Tiles and Touring around Chettinad.

The next day started again with yoga – only two of us this time. Then breakfast followed by a 4 hour tour with Sarah. She works at the hotel for the few months of busy tourist visits. She takes guided tours of organises her own tours.

She’s American but grew up in the area, the child of missionaries. So she has a very good understanding of the life and people of the area of Chettinad.

Our first stop was a tile making business. It’s amazing to see how they make tiles in a rather primitive way. A technique from Italy. We had a demonstration. It involves putting a glass square in a frame then dropping in colour, making the pattern then putting sand and concrete over the top compressing it then turning it out. I was given a go at creating a design! Such fun.

This area was a big trading centre many years ago 1850-1950. Men left Chettinad for a few years to set up trading. They were traders and money lenders. This was how to make money in those days. When they returned they came with teak from Burma, enamel from Indonesia, woven mats and many other goods you see in the houses of the area.

As they returned rich they built mansions. The front door was used by the men for business. The back door women, children, the produce. There are around 4-5 courtyards in each house. When banks opened it changed Indian society. Rich money lenders lost a source of money making.

Most houses are now derelict. The owners – the men and the families are living overseas and only return for weddings and family occasions. A few have been turned into boutique hotels. The Bangala Hotel was first used as a men’s club.

We visited several of the mansion homes of the area.

Read about the area here: https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.cntraveller.in/story/looking-grand-mansions-chettinad/amp/

The first was Lakshmi House. We met one of the owners a men sitting at the house entrance. It was preparing for a wedding.

The people looking after the house were old and quietly dignified.

When we visit historic houses in other countries we see the furnishings as well here the mansions are empty. The people don’t have beds , tables and chairs.

Then the Kanadukathan Palace.

This sits in a small village which was obviously a centre for rich traders as there are a number of empty mansions. It has a large water reserve which is fenced to stop people and animals using it and it is the towns water source. People come with their water containers and fill them for home use.

We couldn’t go into the Palace but visited Mrs Meyappans fathers house. Once beautiful it was now neglected.

Last stop was a mansion which like the Bangala has been turned into a hotel. It’s lovely but we were pleased we were staying at the Bangala.

Back through the dry countryside to our hotel for coffee and fruit by the pool. No real lunch as we wanted to enjoy our 3 course dinner.

Another walk through the bustling village to the antique markets. They were in a particularly dusty street that was all dug up and hard to walk.

The antique traders weren’t interested in bargaining much. We tried hard to get better prices. But they stubbornly wouldn’t move much on price. Considering there were so many shops and so much for sale it was surprising.

Before dinner we enjoyed an aperitif on our verandah before our Indian fusion meal. Mrs Meyyappan the owner designs all the menus and the food is great. https://www.cntraveller.in/story/restaurant-bangala-karaikudi-chennai-28-top-restaurant-awards-2018-list/#s-cust0

Tonight we enjoyed Spinach & Broccoli soup, crab cake with spiced chutney and tangy cucumber salad , chicken stew with coconut rice and an egg hopper ( a delicious rice pancake like shape with an egg in the bottom – found also in Sri Lanka). Ending with bread pudding dressed with marmalade served with homemade vanilla ice cream. A delicious dinner for the equivalent of $A19 !

We’ll be sad to leave this gracious hotel and Mrs Meyappan who at 83 still has such presence. She is there every day with her diamond earrings twinkling as brightly as her smile – having a chat to all the guests.

Tomorrow Madurai and a visit to the Ghandi museum.

Good Morning Yogis from Chettinad,India

We’ve been having a few restful days in the Bangala Hotel. I don’t think we realised how tired we were.

I started the day with yoga beside the pool. Our instructor was a very kind, softly spoken man who was gentle with us – especially my knee.

He would show us the movement and whispered ‘listen’. We’d then do it and he’d finish with ‘reeelax’.

Following this we had a swim and breakfast on the terrace.

We decided to walk through the village. The hotel owner Mrs Meyappan offered to let us visit her house not too far from here.

The hotel is very special. Read this article about the owner 83 year old Meenakshi Meyappan.

https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/83-year-old-meenakshi-meyappan-serves-fantastic-chettinad-food-at-a-palatial-home-1758033

Walking in these villages is dusty and rocky and constant beeping from cars and bikes doesn’t make it all that pleasant but there is plenty to see.

We found the ATM to restock our rupees and looked into various businesses. They are very poor looking but Interesting.

The afternoon was spent swimming, resting and have a massage. Completely relaxing.

Mrs Meyappan house.

Hot footing it around the Temples of Tamil Nadu

We explored this fascinating village hotel before having a delightful breakfast in the large courtyard.

Then it was back onto the bus to what is known as the ‘most important’ Temple of Southern India.

It’s in Thanjavur.

We were to see both the Palace and the Temple. The Thanjavur Marathra Palace built in 1534 is occupied by the Bhonsle family. In fact we saw the Prince arriving home.

We crossed a moat to enter what is known as the Big Fort.

We met a new guide and proceeded to the Bibliotheca. It’s a small but very famous Library with some wonderful illustrated manuscripts.

Next stop was the Museum containing countless statues of Shiva. Along with his wife Parvarti and many of the other Gods / disciples.

The Palace is more a fort. No grand rooms but we climbed to a terrace for great views and some Islamic style architecture.

Then we needed a break. Our guide promised us a sit down coffee place and clean toilets. Naturally it was a shop where we were bombarded with special offer things to buy. We fell for the old guides trick! But it was airconditioned and had ok toilets!

By now it was midday and hot when we arrived at the Temple. Bad mistake when you have to walk big distances over hot matting and hot stones. We yelped and jumped and were a little glad to finish and head to our hotel.

It’s in a small place called Karaikkudi. The hotel, a former old mansion is a step back in time. And has a great swimming pool. We were greeted by George the manager, hit the pool, enjoyed our lovely rooms, met the 83 year old lady who owns the house, dressed up for drinks on the terrace and enjoyed a 3 course meal.

Then retired to bed.

Tomorrow will get a catch up day. We’ve been super busy since we arrived in India so here we are for 3 nights.

The Bangala Hotel a hotel designer by famous Sri Lankan Geoffrey Bawa.

Check it out.

http://www.thebangala.com

Tomorrow is a quiet day with a village walk, banana leaf lunch , swims and massage. Yes. Heaven

Farewell Pondicherry as we go to Temple towns.

Leaving Pondy is a little sad but exciting. Another adventure awaits.

We have a new driver and this time also a guide. Although on talking to him it turns out he’s a computer programmer working for his father’s travel company on the weekend! He’s with us because the bus driver doesn’t speak English.

We set off through the country side heading for Swamimalai. It’s in the Temple area and we’ll be seeing some temples on the way.

First stop was Chidambarum and we met our guide a very petite gentleman with gentle slow speaking English and very bad teeth.

There are 4 temples of various sizes and they are preparing for a festival. So arches are being prepared with newspaper to then be painted in a very colourful style.

We’re finding the removal of shoes for these huge structures rather wearing on our feet. There are quite long distances to walk. There is some matting which can be very dirty and then the stones which are hot and hard. I’m hopping a bit!

The Temple grounds had people sitting everywhere enjoying a picnic Indian style with tiffin boxes laden with delicious food.

It was Moms Day Out with mothers and their children from a town an hour away enjoying time together at the Temple. I got talking to one lovely lady. Her English was very good and it turns out she’s a Doctor. A gynaecologist! And was so friendly and chatty about her life and family.

We soon left there and continued further into the countryside through lots of villages and saw what I think is fairly authentic village life.

Arriving at our hotel was a treat. It was actually a small village which has been turned into a hotel. It’s called the Indecco http://www.indecohotels.com/swamimalai.html

Check it out. It’s so lovely. Steve Borgia the owner has spent a lot of money restoring it. It has a farm, several housing blocks all furnished in wonderful antiques. The pool is beautiful. At first we thought it looked a little slimy! But that was explained. It was meant to look like a village waterhole. It’s elegant and serene.

We were treated to an arrival foot massage! Heaven after walking barefoot through the temples.

We went the main village to see the bronze casters. A really Interesting process. We walked through the workshop are were able to see the various stages of production.

Google bronze casting Swamimalai. The business we went to is called :

Shri Rajan Industries (Statues/Bronze Castings Manufacturers/Panchalogam Statue Manufacturers)

Linda was very keen to own a statue. She particularly wanted Shiva as the dancer. Natajara. As a thank you from us for planning this very special trip, we decided to buy one for her as a gift. This meant visiting the sales area but no one was there to show and discuss pricing. A lovely young man rode up on his bike. His family owned a temple and he was picking up a commissioned statue. He guided us to a local family home where they have a small workshop.

Such a special experience. Linda spoke to them and found one she liked.

Meanwhile the children from the little street we were in all gathered and wanted to chat. They were delightful.

Finally the statue was polished and delivered to us and we drove off with everyone in the street waving.

Back to the hotel for a drink and a dance show and to bed.

We had a very late lunch when we arrived so couldn’t eat a thing.

Pondicherry: a delight

Our night was peaceful and breakfast on the terrace was wonderful. We had a choice of Indian or continental. Most chose Indian which was presented with a large dosa in a rolled cigar shape.

The Intach Heritage centre was our target today. They offer walks through the French Quarter pointing out the architectural history. But first the Grand Bazaar. Each city has it markets and Pondy has a great one. Walking from the smelly fish through the fragrant herbs and spices to the floral flowers was a treat for the senses.

A quick shoe stop. The girls spied a shop with comfortable looking sandals and with a days walking in mind made a quick purchase.

Arriving at the Intach Centre we sat waiting for our guide and became part of the prayer ceremony. There was a peaceful feeling about the place which starts at the door when you leave your shoes.

This is a custom observed in many shops and always in the temples. It can be a hazard though. In one shop I kicked my toe on the door and have a very red swollen toe.

Our guide Ashok Panda arrived. He was a serene gentleman in his 50s. He was very erect , fine features and was well spoken- if somewhat quiet.

He spoke to us as we had gathered around a table in the courtyard- a feature of the Tamil house.

He planned our day and we set off.

As it happened we walked down the street we had used last night to get to the beach.

We paused at another hotel the Dune Mansion Calve Boutique Hotel and Ashok told us the heritage centre he worked for had done the restoration, as they had done for our hotel the Anantha. He said the Government us encouraging restoration of the Tamil houses and French style villas. The problem is the owners then maintaining the restoration.

We stopped for coffee in a hotel by the beach and Ashok got carried away telling us another Government- it’s structure and it’s corruption.

Continuing on we paused in the garden and observed the way locals and visitors used the green space. School groups were there enjoying the space – something they don’t often experience in their very crowded country.

French villas are a feature of this lovely residential area though many have been turned into smart boutique hotels. Tourism is important in this area. Our next stop was Villa Rosa and the Coramandel Cafe. Quite beautiful. We decided it would be a great spot for a drink this afternoon.

By now it was lunch time and Ashok took us to a local vegetarian cafe. He suggested the platter. A large tray with 10 different pots of sauces, chutney and vegetable dishes to dip your rice or naan into. I also ordered a Marsala dosa. Washed down with a lassi or pomegranate juice it was quite filling and delicious.

After lunch we separated. Some returned to the hotel Di went off exploring and Marlene, Shelley and I walked and walking taking in the sights , shops and the Cathedral. An oasis in this busy duty free city.

At 5 we met at the Coramandel cafe for drinks but when Marilyn and Linda didn’t arrive we worried until we heard they had attended a puja in the Sri Vedapureeswarara Temple. Quite an honour.

Drinks for us turned into dinner at the Villa Shanti and we missed the dancing at the Lycee Français. Whoops!

Home to bed by tuk tuk with a limoncello nightcap. Tomorrow is spent on the move Chidaburam for the 12th C Temple then Swamimalai.

Getting stuck into India feet first.

Packing up even after two nights is an effort. My advice is always stay somewhere at least two nights. You need that time to scratch the surface of a new place.

Some of us managed a walk down to the seafront. It is rustic and somewhat dirty. There are dogs and cows but no cats. We even saw a monkey run across some wires.

Leaving the hotel at around 9 we drove south towards Pondicherry. Our driver stopped for photos along the way and when we came to the salt fields he insisted we get out and check it out.

We crossed the road and walk along a sandy track toward to the salt pans with piles of salt drying for collection.

Being curious and wandering on I took one step too far and …….

I couldn’t move. I was scared of sinking further. The girls – when they stopped laughing formed a human chain and managed to pull me out.

A few local men nearby saw my dilemma and came to my rescue. I had a man washing my legs, my shoes and socks without so much as a glimmer of a laugh.

It took many minutes – which gave the girls plenty of time to take photos and laugh!

Finally a bit cleaned up and back into bistro continue onto Pondicherry. We kept laughing and I was thankful I hadn’t fallen in further, that my phone was lost in the mud, that I wasn’t warring white pants!

We arrived at our hotel the Anantha Heritage.

http:www.ananthaheritagepondicherry.com

It’s a restored Tamil House in the northern part of the Historic centre. Quite beautiful. We sorted rooms and decided they were big enough for 3 in a room. Our rooms open onto a lovely verandah overlooked the temple, and a breakfast terrace.

Leaving bags to unpack later we left with our guide for a tour of the city. Our driver phoned his friend, a policeman who became our escort. With roads blocked he became our entry into streets.

Down a wide crowded street we rounded the corner to the open seafront and beach. It’s several kilometres long , well paved and well used by walkers not swimmers. At night it’s closed to traffic and becomes a promenade for the locals to have their evening passagiatta.

By now starving, we made for Villa Shanti in the French Quarter. A restored French style villa it’s an oasis of quiet and comfort. And the food was delicious. There were Indian and French dishes and I had chicken ( yes I was warned to stay vegetarian in India) cooked so well with cauliflower two ways. Beautiful.

After lunch we called into Anokhi a shop recommended by a friend. The fabrics were wonderful. We all pottered around buying bits and piece. No clothes but homewares, note cards, handkerchiefs etc.

With our escort leading we went to the paper production business. Once a big industry it was shut down when the British took over. Now making a comeback the handmade papers made here are stunning.

A few of us walked back to our hotel for G& Ts on the verandah before heading off for a walk to the beach. The beach breeze was so fresh and reviving. The weather has been kind. Warm days but cooler evenings. As we head inland the weather will heat up.

Feeling peckish we wandered into a local food market. Lots of little stalls with people sitting around on plastic chairs munching on a variety of popular Indian foods. We decided on hot charred corn on the cob. The lady running the stall wasn’t too friendly to start but loosened up as we smiled, had photos and thanked her for the beautiful corn.

By now tired a walk through the gardens and a tuk tuk ride home finished our day.

It was a day of high mud drama but all was good in the end. I soaked my stinky shoes and scrubbed them leaving them on the verandah hoping with tomorrow’s sun they would be wearable.

Mahabalipuram: Traditions continue

Breakfast in a new place is always a treat. Indian breakfast is a whole different experience. Don’t expect a western breakfast ( well maybe in 5 star generic hotels ).

My plate contained a little rice cake called Idli, a rice donut , little accompaniments if coriander, tomato sambal and

And a rice congee. All delicious.

Kandan our driver picked us up at 8 and we set off for the 1.5 drive to Kanchipuram.

The drive through the countryside was wonderful. Past stone sculpture businesses, local markets fresh chicken shops and saries everywhere brightening the rather dusty and sadly dirty villages.

Kancheepuram is an ancient town of important Hindi temples. We visited this huge three thousand year old temple with many other Hindi people. We appeared to be the only westerners.

We started with a toilet stop and had the privilege of paying 20c each to wade through water to a communal trough. A bonding experience for a group of sheltered woman. But for us not a problem!

Then into the courtyard with our guide to remove shoes. We paid a lovely girl 100 rupee to mind our shoes.

We walked over coloured designs on the floor which our guide told us were new – ready for the festival to be held in the temple in three weeks.

The long corridor opened onto a courtyard with the famous mango tree. This tree from one 3.5 thousand years ago was famed as the place where Shiva married Kasakshi.

Nearby a wedding was taking place.

Everyone loves a wedding and an Indian one in a temple was joyful to watch. They invited us to take photos and even wanted to be in one with us.

The bride and groom were beautiful.

Continuing along the corridor we came to an altar where a Hindi priest gave us all a blessing.

We recovered our shoes and set off for another temple nearby. This one does not have the religious standing of the last one so is not part of the Hindi pilgrimage.

It was strangely quiet until we heard drumming outside. Lots of drumming.

It was a local funeral. The street was roped off. We were told it was an elderly man and following the drumming there would be drinking. So we were to stay away.

Starting back to Mahabalipuram we couldn’t resist stopping at one of the stone carving places one of many along the way. Like many local craft industries it looks a little overwhelming to see so many things together. Individually they would look lovely in a garden at home but collectively they are too much.

We asked to stop at a silk and Sari shop. There are many in this area – it’s famous for it and judging by the variety of Sari in the street they all do well.

We had a chat about the production then went to the buying floor.

It was quite a scene. Men sitting with their women looking at bolts of fabric in the most stunning colours.

We decided scarves were a better buy for us so had the scarf show!

Back on the bus

Another supermarket stop, getting lost in the aisles looking at products. I bought a few packets for the pantry. Others bought aurtheic soaps and shampoo.

Back at the hotel by 3.30 we had a refreshing swim along with chai tea.

Before we knew it it was G&T time.

Dinner was down by the water at the Santana restaurant. Choices included mint and lemon prawns, fish in carrots sauce, crispy calamari and my selection prawn biryanis. Delicious.

The walk home involved a little shopping. How can you not shop. Inviting goods: floaty tops and dresses, scarves, earrings , rings, pendants beads, bags. I bought a floral dress for $20! Marlene bought the same one!

And a stop at the shop across from our hotel to pick up a few things they made for us. The men on the machines were sewing away. Today we saw a mobile tailor shop. A sewing machine mounted on a little cart being pulled along by bike. So practical.

A full day. We haven’t wasted a minute. Tomorrow Pondicherry or Pondy as the locals call it.

India here we come.

Flying Air Asia is an experience. Not altogether bad but definitely not great.

The Sari 5 met at Roma St station at 2.45 for a 3pm train to the Good Coast. We got into Varsity lakes around 4.20 then a bus to the airport via the sights of Currumbin.

We passed the time till our 8.40 flight having coffee and trying to check in. We all had trouble getting the Indian visa sorted but did it! We had the correct paperwork but airline staff still took ages to check each one online. Not easy! Doesn’t India want visitors!

Our flight left on time and the no frills carrier took us off to Kuala Lumpur. I sat with Linda and the others managed to get a vacant seat next to them. Sleep 💤 was not a feature of the flight for me!

We arrived in KL at 3am ( body clock time 5am Brisbane) we hung about the unexceptional KL airport and met up with Di from Sydney to make us six.

The next flight was crowded and we were all spread out around the plane. I had a lovely lady ‘VJ’ from KL next to me. She was of Tamil heritage and was going on holidays with various members of her family to Tamil Nadu – visiting some of the places we’ll be visiting. We chatted away about her life in Malaysia and our expectations of India.

Finally India! Chennai, our first stop assaulted the senses. Our driver was there to meet us and take us down to Mahabalipuram. First stop was the Western union money changer. We brought Australian dollars and changed them into Rupees. $1 is worth about 50 rupee.

Next stop the supermarket. Who doesn’t like a supermarket in a foreign country. We walked the aisles stocking up on water and mozzie spray and couldn’t resist the sandlewood soap and a big bunch of bananas.

First impression of India. Noisey, first, colourful, funny signs!

We are in Tamil Nadu in Southern India. The women in this area all wear Saris. They look like exotic birds floating down the street.

We didn’t see any women dressed in western clothes. We also haven’t seen any westerners. None on our flight here and none on the streets.

Our driver took us via the beach, the fish market, various temples and down colourful streets with shops of every description. Even saw an Uber eats bike making it way through the traffic.

We stopped at the Museum to take in the bronze sculptures. There is a technique for casting these sculptures, such merging we will explore further later.

The sculptures were al of Shive , one of the main Gods of Hinduism. Along Parvarti his wife along with all the manifestations.

Our hotel in Mahabalipuram an hour south of Chennai is set in a garden and is quite tranquil. The boys behind the front desk are lovely and helpful and thankfully carried our bags up the 3 flights of stairs.

By this time we were starving so headed straight out to the vegetarian restaurant at the hotel. It’s been a long while since a meal. Only snacks along the way so the meal was welcome. It included mushroom mutter, eggplant curry and vegetable biriyani. All washed down with fresh lime. No alcohol at this hotel.

A walk around the streets to the Krishna cave temple with its fabulous rock carvings and Indian Hindu men in their dhoti trying to sell carved rocks and pictures.

A small detour after dinner to a clothing shop where men sat in a line at sewing machines whipping up tunics and pants. We couldn’t not get one!

And so our first long day ends. More adventures tomorrow.

The Sari Six head to India: follow along.

Tomorrow I head off to India. I wonder if my idea of India and the reality of India are one and the same.

I’m going with the HoiAn group of 4 ladies I travelled with two years ago. Only this time we are 6! In a van !

Our chief organiser, Linda, is a wonderful traveller. She has an amazing interest in history and a curiosity about other cultures that brings together an itinerary that is unique, cost effective and fun.

We’ve been labelled the Sari Six and tomorrow we begin our journey on platform 4 at Roma St station on our way to Gold Coast Airport for our cheap and cheerful Air Asia flight to Chennai via Kuala Lumpur. No business class lounge for me!

Packing has been interesting. Four of the 6 travellers have opted for 7kg of luggage! I splurged and bought the baggage allowance. I packed today. Mostly floaty soft pants, covered tops, sarong and my trusty silver FRANKie 4 walking shoes.

https://frankie4.com.au

These shoes have been everywhere. Italy, USA, Galapagos, Machu Picchu, Spain, Cambodia, France and now India.

Come on FRANKie 4 send me a new pair!

My bag weighs only 9.5kg so I added in 2 bottles of tonic (large) for the Gin I’ll purchase in duty free on the way. Medicinal use only 😘

I’m hoping for a big sleep tonight as tomorrow night will be upright in economy with my attractive dvt avoiding stockings glued to my legs.

Keep reading……. I’ll post the itinerary tomorrow.

Goodnight and if you’ve been to India please post some hints in the Comments box.

Weekend in Adelaide

Adelaide is definitely the festival state, the event capital – an all round ‘there’s always something on’ capital.

I’ve been browsing various brochures for all the events on now and coming soon.

The Adelaide Festival is on in March. You should check it out. It looks wonderful.

https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au

This weekend is more about family for us though. The family came for dinner on Friday. Always fun with the children.

Saturday and Saturday mornings Steve and I tried the pools nearby. Saturday it was Unley pool.

Sunday it was Burnside.

Both pools are lovely. The lifeguards here take sunsafety very seriously. They wear long pants and long sleeved shirts topped off with shady hats. The pools are also partly shaded. We could learn a lesson in Sunny Qld.

On Saturday afternoon we headed into the Adelaide Hills. Niece Vashti,her husband Jeremy and their 4 children have bought a small farm. It’s not far from Hahndorf , has a creek running through it, wonderful big trees, a dam, 3 alpacas and a very large dog!

Inside the house there are multiple musical instruments and ten year old Soraya played the double bass for us. Very talented she is too!

We drove to Ambleside Gin Distillery and had a sampler flute of three different gins. I’m becoming a bit of a gin fan. In the hot weather it’s really the perfect drink!

https://www.amblesidedistillers.com

It’s in a beautiful spot and is the perfect place to go on a lazy Saturday afternoon. There were some very trendy young people there but we managed to not disgrace ourselves.

Then it was back to the farm for a walk and dinner before finishing with marshmallows on the fire.

Sunday afternoon we visited yet another historic house in Adelaide. It belonged to Edward Ayers ( a certain large rock was named after the family)

It was an interactive museum. You could touch things, use things and make things. Great for children.

The ball room where they now have concerts

The lovely dining room

They even had a dress up box which I took advantage of!

The weather has changed again. It very hot today. At least 32. So our plan for a drink on the roof top bar changed. We headed home for our own gin tasting.

Ayers House.

http://www.ayershousemuseum.org.au/events/signatureseries2018/