We are in a town called Mayiladuthurai tonight. There are so many towns with a similar, unpronounceable names here in Tamil Nadu, India. On the average map of India this town would not show up. We are in the best hotel in the town and everyone is miserable in our group as it smells of something toxic, bug spray/ moth balls/ mold? Our tour leaders begged our understanding 4 times before- hand as they knew the hotel was sub par for Westerners, but we had to stay here to be close to the Mars temple and the Nadi Astrologers….
Anyway, it is quite comical. We just left KumbaKorum which is a small town in the center of many temples. We stayed at a place called the “Paradise Resort” and it was a bit of Paradise. Perhpas how it feels to be in Indonesia. The grounds were lush, the rooms big with heavy wood doors and furniture. Big bathrooms with Western toilets and bathtubs and a swimming pool we all felt safe enough to swim in….the staff was wonderful there and our movement from there to what we jokingly called the “heartbreak hotel” was jarring.
Anyway, you can’t really expect to be comfortable in India can you????? We in truth have been, but then you are only a few steps always from the other side of this coin. Tonight my room-mate and I laugh hysterically as I have stepped in some kind of waste while walking the streets, this is highly probably/practically unavoidable in almost any walk, and now must figure out what to do about the matter. The waste could be cow dung, dog poop, goat poop, or human origins- we just don’t know. And we are adverse to start cleaning it off. We don’t have a brush or a proper drain and don’t want to spread it in our bathroom. I will leave you in suspense as to what we do, but tell the story to let you know what it is like to walk the streets. It is as you may have been told- but until you experience it, unbelievable- cows walking around, people walking some with shoes and some barefooted, people riding bikes and scooters and motorcycles, goats, dogs roaming, cars, auto-rickshaws, buses. Homing, honking, and honking. There are traffic police at certain intersections but I have noticed no street lights or signs that anyone seems to adhere to. The traffic police sit in the center and sip chai, directing nothing that I can see? Lots of little shops and fruit/flowers/vegetable venders along the way….
In this town we are all stared at with amazement as there are not many tourists that come here. We stare at them and they stare at us. We smile and wave to break the surreal nature of the two way gaze. Last night, after we arrive, my roommate and I ask the hotel for an electronic shop as I need new camera batteries. Two young men from the hotel become our guides through the town in search of not so common lithium batteries. “Johnson” and “Jaffe”- they are dressed western style. Many young men are but not young women of course- they all wear saris or “salwarz/Kameez” (long shirts with matching pants and scarves). Our guides take us to no less than 20 electronic shops- they make calls, the shop keepers keep referring us to another place, in the end nothing but lots of people who get the amusement of seeing us come around. As a result of our fruitless foray, our guides have shown us the whole town, we have met their brothers and friends, seen the bus station and the local markets where people really shop, and been given a farewell gift which is a plaque with a line of Christian scripture- they do not think we are Christian, in fact they are.
I have met 3 Christians in India so far, a very different thing than ours it seems, interesting for sure.
All this talk and nothing about the temples, the pujas, the Nadi (palm leaf) astrologers….that will have to wait I guess as I am off to sleep. Let me simply say that they call this town “Mars town” in the western astrology world because of the large,Mars temple here. We went and visited Ganesha first there, a live elephant who bleesed our heads, then various other dieties, including Shiva in the form of “doctor”, Dhanvantari the sage who gave us Ayurveda, Parvati whose staure was over 1000 years old, and various aspects of Mars called “Mangala” and other names as well. These temples are 1000′s of years old and still very active. We had a small, speedy priest rush us around. In the end we go through the official routes of the office to give money for daily feeding the poor and personal pujas people may want for the year to propitiate or strengthen Mars energy in their charts. This is all very established, this way of giving. The highlight of our office visit today was the Barak Obama collection we did which gave us enough money to procure 4 years worth of pujas for him and to offer “Annadhana” feeding to the poor in the temple area on his inauguration day. I don’t know where we had them send the ash from those pujas (they will ordinarily send them to your home) we assume it would never make it past his security detail.
As they say in Tamil, the language here in south India, Vanakum (Hello/Goodbye)