Friday, October 14, 2005

Mamallapuram - Tourist Ghetto

It rained, yet again, on my last day in Chennai. Although I requested my clothes 2 days before, I ended up waiting until 2pm to get them back - totally wet. I then had to deal with the boy (anyone working in a hotel who isn't a desk clerk is a boy. The boy does chores, old or young), who wanted money for the totally wet and slightly mouldy smelling clothes.

In any case. I left, and took a 2 hour bus to Mamallapuram, promised by the Lonely Planet to be a much quieter place, on the beach.

Mamallapuram is a backpacker ghetto. I must have seen a total of 5 white people during my entire stay in Chennai (no one in their right mind would stay), and while the area I was staying in wasn't exactly 5 star, it meant there really weren't any people bothering me, other than a persistant (and unhappy that I wasn't buying) bike-based drug dealer, and a few beggars.

This entire town, it seems, or at least the part that i'm staying in, is geared around tourists. I see white people everywhere.. mostly wearing cool hippy baggy clothing, a few japanese guys with dreadlocks, and many (like myself) looking like they could do with a good scrubbing.. but in any case, there are lots of foreigners here. Touts are everywhere, following you even when you tell them to go away.

The main biz here, apart from depriving tourists of their money, appears to be stone carving, and so there is the rather pleasant tap tap tap everywhere you go, which is then interrupted by "Good sir, come into my shop please, what is your tongue, from which country are you, maybe later?" The statues and things are quite nice, but given that i'm travelling for 9 months, I don't really see any point in buying anything. Plus, what the hell will I do with a statue of Shiva?

One interesting thing I've noticed, is that most of the statues of women appear to be of, er, nymph-ish large breasted women, many of whom are either topless, or wearing very revealing clothing. It's rather shocking, considering that i'm in Tamil Nadu, one of the most conservative places in the country, in a land where kissing isn't done in public (not even in the movies), and you never see couples holding hands. I'm slightly intrigued then, as to why it's perfectly ok for scantily clad women to be carved out of stone, and be sold in the streets, or be displayed in temples. Perhaps i'll learn more about this later.

Walked along the beach this afternoon. A pretty (enough) beach, with fishing boats, women trying to sell me batik-cloth/blankets, and a large number of wandering cows. I'm sure this is the norm here, but it's still somewhat strange to see cows walking around on a beach, being ignored by everyone.

Saw the famous "Shore Temple" on the beach. Or at least, got as close as possible to seeing it without paying the $5 foreigner entrance fee. At this point, a temple has got to be pretty fantastic for me to shell out money for it, and while this one looked nice enough, I didn't think the up-close experience would be worth the price of one night in my hotel, 3 meals, and 2 hours of internet.

I ate at a tourist joint last night (evidenced by the fact that they had chips/french fries on the menu, and that the veggie curry dishes cost agbout 3x more than any indian place)... Today, i've been eating with the locals again. Much better food, much fresher, and much cheaper.

Still no food poisoning *knock on wood*

Internet is more expensive here (25-30 rupees per hour), but my hotel is costing me a fantastic 150 rupees per night (just over 3 dollars).

The plan right now is to stay here until the 18th, when I'm due back in Chennai for my final (I hope) dentist apt. I've got plenty of books to read (finished Anna Karena by Tolstoy last night, and then read The Broker by John Grisham before lunch today). This is a good place to get my reading done, as there are plenty of bookshops where I can trade the books when they're done.

Chennai had nowhere at all to trade, and so I'm hoping to read as much as possible, trade my books, and move on.

However, the constant pestering of touts could get annoying - although, I suppose India will be like this everywhere, so I might as well get used to it now.

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