KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
After nearly two weeks in this wonderful town, it is time to move on. We are leaving on Monday (tomorrow) for Pondicherry - two hours south of here.
The last couple of days have been particularly nice as the Pongal festival is over and the town has settled into post-holiday mode again. I was shocked to see the amount of litter left behind on the streets and the park area next to the monuments. We read in the paper that there was 70 tons of garbage left on Marina Beach in Chennai. Now Marina Beach is 7 km long, and touted to be the second longest beach in the world after Miami beach, but still, that's a lot of litter. Even the city maintenance workers were shocked - the usual amount on any given day is 2 tons. They worked overnight and removed all the litter by morning, but I wonder where it all ended up. There is a shocking amount of plastic and paper garbage everywhere one looks, especially on vacant land. It's one of the hardest things to deal with while travelling in India, we try not to let it get to us, but it's almost impossible to ignore.
We have been taking long walks throughout Mamallapuram in the evenings and the other day we walked south out of the town for about 45 minutes. The sea coast was on our left and the sun was setting on the right. It was so beautiful. We came upon a housing project under construction and when we saw a sign identifying the site as developed by "Women Without Borders" we stopped to learn more. It turns out the houses are being built for people who lost their homes in the tsunami two years ago. The houses will be ready in about a month, they are now building a community hall, the walls are just going up. The worst of the damage in Tamil Nadu was along the coast between Mamallapuram and Pondicherry. Over 15,000 people lost their lives and many, many more were made homeless. There are dozens of orphanages in Mamallapuram, filled with children who lost their parents in the tsunami. I am told that Mamallapuram's beaches only saw the waves come in 50 - 100 meters but most of the town's people fled inland for three days until the immediate danger passed. I am sure we will see more evidence of the damage when we travel tomorrow to Pondicherry by road.
As we walked through the town towards the site of the Five Rastas, we found that several large trees had just been removed in order to widen the road so that the large tourists’ buses can pass each other on the way in and out of the monument site. The amount of foliage on the road was incredible. This area is where the largest concentration of stone carvers work and I wonder what it will be like for them, later in the summer, when they have lost all the shade that these large trees provided. There were scores of women hacking away at the branches because they can use the free firewood for cooking. They had a huge digger trying to remove the tree roots, but many men and boys were chopping at the larger branches with axes and machetes. On the way back into town, we were surprised to see a vending machine outside a DVD rental shop. I believe that this is the first vending machine I've seen in India. It looked like the shop had filled the vending machine with DVD's, but when I spoke to the shop owner, I was surprised to learn that what looked like DVD's were really grinding disks. They sell them this way so the stone cutters can buy replacement blades 24/7 and not be held up just because the shops are closed. They take their trade very seriously here!
This morning we rose very early to travel 15 km out of town to visit a temple at the top of a large outcropping of rock. It is referred to as the Eagle Temple, but the eagles who used to come to be hand-fed no longer come. We really enjoyed getting out into the rice fields so early in the morning and were glad that we got an early start as we had to climb, barefooted, up 350 steps to see the temple. It was quite a climb and especially hard for Anil coming down as it meant stepping onto the corns on the balls of his feet. Very painful. There were lots of young students on the stairs, gawking at us of course. For some reason, they all pile rocks at the top, much like the Inukshuks back in Canada. When we went to the temple at the bottom of the hill, we were again swarmed by local families who wanted to have their picture taken with the "foreign woman". They get such delight out of it, I cannot not let them.
One of the last things we did before leaving was to have breakfast at the Ananda Bhavan, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant. We had eaten almost all our meals there while in Mamallapuram and we wanted to say goodbye to the waiters who had given us such good service over the past twelve days. We asked them to step outside and they were most happy to pose for us. The little man on the right is the "guard" who saluted us each time we arrived to eat; it would not have been complete without him in the picture too. We find that the people we meet and get to know a little make travelling so much more enjoyable.
Now it is time to move on, we have been accused of acting like honeymooners, staying in this lovely place for such a long time. We found such a nice hotel and no one hassles us here, the food is great, we're almost sorry to leave. However, the rest of South India awaits us and there may even be some good French wine in the old colonial port of Pondicherry.
P.S. It's pronounced "ma-malla-pur-am". The old name was "ma-ha-bali-pur-am".