This blog is starting to feel less like a blog about Delhi and more like a travel blog, which is largely because the first three months of this year have mainly consisted of me dashing about from place to place on work trips like a moth in a lightshade. This has benefits (I've got to see some really cool places) but I'm also feeling pretty knackered, truth be told, and looking forward to mid-March when things settle down a little bit and I will stay in the same place (ie Delhi - remember?) for a little while.
Anyway, I am currently in Chennai for a conference. I can't say much about Chennai other than it has horrendous traffic (surprise, surprise) and a conference venue that suffers from power failures every half an hour and was visited, during the two days I was there, by at least three pigeons, two lizards and a bat. When I was making plans for my visit, though, I thought I'd be clever and go down a bit early so I could have a weekend at the beach first. So I booked myself into a nice little hotel in Mamallapuram, a couple of hours south of the city, and looked forward to two days of sun and relaxation.
Unfortunately, my little escape coincided with the dawn of a shed load of deadlines for work. I ended up spending a lot of the weekend huddled behind my laptop in my room or in the hotel restaurant, intermittently talking at length into my mobile phone about market strategy, while horribly relaxed-looking people in flip flops wandered past me wondering if I'd wandered into the wrong universe by mistake.
I did manage to make a bit of time to explore the town and its beautiful temples, which have some of the loveliest carvings I've seen in India (and which I'm leaving for a separate post), and to at least walk along the beach and take a few photos. Enough to convince me that (a) Mamallapuram is a nice little town that I'd like to visit one day without my laptop; and (b) there are probably not many people other than me who would be daft enough to bring a laptop to Mamallapuram.
I've seen touristy India before: Varanasi, Amritsar, Mumbai and of course Delhi itself are firmly on the circuit. But I've never been anywhere that felt so much like a tourist town - a paid up part of "the kingdom of Backpackistan" as the Lonely Planet aptly puts it. Partly this is because it's so small - only 12,000 people - but also it's because it has places called "the Bob Dylan cafe" and more shops selling necklaces made of shells than you can shake a stick at.
It's also possibly the first place I've been in India where foreigners are so common in proportion to the resident population that no-one turns a hair when they see another one. Even when I passed kids playing in the street, and braced myself for a barrage of "hellllloooooooo! What is your naaaaame?!", they just glanced up, dismissed me as uninteresting, and carried on with what they were doing.
It was a relief. It was also oddly disconcerting. I felt like an aging pop star realising that the kids don't know who he is any more.
Anyway, Mamallapuram has a nice laid-back feel to it as befits a small town with a lovely beach, but it's also very much a working Indian town. The sands are not pristine and they are littered with fishing nets and boats, while the ladies of the town make their way serenely across the sands with huge jars balanced on their heads and nary a stumble (an achievement on concrete, but on a beach? Phenomenal) and the ever-present cows wander down for a sunbathe. I really liked it, and while working all weekend was not ideal, it was certainly a better place to do it than the office in Delhi.
I think this may be my favourite India photo yet. He was actually sat on quite a wide strip of sand between two piles of nets, but crouching down changed the perspective and makes him look lost in a sea of green. I love bold colours in photos and shots that make something seem quite different by altering its context. I feel like this one really works!
I was quite jealous of this guy. Ironic, given that my start in life was so much more privileged than his (there are plenty of kids in India who have been born with many more advantages than I was, but I'm pretty sure this isn't one of them). But he took such pure and simple joy in running on the beach with his kite. Looked like a nice place to be a kid from my perspective.
The houses in Mamallapuram are almost all brightly painted, which in the Tamil Nadu sun just makes you feel really happy.
Obligatory cow photo. I liked the purple wall too.
That's the most famous of Mamallapuram's temples, the Shore Temple, in the background. More on that later.
Quite pleased with this shot too! I love the fact that their clothes match the jars they are carrying, though I don't think it was deliberate.
Cow, looking lost.
Fishing gear on the beach
Mamallapuram sea front seen from the Shore Temple
This is a guitar on the wall of a cafe in town. I thought it looked kind of surreal (and I liked the yellow - are you getting that I like colour?).