So, I have been back for more than a week now. Everything about the trip is still fresh in my mind. Every laughter, every touch, every word. When people asked me about it – I usually only give one answer – it’s AWESOME! Awesome in every way and I came across many people full of awesomeness.
South India is beautiful – full of gorgeous trees. Since it’s also the monsoon season, it is not so humid. Rather pleasant. We travelled by train, bus, auto-rickshaw – and we do lots of walking too. So much so that my Dad was petrified when he saw my cracked heels – “have you been walking all around India or what???” he asked. Haha :P
We were in Cochin for 2 days. From the airport, we had to take 2 buses and 1 auto-rickshaw to get to the place we were staying in Ernakulam. Yeap, 2 sardine-packed buses and an auto-rickshaw with all the luggage. Imagine. Cochin is a big town and kind of less populated compared to other Indian-cities I have visited so far. We spent the 1st night strolling along Marine Drive, a waterfront promenade of Cochin. It is nothing of extra-ordinary and the place is kinda deserted but we had a nice chat sitting on bench by the walkway. The next day, we went to Fort Cochin, the older part of town and then to the fairly empty Cherai Beach, where besides us there were only 2 other people at the entire long stretch of pristine white-sand beach. It almost feels out of this world. And the whole day, it was raining on and off. It is simply exquisite.
From Cochin, we took a 13-hours train journey up to Chennai. We arrived in Chennai at the early hours of Saturday morning and were taken for a drive around for a while before the city wakes up. After spending like only a few hours in Chennai at a relative’s house, we head off to Mahabalipuram on a bus. The journey took about 1 ½ hours. Funny part is when we saw no sign saying Mahabalipuram at all along the way. We got a little panic and start asking around and then found out that Mahabalipuram is also known as Mamallipuram. I had a good laugh on that!
Mahabalipuram is a happening little town and we had so much good fun time in this hippy town. The beach (again, yes), the guesthouse, the food, the bazaar are all excellent. What was unfortunate is that we didn’t see as much as we should because we had to leave early the next morning to Pondicherry. But this is one little town that I know I would come back to, hopefully in the near future.
So now we are off to Pondicherry. I heard a lot about Pondicherry - from people, from books and I even have some far-relatives from Pondicherry, so going to Pondicherry is an excitement in itself. From Mahabalipuram, we took 1 bus straight to Pondicherry. The journey took about 2 hours. The view cutting across Tamil Nadu countryside to Pondicherry is picturesque and I totally love it.
In Pondicherry we were staying right bang in the middle of town. Everything is within walking distance – well even if it is not, we would have walked everywhere anyway. We arrived there on a Sunday, where they have street market the whole day on the main town road, so the place was kind of bustling. The temperature was slightly higher than the other places we were at. There is a seaside near town but with just rocks and no beach. After lunch, we spent some time lying down on the grass underneath a tree at one of the many European-inspired gated park at the French quarter before going off to the beach (of course – it is compulsory!) which is like 20 minutes away.
Again, we squeezed into a packed bus and had to stand the whole way. After the bus dropped us in the middle of some cowboy-village, we had to ask around as to where the beach is and then walk another 5-7minutes to get there. But believe me, all those headache and back pain just vanished into thin air when we got to the beach. We spent good 3 hours here until the police came and ask everyone to disperse as it is getting dark. So with clothes full of sands, we made our way back to town.
The next day, before going to Kanchipuram – we went to visit Auroville, a town about 30 minutes away from Pondicherry. This universal township was founded by Mother Mirra Alfassa, who is an equal spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo Ghose – an Indian philosopher, poet and freedom fighter. As stated in Mother's first public message about the township, "Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity." So the place is peaceful and nice, full of trees and we had lovely lunch here at the cafe. Unfortunately we cannot visit the Matrimandir (Mother’s Temple) as it is strictly for meditation and concentration purpose only.
From one temple we went to the city of temples. Kanchipuram is about 2 hours 15mins away from Pondicherry and we had to take 2 buses. By the time we got there, it was almost dark. We visited 4 temples with an auto-rickshaw driven by a polite decent guy. I don’t remember the name of all the temples we visited except one, Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple, which is a temple dedicated to goddess Parvati.
After going up and down visiting the temples and eating prasadam (yummy!), the auto driver took us to some saree shop for me to have a look. My friend bought me a nice hand-woven silk saree that Kanchipuram is famous for - I am oh-so-happy and very touched by this suprising gesture.
From Kanchipuram, we took 1 bus back to Chennai. The journey that supposedly take only an hour or less took about 1 ½ hour due to heavy traffic as we were entering Chennai. And when we finally reached, it started to drizzle. Cousins came to fetched us from the bus station and then took us for supper at a nice classy restaurant near Adyar – warm idli with sambhar and a cup of Madrasi coffee!
The next morning, we woke up fresh and ready to discover Chennai. A car was arranged to take us around town. After days of jumping in and out of buses and walking and walking – this is a luxury that we really appreciate. First, we went to Theosophical Society but unfortunately it was closed for a few hours and we were asked to come back later. So we change route and went to Krishamurti Foundation, a centre situated on a serene and tree filled setting. This is the main place where Jiddu Krishnamurti, a philosopher and thinker, stayed during his visits to Chennai. He gave his first talk on the lawns of this centre in 1936, as well as his last talk in 1986. We went to the library and even bought some of JK’s books from the bookshop, which is much cheaper compared to the prices they are selling outside.
As we had some time to kill before Theosophical Society re-open, we went to a beach (haha! yes.) nearby. Apparently, Chennai has one of the widest beaches in the world – we had to walk almost 1km on sand to reach the sea. The weather was quiet mild and windy. We sat there on sand quietly watching the ocean and some kids playing by the seashore. Lunch at a cafe by the seaside was rather an indulgence that day as we had burgers with chips and some fancy soda drinks instead of our usual idlis, chapattis or shared thali meals with water.
From there, our driver took us back to Theosophical Society. Like JK’s centre, this is another place that can offer comfort and repose from the piercing noise of the outside world in Chennai. There is a pretty huge banyan tree located in the compound. We tried to have a look at the famous library but unfortunately, they only allowed members in. So we were only given access to view samples of some of their extensive collections from all around the world.
From Theosophical Society, for the last time in Chennai – we dropped by at the beach (seriously!) again for about 10 minutes to bid goodbye to the ocean. We then quickly rushed home, packed our luggage, freshened up and took our dinner before going off to the bus station to take a bus to Bangalore. This time not the jammed-packed bus but one of those nice air-conditioned sleeper buses. This journey took about 6 hours.
We reached chilly Bangalore at 6am. After freshen up we went to Lal Bagh, a well-known botanical garden in Bangalore. Had a pleasant walk around the garden and the weather was very lovely. We also went to ISCKON (Hare Krishna movement) but unfortunately it was closed for visitors that day. We visited some relatives here - had lunch at their place and a nice chat with an old uncle about religion and spirituality. He told us story about Kanyakumari, which lies at the meeting point of three bodies of water - the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Mannar and the Indian Ocean. We made a note to go there next time around.
After less than 24 hours at Bangalore – it is time to move again, this time to Hyderabad, the heart of the Indian Peninsular. We took a 13-hours long overnight train journey from Bangalore and reached Hyderabad at 5.30am. As adventurous as we are, we rushed – on a bike - to another train station, which is like 10 minutes away to bid goodbye to a friend who is leaving for Delhi. We only managed to spend like 15 minutes but it was well spent and she even invited us to come to Palampur, a hill station town in Himachal Pradesh, where she is now posted as an obstetrician. So we added another place on the list of places to go in India.
I stayed in Hyderabad for about 4 days and loved every bits of it. Previously, on many occasions, people always thought that I am from Hyderabad due to my last name so now being in this city and to feel belong was kind of surreal. As we were staying with family, we get to enjoyed warm home-cooked foods made with mother’s love everyday. She is a beautiful woman – outward and inward - such calm disposition and a happy face. The kids are gorgeous and I am missing them tremendously as I am writing this now.
We did many things in Hyderabad – going for a movie, walking in the rain, eating the best paneer tikka wrap I have ever tasted, seeing astrologers and devouring on a huge plate of world famous Hyderabadi briyani (though the one we had was not that yummy), but I wish we could have done more. I wish I could have stayed longer, if not forever – if it is ever possible for me to stay at one place forever. When I sit back reflecting on the trip now, images of passionately wonderful and totally unexpected moments played in my mind. It keeps my heart warm and coloured my cheeks, taking me to a completely new level of being. And I feel absolutely blessed. Truly filled.