Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Spring - Summer 2007

 

Part II ... continued from:  

We flew to Madras to link up with a tour by Zegrahm Expeditions. After a couple of days exploring the city, and getting over some culture shock, we flew south to Madurai to see some fantastic Hindu temples, and do some shopping.

Below is one of the seven large polychrome towers of one of south India's largest Hindu temple complex, the Shri Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple. Madurai is in the state of Tamil Nadu, where this site is much venerated. As in the Sri Lankan Buddhist temples, visitors to Hindu temples must leave shoes at the entrance.

India (and Sri Lanka) is a third-world country. Throughout the trip, we were struck by the traffic noise, the disorder, the roadside trash, the tiny retail shops (as we had seen in China), and generally primitive-appearing lifestyle. Water trucks deliver drinking water to people in Mahatma Gandhi’s Brahmin (high caste) former neighborhood in Bombay. Everywhere people were doing by hand what we in the advanced nations do with machines. People head-carry burdens (in Bologna, everyone uses wheeled shopping carts). Local deliveries are routinely by bicycle, hand carts, or animal-drawn carts (horse, camel, buffalo). We saw stacks of dried cow-patties on roadsides in Delhi within blocks of the seat of government.

Keep in mind, however, that we did not see an accurate cross-section of each community, although tour members asked for the bus tours to drive through ‘good’ sections of towns. In Sri Lanka, the road to Colombo from the airport was a chaotic, commercialized mess, and nothing like the quiet of Arthur Clarke’s residential neighborhood.

Elisabeth spent a lot of time shooting ‘guerilla’ photos from the bus; otherwise, we would have pictures mainly of old forts and temples.

Indian women float like butterflies, in colorful saris and salwar-kameez outfits (long tunic and scarf over long pants), walking with grace and perfect posture through the dirt and chaos and traffic. Elisabeth couldn’t take enough photos of the contrast this makes in the landscape.

Even women engaged in hard physical labor wear saris; there are no work clothes, not even hats! Women harvested mustard seed with hand sickles, or carried loads of bricks on their heads) or patted cow dung into large patties while wearing bright colored saris. Women in the cashew nut factory all wore the company uniform sari. State monument and street sweepers also wear sari-uniforms (pink, in Jaipur). Chinese peasants have it easier; they wear big straw hats and sensible pants suits in the fields.

The women on the tour forayed into the clothing shops and emerged with long tunics, scarves, and floppy pants. Californians have a great advantage over Easterners; we can wear the bright colors! We all went home with groaning bags of Indian clothes and crafts, mostly very inexpensive (if you don’t count the trip cost!).

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