Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Indian ARC Chennai to Pondicherry December 31, 2007

Insane! Absolutely Insane! The race begins and day one is not, as the laws of man suggest, 24 hours, but more like 2 weeks in some manic, mind boggling Indian amusement park. Sanity is relative: watch the video and decide for yourself.

There is mayhem, beauty, terror, misdirection; sheer cluelessness – and always the shining, pure smile of South India . Everywhere we go, we are met by the incredible smiles that light up out of nowhere and make you feel welcome, happy, and in love with this part of the world.

In the morning, we flag off by driving over a lemon for good luck. Blasting off in pole position we take the early lead. Trouble is we have no clue where the hell we are going and we have less than a liter of gas to get there.

It’s a straight plunge into chaotic, packed, buzzing streets. Where the hell are we supposed to go? All we know is that we are heading South and our tasks are a grab bag of scavenger hunt type clues.

First we hit the petrol station for gas and oil mixture. It’s a magical concoction of 1 litre petrol to 150 ml of oil. Trouble is no one wants to mix it that way. And people have theological discussions about the right mix. Like many things in India , you encounter magnitudes of difference in the same breath. Is it 2ml or 200? We’ve been told both, and many points in between. Of course, the autorickshaw ran best later in the day when we bought mystery orange gas – mixture unknown - from a soda vendor at a roadside stand when we were about to run out. This gas(?) improved our top speed from 40km/hr to over 50.

Task one: find out what is the three-in-one sculpture in Krishnam Mandapam? This question alone gave us a detour of over 30 km as we tracked and backtracked following the directions of locals which mysteriously always put our goal 2 km away and invariably ended in a pot holed, this-can’t-be-it dirt road though the final deception was a security guard who said “Yes – this way. Krishnam Mandapam.” Needless to say, it was not the right spot.

We’re feeling great. The road is good, the countryside opens up and there are glimpses of ocean, rice paddies, ox carts, and forest. We try to ignore the trash that litters all of it. When we reach Mamalapuram, we’re feeling so good we blow right past the turn off. Luckily there are other autorickshaw racers there so we back track and head into town to visit the huge temple complex, which is a World Heritage Site. Incredibly, we failed to grasp that one of the most important sites in south India in fact contains the Krishnam Mandapam in Mamallapuram. Oh well, we’re just learning. It’s all looking up from here, because we learn what the three-in-one statue is and manage to plant some misinformation to the other teams, who come away thinking it has to do with rocks, and carvings, or some such thing.

It’s actually a small pillar among many in which the sculpture shows an elephant, a cow, or baby elephant, depending on what part you cover up. BONUS points for Team Namascar. We don’t think anyone else got this one right.

After a bit of misdirection it's back to the main road and a visit to a school where we hand off our charity to the teachers at a little road side school. The kids are well behaved and love the pens, cards, and other school supplies we hand out to them. We are on our way to find a mysterious ruined Dutch fort so that we can find out what is inscribed on the tomb. Some quick research tells us that the fort is in the town of Sadras which it seems we alone find. It's another dusty, town, and again miraculously whenever we ask, we keep getting sent further and further along 2 km at a time.

Still everything is going great until somewhere along the way we lose our "silencer", an exaggeration for the term muffler, and end up waking the dead with our super loud rickshaw that now sounds like an airplane. There are plenty of (annoyed) people who let us know. We tell them, we just have to do one thing before we head back. As we pass back through town, a kid jumps into the middle of the street, holding our silencer - where the hell did he find it? He hops in with us and it's off to the welder. As with everything we do it takes a crowd of 25 people - it really does take a village.

Back on the road, we know we are not going to make the 5:30 cut off, and that we'll be driving by night. A daunting task, particularly with the single headlight that shines no brighter than a flashlight. Still we are in great spirits and the team is determined to scoop up as many points as possible whatever time we get in. There's no quit in us. Off to the ruined Allambarai Fort where we end up in triumphal parade of 20 kids hanging off our rickshaw and singing with us.

The ride into Pondicherry is sheer madness and involves at least two legitimate potentially life altering experiences (aka fatal crashes). And, the silencer falls off again 1 km from goal. With the muffler off and us screaming, we drive up to the 5-star hotel 13th of 26 teams at 7:30, 1:30 after sunset. The race is scored on points which are attained by completing the tasks. After talking to a number of people, we're hopeful our late arrival is more than made up for by our success at the tasks.

The India EWG has some helpful rules of the road. Two of my favorites: do not pick up hitchhikers and do not drive at night. In the space of 10 minutes we joyfully and enthusiastically break both rules. Watch carefully and see if you can spot us bending these rules in today’s video!

Addenda - The New Years Eve Party
At the hotel, they've organized a splashy and swank party which includes a huge feast and all the booze you can drink. Something the exuberant Tamil guys embrace wholeheartedly. It is only the first of many 'embraces' of the evening. Everywhere we turn there are smiling faces, and 'wish you a happy new year' greetings. Everyone wants to shake hands, hug, and make friends. It's probably the most endearing thing here, and it's the first time we've taken an invitation of 'you come and dance with me' from a guy so gladly. You can go into a shop for a shirt and though the guy doesn't have what you want, and you've concluded business transactions, he still wants to give you a hug. Take a picture with someone, and they'll hold your hand and beam into the camera. If you looked at the Gross National Happiness Index in this part of the world, it would be through the roof!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kon, you are crazed and insane. That last bit of video of playing chicken with oncoming motorists was like something out of Mad Max. Glad you're having an up-close and personal look at South India. I'm going to be there this weekend (Bangalore) but will be sitting (relatively) safely in a car, thank you.

Courtney said...

Brilliant stuff. Day 1 and I'm hooked.

Nick...a buddy of G's

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am Meghan's room mate and so enjoyed the video...by the way, did you edit that while riding around in a rickshaw...you my sir, are one talented guy!
Hello to all and keep safe,
Sarah

Anonymous said...

You are my heroes!!! Wow, wow WOW
-Marianne from VT

Jay said...

Hi Kon,

Incredible India isn't it. Now I am sure you will probably agree with me that Incredible India is nothing more than empty tourist slogan!

Glad to know that you are back in good old USA. When I came back from my trip to India, after 14 years, the following song sounded so wonderful!

I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free

If tomorrow all the things were gone I'd worked for all my life,and I had to start again with just my children and my wife, I'd thank my lucky stars to be living here in USA today, Because the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away.

Jay Trader ;-)

Anonymous said...

WOW Meghan!!
You look stunning in a sari.
-Manuri

Anonymous said...

Had to read it. You guys are crazy but literally funny.

The Cuz

Anonymous said...

G..your crazy :)