Date archives "March 2010"

Turtle Beach

Regular readers to my blog will know that Saturday evenings have turned in to my day of discovery as I stumble across various cultural and exotic goings on. A few weeks back I found myself in an art gallery watching a famous artist draw a picture of a cat (and buying art, who knew?), then it was the youth cultural exchange program that was taking place outside a big temple by the sea.

This Saturday just gone was no different. Myself and my friends had actually planned to go to a place called the Theosophical Society, not that we were particularly interested in Theosophy but they have some really nice gardens (God, yes I’m getting old) and when you live in a dusty, polluted city like Chennai you start to yearn for a bit of greenery and fresh air.

The Theosophical Society in Chennai occupies a large area near to a moving pile of ooze, sometimes referred to as the Adyar river and is the nearest greenest space to where I live.

Since the mercury is steadily rising and we’re starting to hit 34-35 degrees we tend to wait until gone 4pm until we venture out, our pale white skin being fried to a crisp otherwise. We arrived at the main gates at 4:30pm and were promptly denied entry since they only open the place between 2 and 4 – conveniently at the time when it’s hottest and no one wants to come. OK, we thought, this is India, lets try the side entrance and go in looking confident and aloof and make out as if we were meant to be there.

Yeah, that didn’t work either and we were stopped shortly after parking the car.

Cue the scene from Disney’s Jungle Book with the vultures sitting on a tree.

“So, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t mind, what ever you want to do is fine.”

“Eee, now don’t start that again”

(apologies if you had a terrible childhood and never watched Disney movies)

In the absence of anyone making an executive decision, I said let’s go down to the beach since it was just around the corner and we were close to a place called Broken Bridge which I’ve heard about in the folklore of Chennai, so named because there is a bridge. And it’s broken. An unimaginative folklore you could say.

With the car parked and a payment of 10 rupees (about 16p) given to a guy who promised to tell us upon our return if our car had been stolen we made our way through a fishing township towards broken bridge. I’d have loved to get some pictures of the fishing village but I feel like the intruding foreigner if I get my camera out to take pictures of people, I feel like they think I’m judging them some how because I want to take pictures of the way they live. The other reason was that the smell was so bad with the open sewers, I didn’t particularly want to stop!

As we walked towards the broken bridge, we came across a fenced off enclosure and the curiosity got the better of us so we went over and found a guy sitting inside surrounded by upside down wicker baskets. Fortunately we were with a guy who could speak Tamil (obviously I can speak Tamil as well, but only to tell people that I’m hungry or that I can only say a very small amount of Tamil!) and we found out that the enclosure was to protect the eggs of sea turtles.

Basically volunteers stay on the beach over night and wait for the turtles to lay their eggs, then the eggs are relocated to within the fenced off enclosure otherwise the feral dogs that populate the city and beaches will come along and dig them up for dinner. Even if the dogs didn’t manage to find all the eggs, the crows would eat the baby turtles shortly after hatching, and if the crows didn’t get them the line of crabs waiting in the surf would have a go. Even if the new born turtles managed to negotiate all of that, a million and one dangers still lie within the sea.

It must suck to be a turtle.

Anyway, we were allowed to come in to the enclosure, a real lucky experience because my friend went back the following evening and there were more people and no one was allowed inside.

Once in the enclosure we were able to watch newly hatched turtles make their way to the surface (with a little help from a human hand) and then attempt to make their way towards the sea. However, since there were crows and dogs stalking around the fence the turtles were kept under the upside down wicker baskets we’d seen earlier, then around dusk time they are all transported down to the sea where they had to make the final 10 metre perilous journey by themselves.

Even as we watched, swarms of crabs were stalking the baby turtles, but they didn’t seem to do too much other than getting close, poking them and then running off.

As I mentioned above, my friend went the following evening as well where there were not only more people, but maybe one hundred plus turtles being released, the beach was literally full of them, she said. However, the people watching didn’t get to go in to the enclosure and handle them, so I count myself very lucky that I got this pretty rare opportunity!

Baby Sea Turtles

Baby Sea Turtles

Baby Sea Turtles

Hand included for scale reference!

Baby Sea Turtles

Two of the turtles try to make a bid for freedom when they think no one is looking!

Baby Sea Turtles

Freshly hatched turtles making their way to the surface

Baby Sea Turtles

The baby turtles got a helping hand to get closer to the sea!

Baby Sea Turtles

And off one of them goes to freedom, or maybe the jaws of death

Baby Sea Turtles

The crabs gang up on one of the turtles, but they didn't seem to do much harm

Baby Sea Turtles

I really wasn't sure what the crabs were doing, it's not like they actually attacked any of the turtles, just got very close before scampering off

Baby Sea Turtles

I stole this photo from a friend because it's so awesome!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and video! It was a really unique experience, you see this kind of thing in nature documentaries, but to see it up close and actually touch the turtles (even though you really shouldn’t, but we were being supervised!) is just amazing.

I thought I’d wrap up this post with a news report I came across where a Sea Turtle is accused of abandoning her eggs, the report comes from The Onion 😉

Probably The Best Housemates In The World

Sunday morning, 8:17am. I have been asleep for approximately 5 hours. There is a knock at my door. I ignore it, what sort of cretin knocks on the door this early on a Sunday? The door bell goes again. I continue to ignore.

It can’t be the maid because she has come to learn that no recognizably human life can be found before 10am, so it can’t be her coming to clean.

It rings again. I turn over and cover my head with my blanket. People need to learn that the person who lives in this house doesn’t rise till midday. However something gets lost in the translation as they decide to really try and get my attention. The bell rings and rings and rings.

OK, fine, I admit defeat. I crawl out of bed, check my modesty, open the door a few inches and attempt to focus on the person on the other side.

It’s my landlords. And they’ve come with backup.

Apparently they have become convinced that I am sharing my apartment with others, which was news to me because I’m sure I’d have noticed something like that in a small two bedroom apartment.

But no, they are absolutely determined to evict these lodgers and the backup comes in the form of an elderly priest, here to help remove evil spirits that have been getting a free ride at my expense.

Yes. You read right. I apparently had evil spirits in my apartment.

I tried to explain to them that I really didn’t mind these extra lodgers as if they were here, that they have been quiet, didn’t steal my food from the fridge and generally kept the house tidy, what more could you possibly ask for? But no, it was time for them to move on.

The Hindu ceremony that was conducted in my front room is called a Pooja, and I guess you could say it’s similar to an exorcism in Catholicism, except the spirits are being evicted from a building rather than a person.

It involves a lot of prayer and chanting from the priest to bless the house and politely, but firmly, tell the evil spirits to move on. Oh, it also involves making a fire in your house and ensuring that by the end of the ceremony your eyes are streaming and absolutely everything smells of smoke and ash. Frankly I don’t blame the evil spirits for wanting to leave after the Pooja!

After about an hour of chanting and once the significant fire hazard had been put out, I was left with a great deal of mess in my living room and an apartment that smelt like a bonfire, however, the landlords were sufficiently satisfied that any evil spirits had packed their bags and moved out. I did try to explain that they could probably have had the same affect by allowing a couple of students to move in for a few weeks and not had to run the risk of burning down the house, but I don’t think they understood.

So this being India, who had to clean up all the mess that was left on the floor? The landlord? The priest? Me? No, none of the above of course. The maid was summoned by a phone call at 9:30am on a Sunday to come immediately and clean everything up.

To give the Pooja ceremony some context on why it’s conducted, it’s usually done when you have a streak of bad luck, it is said that evil spirits are not allowing good things to happen. This is actually very welcome news to me and I feel vindicated because it means that it’s not my own stupidity for constantly losing mobile phones and wallets or breaking numerous gadgets and gizmos; infact, I’m blameless in the matter because my house has been occupied by evil spirits and they were causing this to happen.

This is a really awesome piece of Indian culture to know about, it means that while in India, I no longer have to take responsibility when I next do something ridiculously stupid!

Fire, in my house!

Fire, in my house!

He seemed to quite like having his photo taken!

He seemed to quite like having his photo taken!

Lots of chanting and doing things with rice

Lots of chanting and doing things with rice

With the thing in the centre lit, the ceremony is well under way

With the thing in the centre lit, the ceremony is well under way

Yes, it really was this smokey in the house!

Yes, it really was this smokey in the house!

Even my bedroom didn't escape and made everything smell of smoke

Even my bedroom didn't escape and everything ended up smelling of smoke

With the ceremony over, all that's left is to burn the house down with an unattended fire

With the ceremony over, all that's left is to burn the house down with an unattended fire

Ceremony over, all that's left is for the maid to be summoned to clean up the mess

Ceremony over, the maid has to be summoned to clean up the mess

Note: The Pooja ceremony forms a very important part of South Indian culture and is practiced even by those who don’t follow the Hindu faith. This version of events which happened to me is in no way meant to belittle or mock the ceremony which I’m sure would have been very interesting to observe. If held in the afternoon. In someone else’s house. This entry is simply my take on what happened to me on this particular Sunday morning.