Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, May 25, 2017

To Chennai (Madras)

We had to fly to Mumbai, then change planes and fly to Chennai. Chennai is on the East Coast of India whereas Mumbai is on the west coast. Lots of flying but all went smoothly. Fiona and Gary had it all under control, still I missed Dinesh.
Lakuma, Our New Local Guide

Arriving in Chennai in the middle of the afternoon we checked into our hotel and then immediately started our city tour. Our new guide was Lakuma who has a Doctorate Degree in Tourism with a focus on the history of South India. She wore a pretty sari and was very proud of her Indian heritage. We had some drive-byes of the buildings formerly run by the East India Co; it was somewhat of a blur. Many of the former large British buildings are now Indian Government offices. Unfortunately they look dated and I am not sure how efficient they are for today's economy or politics. Our one main stop, before it closed at 5 pm was St. Mary’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church east of Suez. Built in 1680, it is to my Western mind just an old church, nothing special,
Inside St. Mary's Church
albeit the apparatus to operate the fans to create some kind of air movement during service was ingenious. Several slaves stood outside the Church pulling on ropes attached to pulleys which moved large paddles to “fan” the pious crowd inside.

Two Kids Waiting to Make Their First Communion
At St. Mary's Church
Madras (Chennai) was just a fishing village before the Portuguese, the Dutch, and then later the English came. The big change to the area happened on Dec. 31, 1600. Queen Elizabeth 1st of England granted a royal charter to the famous East India Company (EIC) which grew to do business on a grand scale, unprecedented until that time. The EIC was given a monopoly of trade east of the Cape of Good Hope and West of the Straits of Magellan. This would be all trade in the Pacific between Africa and America. The company made good use of this charter, renewing it again in 1609 with King James 1st. The money made by EIC was astronomical. In 1639 the EIC founded Madras, known today as Chennai when they received permission from the Mogul Leader to trade and establish themselves throughout his kingdom (India). With that agreement, international politics exploded. Self-serving politics entered the trading world and with many ups and downs, wars, pirates, betrayals, expansionism, etc., etc. The company lasted until 1858, when it  was dissolved by order of Great Britain.

The power struggle between the Moguls and the British caused all kinds of wars to start here. Naturally the French, Dutch, Portuguese, etc., were involved or wanted a slice of the total business and to a degree got it, yet the EIC was by far the biggest, most powerful trading company, maybe ever. And all we visited was St. Mary’ Church? Well, Lakuma was not Dinesh. Lakuma however told us the following while riding in the bus:
A Well-Balanced Load

 Madras was the name only the English used, Chennai was the name of the town for ages in the Tamil Nadu language, the Indian language spoken here. Whenever, among Indians, the town was written down in their native script, it was always written as Chennai, never Madras. Madras was only used when speaking or writing in English. The name Madras was taken from the first fishing village that was there when the English came, Madraspatnam. A cotton cloth, produced in this area, was light weight and cool to wear in summer. Originally it was a printed over cloth, workers would wear but the big sales came when plaid woven cotton fabric was used. This plaid fabric was made using vegetable dyes that bled when washed; creating a ‘blurry’ plaid that was the epitome of style at one time. The faults in the yarn, the slubs and nubs the cloth had, the bleeding of the dye colors, all the negatives were advertised as being unique and ‘ the real thing ‘, it was only due to advertising that an inferior product became a fashion statement. Brooks Bros. was the leading fashion house that started this trend.
Flower Seller

There are 29 States within India, 22 speaking their own language, and some even have their own writing system. To be able to speak to each other, Hindi, the native language of Hindustan is used and all numbers are the internationally used numbers. Only in 2010 did the high court of Gujarat rule on making this official. The written system must be the Devanagari script. All official government writings are in English, too.

Chennai population changes over the course of the year. While it is believed that the core population is around 6 million, the seasonal swell of workers and tourists can bring it to 10 million and more.

The main road in Chennai runs from the airport to downtown, 17 km long. The house numbers run consecutively in a clockwise fashion, so the house across the street has a totally different number, not even close to your house number.
Happy Kids

Temperatures can reach 45C in summer and water is very precious. Monsoon rains are needed to refill reservoirs or soak the fields. Chennai has not had monsoon rain for the last 4 ½ years. Cyclones (hurricanes) bring some water but a steady, daily rain (monsoon) is needed desperately.

Chennai’s main industries are: automobiles, leather production, salt, rice sugar and mango production (mango is not a native fruit for Tamil Nadu).

Historically cotton and silk were main products but because of international pressure those commodities have mostly been abandoned in this region.
Kapaleeshwar Temple
Our group visited the Kapaleeshwar Temple, an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is said that Lord Shiva pinched off a head of Lord Brahma to arrest his pride. The crestfallen Lord Brahma came to this spot and did penance. Carol and I took some time off and did not enter the temple. We are getting “templed” out.

Close Up of Some of the Carvings On the Temple

We also drove along the famous Marina Beach (2nd longest public beach on earth – Miami is longest). It is a wide beach, busy with people but the ocean waters are not conducive to swimming, too dangerous with currents and pollution.  At each end of this long, 50 km long, beach are salt works, salt is extracted for use and export. We did not see the salt works.

Phew! It was a long day.  We called it quits for day one, the traveling, the flights and the heat wore us out.

Marina Beach

Asking Directions At the Beach

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