India Trip Notes
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Back in Tiruvannamalai
20-11 - Doesn't look like a toy train to me. That's what they call it. Got back here after that great narrow rail train ride down from the blue hills of Ooty, the queen of the hill stations, the tea plantation area at 7700 ft. featured in the last report. Went down past jungled mountainsides with creeks and rivers running over rocks like at Tassajara and Arroyo Seco, stops at little stations with monkeys for beggars.
The return trip was seventeen hours, four busses and a train. I got back after an all night bus ride sitting in the suicide seat just behind the conductor [never saw a bus without a conductor] so I could watch the other vehicles come barreling toward us as we passed slower vehicles on the mostly two lane roads. Every now and then a vehicle with its front crushed in is visible on the side, but mainly we don't have head-ons. A much much tighter margin is customary here when passing. They start cutting back in long before we in the USA do - we're supposed to wait till we can see the vehicle we're passing in the rear view mirror. There's no time for that here. I wonder what happens when people who drive like this go to other countries. If they do in the States what they do here they'd be gunned down by the first road rager. I don't see any road rage or street rage here, everything's tight, right on the edge - for cars, motorbikes, pedestrians, animals - but they're always looking out for each other. I am full of admiration.
Back to my apartment near the Ramana Ashram at the base of Arunachala. Looked out the back window that morning to check on our cows (before they start wandering around), the row of auto rickshaws stored below which had shrunk from 11 to 7, the vast field beyond. The roof is gone, sort of. There was a restaurant upstairs called German Bakery which I wanted to rename Nota over the sign because, although it was started by a German, it was just a regular little family Indian restaurant and Not a German Bakery. But they're gone and they took the bamboo and coconut leaf roof with them and all the tables and now there's a bare flat roof with a protective wall around and I went up there and looked at the moon and the mountain. Sweet.
Last night was the full moon walk around the mountain attended by, they say, a million people a month, the one I joined a month ago. See 2-18-11 - Circumambulating Mt. Arunachala. Last night I just went to the tea stand opposite the Ramana Ashram and watched the throng go by on the road for an hour while visiting with a Czech friend who never wants to leave here. We admired the women's sari's and other colorful dress. She noted that even the very poor women here seem to be able to wear such lovely fabric and noted it looks so good on them because of their dark skin color. I told her that I get mesmerized looking at the women's skin, and it's not a sexual thing. They're so beautiful. I guess the men have the same skin but they don't wear their clothes to expose the top of their back.
Talking to one of the guys that run this popular tea stand, I noted that if they'd put up something to shade the sitting area, that they'd have a lot more business in the afternoon. Maybe he's the boss or the owner. He said that it would cost 50,000 rupees. I said no way, that they could put up a net on the poles that are already there, or some coconut leaves. With a location like that it would pay for itself in no time. A savvy Indian man who'd joined us explained that the problem wasn't putting up the shade but the fact that the sitting area was owned by the government as part of the road and that if he put something up they'd charge him or take it down or demand a bribe etc. The thing is, he said me, they just don't care enough. It's not that they're not smart, just that people around here are easily satisfied and don't like to go to a lot of trouble. I said, "Yeah, people here are content. Even the very poor and the beggars seem content." "That's the word," he said.
It's interesting that in the morning after this mob of people and activity, both last month and this, there were no more people at the ashram or the tea stand. According to Arul who runs Guru Internet where I go daily, those who haven't left stay downtown near Arunachaleswarar, the big temple which is the focal point for the Girivalam, circumambulation. Check it out. It is really big. Katrinka, Gita, and some friends and I spent a half day there. Its got these Mayan temple like pyramidal structures called Gopuram. I've mentioned that before but I didn't put the name of the temple and the link. It's the center of this place, it and the mountain. Ramana Ashram is probably the largest Ashram around but it's one of many ashrams and temples that go all the way round the mountain.
This morning I watched black pigs pushing their snouts in trash and broken coconut shells to get the meat out that often remains cause most people just drink the juice. And then I stood by three huge humpbacked cows we call Brahma bulls eating slowly the watermelon rinds and crushed sugarcane stalks leftover from last nights sales. I always wonder what these animals eat. The sheep and goats and horses and cows I have known Stateside eat all day long and most the animals I see around here are just standing around. But they don't seem malnourished.
Living in the Embrace - the leading blog by Richard Clark on Tiruvannamalai where I am, famous for its holy mountain, Arunachala.
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