When I finished the last blog we had been on the road for about six days straight and had just arrived in Chennai. Was it finally time for a rest? No, not yet.
Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is big, hot and chaotic, and without a lot of attractions or reasons to hang around. Because of this we decided to quickly move on and I worked out a schedule for the remainder of India that would take us to four more places and get us back to Chennai for our April 6th flight to Sri Lanka.
So after one night in Chennai we headed to the local bus station to catch a 2-hour bus ride to our next destination, Mamallapuram. A bus was to depart from the station every 30 minutes but we ended up waiting and waiting and waiting with no bus in sight. Sanford talked to the platform conductor and he just told us to keep waiting, a bus would come. As has happened many times in India, a stranger came up to us and asked where we were heading and on finding out told us we didn’t need to wait where we were, there was an air-conditioned bus leaving in a few minutes from another platform and there was lots of room on it. He led us to the bus and in a few minutes we were off. Thank you!
The bus dropped us at the outskirts and we hiked the two kilometres into town to our guesthouse with backpacks in tow. Mamallapuram is located on the Bay of Bengal and is a typical backpacker tourist destination; streets crowded with travellers, hotels, tourist restaurants, souvenir/craft/clothing/sculpture stores and everything the backpacker may or may not want. A block or two down the street from our hotel is the shores of the ocean filled with fishing boats and seafood restaurants.
We are planning to spend four nights here and take in the sites at a leisurely pace and generally relax and soak up the atmosphere. It is the most relaxed travelling we have done since arriving in India.
Mamallapuram is loaded with history, it was the major seaport of the ancient Pallova kingdom and this town is filled with great, World Heritage-listed temples and carvings. Most of temples and rock carvings were made in the 7th century during the reign of King Narasimhavarman II, whose nickname was Mamalla meaning great wrestler. It was after him that the town was named.
I won’t give a day-by-day synopsis of the sites we saw but rather will just highlight a few. I loved the approach to the Hindu Shore Temple dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. It stands majestic in the sand with nothing nearby and overlooks the ocean. The two tiers indicate the heights of Pallova architecture and their maritime ambitions. Unfortunately the many statues and reliefs which were once finely carved have taken a toll from erosion.
The Five Rathas are 5 house-size temples huddled together and each sculpted from a single large rock. The word Ratha is Sanskrit for chariot, and may refer to the temples’ form or to their function as vehicles for their gods. Each Ratha was dedicated to a Hindu God; Durga, Shiva, Vishnu, Ardhanarishvara, and Indra. Each temple also has outside a sculpture of each God’s respective animal vehicle. The temples were beautiful and worth-while, but not very spectacular or grand.
Arjuna’s Penance is a giant relief carving and one of the greatest works of ancient art in India. It is an incredibly large and intricate relief sculpture on a granite boulder, bursting with scenes depicting Hindu legends and everyday vignettes of South Indian life. There are also many wonderfully carved animals, including a herd of elephants and a cat performing penance to a crowd of appreciative mice.
Krishna’s Butterball is an enormous granite boulder that appears precariously perched on a stone escarpment. The rock is about five meters in diameter and is resting at an angle of 45 degrees. It weighs over 250 tons and miraculously stands on an extremely small, slippery area of a hill. In 1908, Arthur Lawley who was the Governor of Madras, considered the boulder to be too dangerous to have around. Fearing that it would slide off the hill at any time, he ordered it to be moved with the help of seven elephants. However, the rock did not move an inch and the Indian government gave up, leaving Krishna’s Butter Ball where it is now.
I could go on and on about other sites, but will stop here.
I’m not sure if I have mentioned this previously but I have lots of people stopping me wherever I go wanting to have their picture taken with me. It happens when I’m just walking around, when on the train, or at tourist attractions. Sometimes I have Sanford take a photo of me with the requesters. At other times I have people stop me who just want me to take their picture. I don’t get that. On my first day in Delhi I wanted to get a picture of a cow wandering down a busy street surrounded by traffic when a fellow popped into my camera range and insisted I take a picture of him. He said it would bring me luck. Didn’t work though because by the time I was done with him the cow had passed me by.
And now to the title of this post. It is frickin’ hot here!! As you know the weather up until now has been anything but hot, however, as of our arrival in Mamallapuram, that has all changed. The average daily temperature ranges from 34 – 36 degrees with the humidity about 80%. It cools down through the night, all the way down to 25 degrees. So there really is not much relief from the heat. We still go out and about in the heat but at a bit more leisurely pace. In this type of heat we drink lots of water and keep our hats on. I need to keep wiping the sweat off my face and our clothes are soaked. Whenever back in the room we have to hang our clothes to dry. Although air conditioning is available we didn’t take it and are in a room with just a fan that for the most part seems adequate.
The difficulty I find in this hot weather is that there really is no relief. All the restaurants are open air with fans, and there doesn’t seem to be any air-conditioning in any public place so you can never totally cool down. You also can’t cool down with food. If I order a fruit salad or fresh squeezed fruit juice, they are at room temperature. There are some soft drinks kept in coolers and there is ice cream but both those items are not foods I have, so I have found it frustrating to not get anything really cold. Sanford and I have indulged in buying watermelon and cantaloupe to feast on and I picture it fresh out of my fridge when I think about it but reality is it is bought off a fruit stand where it has been sitting in the heat, so it is warm fruit. Still tastes good, but I so wish it were cold.
But all that aside, I have discovered something wonderful about this heat. Yes I am hot and yes I do sweat a lot, but it is nothing compared to how I felt in this type of heat with 100 extra pounds on my body. I am not suffering in this heat like I used to and for that I am extremely grateful.
As we near the end of our stay at Mamallapuram, Sanford who thought he was tough or charmed, as he had largely escaped intestinal ailments so far, is really suffering at the moment. He is quite under the weather with diarrhea and fatigue. It’s a good thing we really like each other because between pooping pants, vomiting, diarrhea, farting and burping, we are seeing a whole new side to each other. Maybe tomorrow will be better…….