We had our first group trip today!! Destination: Chennai.
Everything about this morning was horrible. We woke up early. Our flight got delayed for three hours. Some of us didn’t have a bar code on our boarding passes so we had to frantically run over babies and luggage to get to the main desk and get our tickets (I was one of those people). With our flight delayed, we did get to have breakfast as a group, but as it was unfulfilling, a few of us went in search for some treats. Those, too, were a disappointment. They tasted like rose water. So we got some cake from a cafe. Terrible taste. We missed visiting several sites because of our delayed flight and sat through a terribly long meeting with a prince. These are my list of grievances for the day.
The weather that greeted us in Chennai was hotter and more humid than Hyderabad’s. I don’t really have a reason to complain; we boarded our tour bus and stayed inside for much of the day. What had initially been thought to be bad weather was actually foggy skies from last night’s fires. This is the weekend of Pongal–essentially the Tamil New Year’s. It’s a major celebration here in India, signaling the end of the traditional farming season. In Tamil Nadu–the capital and largest city of Chennai–Pongal celebration is spread over four days. On the first day, Bhogi, people burn old clothes and household items to rid themselves of the old year, creating a heavy layer of smoke in the atmosphere. Our guide said the people in the city couldn’t see the sun even in 9 in the morning. The second day, called Perum, is the most important day of Pongal, where people wear new clothes, exchange greetings, the women decorate houses with Kolam and prepare the Pongal dish. Mattu Pongal, the third day, includes worshipping cattle and nature. On the fourth and final day, Kanum, people go out to picnics and enjoy time with their families and friends.
We arrived during Bhogi, which had already happened in the morning. This is likely why I didn’t see much festivities on the streets. Perum–the second day–has the more visible, livelier celebrations. We ate a fancy restaurant, where we were served a South Indian Thali. This would be my second time with these platters; too easy to overeat with them. Shamefully, my favorite part of the meal was the appetizer–tomato soup with croutons. I just wasn’t feeling it this time. After my first thali at Chutney’s I was kinda over it.
Lunch was pretty rushed because we didn’t want to miss any more of our schedule. So we headed over to visit the Prince of Arcot. At his palace. Jesus, his palace was beautiful, with a million hanging lights, lavish floors and hallways, grand staircases. Prince Abdul Ali was…quite the guy. Here’s a selfie with our matching bald heads.
Our stay here was prolonged so, again, we had to miss visiting other sites. Everything else that we saw was from the bus, unfortunately. Oh and we weren’t exempt from the typical tour guide lecture about the history of Tamil Nadu, in case you thought our suffering ended there. I might or might not have paid attention, because I was too busy admiring the city. In contrast with our surroundings near the UoH campus, Tamil Nadu had many displays of Hindu deities. Hindus are indeed the predominant religion in Tamil Nadu, though Christians, Muslims, and Jains live here too. The walls are covered with huge movie posters and festival dates, all in Tamil. As night fell, we passed by the ocean, important government buildings, arts and law institutions, the rail station, and Georgetown–one of the most cramped spaces in India.
When we got to our hotel at night, we had a discussion on Bharatnatyam dance, a form of art expressing religious devotion. The history of Bharatnatyam begins in Tamil Nadu. It used to be performed exclusively by women and traditionally narrated Hindu legends through movement. It evolved into a type of entertainment for the wealthy at courts. British colonials banned Bharatnatyam dance, accusing the dance as a form of prostitution. After India’s independence, Tamils reintroduced the dance traditions in their temples, reviving their cultural pride and reclaiming the body in a new way. We ended our day with a banquet. Lot of rich foods. Even richer stomach problems.