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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Homing in to India - To Where It All Began

Lucky to have a pro photog take this rather grimaceful shot at Peanut Farms one fine day. 
It is quite early and the sun filters through the gaps in my cabana's thatched walls to bathe me in warm light and gently break my spell under Morpheus. Accustomed to early morning wake-ups, my body stirs up slowly but deliberately after another night of restful sleep. This morning feels different. I feel rested but can't seem to follow the habituated motions of leaving my creaky bed, gulping water, and rushing out of my cabana, surf board and wax in hand. Yeah, I'm sore from accumulated fatigue, and the swell is forecasted weak, but frankly, after three months of non-stop surfing in Arugam Bay, I've finally hit a wall. I just cannot muster the effort to jimmy up for another sunrise session today. I have had double surf session days for all of the last week and for most of my time here. I've been remarkably driven and have foregone other plans to spend maximal time in the water. It's been early to bed, early to rise and out of the door most days to try and beat the crowds and make the most of crisp offshore conditions. My surfing that was progressing so well has also plateaued and honestly stagnated the last couple of weeks. When a place and an activity so inherently joyful starts to feel like tedium it is time to switch things up. 
One of the beach dogs had a litter. Unfortunately only these two survived. They are cute eh?
Friends, travel buddies, surfing brahs

It was nearing the end of September and I had completed four months in delightful Sri Lanka but it was time to move on indeed. The call of India was getting strong. In the fourteen years since I moved to the US i have been fortunate to have returned home often, annually and sometimes even bi-annually, but have spent scant time outside my parents' home and the city of Delhi. The call to visit and explore India was strong-to visit familiar as well as uncharted parts, for the amazing cuisine that is resplendent across the footprint, but most of all to visit a country as a native, to be able to talk in Hindi, and to feel pride in the kaleidoscope of wonders that my country has to offer. I was also very keen on discovering surfing possibilities. India has a vast coastline but information on the potentially innumerable breaks is difficult to access There are a few known spots as per Surfline, Stormrider and other resources, as well as blogs and websites that speak to some lovely breaks that are to be found in either coast. The surfing scene is quite nascent in the country and hence precise information is elusive. Brad and Semira were game for the adventure as well. I figured that we would plan a rough itinerary, look for quality surf, keep an open mind and dip ourselves in other adventures to be had around. Tickets from Colombo to Chennai are absurdly cheap - we scored ours for about $55 USD one way to arrive in Chennai October 10th. Conveniently a few of the welll known surf breaks are on the coast right next to Chennai and that would make for an easy gateway for exploration.I was getting really amped as I started devouring media on India online and acquired a Lonely Planet to add to the stoke. 
At the secret watering hole near Arugam Bay

The Arugam Bay season was ending and we thought we would give ourselves a chance to visit the West and South-West coast of Sri Lanka for a few days before we headed away. My good friends Vikram and Shweta joined us for a few days of traveling around the laid-back and gorgeous seaside towns that are strung like a necklace beneath Colombo and stretch all the way to the Southern tip and the town of Tangalle. In the town of Midigama, we found a cute b&b place right on the beach and possibly my favorite place to stay in my travels so far this year. The surf season hadn't kicked off yet and the town was empty. My room and verandah was right off the beach and I would wake up with the morning light glimmering off the ocean, take many swims through the day, and end with the rolling waves lulling me to slumber. We tried surfing one evening on small waves and choppy seas but Arugam had spoilt us and we threw in the towel pretty quickly . Last evening in Sri Lanka was spent luxuriating at a sea side five start hotel. We ordered mojitos and read in the plush lobby and followed up with a nice dosa dinner. Preparing for South India what else? :)

With Sugi's family in Midigama at my favorite accomodation ever in this trip.
The view from my verandah. The lazy left is breaking right behind the relaxed kingfisher
Galle Fort
The first thing that really hits as you as you leave the Chennai airport are the smells. Growing up in Delhi I don't remember noticing as much, but India is indeed redolent with a variety of odors everywhere. 6:30 in the morning driving out in the cool breeze, we were welcomed by the freshness wafting off the rain drying off from the night before, the aroma of rotis and garlicky onions frying over ghee from the dhabas in the narrow alleyways the taxi had to sometimes squiggle through, and unfortunately the smell of streetside faeces both human and animal. It made for a heady combination. I have faint memories of a Mahabalipuram visit as a kid aeons ago and chose this temple town as the first base of operations given its proximity to Chennai and promise of a surfable swell. Dylan and Moni, an Australian couple whom I met in Arugam and shared the flight to Chennai with, decided to join me for the Mahabs explore. Dylan a lifelong surfer, immediately perked up upon eyeing the wave breaking off the Shore Temple. The right facing wave broke off by the stone walls of the temple into a beautiful hollow shape that promised barrel rides to the expert, and then into a gentler peeling shoulder where the rest of us could play as well. 

I was lucky to score a basic sea-facing room at the Sri Harul Guest House. At Rs 800 a night it was a bit pricier than the other options but you can't put a price on a stunning view, esp of the wave itself as it formed and broke right outside my personal patio and the rising minarets of the Shore Temple just past the rocky point. It's a treat to be able to relax in the room, or the rooftop restaurant, read and chill, observe the waves, and then jump into the water whenever conditions shine. Talking of which, we are lucky to catch this place good. This is nearing the end of the season here but there is a nice swell this weekend due to winds generated by a cyclone off the East coast of India. The wind is offshore all day. So it doesn't even matter when you get in the water. Usually high-tide is better, but today it's been good all day. The main point does get busy but there is also a nice beach break where you can have glassy peaks all to yourself. After the easy point breaks in Arugam, I've 'enjoyed' getting schooled here. Catching waves has been harder, but I'm polishing skills in wave selection and peak-chasing which are critical for similar beach breaks back in San Francisco. The ride here is short but fast and steep. A really quick take-off where you need to angle the board immediately, pump down the line and abruptly bail before the vicious shore break catches up with you. Brownish murky, the water is dirtier indeed though. You cannot see your feet when you are sitting on the board and you leave the water not feeling very clean. Slightly vexing but not a big deal.
Cyclone Phailin delivered and this guy catches a barrel at the Shore Temple point break. The audience in front are not too impressed though.

Mahabalipuram (or Mammallapuram, before it got renamed by the Brits) is a fascinating town. An 8th-century Tamil text describes this place as a Sea Mountain ‘where the ships rode at anchor bent to the point of breaking laden as they were with wealth, big trunked elephants and gems of nine varieties in heaps’. And while this happened centuries ago, the colourful historical past is apparent as one walks down the ancient streets, and from the old temples dating back to the 7th century that portray events of the Mahabharatha. Visiting these sights was a welcome change from the other Asian countries that I've visited in this trip -  for here I could relate to the history and the religious myths, having been fond of them as a child. It's nice to be a tourist in my own country, yes indeed.
I'm watching ya watching me...

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