Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy Pongal!

Too bad it's blurry, but hopefully you get the idea of this beauty.

Bus arms.

Hands-down, the cutest part of the bus ride :)

Yesterday marked the beginning of Pongal, a harvest festival celebrated throughout Southern India. Pongal is a three day festival that originated around 200 bc. The first day's celebrations are dedicated to Lord Indra, the storm god. The second day is dedicated to Lord Surya, the sun god, and the final day is dedicated to animals (in particular, cattle). Most businesses close for the first day of Pongal, so as such, I had work off yesterday. I had originally planned on spending the day visiting Tirupati, a famous temple complex a couple hours north of Chennai. Intimidated by the idea of unbearable crowds, though, I decided to head 60 km south from Chennai to Mahabalipuram.
The bus ride alone was an adventure in and of itself. I've quickly learned that waiting in a single-file line is not only overrated, but is a completely useless strategy to getting a seat on the bus. The motto seems to be "may the quickest, most agile, and most aggressive man win." I repeated this in my head as I climbed aboard the bus, pushing and being pushed by hoards of eager Indians, excited for their south-bound holiday excursion. Myself, along with 50 or so other people, were simply too late. All the seats were filled and the aisle of the bus was nearly packed as well. For the first 20 or so minutes of the journey I stood elbow to elbow between an old woman and my friend, Sabu. As luck would have it, though, I spotted an open "seat" just ahead of me. I spotted the gleaming yellow seat and made a mad dash for it. Finally! I situated myself comfortably on something that looked like a 30 lb. sack of potatoes. The bag of groceries proved to be quite a makeshift chair in the middle of the aisle.
After about two hours of travel (and getting to know my oh-so-close bus companions), I arrived in Mahabalipuram. The place, well known by locals and tourists alike, is famous for its 20 km stretch of beach and famous historical carvings. The entire afternoon was spent exploring caves, carvings, and temples. Most of the carvings date back to 700 AD, some even older. The beach was quite nice- much cleaner than any of the beaches in Chennai. I sampled my new-favorite snack from several different vendors- pineapple with masala! Basically, there are several fruit stalls that serve raw, cut-up fruit and vegetables (pineapple, mango, cucumber) that are sprinkled with a spicy, salty concoction. It's quite basic but delicious nonetheless!
I must admit it was quite nice to spend a day outside of the city center. I didn't realize how much I needed a break from the "urban thralls" of the city until I escaped from it all.
Enjoy the pictures!

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