We touched down from the Andamans back in Chennai on 5 Feb. Not wanting to spend any time in Chennai (countless travellers informed us of what a "hole" the city is - pity its our transit hub for indo..) we headed by bus straight for Mamallapurum.
Mamallapurum is on the East Coast between Chennai and Pondicherry and is famous for ancient rock-carved temples (carved from solid granite / gneiss) and has a bustling tourist area, which we now know means LOADS of roadside shops owned by Kashmiri businessmen selling every type of Indian craft under the sun!! Every businessmen has his own charming way of trying to lure the passerby tourists into his shop... After hours of waiting for the bus at a transit stop we arrived hot and bothered, and took a while to find cheap accomodation. We found a sweet little place in the heart of the touristy area run by Gabriel - who had moved here in the early 1980s, after marrying his wife from here, and opened one of the first restuarants in town. Its now so bustling that his place is tucked around a corner, and without taking out a liquor license due to the hastle it creates from corrupt policemen, he's now only getting breakfast and lunch customers. Nevertheless we enjoyed his spot and learnt some interesting info on the catholic church in South India and his experiences in it (he's a catholic). In travelling around the South (we're now in Kerala), its obvious that Catholicism has really left a mark - we visited a church today that was established in the 1540s.
We ended up getting "lured" in by many of the local businessmen and ended up leaving with heavier backpacks - with more clothing (we can each count the items of clothing we originally came with on one hand!), a flute Nelleke bought on the street complete with a street-side beginners course from the seller, books, and pressies (yes.. for family and friends!). The beach here really wasn't very pleasant, especially after we got up early to catch the sunrise and found many locals using their local loo (the shallow breakers). However, on one long evening walk along the beach we came across a film set filming a bollywood music video! We are still amused at the thought of some of the dance-stunts that were being pulled off by a lead pink clad she-star (complete with fish-net stockings and black boots on the beach) and a team of flabby, greasy, hairy, sweaty, yet highly enthusiastic backup men dancers! We decided not to stay for too long and after 2 nights caught a bus to go to the Vedantangal bird sanctuary. The 70km journey took 4 hours by bus because of a stop-over at a dirty and busy transit bus station!
The Vedantangal bird sanctuary was incredible! After our trying day in getting there we walked to the entrance through quiet rural landscape to find a mangrove swamp with 30,000 nesting birds and juveniles of various kinds. It was a sight to behold. We loved walking along the side-path and found a quiet scenic spot to sit down for our picnic (curry and roti in our tiffin-tin, the classic stainless steel Indian lunchbox). It was a wonderful way to end the day. We saw painted stalks, grey pelicans, cormorants, herons, and all sorts of other birds in their thousands!
The next day we headed for Pondicherry, but through another bad bus-transit experience ended up back in Mamallapurum for another night!! It ended well because a local guy on route to Chennai gave us a lift in his air-conditioned car - LUXURY! The next day we made it to Pondicherry, and loved the town for its French colonial heritage from the moment we got there. Many cafe's, restuarants, art galleries, and beautiful shops greeted us kindly after the rural settings on the Andamans. We were immediately like crazed city consumers, buzzed up by the bright lights and fancy goodies on offer everywhere. At the end of the first evening there we'd had cappucinos, scoped out the fanciest shops in town (which must be why many foreigners find it ammenable to settle here for a few years or more), and fallen in love with a leather bag each! Well, budgeting is never an easy task, but with such temptations it just has to sometimes go out the window! It must be said though that we soon got out of this shop-aholic craze, and enjoyed spending lots of time walking around the town taking pics of the old buildings in various states of restoration. We also had the opportunity to help out an old lady that was living on the street, which was a really humbling and eye-opening experience.
After Pondicherry we headed by train all the way across India and more South to Kochin in Kerala. We are here at the moment and heading tomorrow for a Kerala "backwaters" boat-trip, which promises to be amazing. We hope you are all well - April is already seeming to be around the corner so it won't be too long before we catch up...