Chennai is a major city and we arrived at peak hour as people seemed to be heading to work. We had breakfast in a nearby hotel and then continued on to our next stop which was Mamallapuram. It is a beach/fishing town on the east coast of India. We visited the Starbucks equivalent for a chai and mango shake which seemed to take ages. The woman behind the counter certainly couldn’t multi-task and her pace was consistent – slow! Our guide had told us to have patience during our time in India and on this occasion it was certainly true.
We then walked down to the beachfront which was complete with cows lying on the sand and the sewerage drain across the beach. There were many fishing boats, including the occasional dead fish but we dipped our toes in the Indian Ocean and walked along the sand. Walking back to the hotel we looked in many shops and bought a couple of souvenirs including Henna stamps and Christopher bought a painting of a Maharaja procession including elephants.
Later in the afternoon our group went bike riding to visit the various local temples and sites, including “the butter ball” which is a huge spherical ball of granite perched on a ledge. One of the temples sits on a headland and was very picturesque. The temples were all monolothic granite structures which was quite amazing and the carvings very detailed and in very good condition. This area seemed famous for granite carving with some lovely objects in the local stores. Dinner was at a beachside restaurant overlooking the beach which was most pleasant. Aloo Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) seems to be my dish of choice and tonight’s version was very tasty.
Next morning we woke early to head back to the beach to capture some photos as the sun rose. The cloud cover meant the light wasn’t great but at a beach further around the headland we discovered several hundred pilgrims, all dressed in dark maroon swimming and having fun on the beach. There appeared to be horse rides and carnival rides with everyone having a great time. Once again we became celebrities as we were asked for our photo, many of which were printed on the spot using portable printers. The photos are a great way to get to meet and chat with locals and their English is usually quite good and very formal.
Following breakfast on the beach we then headed to Pondicherry which is another seaside city on the east coast. En route we visited Auroville which is an international community of unity. It was established in 1968 by two spiritual leaders with a goal to be a place for all peoples, irrespective of religion, race or ideology. Currently the population is over 1500, many of whom are foreign nationals. The main feature is the madahindra which is a huge golden spherical structure that is used for contemplation. We were shown a video and then allowed to walk to a viewing platform to see the madahindra but as visitors, we are not allowed inside. Lunch of vegie puffs and fresh juice was very yummy!
Continuing on to Pondicherry we checked into our hotel. I remember reading about Pondicherry in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as Prince Pondicherry wanted a palace of chocolate but it was too hot in the Indian sun and it melted. There were no chocolate palaces to be seen but we did visit an ashram as well as a paper making factory. We were given a quick tour of the factory as it was near closing time but it was very interesting and showed paper making on a large scale.
Before dinner which tonight was totally vegetarian and delicious, we celebrated Simone’s birthday. She is from Switzerland and travelling by herself. Our group leader had organised a cake and kept telling us he would also get some wine. Due to our previous wine experience, none of us were very keen but thankfully 13 people sharing only 1 bottle meant we didn’t have to drink too much. It was better than the other bottle we had tried in Ooty but a few mouthfuls was enough.