Monday, January 14, 2008

Madurai to Rameswaram (hump day!) - January 4th

There are no tasks for today other than to arrive on time and visit the village, so we visit the Sri Minakshee temple in the morning. If a challenge had been “find a place to park within 1km of the temple”, I doubt anyone would have scored points. In the US, some fancy restaurants will supply a coat and tie if you aren’t wearing one. In this temple, one of the most famous in India and one of the only places where rituals from an ancient civilization are still practiced, the dress code for men is: bare feet and long pants. Giamp was wearing shorts and he was required to buy a dhoti, though it looked like a skirt to me. Orange is definitely his color as shown in today's video. On the way out we picked up pencils, jump ropes, and toy cars for the school visit.

We also discover our most important piece of equipment, the horn, is broken.This is no joke. Proactive use of the horn is a must when driving in India. It basically tells others “move left” – it’s used to signal passing, and it clears bikes, pedestrians, dogs and goats. Cows do not listen to the horn, or don’t know what left is. I offer to buy the air horn from a rickshaw taxi, but he wants 600 rupees (over $12) which was outrageous, but certainly reflects the value of the horn. Instead we buy a bike horn and whistles – combined with our hats we look and sound like a circus. It’s not very effective but the freak factor is great.

Once we were on the road, we encountered a new variable: rain. There are four windshield wiper configurations on a rickshaw: manual (a lever you manually move back and forth), motorized (where a small motor automatically turns the wiper for you), manual motor (where the motor is broken but the screws have been removed, so you can move the wiper by manually turning the motor) or “hole” (you have a small hole where the wiper goes). Sadly, we have the motorized configuration which ties for second with “hole” and is far inferior to either of the manual options. Our windshield is a mess, rain is coming into both sides of the rickshaw, and as we turn the corner less than 1km outside Madurai, we see a very large truck on its side in the river with a somewhat smaller than normal Indian throng looking on. Clearly, this truck had just gone into the water and the vehicle (another truck) it had collided with was pulled over as well. We stopped to check it out - miraculously everyone was alright. Last night we were able to settle two fender benders for 200 rupees – I’m curious what this one cost.

Fortunately, the rain was short lived. To make sure we don’t have a repeat of yesterdays sub par finish, we calculate the distance and our average speed, and make sure we have plenty of room to spare before flag down, or at least sundown. Our rickshaw has a top speed of 50km/hr on the flat (we’ve hit 55 on a hill, and can’t break 40 when there is a headwind), but with the various obstacles along the way, averaging 30km/hr is about right for planning purposes. GPS and map in hand, we calculate and recalculate our arrival time based on various worst case and likely case assumptions about every 30 minutes. Things are on plan!

Our intel said there were 50 kids at the Mandapam Ooratchi Thodakapalli school in Saiaivalasai village, but when we arrived there were only 24, with 6 “absent”. We don’t know if that means they were sick (seems like a lot of kids to have sick), whether they were on vacation, working, or just playing hooky. Probably they were helping harvest crops since the roads are covered by corn and other crops farmers put there so that the passing cars with thresh them. The kids were by far the best disciplined class of all we have encountered so far and they were thrilled and super thankful for the items we brought.

Our planning paid off and we arrived at the Hare Krishna Hotel on schedule and in the light, so to speak. We even stop at a “fast food” restaurant in the middle of nowhere along the way. The meal starts with a banana leaf and they dribble water on it. Didn’t the EWG say something about not drinking the water? Then they pile rice and various vegetable mixtures on top. You use the utensil’s you brought with you – be sure to wash them before and after the meal! We were about 70% sure we were about to encounter our mysterious companion dysentery.

We had enough time to spare to visit Adam’s bridge which is the furthest eastern point in Tamil Nadu. We asked for directions and when “Adams Bridge” did not register, we weren’t sure what to call the tip of the peninsula. Finally we asked “Which way to Sri Lanka?” and were given some “pointers” along with the cryptic statement “no look Sri Lanka”. We couldn’t figure out whether this meant “you can’t see Sri Lanka” or whether it was a political statement referring to the Tamil Sri Lanka conflict.

The sandy peninsula was a few hundred yards wide but stretched for many kilometers. We went as far as the road would let us, bought some coconuts at the fishing village there, and watched the sunset as the locals played with our GPS and cameras. There were a few hundred people who lived in that village and judging by their attitude and smiles, they had it figured out. They live in one of the most beautiful spots in the world (as you can see in today’s video), eat fresh fish, drink coconut juice, and tourists come by with strange gadgets to entertain them. That said, I’d hate to be out there during a storm.


Jaikumar said...

Hi Kon,

Great blog and video! Can't believe that you are really doing it - you guys are insane!


Jay said...

Hi Kon,

Great videa as usual. Last when they serverd food in the banana leaf, my boss first thought it was the disposable place mat. When he saw food being served on it- his expression was PRICELESS.

Please keep it coming!


Bindya Iyyappan said...

Its a wonderful experience you have shared here. interesting to read and excited to visit.

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