Sunday, June 22, 2008

First Day in India

It was so exciting to wake up this morning and pull back the curtains of our hotel in Chennai. Last night we arrived at 1 a.m., after another 11 hour flight, to a rain storm in a dark city. This morning it was exciting to look out the window and see colorful saris amidst a city with motorized rickshaws, debris stacked alongside small shanty homes and shaddy trees covering stacks of scooters and bicycles.

We met our guide and headed straight for a local Hindu temple- more brightly colored than any temple I have seen in Asia. They believe their gods to have over 33,000,000 forms and these temples must have depicted at least a tenth of those. As we entered, a woman put strands of sweet smelling jasmine in our hair, and actually proceeded to fix my hair so that I might look "more beautiful."

There were several wedding ceremonies going on with burning incense, offerings of coconut to the gods, and music playing. Only Hindus are allowed inside the actual temples where there are bronze statues of several gods, the main ones being Siva and Ganesha and Parvati. Nathan has been captivated by the Ganesha (god of good luck) that has an elephant head. He purchased a silver Ganesha this afternoon at one of the bazaars near the Malaparone temple, look for it sitting atop his computer when he gets home.

The girls and I had a great time playing dress-up trying on saris. We each purchased beautiful ones today. It is amazing to see all the women wearing their brightly colored silk saris:barefoot inside temples, squatting in the market place, sitting side saddle on the back of scooters flying through traffic. The women are beautiful and the children are precious, with their little saris and jeweled anklets and earings. Most of the people are very friendly and would smile and wave hello to us.

It was fun to visit a flower and fruit marketplace today- street alleys packed with people, strands of hanging flowers, piles of mangoes, baskets of jasmine and marigolds and other sweet smelling flowers. Everywhere we went people wanted to take photos of the girls and their long blonde hair or have their picture taken with them.

In the afternoon we had lunch near the beach at Mahabalipuram and went down and put our toes in the Bay of Bengal. The water was warm and the beach was soft, long and wide- scattered with fishing boats. It was along here that the Tsunami hit and our guide told us wiped out the fishing villages and their boats. They have rebuilt, but many of the fishing towns are shanty towns and the government and others have donated boats to the fisherman, since they lost everything.

Mahabalipuram was very picturesque, a seaside temple, and several other neighboring temples that are around 1300 years old, carved out of stone in the 7th century. They were still very intact with detailed reliefs. Outside the temple we bargained at one of the bazaars and picked up a colorful patchwork tapestry and some trinkets, along with Nate's Ganesha.

We learned more about the caste system, the "untouchables," and the superstitions and beliefs of the Hindus and their beliefs in past lives lives- hoping to reach Nirvana one day. There were many beggars in the streets and aggressive people selling their trinkets at the market place. It is hard to not to be rude to those that are just trying to make a living or to not give to all those, especially the little children that beg. There is such an intensity in their eyes and even the dirtiest of the children have an almost haunting beauty.

Our first day in India has been a great experience. We got a feel for the marketplaces, temples and people of the city of Chennai- also known as Madras. Yes, like the fabric, which the men have wrapped around their waists like skirts. With the men and women in their colorful fabrics, the city was a collage of colors, smells, sights and sounds. We enjoyed our first day and feel that we have more of a background of the people's beliefs, customs and local history as we enter the colonies tomorrow.


Erin said...

So fun to follow your adventure. Looking forward to more photos and more stories. You all three look beautiful in your saris. There are wonderful life changing, and life affirming days ahead of you. Much love, Erin

KIM HIRSCH said...

Karen, the children and I have been following your journey since Paris - we are loving it. Thinking of you all. xo Kim