This is how we would define what our conception of this country is until now. It is possible to arrive in India with thousands of preconceptions and ideas, but it is impossible to leave with the same conception as when you arrived. And it is that for us, it was not the poverty, the dirt, the noise in the street, the drought, the constant haggling, the habit of wanting to take advantage of tourists in a hurry or the stomach ache that food or water something that we have not experienced in other countries in Asia or Latin America.
All this turned out to be «normal» in the world in which we live, it is common currency and we see it every day to a greater or lesser extent in many countries.
But for us, it was the culture of the country that made us smile. Celebrating Holi Before you continue reading we would like to make something clear to you: those of us who write this note have a positive opinion about this country, therefore, if you are waiting for us to tell you all supposedly bad things, then we recommend that you look for some of the thousands of notes that exist about it. if we wanted warn you of some things that you are going to find and that may seem strange to you, but that is not why we have to take them as something negative.
We waited 3 months to write the first note about this country and, not because we were lazy, but because we needed, first of all, to mature our feelings and opinion towards this country. Secondly, we were expecting to find all the negative things we heard and read about traveling here. Unfortunately, this often hides the beauty and generates a bad predisposition on the part of travelers. We exposed ourselves to many extreme situations to be able to say… «yes, it’s true, India is like this or that way» however, here we are, very happy writing the same thing that we would have written 3 months ago when we arrived in this country.
Before arriving, since India was a long-awaited and special destination on the trip, we prepared ourselves, we read books on history, adventures, religion, and politics. We talk to Indians in other countries and ask for advice. We studied the map a bit, the train routes and the possible routes. We review the weather forecast statistics to choose a good season in each place in the country.
We inform ourselves about the tourist routes, the food, the customs, the prices. It was all worth it. However, when one arrives in this country one realizes that it does not reach all that. You may have learned a lot traveling and with books, but the reality, the true reality of what India is, is only in India.Indian selling bubbles
Our first steps in India: visa, flight and arrival.
Traveling from Thailand to India, for those who travel for the first time outside of Western culture, it can be a good idea to get used to what we are going to see repeatedly in Asia: traffic and horns, poverty and intimidating salesmen. Even so, depending on the city that we arrive in India, the difference is abysmal. For those who already know Southeast Asia, this will seem like another continent. Traffic in India
We obtained our visa in Bangkok and I am not going to talk about “how to get a visa to India from Bangkok” in this note. This note is basically a description of our personal experience with some informative data.
We decided to travel to India in December because it would be winter in the south of the country, the perfect time to visit it and enjoy its beaches without suffering from the extreme heat that visits this area in summer. This turned out to be a good decision. The plan was to travel the first 2 months in the south and then start slowly climbing the west coast until reaching Kashmir (north India) in the month of May.
From Bangkok (Thailand) we fly directly to Chennai, Tamil Nadu province, southeast India.
Already at the airport you begin to experience an “Indian” atmosphere. Many Indian men waiting for the flight, smiled at us, and what awaited us on the rest of the trip began to happen, Indians who appeased their curiosities by asking many questions about us and our country.
Once we arrived in Chennai and thanks to Couchsurfing, we had the pleasure and honor of being received by an Indian-Argentine family that not only welcomed us with smiles, hugs and delicious food, but also hosted us and gave us a course. 10 days on «how to survive in India without falling into madness». Thanks to them again.couchsurfing
Our way of returning this favor is to share with other travelers 3 simple tips for those who want to travel to India:
Although we are not great experienced travelers in this country, (this being the first time we visit it) we can give 3 tips that they helped take over India in another way:
1.- Travel in an “open mind” mode. India bears little resemblance to any other country we have visited. There are very few things we can say… “This looks like…”. Therefore, arriving in India with the predisposition to adapt and accept that things are like that is essential to have a good experience. It is very important to keep in mind that it is not the West and things work well or badly very differently from what one is used to. One billion three hundred thousand people, they can’t be wrong, so let’s not try to make India fit us, let us fit India.
If something does not work we must accept that it can happen. Accepting things as they are and trying not to go against the current is perhaps the best advice we can give you. Why? Simply because the culture is very attached to people and it is easier for one to adapt to them than for them to adapt to us. We are also visitors and as responsible travelers, we must respect their manners. Traveling calmly, with a smile and without rush (even if we are) can help you solve many problems.
Reading a book before arriving to understand the culture and to be able to see the things that happen in front of our eyes without judging them would be a great thing. Books like: «The White Tiger», «City of Joy», «Freedom Tonight» by Dominique Lapierre are good examples. Movies like «Fire», «Water» or «Life of Pi» can also help if we pay attention to details and leave surrealism aside.
Unlike in the West, the models are not skeletal. Here the chubby ones are more attractive socially.
2.- Travel with time or travel less (or have a very large budget). If we only have 15 or 20 days, our advice is that you try to travel little and avoid overcrowded cities except in case it is necessary and/or mandatory to go there. Or, if you have little time and a large budget, you can also go to an agency that has been recommended to you when you arrive in India and ask them to put together a tour package for you.
As we said before, India works almost backwards in every way. We come from the West with the habit of visiting many places and settling less because otherwise we stay at home or do not spend so much money on tickets. But in India things work differently. From our experience and that of travelers who love the country, we can tell you that it is better if we travel a little but enjoy each place we visit for more time. It is exhausting having to spend 40 hours on top of a train every 3 days, having to negotiate every day with a richshaw (moto-taxi), having to look for a hostel every day (many times the hostel’s online reservation systems is not what we expect) and negotiate the price, change the food, the greeting or the clothes every week. Chances are if we come that way we will hate India.
Traveling in a hurry and uninformed exposes us to extreme situations, such as arriving in a city at 12 o’clock at night and giving rise to people wanting to charge us crazy things for transportation or accommodation. Many are the stories we have heard and are still being added about new arrivals for the first time in India, especially in Delhi, being lied to in order to take them to a different hotel, sell them a tour package or scam them.
India is not a country to travel distracted: you have to be attentive and live in the present or at least, that is what has helped us learn this country. Living in the present… sounds simple right? This is another thing that we should thank this country for.
Live the present in India
3.- Choose the best season for the place we are going to visit. In India it is not possible to control many things, therefore whenever we have the possibility to control some factor we take advantage of it. We cannot choose the weather that will touch us day by day, but we can choose the season. India basically has 3 seasons: winter, summer and rainy season. From November to February/March, it is a good season to travel to the south if what we want is to enjoy acceptable heat and temperatures to enjoy the beach or the jungle. hampiFrom February to April, the right time to visit the central strip where the states of Rajasthan, Punjab and the cities of Delhi, Agra, Varanasi and Calcutta are located. From April, it is better that we go to the extreme north such as Sikkim, Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh. From July to September, it is usually the rainy season in most of the country except in the extreme north.
Some common questions that may arise before you arrive
Is the food spicy? Yes, the food is spicy. If you are a person who is not used to eating spicy food, then avoid ordering a dish that is «the dish of the day» (such as the famous Thali that we will tell you about later) where it is already prepared and no matter how much you advise that you don’t want spicy it will be the same. Always give the waiter prior notice of the degree of spiciness that you tolerate. Beyond this, there are many places where they cook western food.
Is it difficult to choose a safe place to eat? No, there are thousands of offers. In our case, we don’t have a problem with spicy food, so the safest thing for us was to eat in places where there are many local people eating the daily specials. The Indians do not eat anything and they also make sure that the food is in good condition. Our suggestion is that you choose a crowded place and encourage yourself to local foods by asking that they not add spice. Don’t try to go for the western option as the best option. We already told you that India works differently, right? Then leave a dish of Indian food in the hands of the Indian chef, possibly he knows how to cook it better and it comes fresher than a western one. In the next notes we are going to give you a couple of tips about Indian food.
Do you have to haggle a lot? Yes, practically everything we want to buy that does not have a set price. Being a tourist you have to know that by “law” you are going to pay more than local people…does that seem strange to you? Not me. In my country, it has happened to me to travel to a different province and that they try to charge me more. However, in India it is customary to haggle the prices of some things. Depending on your patience and sympathy, you may be able to get it at the local price and sometimes even better!
For example: The prices of food and drinks are set by the government and all products must have a label showing the value. If you pay more, it is because you chose it or because you were distracted!… Clothes, accommodation, gifts or food in street stalls where there is no established value, it is necessary to haggle. As if to guide you, if someone tells you that something is worth 100, try dividing it by 3 and that may be the approximate value.
Is there a lot of dirt? Quite a lot, in some places more and in others less, but in our case nothing that we have not seen in other Asian countries.
Are there cows in the streets? Yes. Also dogs, cats, camels, pigs, chickens, goats, goats, buffalo, monkeys, rickshaw drivers and barefoot tourists dressed as saints.cow begging for food on a train in IndiaIs it unsafe?
From our point of view, a city in Latin America seems more insecure than a city in India. Of course things happen, it would be illogical to think that in such a big country they don’t happen, but we have never felt insecurity.
Is there a smell? Yes and varied. Rich and ugly. Intense and smooth.
How is the treatment with women?Indians like western and eastern ones. Why? Well, there are many reasons, but one of the main ones is because in most of the porn movies the main actresses are European and Eastern. The woman is not underestimated, far from it, but you have to know that in this country you are a tourist, therefore, it is necessary to respect her culture in every way. The best option for a woman is to dress appropriately for the place, that means not wearing shorts, leggings, or tight white shirts. In conclusion, nothing that marks your body or clothes that are transparent. It is possible to address a man, but always try to let him know that there is a distance between you and him. In our case, the best way to draw less attention was to buy local clothes. Indian families
We have respected these points and they have helped us a lot to feel more comfortable in the country, however, it is not a magic formula. We have many other tips to give to future travelers but if we made a note only about that, I think that in the end we would forget everything. That is why we are going to try to talk more in detail according to the note of each city that we write. But it is good that you know that there is no opinion of India that is not subjective, from ours to that of someone who came many times or only for 15 days. It is good to hear recommendations, but do not take everything you hear so seriously, form your own experience in the most open way possible.
Our view of life has changed a little more since we arrived in this country. Make things simpler, go back to the times when we solved many things without a computer, when a microwave would be a next discovery or when the refrigerator was a luxury for a few. But that doesn’t make people less happy. The lack of air conditioning or physical space in the house makes people go outside to look for a fresh breeze and while we are there, we share tea with our neighbors or play cards or watch a cricket match. It is that «poverty» makes man a more social being, more human and perhaps even more present. The opportunities that each person has to develop their life in India are limited. Limited to his caste (a system abolished by the constitution but still used), social class, to their knowledge, to their economic position. India has the oldest democracy on the planet, yet the most corrupt. And why do people cry or stop having children? No. Life goes on in this subcontinent where it was once a British colony and before that, it was the cradle of an empire that was impenetrable even by Alexander the Great himself. With India From Tamil Nadu to Himachal Pradesh (where we are now), India is one and many. Each city that one visits is a new secret but in all of them we have verified that the people have a big heart. This time we decided to travel putting together the plan as we went but keeping in mind that we did not want to visit big cities. We have been traveling for 3 months and have traveled more than 6 thousand kilometers: from the beaches of Kerala to its Western Ghats, from the desert of Rajasthan to the Himalayas. India never ceases to amaze us and fill us with knowledge and joy. It will be that we have been waiting for a long time to arrive in this country and now we do not want to leave. Our visa days are subtracting but our desire to stay increases.
India: Kodaikanal and South India’s public transport system
In the southwest of the province of Tamil Nadu, southern India, there is a mountain range that reaches more than 3,000 meters above sea level. It is shared between the provinces of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. This area houses natural forests with all kinds of medicinal plants, species and tea and coffee plantations, in addition to its natural reserves with animals in danger of extinction. This mountain range called «Western Ghats» hosts the most incredible beauty that we could expect from South India and hides, among its small villages, the city of Kodaikanal. But the landscape is not the only striking thing about this area, its public transport system is also a gem that we want to talk to you about and give you details about.
We were in Chennai when we looked on the internet for possible mountainous areas to visit in South India. Then we saw a photo that blew us away. Can there be any place in India that does not exceed 3 thousand meters in height and it is possible to dawn with the clouds below you? Yes, Kodaikanal, a beautiful place but not very easy to get to. As our plan was to travel a bit along the Tamil Nadu coast, we saw it as a bit difficult to reach Kodaikanal. Until now we followed the plan but after visiting Tiruvannamalai, we decided that we did not want to see more temples or cities full of people and chaos. Our next destination would be somewhere mountainous, quiet and closer to the state of Kerala so that we could then cross to its beaches. So we abruptly changed course and fully determined we got on the first bus that would take us to Kodaikanal. This is where our public transport odyssey begins.
Bus system in South India
We must admit that India has surprised us with its transportation system, both buses and trains, where they allow us to make quick decisions and not waste time. We have hardly required much planning in advance to be able to travel. We have traveled almost all of the south spontaneously by bus and it has been, all in all, comfortable and fast.
Let’s go into detail…
Every city has a “Bus stand” or bus terminal. In them we can find state or interstate buses. When you see them don’t be scared. As much as they look like buses that are no longer in circulation, they are reliable. It’s just about getting on and enjoying the road.
Unlike other countries, in these bus terminals we will not find double-decker cars or private companies. In India, private long-distance companies, such as sleepers, depart from private offices that sell tickets. So we can have different categories: Seats, Sleeper 2 or 2×1, Volvo AC
Seat: They are the ones we usually know as “semi-bed”. Their seat reclines only a few degrees, but all in all, they’re comfortable.
LONG DISTANCE BUS Sleeper: A new concept for Westerners. As we showed in a note from China, in India there are also buses that have compartments with beds. Some are usually called 2×1, that means they have double and/or single beds. Volvo AC SINGLE SLEEPER BUS
: They are called that, obviously, because of their brand. They are the most expensive buses and perhaps the most comfortable with air conditioning. There is also Volvo Sleeper.
Eye ! _
-If we buy a ticket we always ask if we should share the bed or is it simple. Let’s pay attention to this if we don’t want to sleep spooning with someone else.
-We recommend bringing a blanket to put on the bed, we take some fleas as a souvenir.
-Just as we can buy train tickets through web pages, we can also buy bus tickets using the Cleartrip or Makemytrip web service.
On the other hand, we have public buses. These are divided into two:
Short-distance: they usually travel between 20 to 100 kilometers (up to 5 hours of travel). The tickets are cheap and these only have seats. As in the province of Tamil Nadu the routes are in perfect condition, the trip could be made pleasant and bearable.
bus in india
Long-distance or Interstate: These follow an itinerary with fixed schedules. On the outside they are the same as the local buses but they usually have a sign that informs them that they are interstate.
Since the signs are usually written in the local language, we will not understand which bus takes us where. So, when we arrive at a terminal bus station (Bus Stand), we must look for the men dressed in brown uniforms who usually have a ticket holder around their necks, the collectors. They can give us reliable information about which bus to take and from where it starts.
Well, we arrive at the bus terminal, we find the collector, we ask him which bus takes us to our destination and we get on. As you can see, it is not necessary to buy the ticket in advance, it is purchased during the trip. If we are going to make an interstate or long distance trip, the bus usually leaves very early and at noon.
We got on and… what is a bus like inside and what are its rules?
In the south, no bus has glass windows but metal curtains that, depending on need, can be lowered to close the “window”. Depending on the province, the bus usually has different seating arrangements. Two double aisles, a double aisle and a triple or quadruple aisle, depending on the case.
In Tamil Nadu, women usually sit on the left side and men on the right side. In Kerala the front half of the bus is reserved for women, the other half for men. In other provinces, everyone sits as they please. We recommend you look at how people are sitting and follow the rules if you don’t want someone to look at you badly or force you to move from the place.
If you travel with a large backpack, we recommend placing it in the front part where the driver is or under the seats since the compartments for bags are usually not large enough to put the backpack there. If India is your only destination, the best option may be to travel directly with a small backpack to feel more comfortable on public transport.
Almost everything is forgivable on a bus when you’re a tourist, but there’s one thing you can’t go wrong with: «NEVER SIT IN THE TOLL’S SEAT.» Unless you want to be kicked out or travel standing, we recommend that you check that your seat is not labeled as “Driver”.
The buses in India do not have automatic machines that give you the ticket and you do not pay in advance. This is not a question of money or technological delay, but a question of comfort for the driver. The collector should not charge us more since through his ticket machine he enters the origin and destination. The ticket informs the exact price per person, although sometimes it is not so easy to read. If when paying the driver does not have change to give you the change, he makes a sign as if telling you that he will give you the money later. Make sure he does. When he has to give you change in coins, he usually forgets.
On each bus we will see 2 people working: the driver and the conductor.
The driver only takes care of driving, honking and chewing betel. The conductor is in charge of notifying the driver when he must stop, when he must continue (to the cry of CHELO!- «Let’s go!»), charge each person and give him the ticket, notify the station at which we arrive and in many cases, He is the one directing the traffic. Do you drive traffic? Yes. It has happened to us (especially in the Western Ghats) that the routes are not large enough for two vehicles to turn the same curve at the same time. Therefore, someone must back up for someone else to pass. The collector with his whistle, is the one in charge of notifying the driver when he can go back. In addition, the whistle is the communication tool with the conductor of the bus in front.
Clever! You already have all the recommendations to be able to travel by bus in India. But the story does not end here, because we learned all this on our first tour of the Western Ghats.
Example of an unplanned bus rush
From Tiruvannamalai we left at 9 am on a bus that would take us to Trichy (Tiruchchirappalli). From there, we didn’t manage to order a «chai» (milk tea) as we were already getting on the next bus that would take us to Dindigul. We arrived in Dindigul at 4pm and unknowingly we were to our surprise that there were no more direct buses to Kodaikanal. south india map We had to take another local bus (which left 10 minutes later) to Bondinayakkanur (Bang) and We arrived at 8:00 p.m. Resigned and thinking that we would have to spend the night there, we asked about the bus to Kodaikanal. They inform us that at 8:30 p.m. there is a bus that arrives at Kodaikanal at 12:30 a.m. The problem is that it was a private company, therefore, the ticket cost us almost double. We bought! We did not want to spend the night in that city.
After a winding road, cold and trying not to look out the window, we arrived at Kodaikanal. We down. There we were, only accompanied by the street cats at midnight. First we thought of sleeping in a shelter on the street, but it was very cold. We open our map in the dark and try to locate the hostel. Dark streets, very cold and damp. It seemed that we were in some town in the middle of a forest (and it was correct). We finally found accommodation after so much walking and knocking on doors. We got up at six in the morning to open the windows and there it was… the landscape that we had seen in the photo: A cushion of soft, gray clouds that stretched to the horizon. Almost as if peeking out from the darkness were the pointed heads of the mountains waiting to be illuminated by the sun.
We were in Kodaikanal for 3 days. At first, we imagined that there would be many things to do, but only the first day was sunny and allowed us to walk around. And it is not that we are afraid of rain, only that in this place, the rain was exhausting, cold and penetrated all kinds of mountain clothes. We prepare a good chai and we stay reading and enjoying that privileged view.
While we could we walked around the center, around the lake, chatted with other local tourists and toured the surroundings. Kodaikanal is a city whose tourist center is located in the highest part, near the international school. From there one begins to go down and enter the city of the local inhabitants, where there is noise, tuk tuk, good food at the corresponding price (and not price in Euros) as well as many stores and shops.
It is possible to rent a bicycle to explore the lake (100 rupees for half a day) or, for those who want to feel more adventurous, they can rent horses to take a ride through the mountains.
Near the city of Kodaikanal, there is a small village very visited by Israeli tourists, called Vattakanal. This small but very cozy place offers to be away from the city of Kodaikanal and share the “chill out” atmosphere (relaxing atmosphere) with other travelers. The lodgings are small rooms that the inhabitants build in order to earn a few coins. Do not be surprised if someone offers you «mushrooms» or some other kind of natural hallucinogens in this place as they usually do in places that are too touristy.
From Kodaikanal we go to the most important tea station in the area: Munnar. The way there was another story worth telling in our next note.
How to travel from the Tamil Nadu coast to Kodaikanal:
Bus from Tiruvannamalai to Trichy: 160 Rupees.
Bus from Trichy to Dingdigul: 50 rupees.
Bus from Dindigul to Bang: 22 rupees.
Bus from Bang to Kodaikanal: 84 rupees.
Total travel time: 12 to 14 hours.
India: Tamil Nadu – Beaches and temples
After a few days in Chennai, it was time to start touring South India. Temples adorned with a Hindu mystique and not so attractive beaches but with mysterious submerged temples, make the cities of Tamil Nadu a good destination for a 15-day tour.
The province of Tamil Nadu, in the southeast of India, is the Hindu territory par excellence. Not only because it contains some of the most important temples of the religion, but it is where the original India was truly found. North India has been for many centuries (since the arrival of the Aryans in 1500 BC) invaded by different types of communities that took control of it and administered it to their liking. Meanwhile, the original tribes of these parts of India escaped to the south and it was there that they settled until the arrival of the Europeans.
This is why the «true India» can be found in the southern states: the saree tradition, temples with pyramidal doors, Indian cuisine and many other customs. As we said in our note «Welcome to India» before arriving, we had the preconception that the south of the country was the «comfortable», rich and most expensive part to travel. Whereas in the north, everything would be dirty, messy and «truly» Indian. Other error. That «truly India» is a preconception that we create with Hollywood movies. And truly India is the complete country.
Both the south and the north have their great differences: climate, food, traditions and religion. If we move away from the big cities of the south and go to the small peasant villages, we can see that ancient traditions are still preserved. Even if we visit their temples, we can see the difference in the devotion of the followers. Let us remember, the true India cannot be found until we visit all its extremes.
Kanchipuram and its 300 temples
Located about 76 kilometers from Chennai (2 hours by bus) in addition to being the capital of silk, it must be the city where there are more Shiva temples than houses of inhabitants. Every 15 meters we walk, we see a temple. From small black tombstones surrounded by flowers on the corner of a hotel to 25-story pyramid entrances with elephants and people traversing the halls. Kanchipuran was the ancient capital of the Pallavas empire (many of the temples were built between the 4th and 9th centuries). It is not a small town and it is quite rowdy. But having so many temples and each of them visited by different devotees makes it at least one day visit. That’s what we did. We toured 10 of the 300 temples. It’s just that after entering the 5th, our sight got used to it a bit.
We arrived at about 9 in the morning and it already seemed to be noon. Heat, dust and a lot of traffic. As a city, we don’t find it very attractive. Until 12:30 pm we were walking around the temples.
Before telling you what we visited, I would like to give a brief introduction about Hindu mythology, specifically, about what is called “Trimurti”. There are 3 important deities: Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. The first is considered the creator of the universe. Shiva, is the destroyer, but through the destruction of him allows the creation of new things.
Vishnu is considered the god of good, who preserves and sustains good in the world. Then there are others that are born from the relationship with these gods: Krishna, is the reincarnation of Vishnu. Lakshmi, the goddess of money, is the wife of Vishnu. Parvati the wife of Shiva and Ganesha the elephant-headed son.
There are two important temples in the city dedicated to Shiva: Kailasanatha and Sri Ekambaranathar. The latter seems to be the most important due to its size and the number of people who visit it. Inside is the trunk of the mango tree where Parvati and Shiva got married. A simple way to tell when a temple belongs to Lord Shiva is when there is a statue of a cow (Shiva’s vehicle) facing the altar.
The Kamakshi Amman temple, dedicated to the goddess Parvati (Shiva’s wife) where as soon as we entered we found an elephant that blesses and protects us. That elephant represents her son, Ganesh.
People usually give him money and the elephant blesses you with his trunk. They gave him a coin and nothing. It seems that the elephant has an accountant who knows how much he is paid… or else, the «owner» who sits next to him did not give him the sign of «giving a blessing» when a foreigner participates, because it seems that the blessing as “tourists” is a little more expensive… We left the temple of the elephant a little disappointed by the poor exploited elephant.
Let’s talk a bit about who Ganesh is. This deity was the first that attracted us as a figure when arriving in India. We never understood why, until recently. Ganesh is a god with the head of an elephant and the body of a child. He symbolizes innocence, protection and helps us overcome obstacles. He tells the story that he was created to protect his mother’s chastity. One day his mother, Parvati, goes to take a bath and asks this boy to guard the entrance and not let anyone in. While Parvati was taking a bath, Shiva, Ganesh’s father, who had gone to war many years before, did not recognize his son. Shiva wanted to enter his house, but Ganesh forbade him. His father, very angry with him, pulls out his sword and cuts off his head. At that moment, Parvati sees the scene and explains that she has just killed her son and that is why she will not be able to go home or see her again. Desperate Shiva sets out in search of a new head for his son. He gets the head of a baby elephant. When he shows it to Parvati, she accepts the new elephant head. From there Ganesh, has an elephant head. His vehicle is the rat (the animal that an elephant fears the most) which means that we must overcome fear in order to overcome situations. Ganesh is also represented by the swastika and in his reincarnations he returns to the world as Jesus of Nazareth. Amazing, right? From there Ganesh, has an elephant head. His vehicle is the rat (the animal that an elephant fears the most) which means that we must overcome fear in order to overcome situations. Ganesh is also represented by the swastika and in his reincarnations he returns to the world as Jesus of Nazareth. Amazing, right? From there Ganesh, has an elephant head. His vehicle is the rat (the animal that an elephant fears the most) which means that we must overcome fear in order to overcome situations. Ganesh is also represented by the swastika and in his reincarnations he returns to the world as Jesus of Nazareth. Amazing, right?
We head to two more important temples in the city, this time dedicated to Vishnu: Devarajaswami and Vaikunta Perumal are the names. Inside they are imposing temples in size and structure. Although they are not beautiful in colors, the energy that the place transmits is impressive. They were also built in ancient times by the Chola empire.
At 3 in the afternoon, after a good Thali, we return to Chennai by bus 40 rupees (price without air conditioning)
Mahaballipuram (Mamallapuram) more than a fishing village
The next day, already saying goodbye until the next time in Chennai, we headed to Mahaballipuram, a small fishing village located 60 km from Chennai. This small village is home to the most important stone-carved temples discovered in India after Ajanta and Ellora built by the Palava empire. Small but bustling, Mahaballipuram allows us to see Tamil culture up close. In it we can walk through small alleys of the fishermen’s neighborhood that was hidden under the waters after the tsunami in 2001. In addition, when the waters receded, they uncovered a temple on the coast that had been under the waters for thousands of years. years.
We arrived at this village from Chennai, by means of a local bus that costs 28 rupees. We got off at the main road and got a nice waterfront double room. Sure, for those used to India tourism in the north, the south of the country may seem a bit more expensive. But everything is compensated, that is one of the main characteristics in India.
Three days of vice in Mahaballipuram were enough to tour the place, visit the temples on the coast, the carved temple and its park. Also to drink «chai» (traditional tea) on the beach, meditate among the boats and meet some artisans of the place that between offers and offers we end up making friends. Travel guides speak of this place as a unique destination surrounded by Bob Marley flags and with Jack Johnson playing in the streets. It is true, in a way, but it is a place in India and as such, I think it would be a responsibility on everyone’s part to take care that those details are not lost.
From Mahaballipuram we drive to Pondicherry. Before arriving, we decided to give it a try. Although we are not too interested in visiting places in India that were French or Portuguese colonies, as this city was in its ancestors, we thought that perhaps we could dedicate a few days to it. Almost reaching the city, we realized that it was not our place. Speakers, noise, dirt, people and chaos. After a few days in Mahaballipuram, it was not what we wanted to see. It was like getting off the bus and getting on another direct to Tiruvannamalai.
Two and a half hours of travel awaited us from Mahaballipuram to Pondicherry plus another 3 hours of travel to Tiruvannamalai.
Tiruvannamalai: one of the 5 sacred cities of Shiva
We arrived in the afternoon, tired from so much jumping and honking. We got off, headed out into town and a flock of Auto-Rickshaws offering us transportation. A tip: as in any city in the world, avoid taxis that depart from the exit of a bus station, train or airport, unless it is really necessary. In India, it seems that autorickshaws (motorcycle taxis) that are stopped charge more than those that are in circulation. Also, many places have a meter that they generally avoid activating. You have to stand up, put on a show or even threaten them with the police if you don’t get a good price.
Apart from that, if there is something to highlight about long-distance transport in South India, it is that everything has a connection. Although it may take us 10 hours to cover 400 kilometers, we can be moving all day, from town to town. We got off and got on another bus. Not even time for a bath or a chai. It was for this reason that we decided to travel most of the south by bus and not by train, magically and without planning everything worked in coordination.
Anyway, that’s how we arrived at the city of Tiruvannamalai. Full of pilgrims who visit it for its Ashrams (retreat houses) and also because it is one of the 5 sacred cities of the god Shiva. In it we can see Mount Arunachala, which is the object of pilgrimage every full moon and when we arrived there was still a long way to go before this event.t2 We
would not visit this city either because of its beauty. It is dirty, messy, big, noisy and busy, like most of the cities in Tamil Nadu. However, it is worth visiting for its main temple: Arunachaleswar and for its Ashrams. If you have the chance to visit it in November/December you will enjoy the Karthikai Deepam festival, or better known as the festival of light.
India: Our first steps in Chennai
«Never arrive at night to a place you don’t know» and if you can’t avoid it, I slept at the airport, it would be one of the first pieces of advice we would give to a traveler. However, he had to touch us. We arrived at Chennai Airport, India from Bangkok Airport, Thailand on December 25, 2013 at 10 pm. Luckily, we already had a plan of where to sleep and how to get there. And I emphasize, luckily, since in the big cities of India it is more difficult to move uninformed and at night. Chaotically connected, all things happen for a reason in this country.
Nervous walking through the corridors of the Bangkok airport in search of a belt to store my passport and mosquito repellent. Damned, I stopped for a second in a place to eat some toast I check my email and see a response to our Couchsurfing request: A puntano (that’s what the inhabitant of the province of San Luis in Argentina is called) offering lodging to another puntano (me Alvaro) in Chennai. A
Sometimes miracles aren’t just about resurrecting people. We had accommodation and directions on how to get to the place. We couldn’t believe it, our smile covered our faces. We sat in the waiting room where 99% of the seats were occupied by Indian businessmen or students. They all smelled good, had their hair done perfectly, dressed very elegantly, and spoke very correct English. Among them, an Argentine with faded pants, with the face of having traveled 18 hours, beard and smelly. They approach us and begin to ask me where we are from, where we are going, what we are doing with our lives and all kinds of questions that they would ask me in customs, but more cordially. Some offered us accommodation in their downtown apartments, others offered me to visit them in their restaurant or cafe and I,
We arrive, remove our bags and a guard with a turban, a red “bindi” (dot on the forehead that symbolizes the third eye in the Hindu religion) and an extra large mustache informs us where to take a taxi. So far, nothing weird. The prepaid taxi, generally located at the exit of the airports, allows you to avoid haggling. I walk through the parking lot following the driver assigned to us and the porter who carries my backpack. Heat, noise and smog, but we have not had any problems. We arrived at the door of the taxi: a black “Emperor”, straight out of a Bollywood movie (Hollywood Indian version) that has 2 stickers outside saying: “Aircon” and “Close slowly”. I smile, from the outside it looks like my father’s first car and well waxed. We got on expecting the worst and I got a surprise… leatherette upholstery, not a single damage, not a bit dusty and fresh. Later I found out that these cars, always manufactured in India, are manufactured to this day maintaining their previous design.
We drive 200 meters and the taxi driver asks me… Where are we going?… erm… I try to explain and he says “ok ok”… then he asks me if I want to go to dinner or go to a pub, or… “no, to the address is fine.» We arrive at the place, but there is nothing. Carambolas… and now? The driver calls on the phone, no one answers. Well… we searched a little more until we found it. When he puts me down, he looks at me, he brings his right hand to his mouth as if to tell me that he wants food… Food? Why does he ask me for food? I apologize and offer him an open packet of cookies. He rejects me and he leaves. I finally arrive at the small San Luis embassy in Chennai where I am greeted with great affection, hugs and a delicious plate of noodles with cream and mushrooms.
Corners full of drivers in khaki, drinking a local tea, playing cards in the back of some autorickshaw or desperately looking for customers. Continuous traffic, streets under repair, pollution and many women with sarees (traditional women’s clothing). That was my first sight of India. The day after I arrived, I went out to try my debit card and have a chai (tea with milk and spices). I had read so much about it that I had to try it. Excellent, it is declared from that moment, momentary substitute for «mate».
Curious observer, as if he were a child who for the first time walks through the door of his house on his way outside. I greeted those I was crossing, I went into a supermarket, a restaurant, I looked at the menu, I went to the grocery store, I sat down to watch a couple of neighbors talk and I returned to take refuge in my golden kingdom. For the next few days I wandered around my neighborhood in Chennai, observing, visiting some nearby temples and talking a lot with the friendly family that was staying with me. A quick class on the 36 million Indian gods, meditation and customs… We learned, for example, that stepping on a person’s foot, intentionally or unintentionally, is a great lack of respect since the feet are the most unclean part of the body. Quickly you have to apologize and not let that situation go by. Or did we learn
We visited a Jain temple for the first time in our lives. A religion that is a little strange at first, but its people are very nice. This religion is a much more demanding branch of Buddhism, where living beings are the most important, since a part of God resides in them. If we kill a bug, an animal or any other living being, we are killing our own god. Some of these people dress in white dresses made of cotton and cover their mouths with a chinstrap, so as not to inhale any insects, as well as use a Yak duster, to be able to clean any surface before sitting down. The temples are made of a white, fresh and opaque stone. They are extremely clean and respectful. I leave this place, with a little book in hand, reading surprised about something new that I had no idea about.
Western Food vs Indian Food
As I said before, the first night we arrived, we were greeted with a plate of western food, but it was time to go eat Indian food. And yes… our favorite was chosen. All of their dishes are excellent! Spicy, yes, but delicious. The most attractive thing is that many are vegetarians. We already imagined a big lettuce and carrot salad… well, actually that’s what you can’t eat. Raw vegetables that cannot be peeled are best avoided if we are not buying first seat tickets at the nearest restroom.
Most of the meals are prepared with “Masala”, which is a combination of spices which is added as a seasoning. I began to learn new names: Thali, Aloo, Paneer, Palak, Dal, which in Spanish following the same order would be, “thali”, potato, Indian cheese, spinach and lentils. I am not going to detail each meal and how it is done, but I am going to leave you with the photo of my first encounter with a “Thali”. ThaliIn India, “hotels” are generally what we know as “restaurants” where they have giant dining rooms and anyone, even if you’re not staying at the hotel itself, can go and sit down to eat. Not all so-called hotels are accommodation, but restaurants. The Thali is the meal of the day. It is usually the quintessential South Indian food. It consists of 11 small compoteras with different foods, chapati (Indian rice-based bread) and rice. In many places, you can eat until your stomach bursts. And the best thing is that the usual price for these meals in the south is 100 Rupees, around 1.5 dollars.
Chennai is not a city that stands out for its tourist attractions. It is a large coastal city. When I saw it on the map I thought… maybe I can go enjoy its beaches… But I knew what was waiting for me: A sea that surrounds a big city in India… I don’t think it’s possible to swim without your skin separating from your body . So I dedicated myself to knowing its temples, now that I have traveled through much of the country, I can say that this type of temple is only possible to see in the south.
entrance templeportalDoors of up to 25 levels, surrounded by thousands of small colorful statues that symbolize the gods of the Hindu pavilion. Inside the temples, it is a fairy tale. You can find elephants, rats, cows, stables, crying people, screaming people, naked people, painted people, people in a trance, children running, groups of people screaming, funerals whose bodies are in sight and much more.Stable-temple It is Interesting to be able to visit these temples having a minimum knowledge of religion to be able to understand what they are doing or the statues.
In general, all the temples I have seen are a large protected block with a wall about 15 meters high and on each side they have different pyramidal doors of many levels on which the Hindu gods are represented. Inside each temple, we can see a pool or «Darshan» where people bathe to purify themselves. On the sides we see many small houses, where the priests perform «puyas» or offerings to the gods.
Inside those little houses there is a kind of stone in the shape of a black tombstone with a red dot and flowers around it. In addition, there is always a main “little house”, which is observed from the outside by a statue of a cow looking inwards and a golden metal pole rising in front of the main temple. The smells of incense and flowers pollute the environment.
People line up to enter and leave their offerings. At the exit, the women approach the ear of the cow and ask for a wish, so that the cow (transport of the gods) transmits it to the gods. secret of women India In the surroundings of the temple, there are painted houses blue that correspond to the brahmins (priests) who work in the temple. The temples usually close from 12 to 4 in the afternoon.
But in Chennai, there are not only Jains and Hindus. There are also Catholics and Muslims. So we went to visit the tomb of Saint Thomas. According to what they say, Saint Thomas arrived on his pilgrimage to that place, where he died and was buried. On the coast of Chennai, we can find his church and tomb.
A walk along the Chennai waterfront is never too much. A large beach of yellowish sand, wind that lifts the sand and deposits it in your eyes. Indians who run dressed but soaked straight into the sea. The vendor of peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, corn, sugar, ice cream, cigarettes and many more pass in front and do not stop offering you when they see you sitting quietly. Nearby, some offer horseback riding on the beach or surf lessons. In the distance, you can see the statue of Gandhi, walking with his cane and on the other side, «Marina Beach».
Chennai has shopping malls, places to go to see shows and possibly the best cinemas in India. We were lucky enough to visit a theater celebrating the traditional dance week of South India. In this dance, it is about telling a story through music and dance.
A dancer or several, stand in the middle of the stage and while a group of musicians play live and sing the mythological story of some Hindu god, they move their feet, open their eyes and make faces trying to reproduce what happens. collage- dancersThe end of the year has come and we greet 2013 from Chennai, hoping for a 2014 throughout India. We say goodbye to Chennai to start our tour of Tamil Nadu: Kanchipuram, Mahaballipuram and Tiruvanaamalai.