Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chennai--Day 7

We flew to Chennai with Air India. For some reason they put all our bags under my name and charged us for the extra luggage. We suggested they split the bags between the two of us, but the man said that would cost more? Whatever, we paid it.

The flight attendants on Air India wear saris. Have I said yet that saris are the most beautiful clothing on the planet? Really, they are, even when they are a uniform.

They fed us dinner on the one hour flight--a long white bun filled with mayonnaise and cheese and ketchup for dipping. Our fellow passengers all used their ketchup, but I just couldn't. It didn't feel like I was missing out on an authentic Indian experience, either.
Gracia eyed the bottled "diet water" with suspicion and the man next to her assured her, huffily, that it was perfectly safe. 
The man in the aisle seat next to Casey and me fell asleep before we even took off and slept the whole time, aside from dinner. Yes, he used ketchup on his bun.

At the airport in Chennai there were four drivers waiting for us. The hotel had sent two, and Casey and Dan's work team had sent two. So we had to send two of them away. The whole time we were in Chennai, we always had two cars in spite of trying to explain we'd be happier if the four of us could ride together.

When we got to the Grand Chola hotel I was overwhelmed with how fancy it was. Good grief. Intimidating.

We were helped out of our cars by this guy.  He bowed with his hands together and greeted us, "Namaste." That never happened in Hyderabad. Everyone who works at the Grand Chola did that every time we passed by. So about a hundred times. I never knew if it would be polite to return the same greeting, or just awkward. All the female staff wore saris.

Note the enormous topiaries of real lillies. 

Side lobby

This hotel wasn't built yet the last time Casey came to India. Surprisingly, it is actually less expensive to stay here than it is to stay in the Westin. And we had a king sized bed. The bathroom was all marble and mirrors. Gracia said it made her dizzy to walk through hers.

The next day was Sunday. We had an adventure getting to church. Our driver didn't speak much English but Casey had told the local manager, Muthu, where we wanted to go and he explained it to our driver. The building he pointed to when he dropped us off was a Christian church, just not ours (huge auditorium, lots of clapping.) Gracia tried using her phone map function to navigate us to our church, but soon realized it was showing us an LDS chapel in Wisconsin? It was hotter and more humid in Chennai and we didn't want to wait around for our driver to come back. So Dan started asking people on the street. That actually worked, to my surprise. We were directed to go one street over, and then found someone else to direct us one more street over, and there it was. Crossing the street in an Indian city is a memorable experience.
On the way we attracted the attention of several beggars. We'd been warned that it was best not to give them anything, but I think I would have if there hadn't been so many of them. Once in Hyderabad, I gave an old woman some money as our car was waiting for a light to change. Instantly there were two other old women there, insisting me, too. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
in Tamil (official language of Tamil Nadu) and English

It was great to go to Church in India. The power kept cutting during sacrament meeting, but from what the Branch President said, that was a recent development, and they had talked to the power company about it. It didn't happen through the other two meetings and consequently I got too cold from the air conditioning. I saw signs on restaurants in India that said "A/C and Non-A/C." I wish they had that in the States.
The meetings were half in English, half in Tamil. If the teacher didn't speak both, someone else would translate from one to the other. Aside from that, it felt just like a meeting at home.
At the end of Relief Society, Sister Roslyn Maruman (sp?), who was the founding member of the Chennai Branch (30+ years) asked if we could help teach the sisters the bass part (alto) of a hymn they were learning for district conference. Gracia played the piano while I sang the alto part and the Branch President's daughter recorded it on her tablet. Kind of interesting to think they were using that after I left.

Muthu and several other coworkers came to pick us up from church to take us to lunch and sight-seeing. We drove south out of Chennai for over an hour along the coast road. Then to a hotel, of course, for lunch. This hotel was on the beach and we got to eat outside. The servers wanted us to order quickly since we were at the very end of the lunchtime hours. Muthu hadn't expected us to spend so long at church.

Vigna, Hari Babu, Mushtak, and Vibra

The waiter picked me as the Alpha Female of the group and I had to make decisions on what appetizers to order. So, calamari for everybody! Luckily, Muthu took over after I showed enough confusion, and some other things got ordered, too. The best one was a lamb (code for goat) stew with pearl onions and tomatoes. I've always liked goat. Since La Reunion, anyway.
Casey, Gracia, and Dan all ordered steak, but I got mango fish curry. I enjoyed the flavor once I got over the texture. Gracia is allergic to sea food and thought she might have gotten some by accident. She felt a little sick after lunch. 
We walked down to the beach to put our feet in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. This group always had their phones out to take pictures, as you can see by the shadows. Again, my archaic camera gave them pause.
Muthu, Mushtak, Edith, Casey, Dan, Gracia, Vigna, Vibranarayanin (Vibra), Hari Babu

The biggest puffer fish I ever saw, unfortunately late.

They couldn't say my name, I couldn't say theirs. Well, I could, when I could remember them.

We went farther down the beach to Mahabalipuram, an ancient port city where you can see the Shore Temple and several other temples and carved cliff faces. Stone carving is still the local trade.
The shore temple is dedicated to Shiva, and has a lot of depictions of him and his family. (Vigna explained what she remembered to us when we were there and some of it I learned from the internet after we got back.) It's all been fairly worn down over time since it was built in the 8th Century. Muthu said it was damaged even more during the big Indonesian Tsunami in 2004. Legend has it there were once seven temples here. Some ruins have been found underwater offshore that were de-silted during the Tsunami.

Next we drove a short way to get to Pancha Rathas (5 Chariots.) These are unique because they are all carved in one piece out of the rock. 
Here are two of the 5 rathas (They were carved to look like wooden temple chariots, like I'm supposed to know what those look like.). There are five of them, plus a bull (behind Casey) and an elephant.
Everyone wants their picture with the elephant.
We are no exception

Note the jasmine flowers some women wear in their hair. 
We saw a lot of women in Chennai wearing these. They smell divine.
All along the street on the way to the Shore Temple there are stone carving workshops. 

This is part of a huge cliff side carving depicting the river Ganges coming down to the earth as a gift from heaven. 

This is known as Krishna's butter ball. It is an enormous rock that seems precariously balanced, but has been there for over a thousand years. In 1908 the governor of Madras (Chennai) tried to move it with 7 elephants, but failed. It's very popular.

We briefly went back to the beach where we looked at tiny, lightning fast crabs as they emerged from their holes in the sand. The team offered to take us to dinner, but we were still full from lunch, so we called it a day.


kate said...

My favorites from this day are your hotel staircase and greeter, and the butterball! Also the beautiful Tamil writing on the church plaque.

kate said...

My favorites from this day are your hotel staircase and greeter, and the butterball! Also the beautiful Tamil writing on the church plaque.