An adventurous day - a special day
Dec 13, 2008
• Nataraja Temple – the last temple for a while
This will be an adventurous day as I have to make a connection in the back of beyond. I’m getting the hang of it – and what is it? Who speaks English and I see a bunch of kids, 23 year olds and think to myself, a) at least one of the group must speak English and b) they are young and most probably one of them does speak English. One does so I ask the usual: is this the correct platform, what time does it arrive, what time will we make Mayiladthuri, and finally is Mayiladthuri the terminus. He’s very helpful and the passenger train, actually a commuter train (doesn’t a train carry passengers) arrives smack at 8:35 and we’re off to Mayiladthuri.
There’s a bit of a debacle over a seat as its first-come, first served and kindly gentleman, for most Indians are, assists me and all is well.
A young man is sitting next to me and I can feel he wants to talk. His name is Kannan, 28, and married with two children. He’s a bank teller with the State Bank of India. He’s intrigued that I know so much about India, actually more than him. I tell him that my daughter’s a banker and very proud of her accomplishments. Kannan is on his way to work, a 6.5 day work week and we chat away for an hour in the cattle car. Actually it’s not too bad after the mad dash to get seat.
We discuss the norm: poverty, children, Gandhi and I learn about the Gandhi’s watermark in every Indian paper money denominations – a good thing to know to identify counterfeit money, even if it’s dispensed from an ATM.
Kannon says goodbye so I go to the carriage door and stare out on the countryside passing railroad crossings, fields of rice paddies, and children tendering their live-stock.
After a short while the group approaches me and we chat away. They are on there way to college and they want to know all about me. They’re a friendly bunch and then all want to take a picture of me with each of them.
We all get off at Mayiladthuri station and they coerce me to take the bus to the bus stand, a three rupee ride. I am in India for it’s crowded, hot, and humid and after getting there they show me where to get the bus. Oh yes, the one that speaks the best English pays for my bus fare, isn’t that nice.
So off to Chidambaram, a bumpy ride and my western brain thinks, “Where are the emergency exits?” None – and all the windows are barred. And I now see why when Indian buses go off the road everyone dies as one cannot get out if you fall into a river.
But all is OK and I arrive after about an hour and then make the classic boo-boo, i.e. asking directions and pointing. ”Keep on going that way” and I walk and I walk. There’s a pharmacist so he must speak English, right? He does and I question him on what road I am walking. Blast, I’m on the wrong road so back I walk in the humidity with perspiration pouring off me and finally find the ‘Hotel Mansoor’. It’s a dump but for $5 per night it’ll do for just one night as I plan to spoil myself tomorrow.
Back to the bus station to check my next leg (Pondicherry), a restaurant, the Tourist Office which doesn’t exist, internet location, phone Pondicherry hotels for a room and finally a beer.
I get back to my hotel and the heavens open and it pours with rain. OK, I will get up early tomorrow and do the temple before I head off. I have learnt another thing. The spires are called Gopuram’s.
So here I am typing away with the door open and an old woman (maybe my age) walks past sweeping away and she mumbles something. Mmm, what the heck is she saying as she keeps miming to close the door. I get up and she points to a roof top and there is a monkey sitting there contemplating his navel. She is basically saying, “Watch your belongings twit otherwise that little bastard will come in and swipe your stuff”. No wonder the windows have bars and I thought it was to keep out robbers!
It’s stopped raining so I decide to do the temple rather than tomorrow. It’s only a ten minute walk and as soon as I enter I am set upon by a guide. He tells me he is a Brahman caste but not a Brahman, i.e. priest. Anyway he starts at 500 rupees and we settle on 100.
It’s a good 100 rupees well spent as he tells me this and tells me that and I learn a thing or two. Firstly a Gopuram means ‘entrance gate’, secondly Chidambaram means heart-sky and then he points to the entrance and tells me that there are seven entrances symbolizing that we go through seven reincarnations.
We walk around and a bloke tails us and I am to find out later his name is Candane. My guide points to this and that and groups of people and a bunch of budding priests stop and introduce themselves, ”Which country are you?” and I take a picture of them all.
Then to a ghat which is full of holy water and people sitting in silence absorbing their beliefs – its magic.
We make it to the temple and my guide tells me to go on so Candane and I continue inside.
The best thing about not having expectations is when I visit a place and it knocks my socks off. It’s my last temple and it’s as if it’s been ordained. This is one of the oldest temples in India and a working temple. I am so fortunate to arrive for ‘puja’, the equivalent of mass to Catholics.
I am moved by the Hindu belief. The last time I experienced this was along time ago when I was invited to attend a friend of mine son’s Bar-mitzvah. I was feeling something from a long time ago, a ritual so ingrained in religion, spirituality, and community which I cannot understand and yet awed by its depth. So was this.
I ask the guide, “Why do you think that some Muslim’s have chosen the path of terrorism and yet Hindu’s haven’t?” I get the typical answer about Pak (Pakistan) so I say “Well, why not nuke them all!” sarcastically.
I put my boots back on and Candane has vanished, pity. So back to the hotel and as walk, here’s Candane sitting on his motorbike. He is from Pondicherry and he gives me his telephone number and I hope to meet him there for dinner.
As the Brits say, “Am I right or am I right”. I say, “Am I blessed or am I blessed”. That’s rhetorical.
Oh yes, the car horns have changed, yet again. The auto-rickshaws sound like tweety-bird – go figure!
So off for dinner, post my BLOG and nitey-nite!