Sunday, January 24, 2016

South to chennai

The gonging of the bell could be heard blocks away, mixed with the sounds of singing voices and blasting instruments like trumpets and clarinets. I step out of my auto rickshaw in front of the oldest temple in the city. Sadly, the gorgeous colourful temple spires are draped in tarps as they restore and repaint. (For that I'm grateful, but it's sad I won't see it) I walk a few circles around the inside of the temple, watching people pray, light oil in tiny clay pots, prostrate, and just sit. I see gurus in bright orange wraps and long beards giving blessings to the temple goers. Today I send my own bit of gratitude up for the "all clear" on my brothers CT scan. 
And then I'm on foot, through the small streets of the 'old part' of chennai....past fruit and veg stands, where I buy a small bunch of small sweet bananas to munch on. Past temples of various sizes and colours; weaving through people, bikes, cars and of course cows. I stand on a corner and look up. There is a spotless white cathedral, towering into the sky. I walk into this place of worship too, and light a candle of gratitude for my brother, my family, and my friends. As I wander out, and the light is turning to the dusky part of day, these bells ring out too. 
I attempt to walk at the beach, but it is filthy, and not at all pleasant there. So I find myself an auto and sit back as the streets come alive even more. Lights and music come on, the temples seem crowded now and it feels like every vehicle in the city is now on the streets. My driver is getting frustrated in the insane traffic, but I feel quite content to sit in the back and take in all the chaos.

The next morning I wake before the sun. I have a sand coloured royal enfield 500cc Classic motorcycle waiting for me in the driveway. My host sees me out, and as the first light of day hits the streets, I'm on my way out of town. Turns out Sunday mornings are a fantastic time of day to drive here.... Only a handful of vehicles on the road make it easy. But I still get it. I give a little honk to tell the bike I'm coming by, I inch over to the left when I hear a car or bus do the same to me. I watch as people and bikes and cows inch onto the road....timing their entrance just so. (Ok, the cows don't time anything ....they are just there) and every so often, the road opens up and I can push the bike just a little bit faster (which is not even close to Canadian highway speeds....cause you never know what's going to pop up next). I catch glimpses of the ocean on my left and pass many a beach resort. I wind through banyan and palm tree lined roads, past rice patties and over rivers. And I come to the old French colony of Pondicherry. At this point the clouds have opened up and I'm soaked as I duck into a restaurant for some breakfast, and by time I'm done, the rain is done. The clouds keep moving and the promenade is bathed in warm sunlight. A walk in the sunny sea breeze quickly dries me and spend a pleasant morning wandering the streets of old French architecture. I am ever so pleased to realize that this is also coffee country, and I indulge in more than one cup.
My ride home is split by a visit to the ancient temples of mahabalipadam, carved out of huge monolith rocks. Of course by late afternoon, the streets are more crowded now, and my ride back into the city takes a little bit longer. But I make it back to the shop with both me and the bike in one piece. Success!

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