Hi Everybody, well we finally let go of our security-grip on Thailand.  We landed in Chennai (Madras) and immediately took a taxi out of the city to the small temple town of Mahabalipuram.

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Apparently we are not the first Americans to visit (and neither was Andrew Harvey).

This town is full of giant granite boulders carved into temples and friezes, as well as hundreds of sculptors continuing the 1,400-year-old tradition.  Here is an as-yet empty canvas, ready to squash Kate…

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We visited the famous Shore Temple.  Try to visualize it being pounded by waves, as it was for hundreds of years during high tides; today it is protected from further erosion by a rock jetty.

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Nearby stands an unprotected and incomplete carving.  We saw a number of rocks like this, apparently abandoned mid-creation.  For scale, the opening in the rock is a full-size doorway.

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In the center of town, numerous large rock outcroppings have been carved into elaborate friezes depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.  These life-size elephants are only a small portion of one panorama.

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Even after 1,400 years, the creative mastery of detail brings mythical beings to life.

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After our fill of old rocks, we shared a car to Pondicherry with a young woman completing her master’s in computer science (and her dad).  She peppered us with wonderfully personal questions (just like the guidebooks said people would!).  She was sweet and we learned that even among forward-thinking families with engineer daughters, traditional arranged marriage is alive and well.  (“When did you meet your husband?”  “Oh, after the wedding, of course.”)

Remember Hanoi?  Well, all our dashed hopes of strolling down charming tree-lined French-influenced streets — nowhere to be found in Hanoi — are fulfilled right here in French colonial Pondicherry.

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Another two blocks and we stumbled back into India at its most magical.

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This gracious temple elephant blessed us — and all other passersby — with a gentle stroke of her trunk to the tops of our heads.

Pondicherry is home to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which runs a number of guesthouses throughout town mostly for ashram visitors.  At one end of Pondicherry’s long, wide beachfront promenade is one of these, the Park Guesthouse.  This is where we’re staying, for 150 rupees (~$3.75) per night.  At this price, you may be wondering just how comfortable a place it is… well, see for yourself!  Here is the guesthouse meditation garden, between the seaside rooms and the Bay of Bengal.

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Of course the unvarnished India is here as well.

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But the lotus motif, one of many chalked in front of doorways throughout the region, helps to fit these disparate elements together; for Indians, the lotus symbolizes purity, peace, and beauty emerging from the muck.

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OK hope this finds you all well and muckless (or at least with some beauty arising…)  Love, Derry & Kate

P.S. We composed this one together!!!  Good job Team Schmoopie!!!

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