I almost forgot. Something very strange happened to me at Kovalam. The sea there is clear and clean – you can be in it up to your neck, and see your feet through the blue-green water. The sand under your feet is pristine. I went out swimming most mornings when I was at Kovalam, and usually lay on my back in the water with my ears under, just relaxing.
One morning, however, I heard a weird noise. I listened, kept my head under, thought it was creaking wood – but there was no driftwood, or structure protruding into the water. Then I listened for longer, and the sound was unmistakable – I’d heard it before on a new-agey CD or TV documentary – it was whalesong. Deep, like the mooing of a cow slowed down, occasionally rising in pitch to a sad-sounding noise. If you’re only about twenty yards out from shore, up to your neck in water, you don’t expect to hear this, surely – nevertheless, at one stage, the sound was so pronounced, I rushed to get my feet onto the floor as I thought whatever it was was about to swim under me.
I kept quiet about this – who’d believe you’d hear whalesong swimming in shallow water? That afternoon, however, I was walking along the seafront at Kovalam, and saw dozens of people running down to the shore, grabbing binoculars – surely enough, out to sea, just below the horizon, a water spout shot into the air, and a large tail splashed down into the water. A fishing boat nearby was getting rocked about by the disturbances in the water.
Did I hear that whale, or am I going potty?!
Anyway, speaking of noise – Chennai has plenty of it. Car horns blow deep, motorbike horns blow harsh and loud, and auto-rickshaw horns sound like someone strangling a puppet. On top of all this is the sound of rickshaw drivers yelling abuse at each other.
Yesterday, I took a rickshaw to the excellently appropriately named Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC), to go on a tour of Chennai. The TTDC office had on the wall the following message:
“Tonsuring in Tirumala is permitted from Monday – Thursday.
We will serve you 24 hours a day throughout the year”.
The tour was presented by a very friendly lady who whisked us around Chennai at breakneck speed, taking in the Government Museum, a temple, a memorial to a poet, the beach, and passing briefly over the smelliest body of water I have ever smelt. The best thing about this was meeting some great people. We all ended up going out for dinner and beers last night, so my recommendation here is that even if the tour isn’t up to much, the opportunities to meet people make it well worth it!
A few of us from the tour yesterday went to AVM Film Studios today – Chennai is the second biggest producer of movies in India after Mumbai, and probably still produces more movies than Hollywood every year on its own. Tamil Nadu’s films have always been quite political, as well as featuring the obligatory dance numbers and romance, so depict low-caste heroes defying the odds, and Robin-Hood style stars standing up for the oppressed. Entry was free and we were allowed free access to wander around the sets.
We saw a song-and-dance number being filmed, I managed to exchange grins with a very beautiful actress (think I pulled), and we got to play around in a set that was a cross between a game show and Barbarella’s boudoir! It was fantastic! At one point, a young chap came up to Nilesh (chap I met yesterday) and started chatting – it turned out he was the star of the movie we were watching being filmed. You don’t get to do all this in Hollywood, I’ll bet!
Anyway – as always, pictures follow – this time, because I forgot my little cable.