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I visited Chennai in early August 1999.
The first Sunday I was in Chennai I took a stroll from the hotel to Fort St. George, 6-7km away.
on the streets was very calm for a stroll along the beach. These three
wheel autorickshaws are everywhere, also many scooters and bicycles.
Monument along the beach.
The battle between NT and Linux continues. This poster was from a training poster found along the street. There were many many posters for different types of computer training, "Microsoft Certified Engineer", "Oracle", "Java and web".
Over here, "HP" is an abbreviation for Hindustan Petroleum. Gasoline is 28 Rs/liter or ~$2/gallon (the exchange rate was ~42 Rs per dollar).
Venu, Srini, Shaji, Sunil, Mike and Jothi. During the week, I worked met with the team and worked from the TCS - HP offices in Chennai.
On Saturday, I visited Kanchipuram a town of 180,000 approximately 75km from Chennai. This town has many different temples and is also known for the silk that is woven there. It is also a bit of a tourist destination.
I first visited the Sri Ekambaranathar Temple. This temple is dedicated to Shiva. The temple grounds are very large with many different enclosures. Within one of the enclosures is a mango tree with four branches that represent four Vedas (sacred Hindu texts). The fruit of each branch is said to have a different taste.
There were quite a few western tourists walking through the temple (enough
that it was noticeable to me just in a week in India!). There were
also quite a few hustlers and beggars. For example, one scam I'll
name the "fish scam" went like this: as the naive tourist (camera around
neck, guide book in hand, confused look on face...) walks to the temple,
they quickly find someone grabbing their hand and bringing them over to
the pond. Here some water is solomnly sprinked on them and they are
given small pellets to feed the minnows. The hustler is aggressive
and the tourist isn't quite certain if this is a rite or what. Once
the fish food basket is empty, the huckster aggressively asks for Rs 100
for the basket of fish food! I fell for this one :-), though was
only out 10 Rs for the experience since I simply refused to pay more.
I then hung around and saw several other tourists taken by the same scam,
and didn't feel quite so foolish :-). There were also numerous small
fees requested, 2 Rs for shoe watching, 5 Rs for camera, 10 Rs for parking
and also for a guide. The guides come upon same unsuspecting tourists
and then lead them around explaining different aspects of the temple.
However, I found this actually quite informative. At the end, one
negotiates a fee for the guide service.
The next temple I visited was Kailasanatha Temple also dedicated to Shiva. Small and ornate wall sculptures were found here. Much quieter and without the hustlers as well.
The last temple I visited was Devarajaswami temple dedicated to Vishnu. This temple includes a large tank of water. Some could be seen bathing here. Apparently, every 40 years the tank is emptied and a 10m statue of Vishnu is fully visible. This last happened in 1979 and 10 million people then came to make offerings at the temple.
I also visited several shops with looms where silk was being woven. Very fine and very intricate patterns are controlled by the loom cards above.
Each shop also had a store where one could purchase silk sarees, cloth and other silk items. At the first shop, they showed me several items. They started with the most expense, sarees and cloth at around 2000 Rs. "Oh no, that is way too much!", so then to less expensive items, 1000 Rs, 600 Rs, 300 Rs. By then I was in to seeing scarfs and hankerchiefs. We kept going. They showed me a nice silk scarf with 100 Rs price tag. I offered 50 Rs. Sold! We both laughed. Seller and buyer both think they got a good deal.
On the road back was this partially completed monument dedicated to Rajiv Ghandi. Once outside Chennai, there were small towns along the road. Some small rice fields, but surprisingly little otherwise growing. Not certain if this is seasonal or all the time.
Saturday afternoon was a several hour walk around Chennai, I followed the main road, Anna Salai, through town and down to the beach. It is surprising how much of the signage is in English and how much English is spoken. This picture is at the flyover and next to the US consulate.
Typical small shopping street in Chennai. On the right is street vendor selling sugar cane. The banners over the street advertise HP (Hewlett-Packard not Hindustan Petroleum), low cost Apollo laser printer. I also stopped in a large several story mall (Spencers). It was interesting to stop in the TV/electronics store and the food market. No Frys Computer (yet).
pulling a cart. A pretty big variety of modes of transport all using
the same roads: pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, bicycle carts, motor carts,
automobilies, auto rickshaws, lorries, oxen, ...
very poor looking neighborhoods with huts. I noticed them particularly
along some of the waterways. The water looked and smelled pretty foul.
of the standard model India bicycle. On Sunday morning I rented this
bicycle and cycled ~60 km, going to milepost 30 south of Chennai and then
back. Sunday traffic is much quieter than other days. There
seem to be two traffic rules: "bigger wins" and "watch out". However,
there were also enough bicycles on the road that they were expected.
I also learned sounds of different horns, a beep of a lorry vs. a beep
of a scooter. For the former and for the big green buses once or
twice I got off the road to let them pass.
The first 10km are city and then the road opened up going through several
smaller towns. It was hot and humid and I drank 3 liters water along
the way. The bicycle went pretty smoothly, though the seat was considerably
too low. It came with standard cycle accessories: a lock in the back,
a bicycle stand behind and a bell.
sculpture was at Cholamandal Artist's village ~18km south of Chennai. I
was having some battery difficulties with the camera so didn't get many
other pictures. However, at one point along the way I found myself
off the main road and by a large Christian church were Sunday morning hymns
were being sung. Other points, I found loudspeakers blaring Indian
music. A number of smaller temples along the way as well.
During the week it was back at work at the office. However, on Tuesday we went to a team celebration out to Mamallapuram at town of ~13000 some 55 km south of Chennai. Mamallapuram is the new spelling and it was mostly called by the old name, Mahabalipuram.
Mamallapuram is famous for its shore temple and for the intricate carvings found here. Many of these carvings were created during the reign of the Pallava kings between 600-800 AD.
Here are Sri, Sunil, Srini, JP, Venu, Jothi and Shaji at the Five Rathas.
The five rathas are temples in style of chariots (rathas). This ratha
is Nakula-Sahadeva and is believed to be dedicated to Indra, the rain
god. It is late afternoon and this picture is unfortunately a little
bit in the shade.
Shaji stands by the shore temple, one of the most famous sites of
Mamallapuram. This temple has many intricate carvings that have been
worn by the sea air. There were originally several other temples that
have now been washed in the sea. A dike has been built around the
shore temple to prevent it from a similar fate.
In addition to the temples and monuments, there were also many carvings in the rocks around Mamallapuram. We climbed past one set up to the old lighthouse and got a nice view of the town. The old lighthouse was lit by burning wood.
There are quite a few shops all around Mamallapuram. Many of them sell
stone carvings. There was also considerable activity going on with carving
Mamallapuram is next to the sea. The coast drops off sharply and the
beach is steep. Signs warn of dangerous waters and contain an ominous
tally of how many have drowned each year. It was somewhat nice and
relaxing to watch the waves come rushing in.
It was five weeks until elections in India. Each morning I would read an english newspaper, the Hindu. Considerable space was spent reporting on exactly which parties were forming alliances and how these alliances were being forged to contest different seats. It was all pretty intricate to try to figure it out since these parties would then enter into agreements to share seats
Each party also had a symbol. Painted on this curb in Mamallapuram were
names and sumbols for the BJP and DMK (from last election?).
On my last Saturday I rented a bicycle again and cycled to work and
also across some points in the city. This dinosaur is found in front of
the Children's Museum as part of the Chennai Museum. The museum itself
is worth visiting.
I found the carvings and sculptures particularly interesting. These were found outside one of the red brick buildings. Red brick is also used in many other official buildings including the two large train stations that I cycled past (Egmore and Central).
I stopped at large white Chennai Corporation building, seat of the
city government, and wanted to take a picture. Several soldiers came
over and told me it wasn't allowed. Apparently, photos of such potential
military targets are not allowed.
This picture is at San Thome Cathedral, a large Catholic Church built
in 1504. This tomb houses the remains of St. Thomas the Apostle
Here is the outside of San Thome Cathedral. Visible in front is an
election banner for one of the political parties.
Independence Day. Sunday August 15 was the 52nd anniversary of India's independence. The TCS offices held this flag raising ceremony to commemorate the occasion. Dignitaries included regional TCS managers. Events also included some patriotic songs and morning brunch.
I finished up at the TCS offices and said my goodbyes.
All too quickly the trip was done.
I very much enjoyed this trip and was grateful for hospitality shown to me.
While I saw but a small slice, I saw enough to know, this is a place I want
to explore further...