Thursday, October 28, 2010

India! Day one.

I woke up early and went to the top deck to watch us pull into Chennai. There were many small, oriental boats on the water. The ship had to blow its horn repeatedly to clear the way. The air was heavy and warm, and whipped so hard across my cheeks that I didn’t stay outside long.
After another hour of sleep, a shower and breakfast, we had face-to-face passport stamping again. Courtney, a girl in my Asian Art class, and I met in Tymitz Square… it was NUTS. There were people everywhere. We had just been informed that we had to carry our customs form with us in an out of the port for security checks. The forms were held at the Purser’s Desk, which is the ship’s receptionist. After pushing a shoving to grab those, we stood in the 1 ½ hour line to exit the port as the entire ship tried to leave simultaneously. Exiting the ship was smelly and suffocating - the air here is thick and hard to breathe.
We got in an auto-rickshaw, which is a motorized scooter with a car-like roof and seats build around it. It’s kind of like a golf cart with handlebars instead of a steering wheel. Every auto-rickshaw has a different horn, like dogs barking or children crying and other alarming loud noises. We got dropped off on a local street with internet cafés and bought our tickets to fly to New Delhi/Taj Mahal.
We had agreed to meet back up with our driver afterwards (who lent us $ for the internet café) so we could go to a bank with him and pay him back. A man walked up to Courtney with a cell-phone and handed it to her. After confusion, we finally realized it was our rickshaw driver! He said “get in the car with my friend.” It seemed sketchy, and we hesitated for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. We eventually got in the rickshaw, realizing that with no doors or windows – it would be easy to tuck and roll if we had to bail.
We were taken to driver #1, who introduced us to driver #3 and told us that #3 would take us to Mamallapuram, where we had planned to spend the day exploring temples. We agreed on 1,000Rupees per person for the hour and a half drive each way ($22). Driver #3 turned to us from the front seat, let out a huge belch that smelled of beer, and turned to face forward. I asked him how much he’d had to drink, and he said 1… so I kept my mouth shut.
We trucked along the highway at 60 km (39 mph). I almost lost an arm pointing outside the vehicle. The driving here is wild. Lanes are suggestions, and lights have timers on them – everyone acts on them prematurely. Drivers honk constantly to let other drivers know that they are coming up on their sides, or to move over so they can pass. What a headache. We scooted by the beach, which was covered with huts made from branches and tarps. There’s trash and people everywhere. Scattered on the roads, in heaps, on the beach, around homes… everywhere. It was pretty eye opening to see how these people live. Many sleep on the cement and don’t even build a hut from scraps.
        There were goats, cows and stray dogs everywhere. Hindu people believe that if you are bad in one life, you are reincarnated as a dog – so dogs are openly neglected. We were warned not to interact with animals to avoid rabies. Wild cows walked along roads roaming freely. It was shocking. They are not eaten here because they are sacred, but didn’t have any sorts of tags on them marking ownership by anyone.. its so different. I keep wanting to say it’s strange – but it’s not. It’s just a different way of life that I’m not used to.
        We arrived in Mamallapuram and went to Shore Temple. It was great! We studied this temple in class. I learned that it was 1300 years old, and there were  others like it that had been covered by the ocean. When there was a tsunami here 6 years ago, the water got sucked out before it hit and revealed 2 more temples!
        We then went to the 5 Rajas (sp?) to see 5 adjacent temples that were constructed monolithically – from one stone. Many of the facial features of the animals or gods had faded with time, but the temples were very cool to see regardless. Last we stopped by Butter Ball. It’s a huge boulder that defies all laws of physics on a rock slope. It rained, and we ran to the under-side of it with several young men. We got to talking - they were intrigued by our white skin and Court’s blonde hair. When she took off her sunglasses, they asked her if she wore blue contacts; they'd never seen eyes as light as hers before! They wanted our names and emails to find us on Facebook, which always makes me laugh. They were about 20 years old, and so excited to be speaking to Americans.
        Somehow I passed out in the auto-rickshaw on the way back despite the rain, noise and UNBELIEVABLY crazy driving. I woke up in Chennai at rush hour. I leaned forward in the rickshaw to look out the side, and there was a man a foot away in the neighboring rickshaw. I waved and he waved back and he laughed, which is one of my favorite parts of many cultures we’ve seen since leaving the states. The world is a very friendly place.
        Our driver kept putting us on the phone with driver #1 throughout the day and rarely communicated with us himself. #1 asked if we were happy and where we wanted to go next, and would then convey this to our driver. We had planned to go shopping and to Siva’s temple, but ultimately decided to just go home. When we tried to tell the driver this, but he called #1 to make sure it was okay. Then he pulled over at the beach and said we had to wait for #1. Then we argued and he took us to another location after calling #1 again. We got frustrated, and demanded he take us back to the ship and almost hopped out until he agreed.
We got back and tried to hand him $ quickly, but he put us on the phone with #1 again, who asked for a tip! I was dumbfounded. He expected money for calling us a few times to ask if we were happy? It was weird and I hung up on him, and we jumped out. Beggars SWARMED me and Courtney, pulling on our arms, grabbing our hands and not letting go. One girl tugged on my earrings and kept asking me for them, even though the ones in her ears were definitely worth more. Before we got to India, someone advised "If you have a personal bubble before you get off the ship.. pop it." It was weird to have a stranger reaching for my ears regardless. Many of them were young, and some had naked babies in their arms. They'd point to their mouths, indicating wanting $ for food. It’s very hard to walk away from, but if you give one person money.. more will come. :-\
Back in my cabin, I wiped my face on a white towel only to find a huge dark brown smudge across it. I immediately scrubbed my face. Some friends and I headed to Kabul Restaurant for dinner. We had no idea what anything on the menu meant, but pointed to some random things and got delicious food and beer in return. The beer was served in large, flowered coffee mugs. The food was served in clay bowls; generally chicken in some sort of sauce, all spicy and very flavorful. We ate with our right hands because the left hand is used to wash yourself after using the restroom - toilet paper here is scarce. We stuffed ourselves and paid no more that $7/ person, got back to the ship and went to bed early.

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