Pondicherry started early walking with Karthik up to the big Sunday food market at 630am: a riot of fish, fruit and veg and flowers. I photographed the cauliflower man. He told Karthik that everyone photographs him. In my best Hindi I told him that is because he is beautiful. Half the market cried laughing. It was huge.
Then it was off with Joseph the guide to a commune and ashram. I’m of the view that “the Big Golden Golf Ball” is a cult and a scam so we’ll leave it at that.
Our evening walk was to the Sunday night market where the farmers had cleared out and the purveyors of junk had moved in. It was like a 2 km stretch of $2 shop on the road, I guess a flea market boot sale cross, but everything was 20c. So much junk. But crowd watching is always a pleasure. Karthik looked at frocks for his daughter. But didn’t buy anything – “color, size no problem. But I buy 1 gift must buy 3,” he says. “I buy for daughter first son complain. I buy for him then wife complain. Better none or three.”
That night there was a massive all night street party outside the hotel. “Local street temple festival,” Karthik yelled over drums and horns and hundreds of people partying. Everyone who lived there had invited everyone they knew and they were all lined up to go through the small street temple. Of course you couldn’t have a festival without street vendors selling flowers for offerings and drinks and food while you wait. And cows and motorbikes and police. It was so freakish loud. About 10pm I took Karthik down some earplugs to him help try to get some sleep. He’d had some beer to achieve the same effect and couldn’t remember English – I’ve been that drunk!
Pretty much that was Pondicherry. Nice, relaxing. French. The hotel chef came out and waved me goodbye. I ran the hotel out of imported gin. Nice.
We set off north to Mamallapuram, I can’t say that name. Great plan. There was a protest march blocking the road so we spent over an hour parked by the side of the road waiting to be given the all clear by the police. Karthik wouldn’t join the cue wending its way through the protestors as he said it might not be safe. I was happy enough parking back a bit and people watching. Everyone clambering out of trucks and buses and cars talking and waiting good naturedly. Those in a hurry begging lifts on motorbikes. Kids playing in the dirt. The cows wondering what all the fuss was about. The road side food and drink stalls making a killing.
Mamallapuram was interesting. A rocky boulder strewn headland that saw a lot of carving through C6-7th. It includes the second largest bas-relief in Asia after Angkor Wat. I prefer this one actually. Size isn’t everything. Both star Arjuna the key character in Mahabharata. Very cool.
I also liked the temple caves carved straight into the rock at apparently random spots. There were nine. Amazing carving given the age and that we’re talking granite monoliths. Krishna’s butter ball, a balanced boulder, was huge. Apparently the name is because Krishna as a goat herder liked playing his flute to attract the pretty young cow herder girls! While he was playing with their butter churns their flocks intermixed! I leave the rest to your imaginations. Apparently he got a lot of butter, a lot, it’s a big ball.
There was also a complex down the way carved entirely out of one single rock – five “chariots” (I’m going with pagodas) in different architectural styles and sizes, an elephant a bull and a lion. At least 50m long and I’d say 30m tall at its highest part. They started at the top of the boulder and carved down- I ask you, how do you get all the bases to line up that way? They did. Was it Michelangelo who said sculpting was about liberating the sculpture from the surrounding rock? It was a thought that seemed real to me in the setting. Anyway it was all unfinished as a war took the sculptors away, but dead impressive none the less.
Our afternoon walk was a couple of hours along a white sandy beach that was pretty devastated by the Asian tsunami in 2004. We saw fishing boats (on the sand and in the sea), crabs, sadly two dead green turtles pulled in by fishermen, some very pale English tourists swimming (or trying). In the distance was a crumbling temple collapsing into the sea. There were the usual retail opportunities to which I succumbed in good nature. Nothing quite like a walk on the beach to blow the cobwebs out of your ears.
The hotel was expensive and the restaurant full of annoying Americans, the staff harangued and rude so I’ve been eating out with Karthik. Even paying for us both is 25% of hotel prices and better food. Pretty much that was Mamallapuram. Last stop Chennai. Yep I’m a bit over temples, but very happy and relaxed. Eating well and shopping. May have excess luggage oh well