Our journey starts at Mamallapuram, a small and town right by the bay of Bengal. The are sandy beaches where you can wiggle your toes into the sand and take a swim and inhale the fresh smell of the sea. What better place to start a tour? The small coastal city has however more to offer. There are remnants of temples and kingdoms hewn out of granite rocks reflecting the wealth and riches of centuries of culture and trade. Here you will stand in front of the massive granite relief, depicting the arrival of the Ganges. One of the oldest mythological stories where the Goddess Ganges (the river) brings wealth to a rain starved land. Its a tribute to water, the nourisher of all things.
The five rathas, five temples (the elements, fire, water, earth, light and ether) have been carved out of single rocks to form a chariot. The temples are said to be dedicated the the 5 Pandava brothers, the hero’s of the epic Mahabharata, where they symbolise righteousness in various aspects, much like the attributes of the elements.
The shore temple once submerged has been excavated some years ago. It stand within a fortress of stone, shielding it from the waves of the Bay of Bengal. Rows of Bulls (Nandi the mount of Shiva) decorate the complex.
If you walk or drive between the monuments, make sure to stop at the numerous stone carvers along the road. Sure they use today more modern means to cut trough granite, yet most of the finer works are accomplished like millennia ago. Even the subjects of their workmanship hasn’t changed, Idols of Shiva, Ganesha and other gods are in high demand and created in all shapes and sizes.
Recently my daughter gave me two shawls she was given by her mom after our divorce. She thought that I might like them since she had no use for them. I could not believe my eyes, she handed me the very two shawls I had bought from a small cooperative shop in Leh, in Ladakh in the early 90ties. The cooperative was an initiative of two elderly Ladakhi, to assist their people to get a decent price for their pure pashmina wool. They told me that most of the wool was bought over by merchants from Kashmir and the local people were given a very small amount of money for their precious products and then sold with huge margins in the cities.
Since I had just spent times in the plains of Chang Thang and had taken shelter with the goat and Yak herders I knew about the effort to collect the wool and look after the goats that were grazing the plains around Tso Morari.
Sadly a lot of my pictures I had taken those days got lost during my travels and shifting of residences over the years.
Goat herding is a job mostly for the elderly men. They bring their animals to the grazing places during the day and return them in the evenings to the summers camps that were setup by the shore of the lake. Collecting wool is their job as well. They look out of the goats touch shrubs and leave some of their fluffy fur behind. Sometimes they take out their combs and brush them gently to get the fine and soft wool from their chest and below their chins. Herding goats is also a walking exercise, since goats are very picky eaters. While following their herds these men become artists and weave the wool into strands that could be used for weaving. Weaving was then mostly done by the women between their daily chores.
These days the wool we get is mostly from China and Mongolia, where thousands of goats are kept in corrals and sheared like sheep to extract the maximum amount of wool, which is then processed by machines. Fortunately the traditions of keeping goats in the Himlayas has not changed since ages. Till today you can see the grazing herds on the high altitude plains in summer.
What my daughter handed me back was an act of love. The respect and care of the herder to his animals. The caressing comb that the goats enjoyed and the wool that was all woven by hand and finally sold by two humorous and story telling grandpas that were looking out for the wellbeing of their people.
Thirty years later I still have this wonderful piece of workmanship.
One of the pictures I had taken from the website: http://nomadicwoollenmills.com
Please have a look at the site.
Haven’t really counted, but I am sure its more than 40 times that I have stopped at Pondicherry, that amazingly underrated city on the east coast, just three hours south of Chennai. Honestly I have no idea why this place has not turned into one of the prime attractions long ago.
I am not talking here about the two great exceptions, the Auroville and Aurobindo Pilgrims, once united and now a highly divided lot of “Peace on Earth” seekers. But those I do not really count as the curious culture travellers like myself.
Just imagine a place, so french in style that even the French rub their eyes in disbelieve. Hey and this quite little french riviera place is surrounded by a loud and lively Indian city. Where on Earth do you find a place like this?
Now there are a few places I think you just need to see.
Take a Riksha in the Morning and see the city from the perspective of a Riksha driver. Its entirely their project and they are so proud to show you their city. Stopp at the tea stall and share a hot cup of typical Indian chai with you. For Information ask the front desk of Maison Perumal or Palais de Mahe Hotel.
Wow, this is a place like no other! From the rather smelly fish section with the endless squabbling selling ladies. Last time I was there, I really had that very evil thought of understanding why those fishermen spend all their nights at sea, listening to nothing but the comforting sound of the waves and the wind.
If you manage to survive this noisy and fly invested hurdle, the veggie section seems like heaven. The voices reduce by half and the fragrance change is rather welcome. The array of veggies and fruits is just amazing. But this is not all, folks. If you pass from there towards the temple you will find yourself suddenly in the world of flowers. Rose and Queen of the night fragrances linger in the air. The stalls are turned into artists workshops and its amazing how fast those nimble fingers create works of art to be offered at temples or worn by bride and grooms at weddings.
Then there are tailors and textiles and a host of other shops, selling pulses, sugar and lots of other daily needs.
Last time I was there with a group. Gave them one and half an hour and at the end I had to drag them almost out of the place. Thats the magic of Goubert Market, my favourite place in the city.
INTAC is a organisation that tries to protect the architecture and the cultural value of the city. They offer a walk trough the french town in the later afternoon. Its the great opposite of the Riksha tour in the morning. From the raw view of the man of the street you get now the intellectual inputs of an architect and the struggle to retain the cities charms. The contrast couldn’t be bigger. A walk not to be missed!
Evening at the temple
There is no better light to see a temple than in the evening, especially if its a living city temple, bustling with local families. The fading light of day and the candles turn these temples into an oasis of peace. Even the otherwise happily chatting kids become silent and their eyes lite up. The temple has another really nice touch in the evening – music. The ancient flutes and drums create that special ambiance of reverence and peace. More so, there no organised and pre fabricated rituals. Its a great reminder of this vast and feel-able difference between mythology and religion.
Honestly, I am not too fond of the poor elephant standing outside the temple on this tiny platform, raising tirelessly his trunk and blessing people for a few coins. But then I am not fond of catholic priests sodomising boys either and both seem to get away with it since centuries. Religion is a funny thing that somehow turns a blind eye on injustice to animals and humans, as long the packaging promises relief from sorrow and pain.
The evening promenade
If you have not taken a stroll in the evening along the sea promenade, its like you have not been to Pondicherry at all! This is another completely different take on life, nowhere else found in India. A street that is being blocked for traffic from the evening till the morning, so people can walk and children can play! And its not just a street, its the absolut main street of the city and this not just at some rare holiday. No, its blocked everyday. Families, friends, guest, visitors all end up in the cool evening breeze, strolling up and down carefree along the sea. People come to read, chat, meditate and watch their children play. This promenade reflects the true identity of India, its lived and practised secularity. Just love the place.
Food & Shopping
Pondicherry would not be Pondicherry without a Baguette and a good coffee. You find it in Baker street and other cosy corners of the city. Pondicherry really a good number of real nice restaurants and bars.
Restaurants, bars and shops are often run or influenced be the two large communities of Auroville and the Aurobindo Ashram. Both communities are involved in the creation of wonderful and eco friendly products like textiles, paper, furniture, Incense, fragrances and jewellery. There are many boutiques with really nice finds and of a otherwise not available quality. Pondicherry is definitely also worth a shopping stop.
You might wonder, why my list does not feature the famous Auroville or the Aurobindo Ashram. After all a large tribute for the upkeep of the city goes to these two societies. My take is that if you are not part of it, they are not more than visiting a museum. Both have very restricted policies towards visitors and Auroville is basically just a nice walk in the forest to the gold plated Globe (Matri Mandir) and back. If you stay longer in Pondicherry they are definitely worth a visit
If you are in Pondicherry I would like to recommend the following accommodation:
Hey, please leave me your inputs. As a traveller I am always open to learn and experience new things. Please drop me a line.
Its a hard life for these men going out at sea almost every day of their working lives. All night they spend on a small boat out under the vast canopy of the endless sky, trying to bring home the catch that nourishes the family.
Hardship that shows on their faces and on their hands. The fishing they do is not dominated by huge winches, but solely relies on the camaraderie to bring in the precious catch to ensure a decent life for their families.
Braving the storm.
I recently had the good fortune to visit some of the small villages of the indigenous communities in Wayanad, North Kerala. Together with our GM Subi from Wayanad Wild, our Chef and a social worker we climbed the hills in the forested areas of the Wayanad plateau. People here still live a lot from the forest, collecting roots, honey and herbs for their daily needs. The create amazing bamboo traps for fishing in the rivers and I was told that earlier they were great archers too. Today the law forbids them to hunt.
Their way of live is rapidly changing. Forests have been turned into Plantation, devoid of the food they used to find. National parks have sprung up, restricting their movements to collect honey, herbs and bark for the food and indigenous forms of medicine.
Lately their way of using plants and barks for curing has caught the attention of scientists now probing into their secrets of the forest. Unfortunately their lack of school book knowledge will eventually prevent them from benefitting of their old age tradition and art to cure.
To me it was a touching encounter with people that live on the earth around them and me a traveller from across the oceans. Their smile and shy laughter turns as always into exercise of humility for me. Communication is nothing but a smile and the words of the social worker in her broken english.
Walking trough their simple village, Standing Rock comes to my mind, where even today the erstwhile owners of the land still have to fight to get their rights respected. And I wonder how much the situation differs from the land across the sea.
We are happy to share with all our friends that CGH Earth has made it to the final list for world legacy awards by National Geographic in partnership with ITB Berlin. 150 entries were received from 51 countries, 6 continents. 15 finalists selected. We are one of the 3 selected in the category- Sense of Place. This is an endorsement for our core values which has resulted in the preservation of the authentic and the local.
#CGHEarth #Finalist #WorldLegacyAwards #NationalGeographic#ITBBerlin