Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Sights of India in Chennai

Today we left the ship to start a five day overland tour of India. I was amazed to see how far we would be travelling on the five days.

We would be getting off in Chennai and then meeting the ship in Mumbai several days from now. Sadly, Jim had a bit of a cold and, with the hot, humid conditions in India, he decided it was best if he didn’t go on the tour. Disappointing for both of us, but we’ve seen enough foreign hospitals in the last 18 months.

We arrived early in the morning. A burning wood smell was our first impression of India. We’ve been warned there would be lots of different smells!

There were lots of pallets of this rock being loaded onto a ship nearby. We also noticed that most of the people were barefoot. I can’t imagine what that’s like when the heat of the day progresses and the pavement warms up.

Here I am with my carry-on bag. This is a first—I am going away for 5 days with this small bag. I had to be pretty selective.

Jim in India (or as close as he was going to get) putting on a happy face.

There were lots of buses ready to take people out for the day.

The overland tour to the Taj Mahal is what they were calling the five-day experience. There are five buses on the tour. It’s a lot of travelling—planes, trains and buses...no automobiles.

Our guide, Arun, gave us some interesting facts, which I wanted to include in the blog but couldn't figure out where. So here they are:

•Chennai’s name was Madras until 1996 when all British names were changed. The population is 8 million. The British ruled for 300 years until 1947.

•India has three climates—hot, hotter, and hottest. This was the hottest and tourism would be slow now for the next three months.

•The main industry is Bollywood. India has the largest number of movies made in the world and, according to Arun, some of them are the most stupid.

•Unemployment rate is about 17%.

•India’s population is 1.2 billion—82% Hindu, 11% Muslim, 3% Christian, 3% Shiites

•The Hindu religion has 33 million gods/goddesses. It is the most democratic religion in that you follow your conscience. The drawback is the caste system, which Arun called India’s hidden apartheid.

•To be born a Hindu in India is to enter the caste system, one of the world's longest surviving forms of social stratification. It has been part of the Indian culture for the past 1,500 years and the caste system follows a basic precept: all men are created unequal. The ranks in Hindu society come from a legend in which the main groupings, or varnas, emerge from a primordial being. From the mouth come the Brahmans—the priests and teachers. From the arms come the Kshatriyas—the rulers and soldiers. From the thighs come the Vaisyas—merchants and traders. From the feet come the Sudras—labourers. Each varna in turn contains hundreds of hereditary castes and sub castes within their own pecking orders.

•A fifth group describes the people who are achuta, or untouchable. The primordial being does not claim them. Untouchables are outcasts: people considered too impure and polluted to rank as worthy beings. Prejudice defines their lives, particularly in the rural areas, where nearly three-quarters of India's people live. Untouchables are shunned, insulted, banned from temples and higher caste homes, made to eat and drink from separate utensils in public places, and, in extreme but not uncommon cases, are raped, burned, lynched, and gunned down.

•Mumbai has more millionaires and billionaires than NYC. You won’t see them with Rolls Royces or any outward sign of wealth. This might bring the evil eye. Instead, they put much of their money into gold.

•India is a democracy vs. China’s communist state. You would never see a movie like Slumdog Millionaire made in China. They would only show us what they wanted us to see.

•The extended family system has collapsed in India. Now old people go into old age homes. A major health issue is child diabetes, which can be attributed to the collapse of the family system. The older generation would have looked after the children, but now children are on their own after school.

•You can only have one car per family unless you can prove you have parking.

•Littering is a huge problem and is part of the caste system. People don’t think anything of littering. It is not their job to pick stuff up. The untouchables or the lowest class of caste, even if well paid, will not pick up garbage.

•You hardly see anyone smoking as there is a fine for lighting a cigarette in public.

Facts over...back to the photos. We passed by Marina Beach, which is the second longest beach in the world after Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro. The beach is on the Bay of Bengal which empties into the Indian Ocean.

We passed by this statue of an elephant and a bull. I think the elephant is winning!

This is a school run by the Catholic nuns.

And this building immediately after the school is San Thome (St. Thomas) Basilica. It was built in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers and rebuilt again by the British in 1893. In 2006, it was declared a national shrine and is a pilgrimage site for Christians in India.

A street scene in Chennai…

His sign says “Costume Designer.” He was meticulously measuring this shirt.

A “posh residential location.” There’s a British influence—posh! 

We stopped at this toll booth. Arun said that privatization has been very good for India. They have better schools, roads, and airlines as a result.

These trees proved very effective in helping disperse the water from the tsunami.

We arrived in Mamallapuram, where we would be staying overnight and visiting some of the sites.Try saying that fast three times!

Our hotel was the Radisson and it looked very nice.

The lobby…

I took some pictures of my room so that Jim could see where we had stayed. The room was beautiful.

With a balcony overlooking the pool. It was so hot that you would never sit out there, but it was a lovely view.

The pool looked so inviting, but we were having a quick lunch and getting back on the buses to visit some temples.

Our first stop was the Five Rathas.

The Pancha Rathas shrines were carved from a rock outcropping of pink granite during the 7th century. The purpose of their construction is not known, and only one of the structures is complete. Pancha Rathas have been preserved very well thanks to the sturdiness of their material, and in spite of constant salty winds from the ocean and a catastrophic tsunami in 13th century.

Each temple is a monolith, carved whole from a rock outcropping. They were carved from the top down and front to back. It would have taken many skilled artisans to work with this material.

This is the only temple that was completed inside.

Can you imagine carving this out of a huge granite rock from the top down? Amazing skills.

Had they not been made of granite, they would never have stood the test of time.

This elephant is quite smooth. He probably had more distinct features at one point.

We had to run the gauntlet of the hawkers. They were pretty aggressive and didn’t take no for an answer. If you showed the least interest in what they had, you were pretty much doomed to be pestered all the way back to the bus. It is a shame because sometimes you would actually like to look at some of the merchandise, but it isn't worth the hassle unless you really want the item.

We passed many businesses selling stone carvings. Arun said that the stone carvers are not well paid.

Our next stop was the Shore Temple.

The Shore Temple was named because it overlooks the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. It was built on a promontory sticking out into the Bay of Bengal at Mahabalipuram, a village south of Chennai. The village was a busy port during the 7th and 8th century.

The temple was not destroyed during the 2004 tsunami as the rock wall surrounding the area helped to diffuse the waves. The walls are slowly deteriorating due to the salt air.

The bulls are the symbol of Shiva, an important Hindu god.

Arun waiting as we explored.

This is the Bay of Bengal with hotels popping up along the shore. The hotel we are staying at was closed for 10 days after the tsunami in 2004.

It was pretty hard to say no to these children and the mother with the baby selling jewellery, stone carvings, and sandals.

It wasn't unusual to see cows meandering down the road.

We went back to the hotel for a rest and a swim in the pool. The water was like bath water it was so warm, but it was so nice!

We had a buffet dinner and got our marching orders for the morning.

It was a fantastic day of sights and sounds. Tomorrow will mostly be a travel day as we fly to New Delhi…