I’m guessing that our tour started in Chennai because it was a big city with a big airport rather than being a tourist destination. After a meet and greet with all the new people who joined us for the southern India tour, we headed into town. Since we don’t know each other yet, much of the conversation is country dropping, rather like the name dropping that celebrities do. While we can hold our own in a crowd like this, lists of exotic countries are not interesting in an of themselves. Hopefully, in a few days there will be some interesting stories to go with them. Much of what we saw today was out a bus window, not our favorite way of sightseeing, but perhaps a gentle introduction to the chaos that is India.
The journey started with a stop at the local vehicle blessing site - Muni Temple. Whenever people buy a new car, tuk tuk, or motorcycle, they bring it here to be professionally blessed. Our bus driver did it so we would have a safe and blessed journey over the next two weeks. The blessing started with putting citrus fruits under all the tires. A garland of flowers was hung from the hood. Braided hunks of hair with doo dads attached were hung from the undercarriage. A solution of sandalwood liquid was splashed on the hood the the windshield. Then the meat of a coconut was lit and the smoke was wafted on the bus and on us. And then we were safe to go.
People in this part of the world are remarkably superstitious; astrologers are a big deal and have amazing power over people’s lives. Any big moves like a marriage have to occur at an auspicious moment. This moment is determined by the horoscopes of those involved as well as the location where the event will take place. Weddings take place just about anytime 24/7 depending on what the astrologer has to say.
We got out to take a short ride on a train, just for the experience. In the middle of the morning we had a rail car to ourselves, but Charles said that during rush hour they cram bodies in as hard as they can. The countryside was NOT attractive. Charles said the next state we visit will be better, but there is garbage EVERYWHERE. Most of the slums we saw were along the rivers, which were very polluted and smelly. We knew this was the case before we came, but there’s nothing like seeing and smelling it for yourself.
Countries like this remind me how important good government is. If there is no garbage collection or nowhere to put your garbage, you throw it on the ground. Once there already is lots of garbage on the ground, what’s one more piece? We also have heard that the lack of toilets causes people, especially men, to relieve themselves just about anywhere, but have not had the pleasure of seeing this for ourselves - yet.
We had lunch at a local vegetarian dive, which was crammed with people and featured all sorts of interesting things to eat. Frying seems to be the name of the game and almost anything fried tastes pretty good.
We have had trouble using out ATM’s. It is Diwali (Festival of Lights) time around here and many folks are in holiday mode and shopping big time. Perhaps the machines we have tried are empty. Luckily we are on a tour and the assistant guide gave us some walking around money for US cash.
St. Thomas, one of Christ’s disciples, came to preach in Chennai was murdered and buried here in Santhome Basilica. We stopped at this nice Christian church, which supposedly contains a piece of his collar bone. The rest of him was returned to Rome. When we think how taxing it was for us to get here, we can only imagine his travels. Much of the art inside the church would look familiar to any Christian, but the Jesus behind the altar was fully closed in resurrection attire and standing on a lotus surrounded by peacocks - the Indian touch. As a tourist here, I prefer to see temples and mosques rather than what I can see at home.
Our hotel is over the top spectacular. Charles said it will be downhill from here; it would certainly be hard to beat it. A long swirling pool winds its way through tropical plants past all of our bungalows. The welcome dinner took place in a restaurant beautifully decorated for Halloween. All the waiter were dressed in costumes and the appetizers and desserts were decorated to look like ghosts, witches, pumpkins, etc. We ate to the sound of blood curdling screams and chains rattling. All thoughts of bad smells and garbage disappear when were are here.