April 19 & 20-The Missing Weekend

Sorry I haven’t written in about a week, this entry will be extra long, in fact, I’ll probably break it out into 2 entries, one for last weekend (April 19 & 20) and one for this weekend (April 26 & 27).

So here’s what happened last weekend. Saturday, was quiet, as most of our Saturdays are. If given different circumstances, most of us, since we arrive home around 4:30 am, would probably choose to sleep until at least 3:00pm, and that would be getting up early. Luckily, being in a whole new country tends to give a new perception on just how much sleep a body can survive on. So around 2:00 (I know it still sounds late, but don’t forget that includes shower and prep time) we headed out to a music store. Tony had initially not been feeling well, but as soon as he had a guitar in his hand I told him it looked like his heart light had returned. Man I miss the Care Bears sometime, but not those weird Care Bear Cousins. The Cousins remind me of the initial phase of animal cloning, but anyway.

The music shop we ended up at was small and local and had a really beautiful selection of not just guitars but mandolins, sitars, and native drums. I was really tempted to buy something, but I couldn’t figure out if it was because I really wanted it, or just because I hadn’t spent money frivolously in a while. I decided it safest to keep my credit card in my wallet. Besides, it would be WAY too difficult to bring a sitar home, despite how absolutely beautiful they all were. They did have some miniature sitars that were strictly for decorative purposes, so if we go back, perhaps I’ll give in to my capitalistic urges then. The music store was named Musee Music.

After the music store, we headed out to Marina Beach. My guidebooks say this is a “can’t miss” beach and when Lonely Planet speaks, I listen. It’s one of the longest beaches in the world and it indeed didn’t disappoint. The beaches here are different than the way we think about them in the states. Normally, at the beach there are all sorts of swimmers and lifeguards and nautical sports going on. The beaches in India are much more similar to parks. There are people selling ice creams and all sorts of handicrafts and no one is swimming, no one at all, though I don’t really blame them considering the riptides and undercurrents are supposed to be extremely strong. Strong enough that, if you’re going into the water past like you’re knees, you’ll get carried away. I figured I would just stand as far from the waves as possible. Marina Beach is home to most of the fisherman in Chennai and we drove through their small village area, where all of their boats were on the sand in front of their huts. It was kind of like a parking garage but for boats.

Past Marina Beach, we headed to Eliot’s Beach, notably more upscale than Marina. A much younger, hipper crowd frequents this spot, and apparently at night things get crazy on the beach. We didn’t stay long enough for that, considering that we were all starting to go a little delusional from the heat and lack of sleep, although another date shake cleared up the heat factor quite quickly, for me.

Sunday was dedicated completely to Pondicherry, the former French colony and now-union-state that’s about 2 hours away. On the road to Pondicherry, we passed salt fields. It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve actually never stopped to think about where salt comes from, I’ve always just taken it for granted that it was there on the table of every restaurant, or in the cabinet when you need it at home. We passed fields where there were, what I can only describe as thousands of individual pools of salt water and when the sun had basically evaporated the water, people would rake the salt into neat piles. It was pretty amazing.

Before we got to Pondicherry, we were lucky enough to be able to witness a Hindu ceremony celebrating the full moon. As soon as I found out that it was a full moon, suddenly everything made sense. We were at the ceremony for a couple of hours, in the family temple of one of the boys in our training class. His uncle is the priest and presided over the whole celebration, and there were these beautiful rituals performed in which offerings were made to the gods in the form of a feast burned, and then the god of the temple is dressed with flowers. It was something I can pretty much say that, up until about 6 weeks ago, I never thought I would be lucky enough to see, so yeah, it was awesome.

Once in Pondicherry, we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the beach. Pondicherry’s streets are very different from those in Chennai, they look much more European with cobbled stones and apartment buildings and houses, and lots of trees. After lunch we went to an ashram, a well known religious site, founded by a woman only known as “The Mother” who is buried there. People go and kneel at her tomb and meditate in front of it. I have to say it was a very spiritual place, and people of all religions revere “The Mother’s” teachings, so it’s a real pilgrimage site.

On the way out of Pondicherry, we took a forest road into an area known as Auroville, which looks exactly like some place out of someone’s imagination. You travel along a dirt road, and there are tourists on motorbike traveling under the canopy of the forest and then in the middle of all this, there’s a giant golden circle, which is a meditation hall. Although we couldn’t get in, it looked amazing and absolutely peaceful. I mean how often are you literally in the middle of nowhere?



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