Wednesday, December 20, 2006

12.20.06, 9:00pm – Rain Tree Hotel, Chennai, India.

I just got back from more sightseeing after work with Manickam and Anwar. They took me to an enormous beach. They said it’s the second largest beach in Asia and I would have a hard time doubting them. The walk from the car to the waves was about 15 minutes and they say the beach stretches for kilometers (although they wouldn’t tell me exactly how many but it’s definitely more than 4).

A little further down the beach we encountered the “touristy” area, with rows of carts selling various things, but mostly popcorn, drinks (sodas and water), cheap toys and trinkets, and bracelets. Every set of 4 carts repeated the same sequence. Now’s that’s competition.

Beach shops.

Near this touristy area were a couple of memorials to some famous Tamil Nadu politicians. I think they were both Chief Ministers of the State. The bigger memorial honored M. G. Ramachandran (MGR). He was an actor-turned-politician (sound familiar, Californians?) who was, and still is, quite revered. He served for 13 years, which is quite an accomplishment as most last only one term (5 years). He was entombed there in 1987 and they say his watch still ticked when they laid him to rest. Now visitors to his shrine press their ears to his tomb because legend has it you can still hear his watch ticking. That must be one heck of a battery in that thing. Manickam and Anwar were unimpressed with the legend’s validity.

Tick tick tick.

The smaller memorial honored a different Chief Minister (whose name escapes me at the moment) from an earlier period. Apparently at one time something like 2 million people gathered on the beach there to hear him speak. It’s some sort of world record for a beach gathering or some such. This entire paragraph is likely strewn with inaccuracies as I didn’t quite grasp the whole story on that one.

UPDATE: The second guy's name is C. N. Annadurai and 15 million people attended his funeral. That set a record for funeral attendence at the time (1969). Wikipedia says so.

The general area of the beach and memorials had some of the grandest architecture I’ve seen here. Aside from the soaring monuments to the Chief Administrators (both were at least 100 ft high and 50 yards across), an arch separated the main road from this area and it, too, must’ve been at least 100 ft high. Across the street was a university building with onion-type domes and rows (colonnades?) of large pillars and arches. If it had been daylight I would have taken some grand pictures of it. Alas, I am a working stiff, even half a world away, and they don’t let me out until it’s dark outside.

The MGR Memorial.

The next stop was St. Thomas Basilica church and shrine. A large and impressive building, that. It was kind of odd to be in a Christian church in India, but there are more Christians here then you’d think. At least, there are more than I was expecting. But, then, my research prior to coming here could accurately be described as “minimal”, so what do I know? The inside of the church was typically magnificent for a church of its size and there were quite a few very serious worshipers inside. Across the parking lot from this impressive structure stood (or, more accurately, leaned) a primitive construction site. It was quite the contrast.

Barefoot genuflecting.

The church of St. Thomas.

The construction site.

I seriously stood in one spot for those last two photos. All I had to do was turn 180 degrees.

Now I’m back in the hotel. Room service just arrived so I’m gonna go eat.

48 hours from now I’ll be getting ready to board my flight home. Joy.


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