Kanchipuram, India

Kanchipuram Travel Blog

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I never really went to the swimming pool this morning. Even though I had set the alarm clock early enough, I just couldn't get out of bed. I definitely had been more tired by the lack of sleep and the warm weather in the past few days. So I stayed in bed a bit longer. After another fine breakfast George and I headed for the town Kanchipuram, another major tourist attraction of historical value. Most of the 1,5 hour journey was done on the highway to Bangalore. And if you think traffic in the city is dangerous, you should try this highway. The average speed is twice as high, but the number of cows doesn't seem to be any lower, resulting in bloodcurdling swerves in order not to hit loose cattle. The Chennai area is obviously doing very well, judging from all of the big companies that were either located on or building a location along the highway: Nokia, Motorola, a local beer brand, Hyundai ...

As mentioned in yesterday's journal we hadn't left too early this day, so when we arrived in Kanchipuram it was already getting pretty hot. However, places like this or Mahabalipuram are much more comfortable then Chennai; more open space, more wind, less air pollution. George asked me to leave my shoes in the car and went to park it while I entered the first temple (Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple). There are countless temples in Kanchipuram, which used to be the 'headquarter' of the Pallava dynasty. Kanchipuram is the 2nd holiest place in India after Varanasi and Hindu people from all over the world come to visit it. Some of the temples we visited during the day were actually multiple-building affairs, complete with a pond with holy water. When I asked George some questions about the details of the temples he wasn't able to answer me. Seemingly his Christian background had kept him from learning a lot about Hindu temples. He did however call a local guide that would be able to tell me more.
On the way out of this first temple, George pointed me to an elephant that would 'bless' you when you gave him a rupee coin. The blessing consisted of a gentle knock on the head with the trunk. Initially I was wondering if this would be a relative of the Rolo commercial elephant, but finally I decided to give it a try. Well, queuing in India definitely doesn't work, since people kept sneaking in front of me. When the elephant took my coin and patted me on the head the crowd had completely disappeared though ... I'm wondering if I maybe shouldn't have done that and if they now considered the elephant 'unpure' because it touched me.

Anyway, coming out of the temple we were met by Kumar, our guide for this morning. Well, as he later admitted he wasn't actually a guide but worked for an organisation that arrange puja pilgrimages to the city. The next temple he took me to was a Vishnu temple and one of the oldest in Kanchipuram. While he showed me some of the carvings and told me some of the stories behind them we were followed by the temple guard. At one point Kumar told us that the inner temple was closed, but that the guard would open it for us, at his own risk. For a closed day there were remarkably many people inside, getting the puja mark from the temple servant. When we came out Kumar told me that we should pay the guard 50 rupee for taking the risk. Hold on ... I don't think so sir. I told Kumar that I was more then willing to pay him as a guide for the tour - 'no sir, I'm not a guide but you can pay me anything afterwards if you were satisfied' - but I definitely was not willing to pay every person we met along the way. I also made it very clear that I didn't want to visit any shops besides the silk shop I had in mind. The message seemed to come across very clearly, because he was all 'yes sir, yes sir'.

Kanchipuram Kanchipuram Kanchipuram Kanchipuram Kanchipuram

(Click on the pictures above to view the full photo album)

We visited two other temples, one for Shiva and one for Vishnu (Sri Kailasanathar Temple). All with fascinating architecture, carvings and even a mural painting. At a Ganesh shrine Kumar taught me the movements of the Ganesh worship and inside the Shiva shrine even the none-Hindu's George and Ed were given a puja dot by the temple servant. When Kumar asked me if I wanted to see more temples I was in doubt. In the last two days I had seen quite a lot of them and the temple fatigue was starting to kick in. On the other hand, lacking a copy of the Lonely Planet for South India (after all, that would be overdoing it, wouldn't it), I feared that I might miss some important ones. I did however semi-trust Kumar's opinion that we'd cover the most important ones and we proceeded to Kanchi Kudil, a house that was decorated in the traditional style of Kanchipuram. A nice addition to yesterday's Dakshina Chitra, the house included furniture and articles of daily use and included a master's (man) room, a ladies room, children room, puja room (for worship) kitchen and courtyard (including a functioning well!). Attached to the house there was a canteen where we were offered a Diet Coke. Great, no stomach aches from the food but from aspartame today.

While I was discussing the expansion of IT services in Chennai and mobile devices with Kumar and George our guide let out a belch that could have triggered a small Tsunami. Some people might be disgusted, but I can only be surprised and amused by the different eating and drinking habits of the Indian people. As a matter of fact, I've become quite an adapt in scooping up food with pieces of naan. I just haven't figured out how to break the bread by using only my right hand. I must pay closer attention during Monday's lunch at Cognizant. When we left the house I wanted to buy a small version of the typical Tamil Nadu oil lamp that the women light every morning, but unfortunately it wasn't for sale.

Next and last stop was a silk manufacturer. I had been told by Prasanna and had read that Kanchipuram was a centre of fine manual silk production. Telling Judith she had immediately asked me to make sure to bring some scarfs home for everybody in the family ! After the shop owner showed me how the silk was produced (the shop included one working machine) we gathered around a table and the process of haggling began. He showed me some marvellous sarees, among which a breathtaking bridal saree, but I explained him that I wasn't looking for a saree, only scarfs. The average price on a scarf was 1850 rupees, but of course I directly got 30% discount without even negotiating. I made it clear that I still considered that rather high, so I asked what the price would be when I bought more. 1200 rupees. Too high I said, I offered 5000 rupees for 5 scarfs and no more. After the usual 'you are my first customer' and a lot of tossing and turning he finally gave in. But only if I would refer a lot of my friends and colleagues to the shop if they would ever visit Kanchipuram. Afterwards Kumar told me that I was a fine businessman, but I never really know for sure. I had seen Kanchipuram scarfs being offered on a web site for 600 rupee, but of course I couldn't compare the quality. Not that I'm an expert in silk, so how should I even tell ...
When we left Kanchipuram I asked Kumar to tell me honestly if he was getting commission on the sale. He was clearly upset by my question 'I'm a follower of Shiva, I would never do that, I don't like it that you think I get commission'. He continued by refusing the money I wanted to give him for the tour. After I said that I didn't mind if he got commission or not, and that he'd done a nice tour and I therefore wanted to pay him he accepted the money. But he was clearly displeased by my question, and I was clearly doubting his honest answer ...

Kanchi Kudil Kanchi Kudil Silk Shop, Kanchipuram St. Thomas Mount

(Click on the pictures above to view the full photo album)

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photo by: m_omshanti