Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hitting the wall

Brihadishwara Temple
Today's ride was a hard couple of hours. No more four-lane road, we found ourselves chugging through small towns, bouncing over speedbumps, and dodging homicidal buses for most of the 55 mile ride. Once we reached Thanjavur we made a beeline for our preferred hotel, which was supposed to have wifi and reasonable rates. Well, they had wifi, but the rate had nearly doubled, so the search continued. Out came the phone, and we called three other possibilities. At our second choice, we ran into a tiny, little parking guard with a whistle and a Napoleonic complex. When we pulled up in front of the hotel, he came out, blew his whistle, and pointed for us to park in another place. So, we moved to the other place, which was in front of a small eatery on the ground floor of the hotel. Here, another man came out of the eatery and pantomimed eating, pointing at our bikes and the restaurant. We shook our heads no, and he gestured for us to get the hell out of his parking lot. So, we rode the twenty feet back to the hotel parking lot, where the little dictator tried to shoo us away again. We pointed to ourselves and to the front of the hotel, and he finally got the clue. He then decided that instead of us staying where we were, we needed to snake our way up over a 6- inch high sidewalk at a 45-degree angle between cars, a power pole, and the building. Since Re was ahead, she went before I could stop her. The little dictator decided that blowing his whistle loudly and yelling would somehow ensure success. I had the very bad feeling that this was going to end in tears, but Re seemed confident that she could make it. But she didn't. When her rear tire slipped off the sidewalk and dropped the 6-inches back to the dirt, her bike lurched sideways toward the wall and in her attempt to save the bike from going over, she twisted the throttle. Oh no. The rear tire caught traction on the edge of the sidewalk and Re and her bike ended up hitting the wall of the hotel. The good news was that the little dictator stopped blowing his whistle and yelling and actually just walked away. After we extricated the bike, the damage assessment revealed a cracked mirror, cracked front fender, cracked turn signal lens, and a pissed off wife. I think the little dictator was wise to leave when he did, or he may have found that whistle wedged where the sun don't shine.

The noise level in India is putting some serious strain on my nerves. And I am very tired of people indicating where they want me to park by blowing whistles and throwing their arms around in the air. Although I have been riding for twelve years, my experience is extremely intermittent and really doesn't add up to that many miles, and I get really nervous about moving the bike in tight spaces. And I also have to remember that I can ignore the person ordering me to move someplace. Colin keeps reminding me that I am in charge of riding my bike, and if I am not comfortable with something I don't have to do it. This is something I need to continue to work on.
After all this, Re went into the hotel, only to find that they would not honor the rate they'd given us over the phone just ten minutes before. More “taxes.” On to choice number three, which was a few more rupees, but was very nice, except that while checking in, the rate suddenly jumped by nearly 6 USD. Even though Re asked several times if the original price included tax and was assured that yes it did, suddenly it did not include tax. So, back on the bikes and on to choice number four. Finally, we made it to a place where the price was what was quoted on the phone. The room was nice enough, but the AC did not work, so we changed rooms and headed out to repair what we could on Re's bike. After thoroughly cleaning the fender inside and out, we dipped into the toolkit for Superglue and Gorilla tape. We glued the cracked fender and backed the repair with Gorilla tape on the inside for good measure, and also glued the cracked turn signal lens. While we had the tools out, we also straightened the turn signal mount, but the cracked mirror is just gonna have to remain cracked. With that done, we went out to check email at an internet cafe and get some dinner. When we returned to the room, it was cooler in the hallway than it was in our room. To make matters worse, the man at reception spoke little English and we had a hard time explaining what the problem was. Eventually we changed to a third room in time for bed, where the AC was blissfully cool and went to sleep.

Nandi carved from a single piece of stone
Our plan for today was to see the sights that Thanjavur has to offer, so we walked the half mile to the Brihadishwara Temple and Fort. This temple is different in that the sandstone is natural rather than having every surface plastered and painted. Between the natural stone surfaces and the excellent carvings, it reminded us a bit of Angkor Wat. Also notable is the humongous statue of Nandi (Shiva's ride) that is carved from a single piece of rock and is nearly 20 feet long (that's a lot of hamburgers if they made hamburgers in India. I would like a hamburger.) (ME TOO! That is about the only thing I have craved in India is a big, juicy hamburger). This temple is also different from all we've seen so far in that the central tower (vimana) is the tallest structure, whereas, in all the others, the gopurams have been the tallest. Here the vimana is nearly 200 feet high.

disembodied legs on the palace wall
After the temple, we hoofed another half mile to the Thanjavur Royal Palace and Museums. The palace was once a grand place but has fallen into a state of decay. It is a huge complex of many different halls, some of which now house tiny “museums,” and a 7-story bell tower. The entire palace complex is crumbling. The grounds, and what must have been gardens, are overgrown, weed-filled messes. The walls are covered in graffiti, and the original painted ceilings and walls are exposed to the elements. It is supposed to be an important historical site, but nothing is being done to preserve it. 

Hall in the Palace
Within the palace are several separate “museums” which you pay extra to enter (only 2 – 5 Rupees each, plus a camera fee). These museums were truly the crappiest museums I have ever been to. One of them was in a dark hall which had no apparent light source other than the open door at the end. In order to look at the unlabled carved coconuts and old padlocks in the cases, I dug out the headlamp (and then put it away after I realized the contents of the cases really weren't worth the effort). Another museum was in a musty room at the top of a very dark set of stairs that housed a collection of porcelain figurines that were reminiscent of many a garage sale I have attended. We left the palace complex after climbing as high as we could in the belltower and stopped for lunch at a sweaty hole in the wall close to our hotel. 
This was a very basic, local restaurant that normally wouldn't have caught our eye, except that every time we walked by, virtually every seat was occupied no matter what time of day. While we stood outside looking in, the waiter gestured us inside and found us two seats at a common table. There were no menus, and apparently no one spoke English, but we ordered our lunch by pointing at other patrons meals. We were served some spicy (not too spicy) rice, curd rice, green stuff, onion raitha, and an egg and onion omelet and as quickly as we ate, our banana leaves were refilled with more yummy goodness. At the end of the meal, we went to the counter to pay, and the cost for two lunches was a total of 37 rupees (75 cents). We had a delicious, cheap lunch and our fellow patrons seemed tickled to have us there. After lunch, we wandered down the street and found a motorbike shop with tires that would fit our bikes. We bough two new rear tires, two tubes, two spark plugs, and the very nice shopkeeper threw in three keychains with his shop's logo (I assume, since they're printed in Tamil. Or maybe they say “my hovercraft is full of eels”).

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