#22 Mahabalipuram and Chennai, India

Sunday

Suresh was waiting for us this morning, my last full day in India. We met Rebecca, our guide for the morning. She has a Christian name because she is 3rd generation Christian. We drove to the ruins by the shore in Mahabalipuram, and again found something different than anything we have previous seen. The town, leading to the historic site, is filled with granite stone cutters and carvers. Their yards are filled with deities and occasionally modern abstract sculptures.

The ruins date back to the 7th century and It is thought that the area served as a school. The different sculptures may have been examples of different styles of architecture, demonstrated by instructors and practiced on by students. There are mini-temples, elephants, carvings of deities and the stories that support them. According to our guide, much of the carving is unfinished as war interrupted the work and it was never resumed. One of the highlights is Arjuna’s Penance, a huge carving on the face of a granite rock depicting scenes from the Mahabharatha. Arjunaq and other figures are in yoga poses. Nearby, we saw a priest hand painting a Ganesh in a small shrine with turmeric paste. He was working with great care and reverence.

Near Arjuna’s Penance is a monstrous rock that sits perched on a grassy sloop, called Shiva’s ball of butter. The Sunami hit this part of India and there was a question of its stability. It hit hard and 10,000 lives were lost. When the water receded, everyone near the shore walked toward the sea to see this curious ocean behavior. I might have done the same. There are endless thatched hut villages, housing fisherman and their families along this coastline of the Bay of Bengal. The villages just disappeared.

We made one more stop before Chennai at an Indian cultural center. We enjoyed walking around and identifying the styles of homes we now recognized. Again, it was a place for locals and mostly Indian families were there.

Our hotel for the night, or in my case, a few hours, is the Footprint B&B in Chennai. We have 2 rooms of a 3 bedroom apartment. This time, the bathroom has a beautiful stone plate with oil, a candle, and incense. Lovely touch, no soap…. It is on a quiet residential street, and I love it even for this short time. Suresh picked me up and dropped me at the airport at 11PM. Check-in does not start until 1:45AM and the security guard at the airport did not want to let me in to the terminal. I think he relented when he saw tears in my eyes. The tears were actually for Suresh, but whatever works… I mistakenly assumed that if one gets to fly first class, one (me) should be able to go right to the Etihad lounge. Boy, was I wrong. So here I am writing my last bit about this trip. It is now 2:30am. I got to security about 2 and the officer asked me for proof of where I stayed in Chennai. Seems he does not know the Barefoot B&B. Of course, I had nothing. I fished around and found a card for my hotel in Allepey and for some reason that worked. Eith ad gave me a pass for the Air India Lounge. It is in the old part of the airport, has no wifi and I’m afraid to eat the food here. Looks like it’s been sitting forever. One more hour and I’ll be in my Etihad business seat to Abu Dabhi.

The first Etihad flight was nothing special, and when we got to Abu Dhabi we had to go through this insane crush of people and pass inspection again. Two minutes later, I was showering in the Etihad lounge, then got a foot massage in a private massage room, with scented water, scrubbing salts and lotions. The guy was great and it is just part of the services offered in the lounge.  I still have not really slept. They wanted to make me breakfast, but I had to leave for the next round of security and board my FRIST CLASS SEAT to JFK. So that is where I am now. I have pretty much my own room, with a door that closes, a chef and when I’m ready, they give me pjs and make my bed.

#21 Mahabalipuram, India

Friday we drove from Punducherry to Mahabalipuram. We checked in for two nights at the Ideal Resort. This place is truly a beach resort. There are hammocks between Palm trees, a pool large enough to swim laps, and a very international collection of guests. The gift shop is stellar as is the food. From Pondicherry on, we’ve been back to eating fish, fresh juices, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. I think I drank 3 glasses of carrot juice today.

And while we are talking about food, the street fried potato ships in Chidambaram were memorable. It was a few days ago, and the temple was closed until 4PM so we walked around the city, taking pictures and enjoying the archecture and the people. The potato chips were an added bonus. The guy offered us each one and 20 rupees later, we had a bag of chips, sprinkled with hot red pepper powder. We also found a woman making masala chai near the entrance to the temple. We ordered three then sat while she made it in the traditional style. She served it in paper cups, then decided we were ready for the real deal and switched each one out to the metal cups everyone else uses. At this point, it was an “oh well”. Obviously, we are not drinking the water, but when we go to local restaurants, order bottles of water, then pour the contents into wet metal cups, I know we are getting just a little bit!

The other interesting incident involved a local woman who attached herself to Ronni. She stuck to Ronni’s side for about 15 minutes, talking nonstop. Ronni clearly gestured that there was no common language, but that did not seem to be a viable concept. The woman did ask, or gesture, what kind of car we drove, but then did not get that we did not have one. She might have wanted us to take her with us. It was a strange, and uncomfortable encounter.

Back to Mahabalipuram, I finally caught a cold, so I pretty much laid low, slept through lunch and dinner. Saturday, I sat out by the pool, caught up writing all of you guys, and watched the mostly French tourists. At breakfast and dinner there is an extensive buffet. Breakfast is always included, but we splurged tonight and got the buffet. I think it was $14.00!!! Every evening, there are three musicians playing classical ragas. We sat for a long time, enjoying the evening, the food and the music.