Trip to Kanchipuram
On my first Saturday, Virginia at Gratitude suggested I join her for a day trip. Three of us took a chance on the weather and set off by taxi at 6 a.m. I sat up front and Virginia was in the back with a French friend, Ann, from Auroville, who turned out to be a great textile expert. The drive was fine most of the time but ominous clouds and intermittent gusts of rain followed us all day.
On arrival at Kanchipuram we decided to investigate the famous silk weaving with gold thread first. (http://tamilelibrary.org/teli/silk1.html)
Our driver stopped at the Sri Perundevi Thayar Silk House where we were given a friendly welcome as we dashed across the road, jumping over puddles of mud and weaving our way through the blaring horns.
Initially we watched a demonstration of hand weaving at the back of the shop, but it wasn't long before we were lured to the front to sit on the floor surrounded by silk saris of all color combinations. I don't buy a lot of saris but I'm certain the ones we saw there were quite unique.
Eventually the choices were narrowed down and Ann led the hard bargaining!
Once the deals were struck, our man at Sri Perundevi decided to take us under his wing and offered to arrange for us to visit the village where dyeing & weaving take place. Unfortunately, the rains were too strong that day and access to the village in question was apparently no longer possible due to flash flooding. We agreed to return to the shop after lunch and be guided to a nearby weaving district of Kanchipuram, where, despite the fierce weather we were able to see the whole spinning and weaving process taking place in various cottages and even out in the street.
Satisfied with our silk purchases we decided to tackle some template culture and landed at the magnificent mango temple of Ekambareswara. http://www.templenet.com/Tamilnadu/ekamkanc.html. Here we discovered the salutary tale of Parvathi being banished by her husband, Shiva, and ending up sitting next to a earthen Lingam under a mango tree to do penance for her 'sins'. I think we could understand playing a game and closing your husband's eyes in jest, but getting banished under such conditions did appear rather a tough deal!
The main wing had a TV network running what looked like a public performance and around the corner was a busy savoury snack stand was doing a roaring trade next to a highly decorated Nandi statue.
The inner area was peppered with diligent groups of art students from Chennai sketching architectural features and there were an abundance of pundits willing to make blessings. In exchange for the blessings we were asked for donations and Virginia in particular was told they also accepted "Dollars", "Euros" and "Pounds"! Obviously, we were experiencing the Realpolitik of 21st Century tourism.
Ekambareswara delighted, intrigued and amused us alternately, as I hope the photos will illustrate.
Finding a place to eat in Kanchipuram just as the rains started again was a little fraught as we wanted to find a place recommended in the French Guide Bleue, Kanchi Kudil, http://www.indiamart.com/kanchikudil/ Our driver had very different ideas, but even he was enchanted by the place when we finally located it.
Kanchi Kudil, unfortunately only serves meals with prior notice so we peered at the local Tamil family displays, bought a few gifts and followed our driver's advice to luncheon at the Hotel Saravana Bhavan, http://www.saravanabhavan.com/restaurants.php?cn=India&cy=Kanchipuram. This is part of a large Indian chain with excellent vegetarian fare. We also saw the group of art students from Ekambareswara seated not far from us, so we knew we had landed a good value, down town venue.
Ominous thunder and lightning followed us most of our drive home. The three passengers were quite quiet as we were all concentrating on the road and trying to keep our cool as the driver honked and swerved his way back to Pondy with grim determination. The atmosphere changed immediately when we stopped on rue de Busy at Baker Street, http://www.actupondy.com/en/eats/take-away-delivery/462-baker-street , to purchase some "éclairs" and "gateaux au citron" to take home to Gratitude and by the time we were seated at the dining room table, sipping tea, sharing cakes, displaying our trophies and recounting our experiences we realized how glad we were that we had braved the elements, and how glad we were to be back safely with Kakoli at Gratitude.