This is the follow up of “The Earth’s paradise”
The monster fan is blowing a gale in my room. So noisy, I can’t sleep. Turned down or stopped, the room becomes unbearably hot. I try to fight the noise with ear plugs, sweating in my Kathmandu silk liner, and then it is time to get up for a bit of work. Still 5am here, but it is advanced business morning in Australia. With the boring bit finished, I can switch my mind back to India again – namely to my desire for chai or two, so I head out to my chai place at the bus station.
I love this time of the morning, when the tourists are still in bed and the good people of Mamalipuram are getting ready for the day. The women are swiping the yards of their houses; the men are opening shops, or starting fires to cook meals in large pots. The stonemasons of the village are already busy at work chiselling some rocks. And everywhere someone has drawn elaborate patterns in front of the doorways (which has something to do with “Pongal”, the harvest festival). There is not a tout in sight and I really enjoy my two chai (it’s so good, I drink another one in succession).
Refreshed with happiness by the chai, I start walking in general direction of the beach and soon get to the temple I saw yesterday. There is a guard at the gate, who don’t let me in until I produce a ticket, which is easy to obtain for 250 rupees from a nearby kiosk. Then I enter the Shore Temple.
The Shore Temple is beautiful. The sun has just come out and the light is strange. There aren’t many people – only a family (or two) with a bunch of exuberant children, who run up and down the ancient stones of the monument. They spot me immediately and surround me to watch my every move. The children love to have their photos taken and they try their few English words on me. I enjoy the Shore Temple; yes it’s beautiful but I think it is a bit overrated.
Exiting the Shore Temple, I realise that my good “city” hat is missing. I put it clumsily in the bag with the camera and while pulling the camera out, have probably dropped it somewhere… That’s what I tell myself, avoiding the nagging suspicion that the children who surrounded me before might have nipped it from the bag. Not to worry – I have a back-up hat, which I normally use in the Australian outback, but it will be good for India I’m sure.
The sun is up and I head for the other Mamallapuram attractions, spread on the hill above the village. I see the Arjuna’s Penance (fascinating monolithic rock reliefs from the 7th and 8th centuries). Then I spend a few happy hours exploring the numerous cave temples and ruins scattered around the big boulders of the hill. It’s full of schoolchildren, who play around Krishna’s Butter Ball – a massive rock boulder, which is magically hanging over the rock slope. I start chatting with one of the teachers, who is actually the principal of a small village school. He wants to know how much the teachers in Australia earn for their labours. We talk about school and discipline – how I am impressed with the behaviour of Indian children and their respect for the teachers and the elderly. He looks at me astonished, as to say “But how else could it be?” At this very moment my girl calls me from Australia to complain that I don’t call her more often. I tell her that I have a great time exploring India and also a great time chatting with interesting people, like school principals and then I tell her that I love her very much – kiss, kiss, kiss…
We take our goodbyes with my new friend school teacher/principal and I head to the Five Rathas (another tourist attraction). It is quite a walk to get there. After the wonders on the hill above Mamallapuram, I expect something more, especially since another guard at the entrance requests to see my ticket. Luckily it is combined with the one I already purchased at the Shore Temple.
The Five Rathas are interesting – a complex of five unfinished temples, cut from single chunks of rock, but it doesn’t take long to see it all. In fact for me it is more interesting to watch the people visiting The Five Rathas – classes of quiet schoolchildren walking in line and a few couples, who demonstrate their mutual love feelings despite the now sizzling heat of the day.
That’s enough of the Five Rathas for me, time for lunch now. I am so hungry – I catch a rickshaw back to the bus station (50 rupees). First chai at my bus station place, then into one of the rice eateries on the main street, where they give you a banana leaf with rice of your choice (30 rupees), and then you season it with spicy curries from the four or five jars placed on the middle of the table. Happy fingers. It is all vegetarian and delicious!
Back at the guesthouse I find the boy, manning the reception to pay him for my stay. While I take my wallet from the bag, the smart phone slips out. It doesn’t hit the concrete floor too bad, but later in the room I discover that my lovely Android doesn’t work anymore. This is a major disaster! Without it I can no longer run my small business back in Australia and also cannot tell my girl how much I love her. Well, this disaster prompts me to activate plan B – I run out to buy a USB modem to use the Indian micro-sim for the laptop’s connection to the internet. The modem costs voping1800 rupees, but I comfort myself with the thought that this is much cheaper than Australia. After a quick check that it is working, I go out to celebrate my stay in Mamallapuram, which despite the misfortune with the smart phone is wonderful so far.
Tonight I want it to be something special. I choose one of the larger restaurants on the tourist street, which seems to be popular. I want to try a simple grilled fish. I choose the fish, which looks at me with hope. I should’ve trusted my instincts, but what the heck, they also bring me a beer and I sit under a fan (against the mosquitoes) and watch the colourful western tourists favouring this place.
As I drink my beer and observe the colourful western tourists around me, a thought strikes me that we are very funny. We (the western tourists) are kind of slaves to this perception about ourselves: the strange baggy clothes, the scarfs “artistically” thrown around the shoulders, the Bob Marley hair styles, the search/demonstration of spirituality… We are so pretentious and vain. At this moment I see our self-conciseness hilarious in contrast with the local people’s way of life. I’m sure they have a good laugh at us.
This “Kingfisher” beer tastes worse than my poor attempt to brew my own beer at home, but it hits me in the head like spirit (hence the philosophizing before). The fish also arrives flooded in some kind of sweet sauce. It’s grilled all right, but the subtle taste of the fish is gone. I don’t enjoy it much – the fish stares at me with a wide, accusing eye. This meal is the first in India, that gives me unpleasant heaviness in my soul and unpleasant lightness in my pocket – it costs me a small fortune (780 rupees). From now on I decide to stick to the delicious food of the street vendors.
I like Mamallapuram, but some kind of recklessness does not let me fall into the lethargic ways of the local Europeans with the funny clothes. I need to move… Tomorrow.
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