Sunday, September 16, 2007

16 September 2007: Mahabalipuram

Ah, the glories of being able to stand up for more than one minute at a time! And to eat! And walk! Luckily we were staying in Mahabalipuram until 3:30, so I would be able to see some of the place. I hadn’t even seen the resort properly, since we checked in in the middle of the night.

I had a nice bland breakfast of toast and noted that there were more westerners (and non-Indian Asians) here than I’d seen since leaving LAX. Afterwards took a walk on the beach. Mahabalipuram is 50 km south of Chennai and is located on the Bay of Bengal. It was overcast, warm and humid but not too hot. The water was lovely, not cold at all. I had fun watching the small crabs scurry out of the water and into their holes.

Later I joined Rajeev and Devaki for a visit to the famous local temples. First we went to the Shore Temple, a Cholya temple that dates from the 8th century, and is now listed as a World Heritage Site. While it shows signs of erosion, it is in very good condition for something that old. I had the pleasure of paying the foreigner rate of Rs 250 (a little more than $US6), versus the Rs 20 (50¢) for citizens. It seems like a lot, but honestly I do feel it’s fair. Evidently another temple was revealed somewhere in this area in the wake of the 2005 tsunami. We enjoyed fresh young coconut juice on the grounds (also evidently good for the tummy).

From there we drove a short distance to the Five Rathas, a slightly earlier temple complex which was carved from large rocks where they stood. Evidently these temples were made as models and were never consecrated because the stupas were not detached (whatever that means). In addition to the 5 temples, there was a bull, and elephant and a tiger (?), all of which seemed haphazardly placed with no rhyme or reason. Perhaps it had to do with the original rocks used.

Next we stopped at the lighthouse area, which also featured a beautiful cave temple (carved out) with a small temple structure also crowing the top of the cave. Up at the lighthouse (the British attempt to visually assert their - phallic - dominance?) there were nice views, and monkeys, one of whom jumped on my open camera bag. Then we drove by some carvings on a rock face, and a huge boulder that looks like it is about to roll down a hill, but which is actually quite solidly in place. Its nicknamed “Krishna’s butterball.”

Soon it was time to leave the resort (first and probably last time I’ve stayed at one). On the way into Chennai, we stopped at Dakshina Chitra to visit a puppeteer friend of David’s. Dakshina Chitra is sort of like a Greenfield Village in Michigan or Old Sturbridge in Massachusetts, except it includes homes from all over southern India, and craftspeople lead workshops for a small fee on simple crafts that can be made. They also had some fortunetellers, including a parrot reading, in which evidently a parrot picks a card for you, and the reader interprets it. Unfortunately, the fortunetellers only spoke Tamil, and none of us did. The puppeteer makes shadow puppets out of a very thin leather that becomes hard, almost like a thin plastic. He is also a one-man band, accompanying himself on drums, and with other noisemakers and vocalizations. He is a hereditary puppeteer of this style, but there is almost no one left who does it, and his son, whom we met, is not very interested, although he does help his father out with shows. The sad thing was that he lost almost all of his grandfather’s puppets in the tsunami. Only one survived, an elephant dated 1945. It was damaged but functional. David’s kids’ school collected pennies and donated money to him, with which he was able to almost replace the puppets he lost (in number).

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