They really are sensitive about the Nigeshwan temple. I stood outside when it was closed, in the public street, and was taking a photo when some guy came shouting about "no photos". I'm afraid I ignored him, took the pic, and walked off. If they don't want it photographed they should (a) not advertise its existence or (b) cover it with tarpaulins.
I had a meal at 13:00 at the ARR dining room. It was more like the Anglicised thali, with a round tray and lots of little pots. I actually had to ask for more rice. With a bottle of lemonade it came to Rs12. The only trouble with eating three meals a day is that I'm going through money faster. It was Rs60 a night at the Hotel T.N., here its half that, but its still another 100 rupees I've broken into. I also bought Rs20 worth of stamps for the final batch of postcards.
It would have been useful if L.P. had indicated the location of the railway station. I set off about 15:50 to find it. Had walked north-west and run out of town, didn't remember seeing it on my way in from the west, so decided to try east. Walked for half an hour with no sign of it, so turned south. Came to junction with sign for railway station. Continued south and found it.
Filled in reservation form, then clerk said no reservation was necessary, just get on the train, there were first class compartments available, I just hope he is right.
I'm in a double room with no toilet or wash basin at the moment. I am assured that the guy in room seven who is "out on business", will be vacating his room on his return, and I can then have a room "with a bath". I've paid Rs60 which is the rate for a room with a bath, I think I'm not going to get one, in which case I think I might go to Madras tomorrow instead. I was going to go to Dharasalam but I can't stand two days of ablutions in a shared cupboard. Of course its now 18:30 and the guy is leaving it a bit late for me to book in anywhere else. If he'd said "No" at 09:30 when I asked it would have saved all this hassle. Added to that they appear to have no standby power supply, so that when the power goes off (as it has done three times already today) the place is plunged into pitch darkness.
A French lady has just turned up at the room opposite. She claims to have seen me a few times, the last being in Tanjore!
20:20 Have just returned from Rs25 meal at ARR Hotel to find - no room with bath. The usual problem at ARR; "Do you want vegetarian?" "Yes please". I am then steered towards the vegetarian dining room. "No, I don't want a 'meal' I just want vegetarian food". Eventually I end up in air-conditioned restaurant. This is so gloomy I can't read the menu, which is a rather ancient carbon-copy glued to a bit of card. Finally I ask for vegetable fried rice. "Oh, that's only a side dish", "O.K. what do you have as a main dish?". "I can do vegetable masala". "That would be fine".
Then we come to the drinks "Fresh mango juice please". Sorry we don't have fruit juices, only bottled drinks, you can have bottled mango". "Very well, I'll have bottled mango".
The masala, with nan, was very good, but the Hoi Sin sauce was on the bitter side, which spoilt the fried rice, though the tomato sauce was as good as ever.
For sweet, I fancied fig and honey ice-cream. The waiter came up "Anything else?". "Yes please, fig and honey". He looks puzzled, I point to the menu "Fig and Honey". "But that's ice-cream!". "Very well, I'll have fig and honey ice-cream". "Sorry, no ice-cream, we've had so many power-cuts that its all spoilt".
After another offer of bottled juice I opt for a coffee. Of course its milk coffee, with a quarter of an inch of sugar in the bottom. Still a quid for a meal can't be all that bad.
The "boys" in the hotel, after chasing up and down the hall, have been to ask if I want any dhobi doing. I say not.
I've been trying to work out how the rickshaw-wallahs make the very distinctive clattering noise that is their way of making their presence known. It is operated by a piece of string running from the front handlebars to beneath the saddle, but I cannot work out to what it is attached.
I wandered into a temple today by mistake. I went down a narrow covered lane of stalls, and suddenly found the last one was that of a shoe minder. I handed in my chappals and wandered round, some quite good paintings in there, and a big "No photos" sign.
I've just seen how many mosquitoes are queued-up under the fluorescent light fitting. I think its another net job tonight.
I hate to admit it, but I think I've got a cold. My nose has been running like a tap all day, and I think the cough, which seems to be affected by everything from air conditioning to dust, seems little better. I think a lot of the problems is the transitions, from getting hot walking, to freezing draughts on buses, to blazing sun, to relaxing under fan in room, to blazing sun, to cool evening, to air conditioned restaurant and so on. Its like taking dozens of saunas a day!
At 21:00 I decided to put down my hand with a firm foot or something, went downstairs and said "O.K. where's this room?". He muttered something in gibberish to his mate. "Come down now", he said. I said "if you haven't got a room with a bath I'm going somewhere else", thinking of the ARR. It ended up with the little man from room "C" swapping with me. Of course, its on the ground floor, so more mozzies, and noisier, but it does have a loo and a tap. Have now had a wash and feel much better. When the water has cooked I shall clean my teeth and see if I can get to sleep. If its too bad I shall go to ARR anyway. The guy said "Why do you want a room with a bath?", to which I replied "Because that's what I've paid for". I've the feeling it is going to be very noisy. I'm feeling that's my own fault and I ought not to. I can hear Gwen telling me off.
14/02/89 07:00 Happy Valentine's Day everybody. Was woken up at 06:30 by (a) temple bell, (b) cleaners, (c) guy in next room filling his bucket. Will try for coffee and omelette now.
No success with omelette, decided to walk to Dharasalam. Really enjoyed the walk. Had coffee on the way at a roadside stall. Temple really worth seeing, lots of small detail as well as overall impressiveness. The temples run by the Archaeological Department are so much better to go round than the 'privatised' ones. No charge to go in, photograph whatever you want, don't even have to pay the shoeminder. Unfortunately my insides started giving little twinges, so I decided to return to base rather than wander round the town looking for silk, which was my original intention. Took about an hour to saunter the 4Km to Dharasalam, left Kumbakonam at 07:00, an hour and a quarter looking round temple and an hour back. It is now 10:20, I've just had a coffee and am trying to decide whether to go to Gangakondacholapuram.
Went to bus station around 10:45. Tried to find bus to Gangakcp. Finally found a man with a whistle in a little hut labelled "Can I help you?". I showed him Gangakcp in the guide book, as I wasn't going to try and pronounce it. He appeared not to know of it, but to give him his due, he did go and ask, and eventually decided on a bus. I climbed aboard and sat down, "Ganga...." I attempted. "11:45" wrote the conductor on a piece of paper. I looked at my watch; 11:30, "Next bus?" I asked intelligently, "Next bus" he replied. I went back to my little man in his hut. "He says 'Next bus'" I reported. "Sit down", said the little man, and went off to investigate.
Kumbakonam bus station is infested with more flies and beggars than anywhere I've been since Bombay, but I did munch my way through half a dozen bananas for Rs1.50. Finally I found the right bus. "Sit down" said the conductor, indicating a seat on the right, usually the ladies side. I sat.
Halfway through the trip, which cost Rs2.80 some women got on. Two other males had meanwhile sat down next to me, and three in front. The males were unceremoniously chucked out of the women's seats. "Me next", I thought.
Then more women got on. They glared at me, they shouted at the conductor. I don't understand much of the language, but his tone of voice seemed to convey something like "I put him there, this is my bus and if you don't like it you can walk". One of the women then appeared to reply "I'll report you to your boss" and at the next stop they all filed off. I might have got it completely wrong of course, but that's what it sounded like, perhaps I'm just naturally paranoid.
Later at a large sluice across the river a bus and a lorry had collided. I'm amazed it doesn't happen more often. No one appeared to be injured, but the tail-back was tremendous.
I'm now at Gangakcp waiting for the temple to open at 16:00. I've just been admired by a family who, being unable to get into the main temple, carried out their devotions in one of the side temples scattered around the grounds.
Its pleasant to see a bit of colour in the grounds, they're making a real effort to grow flowers, even banana trees, and there is a little animist shrine at one side, I've seen them in the fields, but its the first I've seen close to.
Once again its an archaeological department site, they seem to put much more effort into these things.
They're now asking me how much my wedding ring is worth and if its real gold, 'they' being the two archaeology department chaps on the gate, whose bench I've purloined to sit out some of the next two hours, as I daren't really wander round in the sun much more.
Esmerelda, my teddy bear has come with me to the temple, she got a little bored with rooms, buses and trains, so she had a look Nandi's bull and I think she's decided hotel rooms are safer!
Just as I was deciding whether or not to come to Gangakcp the light went out again and that decided me. However on the way back from Dharasalam I noticed that the scaffolders were at work on some of the temple carts. I decided that the rate the Indians work, it was probably for Friday or Saturday, both good days for prayer. As our bus left the bus stand we passed a temple procession, complete with deity on in silver chariot, drums and whistles, and further down the road we passed a wooden horse and bull in a cage on another cart. Their animals are highly painted, something in the style of horses on fairground rides, but unfortunately they are usually in "No photos" temples.
I finally got into the temple at 16:00. All the archaeological survey staff disappeared at ten to four, and I wasn't going to leave my trainers unattended by the gate, so clutching them in my sticky little mitt I wandered up to the main door of the temple. The priest looked disdainfully at my shoes. "Shoes outside, you inside", he ordered. I said "There is no shoe minder". "Put them there" he pointed. I did, and went in. A large pillared hallway, very gloomy. "Can I help" asked the priest. "can you show me round?" I enquired. "Sorry, the electricity is off and we have no light" he replied. Total time in temple; 10 minutes, though I enjoyed the two hour wait in the shade, with a cool breeze blowing.
I had a tea at the chai stand, then asked about buses in the post office, as I had found in most of them the staff speak English. "Any minute" I was told. Sure enough before 16:30 I was on the bus.
I have solved the problem of the rickshaw wallahs. Under the rear fork of the cycle-rickshaw is a sort of Hi-hat cymbal operated by the aforementioned string.
Another cup of chai at stand opposite hotel, then enter to find, guess what, another power-cut. Am writing this by candle-light - they look like birthday-cake candles to me. Sue's torch was very useful and impressed the natives.
I wanted to write about how I felt, 'cos on the bus coming back I realised that I was feeling not unhappy. In fact I was quite proud of myself for having walked to Dharasalam this morning and found the bus each way to Gangakcp. But then we went through a grove of coconut trees with the sun filtering through the leaves, and it made me think of forests in England (terrible puns about pining leap to mind) I thought about camping with the scouts, and the story about picking up the pine tree single-handed. Then I got onto "What is the meaning of life?" and "Why am I here" and "Have I done all that I'm going to?". Although I didn't feel depressed, I felt I needed some goal or sense of purpose. I don't just want to grow old and die, I want to have done something for somebody else that will survive after me, perhaps I should endow an orphanage or something (or the way the Tories are going, open a workhouse!). End of philosophising session, I shall have to get out of here before my eyes go funny.
Thought I might walk round for an hour before dinner but didn't quite make it. Now 18:55, power is back on, and I'm going to eat in a few minutes. The mozzies are queuing up in here to have a go at me.
They are lousy shopkeepers here in Kumbakonam, twice I peered intently into (open fronted), shops selling silks or saris, and twice they stared back. In any other city they'd be out like a shot trying to sell something, which for once was what I wanted.
I also found a fruit and veg market, lit by kerosene flares so too dark to take photographs, sods law I suppose. The smell of fresh veg took me back to the days when I used to go to his allotment with my Grandfather. As a biologist I know why a smell has such a direct effect on memories, but it is a very emotional effect. I wish we had enough land to grow vegetables, I suppose we get into the "I wonder how I.T. will go at work, will I have a job next year?" syndrome. Gwen of course, would say "Get on and do it, and then sort out your job". If I was going to do that I'd retire to Wales or somewhere, Greece/South of France, nowhere this hot and dry, and try to be self-sufficient, but then everybody else wants to do that as well. I could run a self-catering rest-home for tired psychologists I suppose, but then logistically Hebden Bridge would be a good place for that.
Just watched the boy getting more drinking water for me. It appears to be filtered, but not boiled, so the Sterotabs were a good idea.
I forgot, having changed notebooks, to transfer notes on the book and tapes I'm trying to buy. Saw a bookshop today but couldn't remember title of book, so shall do it now.
15/02/89 07:45 Have just arrived at Kumbakonam railway station, having walked from the town, I'm glad it was no further. Am now in upper class waiting room, hate to think what lower class one is like. A family have taken over half of it and are drying saris by spreading them out over all the chairs and putting the fan on full.
Last night, on my way to eat, I again passed the textile co-operative shop. I decided to go in and ask about buying material. Although they are handloom weavers, they only weave plain cloth, which is then printed by others, then retailed or wholesaled (if that's a word) by them. I met the all-India champion hand-printer or something, he was into painting in vegetable dyes and then fixing the finished product in buffalo milk. He got the idea that I wanted to take samples with me and was all set to take me out to his studio 10 Km away. If I'd had more time I would probably have gone with him, but it was half-past seven by then and I hadn't eaten all day, besides which I didn't fancy carrying a swatch of samples, as well as pot cat and everything else.
More notes. Ladies carriages on trains. Ladies sides on buses. Ladies waiting rooms on bus stands and stations. (Even a second class ladies waiting room!). But women will always move aside for men, and there are no women priests.
There seems to be a lack of the Western convention that, when walking towards someone in the street, you move in the direction of your gaze. When there are empty seats in the waiting room, Indians will sit right next to you, even if they don't want to converse with you. On the bus yesterday, I was sitting on a seat for three, with two other people. When the guy at the far end got off, the chap next to me did not spread out, but stayed pressed up against me, you'd get worried about that sort of thing in the west, though it probably made rounding the corners considerably safer for both of us.
08;45 Just been for a coffee. Rs1 on this station. It was Rs0.75 opposite the hotel.
Another trick when kids hold up one finger and shout "One pen" is to hold up two fingers and shout "Two pens". However, having brought some pens to give away, I now say, "Do you speak any more English?". If they look puzzled and move off, they don't get a pen, but if they try other English at me then they would get a pen. "Hello" seems to be not so much a greeting as "Let me see if this word I know will have any effect on this tourist". Once you look round to see who has spoken you have produced the desired effect and no further communication ensues, they even try to avoid eye-contact.
Yesterday, on my way to Gangawhotsit, I saw an encampment of people living in, or rather under, hemispherical wicker baskets about 2 metres across. They make these by splitting bamboo lengthways with a machete to make strips, and we're talking big bamboo here, 3cm in diameter, then weaving the strips into baskets. They prop them open with sticks during the day, looking like giant clam shells, then drop them down at night.
11:10 Have just crossed Colroon river. That's where the big barrage is where the lorry hit the bus yesterday, so a one hour bus journey has taken the train one and a half hours. The guy sitting opposite me (a Brahmin) has told me he was a freedom fighter against the British. He's now at the stage where he's going round visiting all the temples. He has a free rail pass which he showed me. Another chap joined us later, he also seems to know all the officials at every station. I begin to wonder if I'm the only person paying in the 1st class.
My nose is either running like a tap or bunged up. At least I can't smell the awful stink at the stations, but my mouth has gone very dry. The scenery here is sugar cane, bananas or coconuts, mile after mile of them.
20:50 Have arrived at Broadlands. Am living in a cross between a summer-house and a garage. From the front door you go through three leafy courtyards, up a flight of stairs and along a balcony. Mine is the last room. It has a kind of French feel to it somehow, about seven feet square with wooden slatted doors on two walls, the entrance having a rather attractive fanlight above it, and the whole tastefully decorated in wedgewood blue. I have yet to find out if there is a bathroom, when I asked I was pointed at the latrine. Still its only 35 rupees a night, I'll clean my teeth in a glass for that!
When I got to Egmore station I ran the usual gamut of taxi drivers and their touts. They asked where I was going and I said "Broadlands", and they said "Yes, know it well". I said "How much?" and they said "Twenty rupees". I said "Get stuffed" and walked off. That brought it down to 16 rupees, which still seemed a lot. I then walked over the bridge to the ticket barrier to be met by the cycle-rickshaw set. Again "How much?". "Seven rupees", "No, too much". "Six rupees?", "No I'll get an auto". I walk out into the main road, an Indian city, and not an auto in sight. "How much you pay then?", the most persistent of them has followed me out. "Five rupees, not any more". "Six?" he tries, "No, five". We settle for five.
The poor little sod didn't half work hard, a set of gears on his bike would have been a great help. At one stage he stopped dead and ran back because he had seen a coin in the road. At the slightest rise he had to get off and push. At roundabouts we went the wrong way to cut off the corner. We got stuck in a hole in the road and I had to rock the thing to help him get it out. Finally we arrived at Broadlands. Luckily I had a 5 rupee note. "There you are, thank you very much". "But what about ..... ". "We agreed five rupees, there you are". If it hadn't been such hard bargaining in the first place I would have given him a tip, but I can be stubborn when I want to be.
Broadlands was full. I said "Haven't you got one single room?". Just then a guy walked in. "Hey " said the manager "What time are you leaving?". "Eight thirty" replied the guy. "We'll have a room for you at nine" said the manager. "Can I leave my bags here?" I asked. "Yes, over there" he replied, so I grabbed L.P. and went for a look round the shops.
Madras is hot, as L.P. says, they named a curry after it. I had a splitting headache, I think from sitting on a draughty train all day. I don't like lying down on the train because the goings on outside are so interesting, women planting rice in paddy fields, people drawing water with two oxen and a leather sack. Its too hot with the window closed, so you end up sitting in a draught. The train was late, of course, they're improving the line, I think they may be making it broad gauge, they are certainly electrifying it. Some of the bridges are very long, presumably across rivers which in the monsoon drain half the country but which now are barely a trickle.
This is one of those rooms where the fan either freezes you or you put it off and boil.
Anyway I had a walk round the shops. The Pompadour shop, although bigger, has more big things in it, if you were setting up a shop like Kay's in Sheffield that's where you would go. Unfortunately I was relying on them to buy the things I didn't get in Tanjore, and they didn't seem to have any.
I found a Kashmir state shop which had some wonderful rugs and bedspreads. I bought some sari lengths in Pompadour and asked about their bedspreads and they told me about an Andhra Pradesh shop further down Mount Road near the flyover so I may have a look there tomorrow. I went in the Kerala state shop and bought a sandalwood carving, they weren't as good as the ones in Ooty, but I won't have to carry it as far, and they wrapped it very well for me.
I still haven't found any postcards, but have decided that tomorrow will be a shopping and wandering day. I could have gone to see the shore temples at Mahalipurnam but really can't be bothered. I had a good thali for dinner, cost me 30 rupees including a glass of frothy pineapple.
Ah, there is a 'bathroom' at the end of the loo block!
This bloody fan is bringing my headache on. My mosquito net has jammed the zip on my bag, which has now broken. I think its time to go to bed and see what tomorrow brings.
16/03/89 07:45 Woken by muezzin at dawn. A mozzie managed to get inside my net last night, and I seemed to be coughing a lot. My voice is very gruff. Boy brought a flask of coffee, said it was five hundred and fifty. I gave him five rupees and he seemed quite happy - something odd there. I'm very hot, I don't know if its (a) Madras, (b) I'm ill, or (c) something else.
A little man claiming to be a barber has just been round offering to shave me, cut my hair, moustache and massage!
08:20 Feel a lot better for a wash and shave (self administered). I wish I could wash my hair, but can't face doing it with cold water in a bucket. I forgot to clean my teeth of course!
14:30 Broadlands must be O.K. they have pussy cats running round. I set off this morning to find the Andhra Pradesh Cottage Industries place. Arrived at 09:30, it opened at 10:00. Found a chai stand, only 50 paise for tea. I selected what I wanted at the A.P. shop when it opened, then found they wouldn't take American Express, Visa or anything. I asked about traveller's cheques and they only offered me 20 rupees to the pound. I ended up walking out. I went to a couple more places including the Kashmiri shop, but nothing as nice as the A.P. place, so, having had lunch (vegetable noodles, lassi and coffee, 11 rupees) and some more cold drinks I arrived back at Broadlands at about 12:45. "Where can I change traveller's cheques" I asked. "Bank of India on Mount Road, before two o'clock" I was told. So back to Mount Road.
Now Anna Salai, or Mount Road, is a dual carriageway with a fence down the middle and crossings about every 400 yards. I could see the Bank of India, but had to walk right round to get to it. I arrived about 13:15. I asked in the banking hall about changing traveller's cheques. "Go outside, and up to the third floor". As I left I noticed the bank guard casually nursing a shot-gun. Upstairs I filled in the appropriate forms, waited the requisite twenty minutes whilst the guy shuffled the papers on his desk. His favourite ploy was to select a bunch of papers, place them carefully in a ledger, close it, then pull them out one by one and file them onto various heaps all over the desk. When sufficient time had passed his (female) assistant asked me to fill in another form. Finally he said "Follow me". We went downstairs to the bank. I was given a token with a hole in it like a silver dollar. I took this to the cashier and he gave me real money. In all it only took about half an hour, which I understand is not bad really. Must remember to cross off the cheque from my security list.
Went in a music shop this morning, guy was quite helpful, hadn't got the tape I wanted but suggested a shop that might have, and did. A tape was 37 rupees so I got two, one at the proprietor's recommendation.
My nose is still running like a tap, still better that end than the other. Just seems stupid being somewhere like India and having a cold.
Its very pleasant sitting here with a light breeze stirring the leaves of the Ash tree in the courtyard, the sun casting patterns on the floor of the room, drying hankies fluttering in the breeze. This is what hotels should be like, not gloomy cells that you have to close off to keep out the sun.
Seem to be spending money like water, mind even that is 12 rupees a bottle. I'm back on mineral water so if my insides start up again I shall know what to blame. After the bank I had a very nice chocolate ice cream and a vanilla milkshake in a freezing cold ice-cream parlour.
The cherries and grapes look delicious, but I'm told they're all sprayed with insecticide, and the stallholders splash water on them to keep them fresh and heaven knows where they get that from. I even saw gooseberries the other day, mmm gooseberry fool, now there's a pleasant thought.
I went in Higinbothams bookshop to look for book on Women and Ecology, it was a very big shop, but as disorganised as everything else in India. They didn't seem to have any sort of catalogue or stock list, nobody knew what they did or did not stock. Bought some postcards anyway, I must get them in the post today, I shall write them now.
I've done cards for all my friends, I'm sure to have forgotten somebody but I can always show them the photographs. I'm taking home some cards of things that either I didn't get to, photography wasn't allowed, or professional photographers can do more ably than can I.
13:50 Little man has just been to offer me "evening tea". This is all too civilised, it will be cucumber sandwiches next, with their crusts cut off!
19:20 There are times when it all gets a bit much, and now is one of them. At ten to four I walked back down Mount Road to get the stuff from the Andhra Pradesh place. I called in at a couple of other shops on the way to get little presents for people. In one I saw a bottle of "Coconut Oil Jaggery". I haven't a clue what it is, you obviously consume it, and like an idiot I bought it, only realising later that it was yet another fragile/liquid item that will have to go in the cabin baggage with me.
Walking back up Mount Road I got very hot and tired and realised that the few items I had bought weigh a ton - on top of my already heavy bag - and I still don't know if the zip on my brown bag will hold out (I might try a repair job on that in a minute).
I have to pack tonight, leaving things ready to throw in tomorrow morning with the things I'll need on the train near the top - guy reckons 10 to 15 minutes to Central by scooter. In the hotel on Saturday I have to re-organize hand and hold baggage, which should be fun.
I forgot to put my sunscreen on today - my cheeks feel very ruddy, but don't look too bad yet, it would be just my luck to be peeling when I arrive home.
Looking at the composition of this jaggery its 72% sucrose so its going to be very sweet. Oh well, anything is worth a try.
Temperature is still over 80, according to the big thermometer by the office. This place is certainly well organised, the noticeboard has all the horror stories about people who've been conned, duped, swindled etc., and descriptions of the person playing the tricks. A guy tagged himself on to me today, asking if I knew that Ravi Shankar was performing today, which is evidently a common ploy. I said I'd seen Shankar in Edinburgh in 1973, and that put paid to him.
I've just been to wash my feet and brush my teeth, I've about had enough of trailing downstairs for every little thing. There are two loos, two 'showers' and a lone washbasin which is out in the open, and they serve about 18 rooms and a four person 'dorm', mind you we haven't had too many queues yet.
Indians can't make paper bags, all bar one have dropped to bits, mind it might be my own fault for being hot and sweaty, it certainly doesn't help. I've taken things out of their bags, they still weigh a ton but they should pack more easily.
Feel quite pleased with myself, have just done zip repair using Swiss army knife, its one tooth out when it gets to the far end, but I'm not going to redo it for that. Now to try packing!
Content copyright Jon Rouse 1997