Day 10 – Gandhi, Temples and free Coca Cola.
This morning we were granted our first lie in till 10am, which sounds like bliss until you deduct the time needed to wake up and gather the courage to wash yourself with a cold bucket of water – rinsing soap suds out of long hair using a measuring jug requires special skill which we were severely lacking and this added another 15 minutes onto the morning rituals… Christoph’s especially.
After breakfast (which was a strange offering of chicken nuggets, cereal, fruit, rice and eggs) we packed our bags for our return to Chennai.
With time to kill, Sister Stella took us sightseeing around Madurai where we would be catching the train at 8:00pm. Imagine a group of 18 westerners walking barefoot across a burning hot road whilst dodging tuk tuk’s and motorbikes (As Mr Jones would say- “that was not part of the risk assessment”). Why did we cross the road? To get to the Hindu temple on the other side… where we looked through a crack in a door and then left immediately in Kevin’s bus. Kevin was employed by the Presentation sisters by the way he wasn’t just any old Kevin. R’ Kev for short.
Stella asked if any of us wanted to see some monkeys- we were all very excited until we turned up to the ‘Gandhi museum’ and discovered the monkeys were dead, stuffed and had been given googly eyes. The rest of the museum ranged from pickled snakes, ancient crockery and an inaccurate model of the human skeleton- I think we can all agree that it was worthwhile paying the entry fee of ‘100rs per ‘foreigner’. We were led down a more educational route in the next museum where we learnt about the liberation of India and Gandhi’s powerful involvement in the movement.
We chanced our luck at getting into a much larger Hindu temple further out of Madurai. On route we snacked on biscuits and crackers- the peak of entertainment was when a lady in an ongoing bus appeared to ask Emily for a biscuit and we watched in horror as Emily calculated the physics behind throwing a biscuit against the wind into another moving vehicle. The digestive was delivered safely through the window and we arrived at the temple on South wing.
Getting past the temple security was more difficult than the Indian border rigmarole; two of the boys had to adopt temporary skirts made out of our scarves in order to cover their knees whilst a group of us attempted to cross the language barrier and convince the security guards that Holly and Alice’s epipens weren’t in fact weapons. Inside the temple, people in crowds flocked to worship their many gods who were cast in stone and painted an array of stunning blues, pinks and greens. Within the centre of the temple was a giant pool with running water which had us all very tempted to take a dip. Although areas of the temple had been designated ‘Hindus only’, the aspects that we were able to see were beautifully crafted, breathtaking works of art unlike any we had ever seen.
There was an insane contrast as we exited the calm and serene temple onto the manic streets of the West wing: stalls selling fruit and jewellery etc, people begging for money, homeless people asleep on the pavement and a sweltering heat that only a cold CocaCola could cure. Whilst on an individual crusade to find a bottle of coke, many of the girls bought anklets from stalls… except Emily as her ankles had swollen to the size of her neck. As part of Miss Garvey’s Indian tradition we perused around a textiles shop where we were told never to settle for first offer. Mr Jones had taken particular interest in a rug and began bartering for the best price possible while I was much more preoccupied with the fridge in the corner storing bottles of Pepsi and Coke. The owner of the shop told us they were complimentary and so it would have been rude not to clear them out. I think we caused him a great deal of stress as he failed to sell the rug to Mr Jones and we left with 13 bottles of coke.
Before boarding the train for the evening we took a brief stop at a restaurant which had been recommended to us. We were all apprehensive about eating anywhere other than the safety of the convent as so far no Imodium had been needed, but by the time the food had arrived we were starving. Holly and I decided carbs would be the safest option and stuck to Naan bread and chips hoping to avoid unwanted toilet trips on the train.
Boarding the train the second time round was much smoother having had practice and knowing what to expect. After multiple games of ‘dobble’ (a game with the capability of tearing families apart) the train was flooded with school children. Mr Jones’ face filled with delight at two possibilities: 1) teacher banter 2) this time we may not be the most hated party on the train.
Maisie – Jane.