We decided to go on a bit of a road trip (with a hired driver and Vig’s Uncle K) while we were in Chennai – just go down the coast a bit to Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry and see what they were like. The first stop, just outside Chennai (once you get past the traffic!) was Dakshin Chitra. It’s a pretty contrived but still entertaining “living museum” of arts and crafts and such.
They have a bazaar, lots of demonstrations and hands-on stuff, and it was really quite fun. We got there pretty early so it was quiet and fairly cool as well. There were various traditionally furnished houses, displays on cookware and household items, and all kinds of stuff. And they had weaving!
This guy was weaving sari fabric – super thin threads, all silk, with a fancy pattern woven in as well. Awesome!
And since yarn is necessary…
So are swifts!
I also tried my hand at grinding rice – necessary for such yummies as dosa.
(Wearing my new Indian-acquired duds.)
Then it was onwards to Mahabalipuram. Its main claim to fame is numerous (and I mean numerous) carved rock temples and shrines. After checking into the guest house (Siva Guest House – highly recommended, they’re really friendly and the rooms are super clean and appropriately basic) we headed out to see the sights.
Krishna’s Butterball – I think it one might be naturally occurring rather than carved, but I could be wrong! It’s not held down by anything except gravity, and it is on a slope. I wouldn’t sit in front of it!
The Shore Temple – pretty at sunset! We got there just in time to get in a look before it closed up for the evening.
A bunch of the sights are all in a row, so you can walk from one end to the other pretty quickly and easily. We got dropped off at the butterball and walked to meet the driver, Xavier, at the lighthouse.
Lots and lots of carved rock. It is pretty interesting, but it started to get a little tedious after awhile. These are the Five Rathas – shrines that were buried until the British dug them up and put them on display.
At least there were some highly entertaining goats, climbing on a pretty sheer rock face! It was crazy, this was at least 20 feet off the ground.
Mahabalipuram is a tiny place, really just worth a day trip from Chennai, but we stayed overnight so we could drive on to Pondicherry the next day without having to double back. I found Mahabalipuram a little too touristy and kinda trashy – everything building’s either a souvenir shop or a guest house! The monuments were really not kept well, there was a lot of plastic trash everywhere and it was just disgraceful.
We had slightly higher hopes for Pondicherry (Puducherry), a former French colony a couple more hours south along the coast.
The signs and pretty buildings remain!
Unfortunately that was kind of it. Not a lot of French charm left, although maybe we just didn’t know where to find it! We walked around a little, just looking at the houses and things, poking in a few shops, being freakily followed by a stray dog (that was scary for a few minutes) and ended up at the beach – which is a rocky shore. It was pretty to look out though.
Random food notes, since it’s been a theme of my trip: we ended up eating both dinner and breakfast at the hotel, and they had pretty good North and South Indian food. For breakfast, yummy rawa dosa, which is made with wheat flour in addition (I think?) to the usual rice and lentil flours. Mmm. I do miss eating dosai for breakfast these days!
We stayed overnight in Pondicherry and headed back to Chennai in the morning, stopping to take a look at one of the big South Indian temples in town. Might be a little hard to see, but it’s all painted up. And it has to all be repainted every couple years!
The next day we got up bright and early to head out to a wedding that one of Vig’s other uncles had invited us to – why turn down an offer like that?! I’d wanted to wear a sari but didn’t have enough time to get a blouse made so I just wore a skirt, top and scarf instead. It worked out well because I think I would’ve been a little uncomfortable in a sari! That’s a lot of fabric to manage.
What surprised me the most about the wedding was how much people weren’t paying attention – stuff with the bride and groom goes on for so long, it’s not like people are all that interested in actually watching every little detail of the rituals. People just socialized, walked around, read the newspaper (!) and went and ate in the dining hall whenever.
There were long tables set up with banana leaf and pre-served with some of the cold stuff, then once you sit down the servers come along with pails of rice and rasam and curry and all sorts of stuff until you say stop – they cook it all fresh there at the hall and even change the menu throughout the day. We had dosa and idlis and things for breakfast when we got there, then rice and rasam and such for lunch a couple hours later!
After the wedding we got the auto to take us on a little bit of a shopping trip – I love the stainless steel store and bought quite a few tumblers and bowls. It was dirty work sorting out what I wanted though!
Of course, all the copper and stainless steel dishware I bought meant that my luggage was a) fuller and b) wayyy heavier. We spent the rest of the day doing laundry and packing up for a flight the next day to Delhi – and cooler weather!