Friday night, we hugged and said our goodbyes to Tracey and her daughter Meghan as they left for Nepal to do a little sightseeing before heading back home. Early Saturday morning, the rest of us opted for a weekend bus trip to Puducherry, formerly known as Pondicherry. Stephen shares that India continues to change names of cities to something more ‘Indian’ … further establishing their independence from former colonies. Puducherry was a French colony for hundreds of years and the streets still bear French names.
Enroute, we stopped at a town of temples, Kanchipuram, one of the seven holy cities of India and the only Southern one. Everyone walks barefoot along the streets connecting many of these temples … shoes are not allowed inside Hindu temples … Stephen had prepped us about wearing socks if we wished … most of us did :). It was not particularly a goal of mine at all, but I have now walked the streets or sat and chanted in the temples of three of India’s holy pilgrimage cities … Hardiwar/Rishikesh, Varanasi and now Kanchipuram … may necessitate a return trip to discover the other four 🙂
We luxuriated at a great hotel for the night in Puducherry, enjoying a bit of space, reliable air conditioning, swimming pool, gym, spa and great food! The twenty somethings of our group explored a bit of the night life near our hotel. An evening walk along the beach of the Bay of Bengal, an early dinner was all it took to finish off the older generation :). We were all also slightly exhausted after a week of volunteering in the humid hot weather of Porur!
We walked the streets of Puducherry in the morning, taking in the street scene and markets, walked in silence through a lush flower laden ashram, where folks sat quietly in meditation … pictures not allowed unfortunately for us but not for the community of meditators 🙂 … it was quite peaceful and beautiful inside. Hari om. To cool off after our explorations we stopped at a streetside truck stop to savour freshly cracked coconut juice and pulp … delicious and refreshing!
The bus driver took a different route back to Chennai on Sunday, part of it along the Bay of Bengal, facilitating a stop at one of the most surprising sights I have seen in India! Acres and acres of rock carvings and formations at a town called Mamallapuram. Some of these carvings are thousands of years old, amazingly not fenced off for protection, available to all for climbing, touching etc.!!! I wonder why it hasn’t been declared a world heritage site? We wandered amongst the rocks for a few hours, walking up to a light house in the midst of it all, for a better view. So here I go, peeling of yet another historical layer of India I had no idea existed … this country continues to fascinate!
As I sit at my iPad, attempting to document my time here, I find my mind wandering, wondering yet again, will I return?? I was sure that after six weeks, I would reach saturation point …. well, perhaps not just quite yet :)!! Discovering more layers of this vibrant, colourful, welcoming, often contradictory and at times totally chaotic country may still be in the cards! Volunteering added a whole new dimension and at some point I would love to go back and work with Stephen and Sheeba, the children and teachers at PRS school, or tutor young Augustine and Rohitkumar or any child or adult for that matter … all are welcome at my table.
Now if India would just do something about the garbage problem! Read in the local paper that Prime Minister Modi is appealing to every citizen to take responsibility and clean up their own spaces! There are trash bins and containers scattered about here and there and they always appear to be overflowing, proof that at least some are using them!! India experiences major problems with flooding during monsoon, the drainage systems not being able to handle the onslaught of torrential rainstorms … possibly outdated systems that could benefit from an upgrade, but personally, I think a lot of the plastic and garbage overwhelms the drains and plug things up! It is highly likely to be a major contributor! Let’s hope this starts to improve under the Modi government … by all accounts they appear to be taking the initiative on this important issue.