This post has absolutely nothing to do with chips. Or salsa. But I’ve been missing them a lot lately. And without a camera to document any of the visual goodness of the things I’ve experienced lately, my mind turned to the one thing I love more than Indian diesel fumes: corn tortilla chips and fresh salsa. One Google Images search later and – voila’ – the perfect picture to anchor the following blog post..
Where was I.. Ah, yes, the Congo. Wait, no, the train station in Varkala Beach in India. Okay, here we go.
After finally averting my eyes from Kate’s train as it rolled down the track, around a bend and out of site, I looked around and realized, “Holy shit. I’m on my own again. In India. Let the solo adventures resume..” It’s amazing how my field of vision changes when I’m on my own out here. Antennae most definitely UP.
I jumped on an overnight train of my own bound for another of the four main cities in India. This time it was Chennai in the southeast on the Bay of Bengal. I wasn’t terribly impressed with what I saw (all of the now mundane aspects of urban India without anything interesting) so I dropped of my camera at a repair shop, said a prayer and headed South. Oh, as I alluded to at the beginning, I’ve had some mechanical problems lately. Within one week both my iPod and my camera died. Either shit luck or someone’s trying to tell me something – be done with the electronics. Look around, son!
Next stop was another little beach town a few hours south called Mamallapuram. I spent two days soaking in the sun, sidestepping more poop on the beach and wandering through the network of temples and ancient stone carvings that dot the area. The stone trade still dominates here and at any point in the day you can hear the ‘tink-tink’ noise of hammer and chisel on stone coming from countless shops around town. I stopped and watched at a few amazed at the patience it would require to spend your life creating, hunched over a big blob of rock and covered in and breathing stone dust. Infinitesimal gains over weeks, months and sometimes years to create these incredible pieces – most of them exquisitely detailed depictions of Hindu gods like Ganesh, the elephant god, and Nandi, the bull that protects the god Shiva and so on.
I jumped on another bus south yet again, nearly losing my hearing from the constant blasts of the airhorn that are the regular musical accompaniment on any big vehicle in India. I’ve never ever ever heard a horn as loud as that of just about any of the buses here. Who needs sound insulation? It’s seems like they’re having a contest – who can blow out the most eardrums by constantly laying on the horn as they careen in and out of traffic, absolving themselves of traffic sins with each burst. Get the hell out of my way!!
Pondicherry, two hours south, was another fascinating place. The French effectively ruled the area up until about 50 years ago. I went because, after seeing the influence the Portuguese had in Goa on the west coast, I felt I had to see what legacy the French lad left here. Curry and baguettes?? While it had quite a bit of French flair – beautiful pastel colored cement buildings with elaborate metal balconies, countless picture-perfect quiet side alleys with old bicycles parked under drooping bougainvillea, a few French ex-pats running guest houses, and an overpriced cafe or two – it was unmistakably India. There were just enough chai shops, garbage rolling across the promenade and homeless people sleeping on sidewalks to remind me of exactly where I was.
I spent a few days exploring, re-uniting with my Spanish pals from Nepal (yo, Hector and Julia!), and checking out the main spiritual attraction in town, the Sri Aurobindo ashram. I hadn’t worked the ashram thing out of my system and was very curious to see how others operated. This one was quite a bit different. It was based on the teachings of an Indian guru named Sri Aurobindo and lead disciple, affectionately termed “the Mother” by devotees. Yes, I thought it was odd too. Neither is alive today, but their non-denominational teachings about the potential for the evolution of the human spiritual state are still inspiring people all over the world. They have an interesting take on things, bringing yoga and science together. They spoke about the idea that humans, despite what we might think, are probably not the end of the evolutionary line (a novel concept..). And that our conscious state is the final frontier – those that develop their consciousness about the true nature of life (something they refer to as the supramental state) are truly evolving. And that the animalistic tendencies that many of us exhibit (leading to war, greed, divisiveness etc) are clearly holding us back. I dug the underlying philosophy (even spent a few very early mornings meditating with crowds of respectful devotees around the ‘samadhi’, the tomb of the founders elaborately decorated with thousands of beautiful flowers every single day) but couldn’t get past the ‘the Mother’ part. Come back to me when we’re all equal and no one’s prostrating before anyone else and we’ll talk.
Part Deux (get it?) next. Stay tuned.