The Road to Mysore and other delights

That ride to the Cochin airport at 6am was not fun, and very quiet. We waited for the flight which, despite checking with the airline’s website, phone calls to confirm, was at 7:30 instead of the announced 6:55am. Raj apologized for the lost 30 min of sleep, but there was nothing he could have done differently.

At the Bangalore airport we were met by a new bus and driver, so off we went on thee 4hour drive to Mysore.  About an hour south of Bangalore, we stopped for coffee and pooris at a simple place. Delicious fried puffy dough served with a coriander chutney and a veg. curry. We each got 3 of the yummy  pooris and were very happy travelers.

Dozing and looking out the window alternately, the trip was pleasant enough. Raj saw more than I did, and told the driver to stop right now! We got out of the bus and carefully crossed the road to enter the Cocoon Market Hall. At first I thought it must be mispelled and meant coconuts. No. It is a government run exchange for the growers of silkworms to sell their cocoons to the people who do the next step in the processing of silk. There were piles and piles of cocoons, some pure white, some pale yellow. The white ones are the most valuable. How they come to be either white or yellow is  still a mystery. While each individual cocoon is very light, they do add up in weight when they are put into sacks for movng around. We saw small men, maybe 5’3″ with gigantic sacks on their heads and backs that must weigh more than they themselves! We were the only women in  the place, or so it seemed, but everyone was polite, if surprised to see the group of 10 non-indians trooping through their space. Each batch of cocoons is graded by a government inspector and provided with a pink paper slip which accompanies the cocoons wherever they go, or so it seemed. Fascinating experience!

Back on the bus, for just a short stretch when Raj again told the driver to stop. Someone had told him that in a near-by village he could take us to see a place where the silk was spun from the cocoons. We followed Raj as he chatted with a man who then led us into a building where the cocoons were briefly boiled in vats of water heated by burning wood to kill the worm, then soaked. We didn’t actually see how they found the end of the thread on the cocoon, but we did see the cocoons with threads from them being spun onto large spools. It was smoky and wet and seemed like a not too pleasant part of the process.

Our next stop was for lunch – outdoors looking at a wide but fast flowing river, the Cauvery River which we saw again and again over the next few days. The setting was refreshing and the food was good.

On we went to Mysore, which is a very different looking city from the others we have seen. It was where the British thought that they would have a long-term presence and so spent a great deal of energy and, most likely, money, re-creating an English feel in the city. There are large traffic circles that resemble Picadilly Circus and Trafalger Square. There are parks with paths and a zoo, and a racetrack also from the British era. We reached our last hotel, which was quite nice, and had time for a short nap before our evening meeting time. We all arrived in the lobby of the hotel and were assigned to one of 3 old white “Ambassador cars” that Raj had arranged to take us on a sunset tour of Mysore! We had admired the vintage cars before, especially Ernie, the patriarch of the canadian family we were traveling with. Raj went out of his way to make Ernie happy, and that usually made everyone happy, too! The driver of our car was an older gentleman, I think the original owner of his 1979 model which seemed to be in good working order. We felt a bit like royalty as we weaved through the dense traffic.

The main problem in the center of Mysore, as in most cities, is pollution. The buses, auto-rickshaws ( or tuk-tuks), cars, trucks and motorcycles do not have the kind of pollution control devices that we have come to expect. Consequently, breathing while in heavy traffic can bring on fits of coughing as it did to me.

All three cars met up at the public entrance gate to the Palace of the last Wodeyar King, who died in Dec. 2012, where we were going to see the sound and light show.  We looked around the garden and chatted until it got fully dark and the show began. It was under-whelming until the last few minutes when the Palace was illuminated with about 100,000 individual light bulbs outlining the architecture of the gigantic place. It was built in the 1890’s in granite, to replace the original wooden structure that had burned down in a spectacular fire. The only negative aspect to the Palace was the intense attemtion we got from the souvenir hawkers! Wow these guys are intense and hard to shake off. We had to run a gauntlet of hawkers to get from the Palace gate to the bus, keeping our heads down ( always a good idea in India in any case) and ignoring their pleas.

Back at the hotel, we were on our own for dinner. Bill and I went to the roof-top restaurant where we had a nice, breezy dinner, then we retired and slept like the proverbial logs.

More later as the tour winds down.


Published in: on January 28, 2014 at 6:07 am  Leave a Comment  

From Maduri to Kerala, up the mountain we go

The day started out as a typical tour group day – up early, bags out, breakfast, on the bus. Madurai is a rather nice medium sized city,with a lively evening commercial scene and of course, the temple. I enjoyed this one more than the other large one, it seemed less oppressive, more joyous.

As we left the insane traffic of the city and made our way into the countryside the incredible variety of greens dominated my thoughts. Rice fields with colors varying from the most intense life-affirming green to the golden color of ripe harvest ready wheat. Banana trees with their own shades of greens. Fields of sugar cane, of chrysanthemums both yellow and white kept me looking out the window engaged for long periods. I did nap now and then, I’ll admit, it was an early morning.

We stopped when Raj spotted a large number of people occupying a concrete platform at the edge of a river, just by a bridge. Crossing the road, we saw groups of people, some sitting, some standing. There were astrologers, priests and families there to perform ceremonies. One young man, whose astrological chart had indicated that he would be married twice, not a good thing in India, was being “married” to a banana tree by a priest. There were flower garlands for two, and a ritual string was tied around him and the banana tree section next to him. I guess the banana tree “dies” or something, but the reality for him is that he can now be married to a real woman and expect that it will be his one and only matrimonial experience. In our culture, one marriage is still the dream, but we allow for mistakes. In India, in most cases, families investigate the family of the potential mate for their child very carefully, looking for a good match both personally and astrologically. The charts of the couple should be in good alignment. Maybe they are right, divorce is quite uncommon here.

People were also performing rituals for the death of relatives, in some cases making sand walls, marking them with colored pigments and a fire in the middle,burning some plants. This is for the death of a person who was in some way connected to a royal family, according to Raj. Lots of other folks were there for other ceremonial reasons. It was a Monday, which apparently is not the usual day for such activitied,  but Raj told us that it must be a particularly auspicious day and that people want to take advantage of that, even if it means inconvenience for work or school. The setting was film-worthy. The river was dammed just before the platform, but not completely. There was a huge spillway area that looked just like a waterfall, with people bathing. Women in an array of colorful saris were everywhere, while most of the men were dressed all in white. It was dreamlike and very seductive. I could have stayed there all day.

Back on the bus, mountains are coming into view. Blue-purple jagged shapes to the right and to the left of us as we drove through the flat, green valley.We stopped again at a brick-maker’s workshop, to see how the red clay bricks are made with local clay. A man who makes 2000 bricks, in forms, by hand, makes about $10/day. It’s back-breaking work and according to Raj, not enough pay to feed a family, there will need to be another worker to make ends meet.

Another bus ride, another stop. This time Raj spots what looks like a wedding party. He went in and asked if we could “drop in “. The family says OK, so in we go. The bride and groom, beautifully dressed, are in the basement room of a building, sitting side by side at a table, eating from a meal served, as is typical, on a banana leaf. We file past, one at a time, and offer our good wishes. Someone insists that we eat with the party, so we all sit down at another long table. The banana leaves appear and then some poppadums, the ubiquitous lentil flour crispy and delicious snack and general accessory to a meal. We were also served a sweet tapioca pudding, in flexible plastic cups that we could squeeze to get the delicious stuff out and into our mouths. Then we said our good -bye’s and wished them all well again and stepped back out into the sun.

Loud, indian dance music was blaring from a speaker out front of the building and a group of young men were dancing. They seemed to be competing for the most Bollywood like dance, and some may have been just a bit influenced by either alcohol or weed( the scent was present). The guys were really having fun, and wanted to spread the cheer by including more dancers. Somehow , they grabbed Bill, who that day was wearing a light blue long kurta top over his blue jeans. He didn’t argue too much and joined in enthusiastically, arms up and a big smile on his face. Bill is normally pretty shy, but music and dance seem to bring out the extrovert part of him- this was his second dancing  exhibition of the trip! Who knows what is coming next?

The bus strained as we climbed up from what I assume was pretty close to sea level to our current elevation  of about 3000 ft. When we got out of the bus around 2pm, the air was cooler and drier. Very pleasant, and very welcome. We had a little time to have lunch and then we headed out to visit a spice plantation belonging to a lovely man named Abraham.

The “plantation” was not all that large, maybe just a few acres, but with a varied terrain. Abraham has been working with this garden/plantation since 1952. He now owns it. We walked all through it with his narration about the various plants and their uses. Some are for cooking,like the famous cardamom and cloves and pepper and some are medicinal  and some are both, like turmeric. When we had seen it all, we bought spices and ,in my case, some aloe and some lemongrass oil( apparently effective as a bug repellant). I did get some cardamom and some pepper corns, all grown on his land, organically of course!

Dinner was a buffet, as usual, but first there was a dance performance. Our group along with a few other guests,sat in chairs facing a raised platform at one end of a large room used for conferences. The young dancer was accompanied by her grandparents and another man who ran the music. She was very expressive and elegant and, it turns out ,only 12 years old!  I’m just not particularly excited by one person dance performances, especially with recorded music. At the previous performance, the musicians and singer were wonderful and that added another level of interest. Nothing wrong with this, but without any narration to explain the context of the dances, it was just OK.

We are set to be on the bus at 6:30 am tomorrow to go to the National Park for either a trek or a boat ride, so the dining room emptied out very quickly after Raj’s reminder. Not everyone at the hotel was on the same schedule, so the crowd at the bar was pretty raucous until nearly 11. Some of the group had monkeys banging on their door, we didn’t. No monkey , but tomorrow elephants!


Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Temple elephant! new clothes, rickshaws

We were up very early again, this time to get to the big temple before too many crowds appeared.Raj had prepared us for this visit by explaining that this particular temple was very strict about what visitors must wear and what they may bring into the temple. OAT has an arrangement with a very nice shop across the wide pedestrian street surrounding the temple to hold our shoes and other contraband ( including cameras, although cell phones are OK and use of the cellphone’s camera is allowed, go figure) while we were in the temple, with hopes obviously of sales.

Walking barefoot on the cement pavers of the pedestrian only street was not a lot of fun for my tender feet, unused to the feel of small stones and uneven ground, but I managed along with everyone else. Entering the temple was much like the security for plane flights, but more intense, at least for the women. We were all patted down ( in a draped off small booth) and my purse was thoroughly examined, each and every small pocket checked for something, I don’t know exactly what. The men were more simply frisked in an open area and their line moved much more quickly.

Inside the temple courtyard we caught glimpses of the many tall towers, or gopurams that in some temples act as gates, but here are more decorative, or maybe inspirational. They are very tall, perhaps 100 ft., and brightly colored. Each gopuram has a carved granite base with painted stucco gods, snakes, people in various poses in layers going up and up and up. They are topped with what look like brass spheres stacked several tall with spikes on top. Raj says that they are holding emergency rice supplies, perhaps now symbolic, in case of famine.

A temple elephant, dressed in colorful gold accented trappings was holding forth in one area, with a steady flow of people coming for blessings. Unlike the earlier outdoor blessing elephant, this one needed no instruction in what it was supposed to do. People gave it rupee notes and the elephant gave them to the handler and then touched the person gently on the head with it’s trunk. It was chained by one foot to something that didn’t look very heavy, and it shifted back and forth quite a bit, but didn’t seem unhappy with it’s job. Do elephants have a spiritual life? I’ve seen documentaries about the amazing social lives that they have among themselves, remembering friends after decades of separation. But do they think about those friends when not together? Do they endure captivity because they somehow understand that they have a duty to fulfill? Certainly this elephant could walk away from it’s handler if it was really unhappy, so I have to assume that something about it’s life is satisfying. I hope it is.

Out in the courtyard we stopped at a tree hung with small yellow cradles and strung with colored yarns. The cradles are offerings from women hoping to conceive, and when they do, the come and remove the cradle. The strings were prayers for marriage. In the temple we met a family group making offerings for the upcoming marriage of their children. They showed us an invitation, about 8″x 11″, 2 pages, glossy, that described the young couple’s education and professional accomplishments and also their families. The parents explained that the wedding would  welcome at least 1000 guests.The huge numbers, as contrasted with typical American middle-class weddings, is because the more people who bless the couple the better! That is a lovely concept, but in the US it would bankrupt most ordinary families. Good luck to the couple, whose marriage was arranged some time ago, and who are somehow related.

Leaving the temple area, we returned to pick up our shoes and other belongings and to peruse the shop’s selection of goods. I admit that they had some absolutely drop-dead gorgeous hand-embroidered cashmere shawls, but the prices seemed high and in any case, I have too many shawls already. But they sure were beautiful! I’m also in the market for a dancing Shiva sculpture about 12-16″high, for my front hall niche. I find the image very pleasing, cheerful and playful and I think it would be appropriate for welcoming guests. I’m checking them out, but I will probably buy most of what I’ll purchase on this trip in Bangalore where we will have 4 days without any specific plans, as far as we know.

Last  night I ordered two cotton tops from a tailor in the bazaar right across from the temple. He had some nice printed cotton fabrics and promised them in the morning when we would return after our temple visit.I chose a black, white and rust small print and a blue batik style fabric and paid him half last night. The cost was about $15 each, I didn’t bargain, really. So we picked them up and I tried them on, over a tank top, and they are not bad at all! He copied the measurements in part from what I was wearing last night, but I chose a small stand-up collar and 3/4 sleeves for sun protection. I decided to have him make 2 more, to be delivered to our hotel in the afternoon. They came, as promised, but one, which deviated from the others by having buttons down the front, was too small. I think he forgot to add fabric for the button plackets. Darn, it was a really pretty silk/cotton fabric in  irridescent blue. Sigh. Maybe I’ll lost some weight?

I’m only out less than $20, so it’s not a tragedy, and the tailor and the fabric merchant were both happy, so that’s life. 3 out of 4 isn’t bad.

Back on the bus, we headed for the Tirumalai Nayak Palace, one of Maduri’s other bid attractions.  It is big, and has some lovely, cross-cultural architectural features, but it’s not terribly interesting.

Lunch, on the other hand was interesting! Raj scoped out a new-ish rather upscale place that specializes in the food of Andrah Pradesh, just to the north of Tamil Nadu, our current Indian state. It is known for spicy,hot foods- just what some of our group has been asking for.( the Canadians actually, are crazy about spicy foods, the hotter the better! must be all the long cold winters that drive them to the cuisine of hot, humid places!). This place was ready for us with a private room upstairs and excellent service as well as very good food. Lunch was not part of the tour, but we all agreed to share our dishes and divide the bill equally. Everyone enjoyed the experience, and the restaurant owner and staff had a trial run for the next tour group.

Rest time at the hotel was great, and Bill and I sacked out for over an hour. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep last night, I was up late writing, so much to write about!

We all met up again at 4:30, piled into the bus and headed to the central rail station where we were meeting up with the Rickshaw Safari guys, a group of bicycle richshaw peddlers who, with help from OAT( according to Raj) have tee shirts printed up and exhibit a spirit of solidarity. We squeezed ourselves into the narrow seats ( designed for much smaller local bodies) and were carried along busy streets with fruit and vegetable markets as well as tiny side streets with  people waving and saying “Hello” to us as we went by their front doors. Very few tourists visit these mostly poor streets and just about everyone was pleasantly surprised to see us. We stopped once to observe a veena lesson  that two young girls were having with their teacher in the front room of a house. Raj asked if we could hear what a veena sounded like since the group had been to a small factory where the instruments were made( it was my sick day). The teacher was very accomodating and the girls played for us, and then she played as well.

A bit later, we all stopped at a local coffee stall, with a street vendor making and selling freshly fried snacks, to share a drink and snacks with our rickshaw drivers. Raj explained that they are from a very low caste and seldom experience sharing food as equals with others from a different world. They all seemed to enjoy the experience, as did we all. The snacks were terrific!

The drivers got us back to the bus, but then we had one more spontaneous moment. The bus was parked on the street right next to the gorgeous and huge, St. Mary’s church- all white with sky-blue trim outlining it’s architecture. We heard singing coming from the front courtyard, and we walked around the see what was going on . It was an inter-religious activity with Christians, Hindus and Moslems participating. There was singing, drum/dance performance and more singing from different groups. The peaceful crowd included lots of young children enjoying the night out with their families. I really liked the scene and the effort to make connections across religious boundaries. I said to Raj that I bet I”m the only Jew in the crowd, and he offered to introduce me! I declined, naturally, but I do wonder how I would have been received?

Shalom all,


Published in: on January 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  

From pilgrims to “ghosts” to temple gods, all in one day

I’m much better. A day of  sleeping and drinking water and eating rice and taking lots of meds for diarrhea worked! I got on the bus feeling pretty confident that I could manage the day, and I did.

I left Tanjore feeling as though I ‘d barely seen it, but that’s life. Today we headed to Maduri, considerably east and south of our starting point. As we rode along the highway, dodging other trucks, motorcycles, cars, buses, bicycles, tuk-tuks, not to mention cows and goats, we spotted a long line of people, in green clothing. Raj told Kumar our amazing driver to pull ahead of them so that we could take pictures.

We piled off the bus and encountered a group of men and boys following a pick-up truck blasting music as they walked along barefoot. One man told Raj that their pilgrimage was 200 K, but he didn’t say over how many days. Some of the guys were carrying sort of mobile shrines  on their shoulders, with peacock feathers for decoration. They all seemed quite jolly.

It made me think about what “pilgrimage”means, since it seems to be a practice followed by several major religions.On the one hand, doing a pilgrimage, as I understand it, is about somehow becoming holier, or closer to god ( deliberate lower case). On the other hand, it seems to me that people who do this tend to be quite proud of the fact, their ego seems to be a major factor in their decision to engage in this act. Being able to say that they did the pilgrimage, whether the Haj, Compostela or whatever these guys in green were doing, will elevate them in the eyes of their co-religionists. Chaucer’s Pilgrims were wonderful characters and we enjoy their tales, but is that what they were doing it for? What does it really mean, in the end? is it ego or is it selflessness?

Our next unscheduled stop was to observe a troop of metal-workers who are migrants from northern India. They travel all around making new blades for scythes, or for other metal tools. They work in a very primitive style, charcoal fires, hand-cranked bellows, anvils and a lot of muscle! The whole group of people, children included, are involved in the work. Some women work the bellows, some pound the iron.We watched as three men, in a steady rhythm , beat the  red-hot iron tool in the making. Their beat was steady because if any one of them was off the beat, they might well have killed their co-worker! They raised their sledgehammers over their heads and pounded on the iron, each blow perfectly aimed. It was very impressive!

Back on the bus, we screeched to a halt again to get a look at some local monkeys. I don’t know what species, but they had pink faces. We offered them som bananas we had on the bus which were enthusiastically grabbed up. They did not seem too afraid of us, as long as we kept our distance. I tried to throw some banana pieces to an obviously female monkey so that she would have a chance at some of the goodies. The males were very aggressive, but I think she did end up with some.

Our planned stop was in Chettinadu a sort of ghost town full of  empty mansions built at the end of the 19th Century and early in the 20th. The houses are grand, with courtyards and metal awnings and impressive gates. The streets are populated mostly by wandering tourists, and cows. Some of the homes are maintained, some are derelict. Apparently, after WW2 the economics that had made this all possible changed, and the people moved away to find other opportunities. It was lovely and creepy at the same time. Apparently, some of the homes are being converted to Heritage Hotels, which could be a fun option for travelers in the area.

On to lunch in a near-by town. But first, Raj had heard that the lady who runs the restaurant/hotel where we were due for lunch has a large home in the village that she allows to be seen by some tourists, sometime. He called and asked her permission, and off we went. Finding it was the larger problem. Despite asking at least 2 people, we still managed to go off down the wrong road. Not a problem since we came upon a construction site where women were doing most of the work, carrying bricks on their heads up to the roof of the building for whatever the project was. Other women were carrying sacks of sand, also on their heads. We stopped to take some pictures and most of the women were very pleased to pose for us.

We did find the house, and it was amazing. A center room with 2 story ceiling, more courtyards, more rooms…. enough!

Lunch was in a former British men’s club, and the food was lovely. We ate at a long table, with banana leaves for plates and incredibly nice servers. Anything that was offered was available for “more please”!

We had just a few minutes to luxuriate on the breezy porch before we had to board that bus again. Sometimes it’s great to have that bus waiting, all cool and quiet, but sometimes it would be great to have some more leisure to contemplate all that we are encountering.

The afternoon got better and better. We stopped at a small temple to learn more about the horse statues that we had been seeing. They are a kind of protector god, and at this temple,people decorate smallish terra-cotta horses and place them all around the temple, with their wishes. Kind of cute. There were piles of rejected “gods” too, and other images, more like small people, clustered under a large tree. It brought to mind the biblical story of Abraham, the son of an idol maker who, one day, looked around and thought “how can these be gods if I am watching my father make them from clay?” or something to that effect. I sort of understand the Hinduism doesn’t have the same relationship with their gods exactly as the pre-jews did with theirs, but it did strike me as sort of curious.

The priest at the temple told Raj that there was another, larger temple not too far away, with even more horse statues. He gave a vague direction, and we set off to find it. Again we asked a few people as we went along and finally someone said, yes, it’s up this road. The big white bus trundled down the sometimes paved, sometimes dirt road. The road got narrower and rougher until finally it couldn’t go any further. We all got out and just a bit further down the path, where the bus could n’t go, was the temple. We were in a rocky valley, with that amazing rice growing all around us, some golden and ready for harvest. On our way back from the temple we stopped again, to see the people working the rice harvest. Women were tossing it up in the air by the basketful, winnowing the loose husks from the grain. They were working on an enormous granite outcropping shaped like a dome, with the fields just beyond. Raj talked to the main guy,who said that to his knowledge, no tourists had ever come down their road before, and in fact, few people in the village had ever met a person who wasn’t from India. We smiled a lot at each other and I gave him one of my San Francisco postcards, then Raj gave him a small Canadian flag pin that one of the other tour members had given him. The people were pleased at their encounter with tourists, we were all charmed by the experience.

Traveling this way is quite wonderful, mostly. A small group of 10 is easier to insert into a village than 20 or more.And Raj is always willing to explore and option or answer a question with an experience. I’m very happy to be here.


ps. Sorry about the lack of photos. I tried again but since I upgraded just before I left home to the new IOS 7, things in WordPress just don’t work the same as they did before.  I  hope my descriptions give you some idea of what I’m seeing.

Published in: on January 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm  Comments (1)  

Old French city and an elephant blessing.

Leaving for Pondicherry, we headed south along the coast of India. We stopped at an amazing temple carved out of solid rock and then a huge bas relief ( although most of it is higher than bas) called Arjuna’s Penance depicting a scene of fierce fighting with elephants, snakes and assorted gods in various poses. When I say huge, I mean maybe 40 feet wide and 25 feet tall, maybe bigger.

We arrived in Pondicherry, or Poducherry in time for a late lunch at a so-called “French” restaurant. The food was mediocre but the location was lovely. Then we checked into our hotel, rested briefly and headed out to see more of the city. We went to see the meditation garden of an ashram which owns lots and lots of real estate in the city, all painted the same shade of grey with white trim. Outside the entrance to the garden were hundreds of people from all over the world, some taking off their shoes in preparation for entering the place, some balancing as the put them back on.

Inside the garden, along with the required silence, was a riot of color from thousands of pots of different types of flowers. They formed patterns and were just generally gorgeous! We walked around in the required direction, observing people in various types of meditation. The colors plus the silence left me in a very calm mood, but that was not Raj’s plan for us. He hustled us into a covey of bicycle rickshaws for an hour tour of the center of Pondicherry, the old colonial part. Neither Bill nor I are small people, and the rickshaw was clearly designed for those who are. So, we gave the guy a really big tip at the end! He took us to see lovely buildings, some in disrepair, some in current use as private homes or hotels.

We ended up at the beach at near sunset, along with a crowd of people from all over, judging by languages over-heard. The sea was not too rough, but there is no sandy beach here,only big black rocks. Bill wondered if this might be the result of the big tsunami in 2004 that damaged parts of the city. In any case, the Bay of Bengal was breezy, a welcome spot to spend a few minuted.

Eventually we made it back to the hotel, had dinner, and prepared for the early rising plan for tomorrow.


Technical  problems with WordPress are keeping me from including photos. I don’t know what is going on , but it is behaving very oddly. Oh computers can’t live with ’em, can’t live without em.


Today we got up at 5:15 to leave at 6 for the produce market in Pondicherry. We bought lots of vegetable, mostly eggplant I learned after talking to others. The plan is to cook them in a day or two when we are scheduled for a cooking lesson in a few days. The goal was to get us to interact with people, which we all did rather successfully!

After breakfast we took off for Tanjore, with multiple stops along the way. Raj, our tour guide and logistics man, both, enjoys making spontaneous decisions to stop and engage with people. Our first un-planned stop was at a small fishing village, to admire their Pongal  street paintings and shiny new clothes and to see how people live there. A couple of small boys, around 7 yrs. attached them selves to us and howled with laughter at our silly actions. They all welcome us into their homes and are gracious about having their pictures taken. Raj assures us that having interactions with such “outsiders” on Pongal is considered good fortune.

Back to the bus, the lovely cool bus! and onward. We stopped again at a huge temple site, don’t know the name, absolutely full of people celebrating the holiday. We stopped because of the elephant.

It was a real elephant this time, not a stone carving. And it was there with it’s handlers, blessing people by putting it’s trunk on your head. I was blessed, Bill was blessed, everyone in our group was blessed. Nice elephant!

We weaved our way back among the crowd to the bus, again grateful for the cool. Our route to Tanjore took us through lovely rice fields, past wide rivers, some dry in the pre-monsoon season and through small villages where most everyone seemed to live in thatched huts, although most have satellite dishes ( courtesy of politicians’s promises). We saw lots of cows, some decorated for the holiday, some just grazing. According to Raj, having a cow around your home is general good luck. Some cows are clearly family pets, others  seem to wander at will, munching in the awful trash piles that blight the landscape everywhere. How hard would it be to dig a pit, just outside the village, and tell everyone to dump their refuse in  it instead of just next door, and next door to the next house. I just don’t understand this problem that I have seen in so many different countries.

Arriving at our hotel in Tanjore, we had one hour before a special performance of South Indian dance was being held just for us. My gut is not going along with the program tonight, but I did go for the performance. It was a young girls, 13, with her dance teacher, and a singer and a drummer. She was lovely and performed with great style and grace. I loved the music. I skipped dinner and am taking lots of immodium in hope of being able to go with the group tomorrow. Let’s all think good thoughts about my gut!

I’m exhausted. Maybe tomorrow I’ll figure out the photo thing. Sigh. I’m trying.


Published in: on January 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm  Comments (1)