Tag Archives: South India

When I posted a few days ago about Chris’ surfing adventure, I commented that after accompanying him on Saturday, I elected to stay home on Sunday. At least one reader thought this was crazy! Who wouldn’t want to spend a few hours at the beach?

In theory, I am all for going to the beach. In practice, Indian beaches are just not used the same way as American beaches are. I don’t know that I can categorically say “Indians don’t go to the beach.”, but I do think it is fair to say that Indian beaches typically serve a more utilitarian function than American beaches do.

Not surprisingly, many beaches serve as a home base for fishermen who pull their boats up out of the water when not in use. In addition to boats, you can see many bundles of fishing nets, some boat motors, which seem to be removed when the boats are on shore, and a variety of other unidentified stuff on the beach.

I enjoy seeing the boats on the beach. It is interesting to me to see the different types of vessels used for fishing here, although it does make the beach somewhat crowded and less usable for typical American beach lounging.

Also making a home at the beach are these guys, who Lisa may appreciate.

I like the cows as well. They are peaceful to watch and I have some level of amusement with the fact that they roam the beach freely, but cows on the beach introduce a big problem for this beach-goer. Cow pies. Watch your step on a cow-filled beach!

Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that many of the people at the beach use it as freely as a bathroom as the cows do. When Chris first told me this, I had to question him further.

“Are you sure it is from people?”

“Not from cows?”

“Not from dogs?”

“Definitely from people.”

I’m sure that I looked at Chris with some level of alarm. “Is there…much?

With a grimace on his face, he simply gave me a nod.

The visions I had of me lounging on the beach while Chris surfed immediately dissolved. I can certainly understand why many people, and cows alike, use the beach as a bathroom, but it still gives me some level of discomfort with walking on the sand. In retrospect, I’m glad that Chris didn’t mention this to me before we walked out on the beach for Ganesh Chaturthi.

I’m sure that I will still visit the beach on occasion, probably to watch Chris surf, but my vantage point will likely be the questionably sanitary beach side restaurant. Next time around I’ll stick to ordering water only!

Saturday afternoon we headed south, once again, to Mahabalipuram. I wanted to get out of the house, but more importantly, Chris wanted to go for a surf. It was my first time surf-spectating. Usually I am on board with at least getting into the water and giving it a try instead of just watching, but at this point a surfboard is way too hard of a surface for me to lay on my stomach on, it would feel pretty similar to laying on a bowling ball.

It was kind of bizarre to watch Chris go off to do some fun activity and be left behind watching. I know that it is just for a short time and that there is a good reason for it, but it made me feel like a boring, lazy, slug. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.

At first I decided that I would walk around town a bit. Although we have been here before, I had never actually walked through the town. We spent both trips hiking around mazes of ancient sandstone carvings and had completely neglected to check out what was reputed to be a cute little backpacker enclave.

Ultimately, I was exhausted by walking around in the extreme heat and being hassled by an endless line of shopkeepers wanting to sell me stone carvings, sarongs, handmade leather sandals, and air-conditioned meals among other things. I made my way back toward the beach to a rooftop restaurant to settle in for some surf-spectating. I wasn’t really hungry and we were supposed to go out for dinner afterwards anyway, but I felt like I had to order something anyway if I wanted to sit on their roof. I decided on a bottle of water and a fruit salad.

Unfortunately, this was the first food that I have ordered in India that I felt unsure about eating! The fruit was peeled and all, but the establishment did not look especially clean and the fruit looked like it may have been cut and peeled several days ago. Um, no thanks.

Upon further inspection, it was probably correct to be concerned. When I got up to use the restroom, I noted that not only did it lack soap, but it lacked a sink entirely. It is pretty common here to find bathrooms without soap, but no sink brought my level of alarm with eating there to a new high! Not surprisingly, when Chris headed back on Sunday morning for another surf, I decided to sit tight at home instead.

More on surf-spectating. It kind of reminds me of watching a running race. There are a lot of really boring parts where Chris and all of the other surfers lay or sit on their boards waiting for sets of waves to come in. Now and then, things would get exciting and Chris would catch a few waves, hopefully close enough for me to capture with my zoom lens.

Ultimately, I had mixed feelings about watching Chris surf versus actually making an attempt at it myself. There was a lot more going on at this beach than just surfing, which did make watching more exciting, but began to make me question if I really wanted to get into that water. More on that another day!

Friday night we headed south from Chennai for a quick trip to Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram. We had been hearing quite a bit about Pondicherry, even before we left for India, so it quickly became a must see on our list.

Pondicherry was a French Colony on the southern coast of India and part of the allure of Pondy is the Provençal inspired architecture and Franco-Tamil Creole cuisine. The real allure, to the young party animals anyway, may be that Pondy has far lower taxes on alcohol than any other city in the state of Tamil Nadu.

As for sights to see, our favorite was Bharathi Park, a huge, perfectly manicured park in the center of the French side of the city. Aside from the French street names, there were very few remnants of French influence in the former colony.

Perhaps my expectations were far too high after dozens of recommendations to visit Pondy, but it didn’t quite live up to what I imagined. I envisioned something like the Indian version of the French Quarter of New Orleans, on that grand a scale, and kicked up a notch by its beach front locale. Instead, what I witnessed was a few yellow townhouses on a handful of broad tree-lined avenues, um, rues.

French culinary inspiration seemed to be limited to the addition of Filet Mignon to every menu. As a non-beef eater, this didn’t impress me all that much. I will add though, that I ate one of the best pasta dishes in recent memory while in Pondy. I would say that they have Italian food all figured out!

After leaving Pondy, we headed north to Mahabalipuram, a less acclaimed town that we absolutely adored. Mahabalipuram is known for its hundreds, dare I say thousands, of ancient ornate sandstone carvings. I was absolutely blown away when I considered the time and effort put into carving these enormous structures.

 Our first stop in Mahabalipuram was Pancha Rathas, a series of five monolithic structures, similar to this one, carved in the 7th century.

My favorite carving was a bas-relief called Descent of the Ganges, in particular I liked this heard of adult and baby elephants. I think they resonated with me because they reminded me of the adorable baby elephants that we saw in Africa.

As we ambled through acre upon acre of ancient stone carvings, I couldn’t help but be amused by the huge number of animals that seemed to be living among them. I came to India fully expecting to see cows in the street, but it didn’t occur to me that I would also see goats chilling out on ancient artwork in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This guy looks totally comfortable with mugging for the camera. He was happy to work it for the camera and struck several saucy poses during his photo shoot with us. “Bahhh, this is nothing dah-ling, bahhh, I am the star of this show all day long!”

Finally, we did what had been on Chris’ mind since leaving Chennai, we scoped out a potential surf spot. Um, sweet picture of me below. I believe that what he was really trying to capture was not my elbow, but that “fun little right point break” [insert correct surfer lingo here].

What you can really garner from this photograph is that we will be spending a lot more time in Mahabalipuram, just one hour south of Chennai, and that Chris is über bummed that he left his surfboard in LA. Fortunately, they rent surfboards here. Unfortunately, as I can understand after using a few lame rental snowboards here and there, rental boards stink.