Monday, Dec. 16 – Today began at Mahabalipuram, my inspiration for coming to southern India in the first place. It is a world heritage site, the cradle of southern Indian sculpture. We entered the area of Five Rathas (chariots), where we climbed huge boulders that looked as though the ocean had shaped them. Goats basking about. Visited the Shore Temple and admired the images of Shiva as well as some tiny owls peeking out of nichos. The sanctuaries were built in the 7th and 8th centuries. Especially beautiful were the rathas (temples in the form of chariots), and the open air reliefs featuring thousands of glorifications of Shiva and the “Descent of the Ganges.”
The road to Pondicherry was beautiful, and whenever we weren’t listening to more edification from our tireless guide Charles, we were stopping at roadside points of interest. India, Charles told us, has 35 states. In 1673, Francois Martin bought land for his East India Company. The beginning of a change from being a small fishing village to the French/Indian bustling city that it is today. The population is 700,000, a million in the larger area. We visited Sacred Heart Church, walked along Goubert Avenue, which is right by the sea.
After leaving Pondicherry, we stopped at a fishing village, Nanelvadu. It was bright,
cheerful, filled with children in uniform awaiting the school bus. The boys wore striped yellow shirts, neckties. The older boys, 8th graders, wore black pants and white shirts. Every house had a “kolon” at the entrance, brightly colored lotus shaped designs. The women of the houses drew them freshly each morning. It felt peaceful and mellow as we walked toward the shore. Fishing boats, people sitting and waiting. Apparently the fishing has not been good; the mood seemed glum.
This is the month of Margazay, pilgrimages (from December 1 through January 14), a time to gain balance and stability. Everything is based on the lunar calendar. There are 400 million cows, Charles said, in India. Southern India grows rice and its coasts are the source of much seafood. We stopped at an open air vegetable market and bought lots of produce for the orphanage visit (scheduled for the next day). For 100 rupees, I got beans, beets, eggplant, carrots, and (for my own consumption) a few oranges.
We passed miles of parked trucks lined up to distribute rice. Witnessed an ox cart stuck in the river mud, one wheel apparently having broken down. Others were trying to help the hapless driver. Stopped and witnessed the struggle for awhile, then had to move on. Reached Tanjore by late afternoon.