We have brains in our heads, and feet in our shoes, thank you very much, Dr. Seuss! But no bang-ups and hang-ups, at least not many so far.
So, as we head into the final preparations for our move to Chennai, we’ve cleared a number of logistical hurdles, including Visas and Movers and Shots, Oh My! (but that’s another story.) Sarah has just finished her teaching career at Cherry Tree Elementary, and now, as opposed to the Bucket Lists and Bittersweet of wrapping up so many strands of her American teaching and conducting career, she’s able to really focus on what’s lies ahead, the excitement of the new, and the places we’ll go.
Our plans of course include explorations of the far reaches of Asia and the Middle East and we are fortunate to have friends to visit in Jakarta, Beijing, Myanmar, Singapore, and even Qatar, Kuwait, and Istanbul–not to mention Sarah’s November gig in Dubai. And Bangkok is a must see if you’re in that part of the world! But before we hop on plane rides of longer than an hour or so, we’ll have plenty to discover just in Tamil Nadu and across South India.
First up, I’m sure we’ll take an early weekend and head about 50 km straight down the ECR (East Coast Road) to Mahabalipuram, known to the locals as The Mahabs, where we’ll see Arjuna’s Penance. The massive 7th century bas relief carvings completed during the Pallava dynasty show the story from the Mahabharata of Arjuna’s rigorous penance to gain Lord Shiva’s favor and the use of his weapon to destroy his enemies. Then no doubt we’ll walk down to the beach and see the lovely Shore Temple and Krishna’s Butterball. So much history to absorb and such wonderful photo material!
Next, on one of Sarah’s first long-weekend holidays, maybe we’ll head farther down the coast to check out Pondicherry (now Puducherry) and Auroville. Pondy has a French colonial heritage and is actually a separate “territory” and not part of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for its great cafes and boutiques with a bit of that European flair in the French Quarter, not to mention you can even find good wines in the shops! And the hotels like the Palais de Mahe will pamper anyone’s yearnings for a touch of the continent.
Just on the outskirts of Pondy, we’ll go from a taste of French savoir faire to immersion in a “universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creed, all politics and all nationalities.” Founded in 1968, Auroville, The City of Dawn, “belongs to nobody in particular . . .belongs humanity as a whole . . . a place of unending education.” Central to the Auroville concept is the Matrimandir, the Soul of the City, where visitors can spend 10 to 15 minutes in absolute silence in concentration and meditation in the inner chamber. We’ll likely stay in one of the many guest houses interspersed over the grounds, like the Afsanah Guest House, all within walking distance since no cars are allowed! Many artisans and craftspersons make their homes in simplicity in Auroville, and their inspiring works, like those of Aparajita Barai can be purchased there, online, or at the Naturally Auroville shop a half block from our flat in Besant Nagar.
Ah, but how will we beat the heat of Chennai and South India, where in May and June, the time of year known as Agni Natshatram or “Fire Star,” temps can hit close to 45C or 113F during the day with humidity off the charts? That’s the time to escape to the Hill Stations over in the Western Ghats, a mountain range parallelling the west coast of India, to places like Coonoor or Udagamandalam, known simply as Ooty, where the Brits built their getaway country homes during the Raj. The lovely forested hills and tea plantations thrive and seduce with average highs only touching 22C or 72F in the hottest months. We’ll find great places to stay, like 180 McIver, for relaxation and a bit of trekking, or an adventurous ride on one of the world’s most unique railways, the Nilgiris Mountain Railway, also known as the “Toy Train.” Don’t ask!
When we want to take another longer tour, we’ll head southwest from Chennai and explore the the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu with its 15,000 mansions from the Chettiar family’s ascendance from the 1850’s through the mid 20th century. The New York Times recently ran a fabulous piece on “India’s Lost Party Mansions” that gives a wonderful overview of the area and the stunning and iconoclastic architecture that mixes elements from around the world while adhering to the guidelines of Vastu Shastra, the Indian Feng Shui (which should maybe be known as the Chinese Vastu Shastra!) By the way, the header photo for this post is the Chidambara Vilas Hotel in the tiny village of Kadiapatti, a couple hours’ drive from Madurai, with its stunning temples, after an hour’s flight from Chennai, and a great base to explore the heritage of the Chettiars.
So, thanks to Dr. Seuss: On and on we will hike, and I know we’ll hike far . . . we’ll get mixed up, of course . . . so we’ll be sure when we step, to step with great care and great tact . . . to be dexterous and deft, and never mix up our right foot with our left!
No doubt we will slowly learn and grow and come to appreciate what India (and Asia) will teach us . . . and these destinations so far are just in Tamil Nadu!
Yes, indeed, the places we’ll go!