Yesterday the family went on a CLO trip to Kanchipuram, a city about 2 hours from here renowned for its silk weavers and stunning saris. It's also home to a huge temple devoted to the gods Siva and Parvati and roughly 999 other temples, one that's one thousand five hundred years old.
I wish I could remember the names of them, but alas, with the Indian way of naming places Srisivaramaswamy, Ramaswamysiva, etc. I would have had to take notes. But if you're curious, you can see the two temples we visited on the TamilNation page . The top one, Kailasanatha temple, is 1500 years old and is apparently little used anymore, even with it's 58 meditation cubbies where believers are welcome to scrunch themselves in to their favorite one and contemplate all things mortal and not. Apparently #43 is very popular. There's a painting off to the side that is, you guessed it, also 1500 years old.
The second temple, Ekambaranathar Temple (ok, ok, I did a little research on the ones we went to because otherwise I felt lame), is one of the largest in India with a hall of 1000 pillars and a 3500 year old mango tree at its center. Inside the temple was remarkably dry, and the dogs roaming and bats flying added a certain ambiance. The temple is dedicated to the marriage of Siva and Parvati according to our guide, and the day we were there was the final day of a week long celebration of the same.
It rained on our trip. It's been raining regularly for the past couple weeks. It doesn't rain in March in Chennai, we should be in the midst of a sweltering scorching summer but it's cool and soggy instead. Weird. We didn't bring an umbrella for any of us and that ended OK as we managed to be covered whenever the heavy rains hit, and I made sure we all wore easy to remove shoes. Temples, unlike churches, require removal of footware. For this trip, we all left our shoes on the bus rather than in the muddy spots outside the temple doors, and we walked barefoot past the piles of trash, through the puddles several inches deep, around the stray dogs. The catchword... hookworm. Even when we returned to the bus, there were phantom pains of invisible parasites burrowing into our soles. We of the soft pads, walking along with the hordes of others. Even today the bottoms of my feet don't feel quite right.
Aside from the temple visits we also stopped by a silk weaving demonstration. I'd been curious how the patterns were worked into the silk and finally learned the answer: punch cards. Designs are drawn on graph paper which is translated to fantastic strings of cards. The cards are pulled through the machine across the silk threads to guide each one into its proper position, and the fine details like the gold and silver gilded threads are woven in by hand. Fascinating. The demonstration was over a shop, but all commercial silk is woven in the homes of the Kanchipurams. There's a union of sorts, children of weavers go to school full time until they are 12 years old. After 12, they are taught by their fathers (almost all weavers are men) during the day and attend school from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The weavers are supplied the silk and the patterns and earn 20% of the sale price. It's not much. A Rs10,000 sari will only net the weaver Rs2000, but the sari can take 20 days or more to make depending on the detail.
I was encouraged by a recent visitor to Kanchipuram who brought saris back ranging from Rs100 to Rs900. I didn't forget a zero there, because she went with some local staff and went real shopping. But I'm tired of being treated like a true blue tourist. Yes, we're visitors and in the grand scheme are only here for 3 years, but I know a bad deal when I see one and I didn't enjoy feeling like that part of the trip was a waste because I could buy material cheaper down the street from my house. And the fact that the store we went to was on a tourist circuit, we came in after a group and another group entered as we were looking around. Nevermind that we must have passed 20 silk shops just between the lunch stop and our destination shop. Any one of those would have been a more interesting (and our guide wouldn't have made his cut).
There are benefits to traveling in a group, not the least of which having other kids to occupy ours on the journey and not having to worry about parking. But for once I'd like to have my cake and eat it too... the ease of group travel with the great prices of striking it out on your own. But then perhaps there's a ratio requirement too... too many non-Indians and the prices double (or quintuple) anyway no matter how off the beaten track you are. There's a lesson in there somewhere.