Hello again from the Bay of Bengal where spectacular sunsets with great black heavy thunder clouds regale the horizon.
We’ve hit the imponderables of India – the land of colour and disparity where answers are difficult to come by.
At the end of our trip a cordon of soldiers with stony faces and semi-automatics escorted us back on to the ship. I wasn’t sure if they were there to protect us or prevent us fleeing to join the throngs on the subcontinent. It made quite a contrast to our reception where a band of consisting of strange Indian pipes and drums regaled us as pretty maidens applied garlands of fragrant flowers, and welcome blessing with spots of ochre on the forehead coupled with a splash of water, But then India is a land of contrasts.
Driving through Chennai (Madras) one is struck by the splendour of the old colonial building, and some new ones, and the swathes of corrugated slums. There were down and outs lying in dishevelled hopelessness on the pavements amidst the mandatory piles of litter, dirt and rubble and the young girls, and even older women, laughing and looking so radiant in their gaily coloured saris with flowers in their hair– the desperate eyes of beggars and hawkers and the smiling faces of the kids and families who stopped to talk and ask for photos.
With the incessant honking of horns, the ubiquitous mad rush of traffic and sea of people all busily roaring off somewhere at speed, one was left to wonder where it was going? It was the same story throughout Asia – too many people, too much poverty, too much pollution and destruction and no easy solution. Where would you start?
However I did see a glimmer of hope. There were slums being cleared and flats being built, new flyovers and an underground transit system – but more importantly there were lorries with the slogans – One Family One Child and We two Ours one. If there is to be a solution for humanity and beleaguered nature it surely has to lie in that – we need to decrease our numbers. Another of the trucks had a sign about Health & Safety that I thought might be suitable for Rich – Safety doesn’t happen by accident.
India is so different – not just the people and noise – but the cows wandering in the streets, the gaily painted trucks, dilapidated old busses crammed with people, the whole families on motorbikes and bright besaried girls riding side-saddle, the goats, bikes, occasional bullock drawn cart, old pedal cycles, ocean of honking Tuk Tuks, street vendors with melons, sugar cane juice, fruit and sweet candies, pedal carts laden with goods, and the dirt and squalor. There is nothing quite like it. It has energy.
The heat is intense. The sun seared and the sweat dripped. They have three seasons – hot, hotter and hottest. We had arrived in the hottest following a drought caused by a failed monsoon. A street cobbler who repaired my shoe for a dollar asked me how I found the heat. I said I perversely liked it. He laughed and asked where I came from. I told him England. He asked why we white people liked the heat when black people who lived in it found it oppressive. I told him that it was probably because I came from a cold country and it was a novelty. He laughed and thought me a mad Englishman. I looked round for mad dogs.
We drove out of Chennai and sped for two hours through the countryside to Kanchipuram – the sacred city of a thousand temples. Well that was a myth. There were no longer a thousand temples – If there ever had – but there were certainly a lot. One thing you notice about India is the proliferation of temples. Probably poverty breeds the need for hope? We only visited two. The first was old – a large granite construction one thousand five hundred years old. The other was a lot newer being a sandstone structure only one thousand two hundred years old.
We were lucky enough to be visiting during a festival time so there were lots of loud bangs, ceremonies, candles, fire, water and coloured powder.
The big temple was thronging with gaily dressed people, with garlands and offerings. The carved granite columns created quite different scene to anything I had seen before. There were shrines, statues, some garish, and bright streamers. There were animals living in the temple – I saw crows, monkeys, dogs, cows and squirrels. The people were friendly and seemed pleased to see us – asking for photos and practicing their English. There were some beggars and sellers of wares but they did not pester us too much.
The second temple was small and almost deserted. It was compact with carvings and inlays of gods and dancers. There were carvings of cows strategically placed on walls, at the corners of the building and in a separate shrine. Cows are holy – no beef on the menu here! It was a very beautiful piece of intricately carved architecture that reminded me of Ankor Wat.
I’d packed a lot into a day and returned with over nine hundred captured images!! There was so much to see and record – so much wonder, beauty and decay! I think that tells the story – India – the land of contrasts, overpopulation, superstition and colour – sits on a knife-edge – which way will it fall?
My last shots were of a flotilla of orange jellyfish, crows roosting on the aerials and a bright red sun setting in an orange hazy sky behind two black skeletal derricks. What would future sunrises reveal? Fare well India.