Friday, June 17

opening my eyes to chennai

After a refreshing one hour nap/sleep, I woke up at 6 a.m., ready to begin my day. A colleague of my dad's who lives in Chennai and is coincidentally moving to Los Colina, Texas (just 15 minutes from Colleyville, where I grew up) in two weeks, his name is Rajkumar, offered to give me the grand tour of the city of Chennai. First of all, thank god, because I'm not sure how keen I was on taking another cab alone. And second, how incredibly kind, seeing as how neither my father nor I had ever met the guy. But because we had 'mutual friends,' there were no questions asked, I would be given the tour of a lifetime! We started the morning early and headed 40 minutes outside of Chennai to a town called Mamallapuram, famous for its ancient rock cut caves and shrines/temples in the making. On the way, we stopped on the side of the road for some coconut water. It's funny because those little juice boxes of coconut water are sold at Whole Foods and are not only expensive but seem to be almost trendy these days. But this was more than authentic. The woman merely took a coconut, right off the tree, hacked off the top and put a straw in for me. Talk about fresh! When I was finished, she took the coconut from me and carved out some of the coconut meat, snack time! Rajkumar explained to me that the coconut water would help me with the heat and the bumpy drive we were in the middle of.
When we got to Mamallapuram, we went on a small rock climbing adventure in order to view some of the temples. The temples, which are now ruins, were created and detailed by hand out of a single, gigantic rock using only water and wood. The carvings told stories about the Hindi gods and depicted some of the famous conflicts that had occurred. After seeing about six temples, we headed to the beach, the Bay of Bengal. Although an overcast day, the water looked warm and the natives seemed to be enjoying its vistas (fun to see the beach, but don't worry it has nothing on San Diego).
In front of Dharmaraja Ratha (one of the structures), posing with King Narasimha, the patron of the entire area. The name of the town, Mamallapuram, is named for his title, Mamalla.

Next we departed to Dakshina Chitra, a non-profit service project dedicated to preserving the cultures of the people in India. There, I was able to see some of the traditional crafts (FAVE!) and learn a little about the different states and topography in India, Tamil Nadu (the state I'm in) in particular. There, I got mehndi (henna) on one of my hands, obviously the first step in trying to fit in India and one of my all-time favorite things.
Now, it's almost a dark brown color! How detailed is that? If you look carefully on my wrist, you can see a peacock that the woman drew within the other swirls and such. Peacocks seem to be a popular thing around here since it's one of the national birds of the country.

After this, we went to the home of another one of my dad's coworkers where I got to meet one of the most precious children ever (I'm not quite sure how to spell their names, and I'm definitely not going to guess, so I'll update that later). From there, I had my first real Indian meal! Although still brutally jet-lagged and definitely too tired to function, I have to say I enjoyed the samba the best (it's spicy, kind of like masala, I think?) The coconut milk dish was my least favorite and picture below with some "Indian donuts."
Not my fave, but I had to document the FIRST supper.

At the end of the meal, everyone is given a little dish of saunf, which are the Indian version of mints, but more like a little herb coated in a mint-like substance. This is to help with digestion and to cleanse the palate.

(Yes, people were looking at my funny when I was taking pictures of the food. But they were looking at me funny since the moment I stepped off the plane, so I didn't really have a lot to lose! Indians in Chennai seem to be fascinated with me, as an American. And it's strange, even though I was only here for 48 hours, I probably only saw two other Westerners the entire time!!)

Also, as a side note, I really like how, so far, it seems that everything in India has a purpose, or a job. Like the saunf, to help with digestion, the henna, to cool the body and the coconut water, to cool the body as well and help with nausea and jet-lag. I like knowing the meaning and history behind all of these traditions so it was really fun to have such great tour guides who were not only natives but so passionate and proud of their hometown and could perfectly explain everything to me.
After the long day filled with history and fun, Rajkumar took me home in an auto rickshaw, which are all over the city and basically nugget cars that can more easily weave through traffic, scare the crap out of you and get you to your destination quicker. I LOVED IT!

In just an hour, I will be heading four hours outside of Chennai to my new home. I'm so so SOOO excited to see my new home and meet everyone! I'll write again soon!

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