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Wednesday
Aug082012

The Road to Kanchipuram

This last weekend Megan and I went to a town called Kanchipuram. It's not on the main tourist circuit of South India. It's a town of about 150,000 people (barely a speck on the map in India), an hour outside Chennai. It's called the "City of a Thousand Temples" but we only learned that fact after we got there. We went because an outreach program run by the Divecha Center for Climate Change (where I'm working this summer) has installed a solar panel on the roof of a house owned by an electrician in a village disconnected from the main power grid. I wanted to understand what it was like to live there. And I wanted to understand the real value of just one lightbulb to the children of the village.

Before I get into the weekend, I wanted to capture what the road from Bangalore to Kanchipuram was like. We hired a driver to take us the 4 hours to the town. I thought about making this into a more formally written account, real legit-like, but ended up just copying my notes directly as I took them while sweating in the back of this non-AC car. I think it works just as well. So, here: 

 

The Road to Kanchipuram

Left 8am. Driver: Savariappa. White car. “Infant Jesus” stickers on back windshield. Portrait of Mary on the dash. 2 other figures—one in white robe w/ bronze crown, one—a boy—in a brown tunic. Asked for seatbelt buckles. Overcast day. Traffic already slows us to a crawl. Fires on the roadside. Sprayed ourselves in bug spray. Listened to David Quammen talk last night about zoronetic diseases that spread from animals to humans. Now worried about Dengue Fever. Will meet volunteer, Vijai, for lunch. Have telephone interview with Dr. Devi Shetty (former doctor of Mother Theresa) re: telemedicine at 5pm. Billboards: pizza, cookies, silk, movie (Total Recall). Temples—multicolor. Blue figures, roadside. Ate 3 pieces of toast w/ SIL mixed berry jelly. Sign: “Follow Traffic Rules” must be most worthless sign in the city. Booked flight to Goa this morning. Savariappa is a good driver. Maybe the only one in the city. School uniforms: all white, girls in pigtails and high socks. Central Silk Board Building. Temple, bus stand, CitiBank. Highway. Ozone Group. Continental. Luxury high rise billboard: “Next to the BMW showroom.” Highway relaxing. Palm trees and construction cranes, corporate hotels, huge glass structure of Infosys campus. Looks like a spaceship landed in a garbage dump. Colorful trucks. People riding in back of trucks. Apartments under construction “Aqua Heights.” Biocon, huge leafy campus. Mega Power Gym. Yellow truck “MNR.” Shetron. Clotheslines on terraces. Is every day laundry day here? Why are trucks so colorful? Hotel Jade Empire. Bamboo scaffolding. Highway smooth. Truck: sound horn, avoid cell. Waved at kids on school bus. Waved back. So much quieter on highway. Milk truck back: “India is Great.” Toll: driver and toll booth guy do a strange hand signal. Point. Shake hand. Had to stop for permit to Tamil Nadu. 100 rupees. 2 bucks. Savariappa walks down dirt path to checkpoint office. Guy with curved knife cuts open a coconut (?) and hands thru window of a bus. Permit process uber inefficient. Like India. Blinking red light doesn’t mean stop, apparently. Holly Wood Shoe sign. Cow in a pickup truck. Chennai: 294. Furniture store. Cranes lined up, yellow. Chennai: 306. How did we move backward in last 2 mins? Only in India. Car accident. Truck was turning, red car couldn’t stop. Open fields. Breath of fresh air to see open space. Now trees. Everywhere. Hills. Dirt path along highway. Still overcast.

[page 2] Rocky hills. Gas station. Had tea, 20 rupees. No toilets in girls bathroom for Megan. Just holes in ground (she chose not to utilize the hole at this time). Shale rock carved out for highway. Tires, bricks, swamps, fields, broken buildings, silk shops, engineering college, 3-story pink house, church, mobile shop (Vodafone), bicycle standing in a field, hospital w/ a giant orange cross, Tamin Tile Plant, goats—big black ones and smaller brownish-tan ones—grazing in a field. Palm trees mixed with smaller, bushier trees. Highway median well-groomed. Villages of blue and pink and orange houses with reddish-brown shingled roofs. Boulders painted w/ unknown scribbles surrounding the occasional hill. Some houses w/ thatched roofs, roadside restaurants w/ sides painted bright w/ advertisements. Still, construction everywhere. Or, at least, construction crews and signs everywhere. Dirt/rock moving business must be doing pretty well. Descending down from Deccan Plateau. Ramco Cement signs all over. Kanchipuram: 140. Mountains in the hazy distance, a mini-range rising above lines of palm trees to my right, covered in green. Power lines cross the road. Train kicks up dust thru a village. So many cement signs. Jaypee Cement. Abandoned white brick buildings grassy fields, tarps roped over trucks. Red-flowered trees, yellow metal fence along the road. Eastern Chrome Tanning Corporation. Town of Solur. Smell of smoke, soot. Kar Polytechnic College. Two bullocks pulling a cart. Flag: black on top, red on bottom. Marriage hall next to Reliance Gas Station. Ambur town. Fruit vendors, veg restaurants, cake, STAR BRIYANI, hotels Bismillah, OAR THEATRE, mosque crescent moon, sewage smell, getting hot, humid, so many colors, motobikes and oxen on the left, cars and trucks on the right. Chennai: 182. Sign: “Fast drive could be last drive.” Clever. Sheep! Honking. Pipes. Mountains still to the right. Partly cloudy. Pink flowers. Aqua Tech. 

[page 3] Hello goat. Tate Docomo. More sings: Ramco Cement or Jaypee Cement? Toss up. Rock outcroppings scattered along mountain. Motorcycles parked, BBQ smell. Spirit of Truth Fellowship Church. Windy palms, lazy clouds, sweaty back. Elephant statues outside temple entrance. Pygmies. Bus. Tractor. Rooster. Holy construction. Roads need it. Green bus, blue bus. Flosham Shoe Factory. 20 foot pipe, 4-inch diameter, carried on should of a boy on the back of a motorcycle. Not uncommon sight. Bridge bump… bump… bump. Musical horn. Kids playing in rubble. Shiksa Schools Welcomes You. Penna Cement. Ramco. Ramco. Flower bus. Lanco Gold Cement. Cricket game on the sand and grass. The India Cements Limited. Aalayam of textiles. POTHYS. Geetha Timber. Spartan Gym. Pic of Arnold, young, bodybuilding days. Cemetery—colorful tombstones. Brown cow grazing next to an orange one. Town: Velen (?). About 1 hour away. Zuari Cement. Vijai called. “Have you had your breakfast?” Wanted to say: “Well, I had some toast…” said “No, not yet” instead. He’s going to cook. Back soaked now. Out of deodorant. TMI? Hari Krishna Mobiles / Granites. Clinic. Red hammer and sickle flags along highway, said “CITU”… huh? Hotel. Scooter shop. Statue of green monkey god holding up his hand as if to say: “Yes, I’m a green monkey god. Don’t come any closer or you’ll be transformed into a banana.” White temple, yellow temple. Orange flowered trees. Skinny buildings big boulders. Whoaaaa truck. Whoa. Got it: rock, tree, temple, cement sign. Repeat. Police car, looks like ghost mobile. Another green monkey god. (Hanuman, Hindu god). Carried gold rod with onion dome on top resting on its shoulder. Global Institute of Engineering Technology. Boys throwing rocks in a puddle. Workers laying on white bags of something in back of a pickup. Can’t do that in U.S. States must seem unbelievably strict to Indians.

[page 4] Trucks decorated: eagles, tigers, doves, checkers, flowers, rainbows, peacocks. Mountains gone. Hay on a trailer. Nokia bus. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments (2)

a 4 hour ride but a true journey. I could almost feel the bumps of the car as I read it.

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs.Fitz'

I like the stream-of-reality journalism!

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIan

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