Second World Heritage site of the day was Mahabalipuram, another Pallavan treasure, this time on the coast south of Chennai. Once again, we had no idea what to expect, but enjoyed seeing daily life along the way.
This port of call has been much discussed here on board ship, where the pale coloured carpets have needed protection from the sooty air and tarry residues brought in on the soles of our shoes. Chennai, like much of India, lacks a great deal in terms of what we in the privileged part of the world have come to take for granted, and I think it is a good thing to be reminded of how fortunate we are to be able to travel and see these things in a great deal of comfort.
During this afternoon’s journey, we were able to see the rice harvest above. As we passed by in the comfort of an air conditioned vehicle, we watched men and women labour in the stifling temperatures, bringing in the harvest to make a meagre living.
It was from this same privileged position that I could observe the brickmakers, making what they could from this clay soil, working hard in what would, by our standards, be unsatisfactory conditions in every way.
These sellers of tyres, a vital part of this economy, must scrape by on what little they can make from selling part used goods. For sure, it’s not the stuff that tourists want to see but I think it’s right to recognise that not everyone lives as we do; that a great deal of the world’s population exist in a totally different and in altogether less palatable conditions than we do, too.
Passing through this small community during the mid afternoon, I wondered what the “National Hair Style” could be? Answers please!
Whilst I’m working that one out, have a look at another national monument, this time the rock which defies gravity and balances on a pivot. Families were visiting this park and invitations to try to push the rock over the edge gladly taken, but clearly unsuccessful so far.
Just along the way lay the wondrous stone carving of the Pallavan dynasty, here at Mahabalipuram. We stood for a while in the company of many local people, admiring the fine craftsmanship of this marvellously well-preserved work.
The trouble was, as we the privileged few, gazed on, the multitudinous poor chose to persist in their efforts to sell us carvings, beadwork, postcards and anything else they could think of.
The local tourists were themselves besieged by these people, doing what they could to eke out some kind of a living from whatever source they could.
The same at the Shore Temple, where for twelve centuries, this masonry has withstood the battering of sea waves and the treachery of drifting sands. Once inside the National Monument site, we were relieved of the pressure to buy things – anything – and the peace to look and simply observe in quiet awe was an overwhelming relief.
The situation of this temple was stunning, alongside a blue sky and sandy beach, it was remarkably different from anything we’ve seen in India on previous visits.
The sea breeze was a welcome relief from the heat, too.
As if we needed any reminder of our place in the “privileged few”, we stopped by the nearby Taj “Fishermans Cove” hotel for a late lunch. Though we’d brought our swimming things, we chose to linger over a delicious lunch and savour the day so far.
Driving back along Beach Road Chennai, the people of the city were enjoying their after-work time at leisure with their friends and families on the beach. Groups stood around, there were carousels on the ridge of the beach and this would go on until well after dark.
We, the privileged few, might have the material goods but don’t necessarily have the total monopoly on fun and pleasure, thank goodness!