What a week. Exactly a week ago I arrived in Chennai from Bangalore, check into my apartment, and met my two new flat mates. This week I enrolled in Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, took in about 40 hours of yoga lessons, tried to get to know 20+ fantastic people from all over the world, and familiarize myself in the fourth largest city in India. In between, I got an Indian mobile phone, shopped for groceries, did some laundry, found an apartment for three of my new friends from school, and managed to celebrate the Chinese new year at a Chinese restaurant in India. As if all that wasn’t enough I woke up this morning at 6AM so that I can visit a small town of Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) about 30 miles south of Chennai.
In a way I think I should have stayed in town like I had originally planned to do this weekend but when I found out a group of students from KYM was heading down to Mamallapuram I didn’t want to pass up to opportunity to go. I also wanted to spend some more time with my new schoolmates so that I could get to know them better. So even though I had a really long week and I went to bed late again last night, I dragged myself out of bed and got to our meeting point, KYM, by 7AM. The 13 of us plus our guide got into a comfortable van for the quick one hour drive down to Mamallapuram. Well, the guide didn’t have a seat so he took a plastic chair from our school, squeezed it in the back, and sat there the entire time. Of course, I said to myself again “this would never happen back home.” The road leading us down south from Chennai was surprisingly well paved (I believe it’s called East Coast Road or ECR) and because we left early enough on a Saturday we encountered absolutely no traffic. We stopped for a typical Indian breakfast (dosa, chutney, chai) at a cafeteria style restaurant and by 9AM we were at the famed Shore Temple.
The Shore Temple was built in the 8th century and so named because it’s on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. It is one of the oldest stone temples in south India and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. My guidebook noted that it was hard hit during the 2004 tsunami and when the water was receding, an outline of a series of temples underwater was discovered. This provided some confirmation to beliefs that that the Shore Temple was a part of this larger structure and possibly a city that long ago submerged in the ocean. There were a few students from the school who rarely get to see any large bodies of water (a Russian woman from Siberia, a German woman, et al) that squealed with happiness when they saw the waves crashing ashore. They were so excited that they ran straight for the beach. This beach, however, was off limits for swimmers. The warning sign was made it very clear that no one should think about swimming. The waves were high and rough, and most of us only dipped our toes in the water but it was great to look out to the vastness of the ocean and reflect again on how blessed I am to be traveling and to be in India.
We then moved on to Panca Pandava Rathas (five chariots). These five rock sculptures were perfectly planned and crafted from one very large rock from the top down, but buried under sand until about 200 years ago when some British excavators discovered them. We all enjoyed this amazing site but the sun was beginning to pour down on us, and we started to feel the fatigue from this week. By the time we walked over to the other famous site of free standing rock carvings I, for one, was quickly fading. I could barely pay any attention to the wonderfully detailed rock carvings and my attention was waning. When our guide told us that some rock carving on top of a hill was Arjuna’s Penance, I believed him. After all, he was our guide. Well, I should have known better! All through the morning he didn’t explain any of the sites to us or give us any background information on what we were visiting. I don’t even know what that structure on the hill was. What I do know, is that we never got to see Arjuna’s Penance, a fantastical rock relief that’s also been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Argh.
After visiting a few other carved temples, we headed to lunch. We took our time refueling. After lunch most of the group went to visit a crocodile sanctuary while I sat that one out and had a cup of tea. By this time we were just too tired to do anything else so we headed back to Chennai. I even canceled dinner plans so that I could come straight home and relax. I felt exhausted but my body felt so stiff that I thought an asana and pranayama practice would be helpful for me. I’m glad I took the time to have my practice. I feel great and my mind is clearer. I got a chance to talk for about half an hour with our French fashion designer roommate and she promised to take us to her favorite Indian restaurant and introduce us to Pondicherry in the next few weeks.
Whew! I think that’s enough for my first week here in Chennai. I feel a bit dizzy just remembering everything I did!