On a much needed day off, a small group of us from class gathered in the rain to wait for a bus. We headed an hour south of Chennai to visit the monuments in the seaside town of Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram). The journey, for Matt and I, was mostly about the journey. While there's much to say about these famous local ruins, we relished the fresh air and the view from the lighthouse of waves lapping the coast of India. We enjoyed the company of fellow classmates, of new discoveries.
When we arrived, the town was pretty sleepy for a Saturday. Our band of eight stuck out like a group of foreigners on a visit to some local ruins in various interpretations of Indian dress. The town has a surprising number of granite carving workshops, legit cobblers and other types of artisans.
The temples meander through the outskirts of town, up a hill and deposit you in a wonderful open lawn with a gigantic bolder precariously perched in the middle. As we walked, we attracted more and more attention. Half way through we gave up, happily succumbing to group photos with Indian tourists and letting the temples play their role as artful backgrounds.
It was a rare opportunity for Matt and I, who are usually a band of two, to be in the company of many. It's great fun, and liberating, really, to know that you simply cannot hide your interestingness in a larger group. So you might as well relish every moment of it.
As we made our way to the lawn the excitement grew, until we were basically bombarded with sellers of all sorts of knicks and knacks. "Here madame, have a look!" We shook our heads and smiled and kindly warded them off. But all that did was make them grin and try a different angle. "Sir, your friend bought one of these. Come. Look." "Good price. For you, Sir, only 50 rupees."
I finally got away with a general shake of the head and the reply, "I have many of them at home." To which they would turn to whoever was next to me, "Madam, for you. Very beautiful. Good price." Matt tried the route of saying he didn't have room in his luggage, to which they'd respond, "But sir, I have something very small, just for you. Hold it, it is very light." You had to appreciate their perseverence.
We finally left the sellers at the gate and made our way into town. We lunched at Buddha Cafe and then split up to tackle some purchases. At around 5pm we made our way back to the bus stop, laden down with bags. Matt and I even got handmade leather sandles done in under a few hours!
All the way home we were serenaded by a troupe of college students who had secured seats in the back and were singing various pop songs in Tamil and English. Aside from the general Indian imperviousness to ear-splitting decibels, they were quite talented. Matt and I listened through the safety zone of our earplugs. We parted ways and made the screeching, honking, stinking rickshaw drive back home. Lesson of the day: when visiting the sites, it's always good to have friends to harmonize with.