The Indian Steve Irwin

Trip Start Jul 03, 2008
Trip End Dec 07, 2008

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Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wednesday July 9th,

    Today was an interesting one indeed.  It started with me at an ancient Hindu temple and concluded with me essentially stranded at Tamil Nadu's biggest alligator and crocodile farm.  Intrigued?

    We set out for Mahabalipuram, and the drive was as arduous as enunciating the name of the place in conversation.  3 hours of American driving is manageable; 3 hours of Indian driving is enough to drive most to curl up in the fetal position in the back seat and dream sweet thoughts of AAA roadside assistance or Ambulances or other things that we take for granted.  I must reiterate that it is rare that I feel unsafe however; the traffic has a synergy to it.  But the swerving and lurching braking and acceleration coupled with the rough food and our malaria medication was enough to make me feel really queasy, Jessie went so far as to hurl.  But no drive is eternal and we made it safely, albeit still a bit queasy and dreading the ride back.

    Mahabalipuram (recite ten times fast, no mistakes :) ) is an ancient city on the coast, and is Tamil Nadu's oldest port city.  We walked around the fences of these ruins (some 1500 years old) but didn't go in, as the price for Indians was Rs.5, the price for whiteys was Rs. 250.  Keep in mind it's around 40 Rupees to the buck, so it wasn't exorbitant, but we could see just as much from the fence.  However, the fact that we were tourists wasn't just obvious to the ticket taker.  Mahabalipuram's current staple of industry lies in it's stone sculptures, and the streets around the ruins are filled with the sound of saws and the heaviness of dust in the air as local craftsman fashion statues of Hindu deities. It was these same craftsmen that noticed that we were tourists, and began hounding us.  Absolutely HOUNDING us.  Polite refusals and gesticulation, ignoring them, even semi-rude to rude Hindi commands couldn't dissuade them.  They almost climbed into the car with us to get a sale.  It was outrageous.

    But overall the temple ruins were very striking, huge epic stories carved into 50 foot rock faces, the Bhagvad Gita played out in a sandstone medium.

    Then there were the crocs.

    A member of our party had had her baggage "lost" by Air India en route on a connector from Paris to Mumbai.  It turned up the day before the trip to Mahabalipuram, and so Dr. Luke, our fearless leader, and Joanna continued on to Chennai airport, about 1.5 hours from the croc park, leaving Michelle, Rosalie, Jessie and I to get acquainted with the croc park, with the assurance it would be entertaining enough for 3 hours.

     Don't get me wrong, I've never had much experience with the cuddly reptilians-or seen them in that kind of volume (see pics) but it did get a tad old the 18th time around J.  We did use the opportunity to counsel a member our group who was/is having issues with culture shock, but we felt odd discussing such things after a short conversation with a Mormon family that passed by.  The son who was leading them around was on his mission in India and had been living in different locales for the last two years, working from 8am until 10pm almost every day, with no phone calls to the outside and one email to family per week.  Personally I couldn't do it; we all agreed it made our adjustment issues a bit wimpy.  

    The day was not without peril however; on the way back we came upon a recent motorcycle accident.  Some people had stopped to lend assistance, and so we passed on.  But it was in the aghast conversation afterwards that we learned that due to infrastructure issues in many parts of India there exists no 911 numbers; good Samaritans must transport people to the hospital. (Disclaimer and reminder, especially for my parents: my program is very safe, please don't worry :) )

    Upon returning to Pondi we did some shopping on Nehru Street at one of the few American-style markets, Niligris.  Due to the increased abundance of American goods, the prices are a little steeper, and my tab for some toiletries and other essentials (i.e. Nutella) my bill was around 400 rupees.  I opened my mouth to protest and possible try a feeble haggle attempt, but then I remembered that it was only $9.50. Gotta love it!
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