Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chennai Chronicles - Of Hills and Vales

A trotting we will go
A trotting we will go
Heigh Ho the Cherry Ho
A trotting we will go

This time to Ooty from Coimbatore. Ooty the celebrated hill station has always been in the backyard of my hometown. However it never held as much as charm as when I moved away from home. For years now I have been longing to spend a few days in Ooty, and the chance came this time! Ooty has just a handful of sights to see and the trip was over as soon as it began! Also the place was blazing hot and people were walking around with jackets and sweaters much to our amusement! However we had a great time.
The Ooty lake is so small boating in it gets boring in about 10 minutes. But not for Nantu. He wanted to go in the mini train which went on a rockety-rickety trip and back along a straight track. We tried to spruce it up a bit by hooting when we went through a tunnel. But everyone kept a straight face and ignored us! I remember doing this in the Smokeys once on the tram, Nantu and I hooted when the tram jerked and everyone joined us in our merry making! Unfortunately not this time.
Anyway, the next day we were off to Pykara falls and lake. The falls were so beautiful and cool, we hated to leave. We had a fun time splashing around and even got to see some Bison on our way there, as well as some Sheep grazing along the falls. We wanted to go to Mudumalai (Forest renowned for its wild Elephants) next but it was closed for "Fire Season" as they call it. Apparently this time of the year, the dry bamboo stems brush against each other and there are fires in the forest ever so often. So the elephants retreat to the thicker jungles. This was a big disappointment for us, as the forest safari was supposed to be the highlight of the ooty trip!
Spirits restored though, we were off to botanical gardens and some hiking. Most tourists seem to stick to some standard paths and don't venture up the slopes of the garden. But we were eager to move away from the crowd and in search of tranquility and more trees to climb we
ventured farther and farther. Soon we reached a revolving gate and lo behold we were at Toda Mund. A settlement of the toda tribes. Unfortunately our excitement was short lived as we saw the brick houses and very civilized people there! However we got to see their temple and one of the erstwhile huts. They hold the bufallo sacred and worship the pancha pandavas. Also there was a huge stone called the wedding stone, apparently the groom lifts the stone on to his shoulder in order to marry. A lady even obliged us by wearing the traditional garb. We later found out that she was missing the headdress!! Still we were thrilled nevertheless and later directed more aimless wanderers like us to the TodaMund.
Another fun thing about Ooty was the loads of shopping we did for Pashmina (Wool Silk) shawls and Pure Wool Shawls and pretty purses and bags. Why we (my sister and me, oh yes the bext part of shopping - window or otherwise is the company!!) needed so many of them I cannot answer. But the endless shopping did give us a reason to smile. And since then every once in a while, we examine the wares again for a return of the brilliant smile.
However one little gift I brought back from this trip is priceless. Ooty is going green and so are many other cities in south India. Plastics are banned in Ooty. You wont find plastic bags in the stores. They wrap stuff in Paper or give them in cloth bags. I was impressed with this start. Ofcourse there is a long way to go, what with tourists bringing in plastic and further dumping them carelessly on the roads. Also there is no proper mechanism for imposing fines/ punishment. Back in Coimbatore we received a circular saying that throwing away plastic bags was banned there too. I keep harping on the importance of going green. And this approach warmed by heart, the west has something to learn!
I am back in Chennai and will be lying low, staying at home and relaxing for the next couple of weeks, before I go traipsing again. So not much chance of updates from me. Also please remember my inability to check all your blogs at Chennai, am going to work at fixing my weird comp here!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chennai Chronicles - Change!

I am a nomad as already has been established. But I am very fond of my home land India and the lure has always appealed to me. Yet to satisfy my travel urges I continue to live outside India. However, I have no doubts or misgivings about India's growth and progress. And this fact is re-instated to me every time I return back to India. This time again I can see the changes. Chennai seems to have expanded in all dimensions - become bigger, taller and broader to say the least!!
Every time I come back, a whole metamorphism has conspired in my absence!! This time too there are many such things I have just begun exploring. Years ago one rainy season I remember traversing the Old Mahabalipuram Road and wishing I had a boat instead of a car. The potholed road held sudden surprises for us besides the flooding of the road itself!
Today Old Mahabalipuram Road is a sight to see. The road has become broad and smooth. All the erstwhile potholes are long gone and the road is being beautified to have green medians and lovely looking bus stops! Not to mention the big hotels, apartments and IT Hubs that have appeared splattered all through the IT Corridor

Venture into the city though and I feel so lost... I used to know Chennai like the back of my hand, and zip by on my scooty many years back. Today all my regular routes are -ways and I find myself frequently disoriented in my attempt to paint the town red!
However there is nothing at all that is not available. From Fisher Price toys to Quesadilla's and Margaritas everything is readily available if you can pay the price! I visited City Center and stood in awe like a villager at all its splendor!
I packed my bags for the first train journey this trip and entered the Egmore railway station. The numerous helpers in India have always held an appeal to me. And I kept talking about hiring a porter to cart all the boxes to the train. Imagine my surprise when I saw escalators zipping up and down. However at the base of the escalator we encountered a porter. I remember my erstwhile trips to Egmore where I haggled with him and he always had the upper hand. Knowing fully well that we are going to have to use him. I would part with atleast a 100 bucks or more every time. This time the guy was willing to do it for next to nothing. I will do it for 20 bucks he said. I was very tempted to give it to him.. poor guy!

As I landed back in Chennai, I haggled with an auto wala to take me home and as expected he started off with atrocious prices. I called my uncle to ask him what the reasonable price was. And he educated me about the Volvo A/C Buses now plying across Chennai. These look so wonderful that now I need to take a trip just to experience the joy ride! We took a regular bus though, at Nantu's request. It was his first bus trip and turned out to be fun early in the morning with none of Chennai's hustle and bustle! We also made an auto trip also at Nantu's request. However in a few minutes the breeze and rocking put the li'l ruffian to sleep, so I was left alone to enjoy the sights and smells of Chennai!
Another experience of note was an evening at one of the oldest clubs in Chennai - The Gymkhana Club. The ambience and food was simply superb and we had a relaxing meal and uninterrupted gupshap (conversation) thanks to Uncle S. The club retains all of its old splendor and traditions, which include a strict no to photography. So my armor the camera was rendered useless there. But then we had a lovely time nevertheless and that was a lovely end to a busy shopping day at Chennai!
However, some things never change in Chennai and the familiarity they represent is strangely comforting - the heat, the traffic and the bustling city. But as bad as it sounds, these are the things that make Chennai what it is and I wont change a thing about it!! (Oh well, I take that back.. If only I could turn down the heat a bit!!)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Chennai Chronicles - Panguni Thirunal

The highlight of the trip to the village was the Panguni Utsavam. Every Panguni (Tamil calendar month - Last month in the tamil year - March 15th through April 15th), in the temple of Mahara Nedun Kuzhai Kadhar at Thenthiruperai a small village on the banks of Tamarabrani river, a festival is celebrated in full splendor. The festival starts on Panguni Uthram (tamil star) and goes on for the next 10 days.
Among all Vaishnava temples, the most celebrated are 106 Thirupathis (108 in all, 2 of which are believed to be in/on the way to Heaven) across the Indian Peninsular. One among these these is Thenthiruperai. The God there is MaharaNedunKuzhai Kadhar (The one with the ornamental Maharam on his Ear).
During the Panguni Utsavam, Lord Kuzhai Kadhar appears on the streets in a different vahanam every night. It ends with a trip on the Theru (Chariot). We were at Thenthiruperai for 5 of these days. Starting from the second day. Here are some pictures!
(Simha Vahanam - Lion)(Hanuman Vahanam)(Thanga Thozhi Kinnam - Golden Cup)
(Sesha Vahanam - Cobra)

(God on Garuda Vhanam and Goddess on Anna Vhanam - Vulture and Swan)

Nantu had a blast watching the God from our doorstep every evening. I looked every part of the photographer with a still and video camera hanging from my neck. It was a true village experience with loads of unsolicited advice on taking photographs. However unlike the city people moved out of the way to give me room to take pictures. And they did so for all the half a dozen or so people with cameras. It was a real fun experience, and we were sorry to leave before the end of the festival and miss the theru (Chariot)! However, we had to return and Nantu shifted all his enthusiasm to the train journey back home to Chennai.
We are already on our next trip. This time to Coimbatore my home town... for some fun and frolic and a lot of relaxation! We had a hail storm on our first night here and our first tryst with Indian never ending power failures where the UPS finally ran out of charge and spluttered off!! However, just the fact that I am home makes me forgive the EB and mother nature for ruining my first evening here! Looking forward to more adventures here!!