Okay, chilli fish has caught up with me and guts are dodgy again, which is to be expected. Subu will meet us at 11am to drive to the temple ruins at Mahabalipuram. Before then we have time to go for a stroll along the desrted beach. It’s lovely just splashing along in the water, soft sand underfoot. Lots of crabs scuttling sideways from their beach holes into the water, tiny ones and slightly larger ones. Walking south first, then we turn round and walk north, past our hotel, towards a collection of fishermen’s huts and boats. We walk over for a chat and a few pictures and I take up their invite to go out with them later today, at 4pm. Easy way for them to make some money and I think it will be fun. On the way back we get talking to a young newly married couple from Mumbai. They saw us both writing intently yesterday and thought we were authors. Should have played along with that one but “no, they’re just our diaries” flopped out before we knew.
Subu was already waiting for us. Quick change and then we head of to Mahabalipuram. He asks whether we thought our guide, Fred, was good. My reply is an Indian-style head-wobble which makes Subu laugh.
The drive to Mahabalipuram takes us along the coast road. On our left, leading down to the beach, plots of land have been marked out, some have been cleared of trees. Early signs of development for tourism. It won’t stay unspoilt for very long. It’s hardly “undiscovered” as it is but there is still plenty of space now.
Fishing village to the south of Mahabalipuram. The view made me think of the village of the indomitable Gauls, in the Asterix books. (click to enlarge)
A small settlement of fishing huts catches my attention and reminds me of the “village of the indomitable Gauls”. I ask Subu whether we can go and see it but he says he knows a better one we can see on the way back. Nearer Mahabalipuram the roadside is lined with shacks of stone “sculptors”, hammering away at blocks of grantite and producing all kinds of figures. On the left we pass a school for stone sculptors.
Mahabalipuram is a smallish town. We spot quite a few western tourists wandering about. The town is full of peddlers of stone trinkets. We pick up a guide, a squat elderly man wearing a dhoti. He’ll have to be “Bill” as I can’t recall his name either. Then follows a sequence of visits to temples and bas reliefs all carved out of the huge lumps of granite sticking out of the sandy soil. All very old (check book), depicting scenes from the Mahabharata, incarnations of Shiva, animals, etc. Bill provides elaborate stories as an explanation of what is depicted. He has some funny turns of phrase. Together with his slight lisp this creates a comical effect. “Look at the delissiouss maidens” “Who is the king here and who is the queen there”. He uses “who” instead of “this” or “that” which catches us both out and we try to answer, then realise it’s a statement, not a question. At the first temple a group of schoolgirls overrun the place shortly after we get there. The monuments are magnets for hawkers of stone carvings (intricately carved stone balls as paperweights), sandals, etc. They are pretty insistent and a nuisance. I’m not really interested in yet more temples and carvings and the whole thing passes me by a bit. I take a picture when Bill prompts. I think he is surprised we’re not snapping away.
On the way to the last temple we pass through an area where dozens of people are hammering away at bits of granite, shaping paving slabs by hand. The hammering sound, metal on stone, has a strange rhythm of its own. We buy two shells from a woman outside the fences encircling the last temple, which is right by the beach. Ness doesn’t like me haggling so we pay over the odds, but still nothing by western standards. On the way back we’re marched into the emporium. Ness has a bit of a browse but the scowl on my face is enough to put the owner off trying to sell me anything. Ahah, found a tactic that works! Can’t wait to get back to the car to try and find that fishing village Subu mentioned. I manage to take a picture of the “village of the indomitable Gauls” from a distance on the way back. Subu seems to have “forgotten” about the side trip to a fishing village and soon we are back at our hotel.
The rest of the day is a typical sun, sea and sand day, lazing by the pool with fresh lime sodas, swimming in the warm pool, reading our books, just dozing in the sunshine with the wind rustling through the palm trees and the sound of the waves washing over the beach. We were both ready for a day like this and I think Ness could happily be parked here for a few more days if it weren’t so quiet and the Indian attitude to women baring themselves in public.
We have asked Subu to pick us up at 2pm tomorrow. That gives us more time for lazing by the pool rather than go shopping in Chennai. Called my friend Rajesh to arrange meeting up day after tomorrow in Bangalore.
Dinner is by the beach, which is no more than 3m away from our table. We go for dinner rather late, around 9.30pm, and the place is buzzing. With several large tables occupied (one large family, one group of people who look like they are conference delegates), and several smaller tables. There is a fairly stiff breeze, just warm enough to sit in short-sleeved shirt. Banana lassi for desert. All in all a great day, but beginning to look forward to moving on again.