Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spinach Travel

India - It's the spinach of travel destinations—you may not always (or ever) enjoy it, but it's probably good for you. In the final reckoning, am I glad that I came here? Oh, absolutely. It's been humbling. It's been edifying. It's been, on several occasions, quite wondrous. It's even been fun, when it hasn't been miserable. Seth Stevenson, Slate magazine, 10/01/04

Ha. Every offering is carried inside in plastic. India is being buried in plastic bags.

Simple stuff...
Sugu, our tiny little guide, met us in the hotel lobby in the morning. Zouzou and Debra could look her in the eye. I felt like a giant towering over the three of them and I could barely hear Sugu because her voice was just as little as she was. Her Indian English was a jumble for me. I could pick out every 4th word, but after an hour of straining I decided to just sit back and enjoy what I could see and worry about details later.

Sugo, our tiny guide

Another pleasant surprise: the van was full of mosquitoes when we got on board. Swatting away at them, the white seat covers were soon dotted with bloody smears.  Manoo, our driver, vowed to get spray for the next day.

Kapaleswar Temple

Figure on temple fascia

After our first day here, Zouzou was harboring thoughts of jumping in a cab to the airport and heading off to Paris, where she usually goes on vacation. We were all exhausted after a day driving through the vicious Chennai traffic visiting the Kapaleswar temple, the Basilica of San Thome* (where the faces of the saints have been replaced with the faces of popular Bollywood stars), Parthasarthi temple complex, Fort St. George, St. Mary's Church, the Government museum. We were overwhelmed by the complexity of Hinduism, the crowds, the heat and the beggars, the contrasts. Quickly you develop "city eyes" (per Salman Rushdie) for your protection.

Rarely have I been so happy to return to the 5-star hotel bubble. We did a cursory rinse off of the day's considerable dust and dirt. The bottoms of our feet were black (shoes have to removed almost everywhere) and even with plenty of handi-wipes and sani spray, it's hard to feel even marginally clean after the "Indian bathroom experience". They range from terrible to horrifying - as bad as anything I've seen around the world. Worst of all is when some toilet wallah dude wakes up from his chair and wants 10 rupees for use of the facilities.

Sugo had a two hour bus ride ahead (pretty average for a Chennai resident) to reach her home after guiding us all day. Makes you think.

Zuzu decided to give it another day or two.

*In the whole world, there are only three churches which have been built over the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus Christ - the Basilica of Saint Peter built over the tomb of St. Peter in Rome, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela built over the tomb of St. James in Spain and Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Thomas in Chennai built over the tomb of St. Thomas. Most Indian Catholics seem to be unaware of the importance of this extraordinary shrine.


  1. I've always wondered what St. Thomas was doing in India. I remember reading about it once. Isn't India a very long way from the Holy Land? I'm sure you'll tell me the story when you get home. I still haven't found out who Zuzu is. I'd better keep reading. It all sounds fascinating and hard.
    Loved the quote at the top of the page.

  2. thanks for your blog post i went to bandipur national park with my parents really it was amazing in that forest we all enjoyed a lot and we stayed inkgudi Resorts it was very good to stay i wish to vist again and stay there

  3. That temple looks incredible. But I think I'll stay home. thank you very much.