Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mamallapuram Update

Mamallapuram (which is as much of a mouthful to say as it appears) is a tiny beach resort town where we're literally and figuratively getting our feet wet in India. As introductions go, it's definitely memorable.

Andy and I debated on how to describe all that we're seeing, smelling, tasting and experiencing....it's unlike anything our Western eyes have seen before and there's both beauty and sadness in every gaze. We're absorbing it all one day at a time, processing the polarities and trying not to get caught up on the surface experiences as there's so much that lies beneathe.

The colors are incredible! All of the women wear traditional saris in hues of violet, magenta, vermilion, canary, chartreuse, and many more. All are shot with gold and silver thread in decorative motifs. (you can see a couple of women in photos in our photo gallery) Bright textiles hang from every corner shop and fruit stands abound with pineapples, oranges, mangoes, bananas, guava and other exotic fruits not even found at Whole Foods.

And yet, the poverty, filth and primitivity are incredible too. Garbage is strewn about, and mud and grit stick to everything..including our flip-flopped feed and the Indians' bare feet. People haul buckets of water on their head and weave palm fronds into hut roofs. Ambient lighting is non-existent and entire families of five squish onto one rickety motor scooter for a ride to town. You forget how much you take for granted in our every day life: clean water, omnipresent restrooms, cars, city systems that "just work", paved roads and more. But, that's India from our perspective of plenty.

The Hindu religion dominates this area and we see the incons of multi-armed goddesses and elephant gods at every turn. It's so amazing and cool they have such a unifying force in this chaotic country.

Most people here are just living their lives -- and trying to make a living off those of us who come to explore. We've awakened each day in Mamallapuram to the sound of chisels hitting upon stone sculptures in the rough, free-range (in a different sense) cows mooing and frantic horn honks from scooters, buses, mopeds, motorcycles, cars and buses going every which way. There are lots of sculptors and lots of shopkeepers seeling their wares who beckon us at every step to come in and look around, plus "businessmen" who run restaurants, internet cafes, guest houses and more. Save for the visions of color the women make in the street, the women are mostly invisible; they're busy shopping at the market stalls, cleaning off porches and rooms, minding children, cooking rice in giant silver pots or hiding shyly behind laundry pretending not to catch our eyes as we walk by smiling.

Our hearts are getting a little hardened from saying a constant "no" to that, not to mention the others who follow and try to sell you on the street, but they're just trying to capitalize on the little bits of prosperity that rolled into town. And I'm trying to remember just how petite and heavy my backpack is...for now. ; )


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