31 December 2001

10. - 31 December: drive to Trichy


Morning departed for Trichy (1/halfhr) enroute short of Trichy visit the Srirangam, where the town lies within the walls of the massive Vishnu temple.  

On arrival in Trichy check into Hotel Sangam. Later proceed for visit of the Rock Fort situated over a hill.  Return to your hotel for overnight stay.

Hotel Sangam/trichy

30 December 2001

9. - 30 December: Tanjore


Morning depart for sightseeing of Tanjore visiting the famed Brihadeeshwara temple and later the museum which houses  a good collection of Bronzes and later the Palace.  

In the afternoon  visit Thiruvaiyaru, 13km north. Usually in January an international music festival is held here in honour of the Saint and composer Thyagaraja.  Overnight stay in Tanjore

29 December 2001

Book Review/Recensione: "In light of India" (1998), by Octavio Paz, ****

Testo in italiano di seguito


This collection of essays recalls the author's days in India, first as an attache in the Mexican Embassy, then 11 years later as Mexico's ambassador. He brings insight into India's landscape, culture and history in a series of discourses. "The Antipodes of Coming and Going" is a remembrance of the sights, sounds and smells of the subcontinent. "Religions, Castes, Languages" gives a survey of Indian history".

"A Project of Nationhood" is an examination of modern Indian politics, comparing the respective Islamic, Hindu and Western civilizations through the course of history. "The Full and the Empty" is an exploration into what Paz calls the soul of India, its art, literature, music and philosophy, and an indictment of the self-centred materialism of Western society.

Octavio Paz is the author of "The Double Flame: Essays in Love and Eroticism".

8. - 29 December: drive to Thanjavur (Tanjore)


Morning depart for Tanjore enroute visiting Gangaikondacholapuram (1/half hr and Darasuram and Kumbakonam and then on to Tanjore (1hr).  

On arrival check into Hotel Sangam and overnight stay.

28 December 2001

7. - 28 December: drive to Chidambaram


Morning continue by car for Chidambaram (1/half hr).  On arrival check in at the Shradharam Hotel.

Later depart for sightseeing visiting the Natraja Temple. You can visit the temple again in the evening during the evening prayer ceremony.

Return to your hotel for overnight stay

hotel Sradharam/Chidambaram

27 December 2001

6. - 27 December: drive to Pondicherry


Morning depart by car on to Pondicherry (2 hrs). Pondicherry a former French colony.

Police with French kepi hat!

On arrival check into Hotel Anandha Inn.  Later proceed for sightseeing visiting Auroville and Aurobindo Ashram.

Overnight stay at Ananda Inn/Pondy

26 December 2001

5. - 26 December: Mahabalipuram, rock-hewn temples

Morning departure for sightseeing visiting the magnificent rock-hewn temples and monolithic stone figures dating back to the 6 to the 9th century AD. Visit the shore temples, viewing the colossal sculptural frieze, Arjuna Penance, a masterpiece, and the world's largest bas-relief.

Later in the afternoon visit the Dakshinachitra cultural village 20km from Mahabalipuram.  This depicts the distinct culture of the southern states through authentic reconstructions of traditional architecture, demonstration of artisans at work, and exhibition. Return to your hotel for an overnight stay.

25 December 2001

4. - 25 December: drive to Kanchipuram, Mahabalipuram

Early morning depart for Kanchipuram (2hrs), the city of a thousand temples and famous for its handwoven silk fabrics and saris. Sightseeing visiting temples fo Ekambareshwaran, Kamakshi, Vardarajaperumal , Kailashanatha. Also visit the weaving handloom center. 

Christmas is not celebrated in India, of course, unless you belong to the minority community, of whom there are quite a few in Kerala but not so many here in Tamil Nadu. So we basically skip it today.

Proceed on to Mahabalipuram (1/half hr drive).  Mahabalipuram is on the seashore, city of 7 pagodas and is the 7th century seaport of the Pallava empire. On arrival checked at the unremarkable and definitely not so "ideal" Ideal Resort Hotel.

23 December 2001

3. - 24 December: Chennai

The cool and foggy weather does not make for a great day to walk around so it's going to be mostly indoor time.

Morning depart for city tour visiting the National Art Gallery, housing exquisite Chola bronzes. Proceed to Fort St George, St Mary's church, Fort Museum, drive along the Marina Beach, Senate house to San Thome Cathedral and the Kapaleshwar Temple dedicated to Shiva. The usual tourist stuff...

Lunch with N. Ravi, editor of “The Hindu”, one of the most important newspapers in India, published here. A very sophisticated and highly cultured person, gives us a most interesting perspective on the Indian debate on globalization. He is very well informed of global affairs. India fears globalization because of China which is penetrating local markets at a fast pace.

He comes to pick me up at my hotel and offers to drive to the restaurant in his car. I decline as I have my own car, and figure will need it later. But he was not just being polite, he was being practical: traffic is horrendous and it would take us longer to get to the restaurant than the time we would spend at the table.

He also gives us names and phone numbers of “The Hindu” correspondents in each and every city we are going to visit over the coming days in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and these will prove to be interesting sources of local insight and suggestions!

2. - 23 December: shopping in Delhi and flight to Chennai

Morning with Massimo, an Italian friend who is a diplomat at our embassy here. Has lived in Delhi for a couple of years with his family. It’s not easy he says, despite the obvious advantages provided by the service. They imported a container of mineral water from Italy, which I found a bit excessive: it is definitely not advisable to drink tap water here, but there is plenty of mineral and mineralized water to buy.

They also had a robbery in their house and had to intervene to moderate the reaction of the police that is usually very violent with thieves.

We go for a round of shopping in the warehouses of south Delhi, enormous stores of old stuff from the houses of old nobility, dusty remnants of the era of the Maharajas. I am tempted to buy everything! Prices are reasonable and shipping costs by sea are negligible, but this is big and important material, difficult to keep in a normal home. I end up buying nothing, though that will only plant the seed for a shopping spree in Cochin later in the trip...

In the afternoon transfer to the airport for departure by Air India for Chennai. We stay at the Hotel Taj Connemara. Dinner at the hotel with a rather fake touristy dance performance. But then again, we are almost the only foreigners, so if this is meant for Indians perhaps it is not so touristy after all...

22 December 2001

1. - 22 December 2001: Start of trip to Southern India

Arrive Delhi at 2300hrs by Air France. This has been a troubled flight plan. We were supposed to fly with our miles via Sabena, which had a direct Brussels-Chennai flight, but Sabena went bankrupt a few weeks ago and we had to re-route ourselves via Delhi. It’s a waste of time and money but we have no choice.

As we leave the arrivals area the usual mob of unlicensed taxi drivers, porters, fake guides etc. assaults us in the dark humid Indian heat. The stink of latrines and waste is a very unpleasant first impression one gets when landing in this major capital city. Anyway, we don’t have to suffer much of it as we are welcomed by our agency and transfer to the nearby Hotel Radisson, very high standard.

Southern India will have to wait for us until tomorrow!

21 December 2001

Itinerary of a trip to India 2001-2002

Trip to Southern India, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, 2001-2002

22 Dec
Arrive Delhi via Paris
23 Dec
Shopping, flight Chennai at 16:45

24 Dec
Chennai, city tour

25 Dec
Kanchipuram, Mahabalipuram

26 Dec
Visit Mahabalipuram

27 Dec
Depart to Pondicherry, visit

28 Dec
Depart to Chidambaram, visit

29 Dec
Depart to Gangaikondacholapuram, Darasuram and Kumbakonam, arrive Tanjore

30 Dec
Brihadeeshwara temple

31 Dec
Depart to Trichy, visit Srirangam en route

1 Jan
Depart to Madurai, visit Meenakshi Temple

2 Jan
Vishnu temple and Alargarkovil as well as the Tirumala Nayak Palace

3 Jan
Depart to Periyar

4 Jan
Boat ride Periyar, depart to Kumarakom

5 Jan
Kumarakom, sunset cruise

6 Jan
Depart to Cochin

7 Jan
Visit Cochin

8 Jan

9 Jan
Flight to Delhi and connection to Europe
In the air

10 Jan
Arrive Europe

08 November 2001

Book Review: The Idea of India (1999), by Sunil Khilnani, ****


A key book on India in the postnuclear era, with a new Introduction by the author. Sunil Khilnani's exciting, timely study addresses the paradoxes and ironies of this, the world's largest democracy. Throughout his penetrating, provocative work, he illuminates this fundamental issue: Can the original idea of India survive its own successes?


The author tries to encapsulate the idea of India in five chapters:

Democracy (how this was possible in India, and in fact how democracy made India possible!);

Temples of the future (on growth after WW II);

Cities (and the role they play in changing India);

Who is an Indian (the most complicated of all chapters!)

The Garb of Modernity (on ongoing change)

A useful bibliographical essay completes this articulate book.

These are important aspects of what makes India, of course, but hardly the only ones and perhaps not the main ones. Most people in India still live in the countryside.

In my view the main drawback of the book is its excessive praise of Nehru. Yes he did keep India united after partition and preserved democracy but his autocratic economic planning delayed India's development, which really took off after the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty came to an end with Rajiv's resignation in 1989 and assassination in 1991.

In any case, there can hardly be any such thing as "the" idea of India. A better title might have been "One Idea of India".

See my other reviews on India in this blog.

01 August 2001

Book Review: In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors (2001), by Doug Stanton, *****


The USS Indianapolis was the last ship sunk during the Second World War. Savaged by a salvo of torpedoes from a Japanese submarine, the warship, one of the fastest in the US Navy, sank in a matter of minutes. One thousand two hundred men went into the water, and only 321 were to survive. This is their story. On 30 July 1945 the Indianapolis was returning from the small island of Tinian, having delivered the components of the atom bomb ‘little boy’, which was to decimate Hiroshima and bring on the end of the war. As the torpedoes ripped into the side of the ship hundreds of men were killed. Those lucky enough to survive were to face extremes of physical and mental hardship in the water. Many were left to float in the ocean with little or no food or drinking water in deteriorating life jackets and, most chillingly of all, open to attacks by sharks...

11 July 2001

Book review: The Slave Trade, 1440-1870 (1999), by Hugh Thomas, *****


After many years of research, Thomas portrays, in a balanced account, the complete history of the slave trade. The Atlantic slave trade was one of the largest and most elaborate maritime and commercial ventures. Between 1492 and about 1870, ten million or more black slaves were carried from Africa to one port or another of the Americas.

In this wide-ranging book, Hugh Thomas follows the development of this massive shift of human lives across the centuries until the slave trade's abolition in the late nineteenth century.

Beginning with the first Portuguese slaving expeditions, he describes and analyzes the rise of one of the largest and most elaborate maritime and commercial ventures in all of history. Between 1492 and 1870, approximately eleven million black slaves were carried from Africa to the Americas to work on plantations, in mines, or as servants in houses. The Slave Trade is alive with villains and heroes and illuminated by eyewitness accounts. Hugh Thomas's achievement is not only to present a compelling history of the time but to answer as well such controversial questions as who the traders were, the extent of the profits, and why so many African rulers and peoples willingly collaborated. Thomas also movingly describes such accounts as are available from the slaves themselves.

02 May 2001

Book Review:The Floating Brothel: the Extraordinary True Story of An Eighteenth-Century Ship And Its Cargo of Female Convicts, by Sian Rees, *****

list of names of convicts shipped to Australia

In 1789, 237 women convicts left England for Botany Bay in Australia on board a ship called The Lady Julia, destined to provide sexual services and a breeding bank for the men already there. This is the story of the women aboard that ship.

04 March 2001

Book Review: A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean, by Melinda and Robert Blanchard, *****


A Trip to the Beach is about the maddening, exhausting and exhilarating challenges Melinda and Robert Blanchard faced while trying to live the simple life after moving to Anguilla to start a restaurant - and the incredible joy when they somehow pulled it off. As their cooking begins to draw 4-star reviews, the Blanchards and their kitchen staff - Clinton and Ozzie, the dancing sous-chefs; Shabby, the master lobster-wrangler; Bug, the dish-washing comedian - come together like a crack drill team. Anyone who's ever dreamed of running away to start a new life on a sun-drenched island will find the Blanchards' seductive, funny tale of pandemonium and bliss unforgettable.

25 February 2001

Lettera a Indro Montanelli sulla sinistra italiana

Caro Montanelli,

la leggo dall'estero, vivo in Belgio, perché lei rimane un raggio di chiarezza nel guazzabuglio quale appare la scena politica italiana all'avvicinarsi delle elezioni.

Condivido le sue riserve sulla Casa delle Libertà, ma mi pare lei dia troppo credito alla sinistra. 

Lei dice che la voterà perché non ci ha tolto le libertà che avevamo e ci ha "portato in Europa". La sinistra non ha portato l'Italia in Europa perché c'era già: l'Italia ha fondato l'Europa negli anni cinquanta e, nonostante la sinistra ci abbia in passato provato, non ne è mai uscita; e non credo la potrebbe o vorrebbe far uscire un qualunque altro governo.

Le libertà: anche se avessero voluto, ed io non lo credo, come avrebbero potuto togliercele? Sono finiti quei tempi.

A lei preoccupa un Berlusconi che controlli sei reti TV, e sono d'accordo, anche se lui dice che privatizzerebbe 2 reti RAI. Ma le reti RAI, oggi, le paiono migliori, o solo diverse, da Mediaset? A me, no: la gazzarra e la sguaiatezza sono identiche; i moderatori delle trasmissioni politiche che da esse si fanno travolgere, anche; le cosce lunghe e le tettone che rimbalzano al vento, che alla fine sono le sole cose di qualità che ci propinano, pure. E poi la stessa inflazione degli applausi: ma perché in televisione si applaude sempre? Il pubblico si batte col privato per quote di ascolto e, così facendo, il guazzabuglio di cui sopra lo ripropone ed amplifica ad nauseam, con l'aggravante di farlo a spese di chi paga il canone.

Comunque lei almeno il suo voto lo potrà esprimere: io, che ho la colpa di rappresentare l'Italia in un'organizzazione internazionale, la NATO per essere precisi. Non è possibile che tutti i funzionari ed impiegati italiani della NATO e dell'Unione Europea, più tutti quelli che lavorano a Bruxelles nell'indotto, possano venire in Italia per votare, anche se la NATO me lo permetterebbe.

Godrò invece del beneficio di non dovermi turare il naso per votare, dato che anche questa volta questo diritto mi viene negato dalla mancanza di una legge che, dopo averla osteggiata per decenni, il governo "europeista" di  sinistra ora finalmente dice di volere ma che, in cinque anni di potere, non è riuscito a partorire.

05 February 2001

Recensione: "La Via della Cina" di Renata Pisu, ****

In questo libro l'autrice racconta il suo rapporto con la Cina, iniziato nel 1957 quando, insieme con alcuni compagni, si trasferì a studiare a Pechino, all'università di Beida. Vi trascorse 4 anni e da allora non ha mai smesso di tornare periodicamente in quel Paese che l'ha contagiata di un male inguaribile, il "Mal di Cina", segnando in modo indelebile la sua vita. Quello che leggiamo nel libro non è solo un resoconto o un reportage di viaggio, piuttosto assomiglia a un percorso tra passato e presente che si accompagna a un itinerario esistenziale.

01 January 2001

Today the new Millennium starts

Today is the start of the new millennium.

Some, like Dick Teresi, have argued that this is the result of a number of errors in year counting committed in the past, in the middle ages in fact. There never was a year 0, we went from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. He says there should have been a year 0 however between those two years, just like there is a year 2000 between 1999 and 2001.

However, others argue that because years B.C. are counted starting from -1, there is no room for a year zero, just like on a Carthesian coordinate system, where zero is a point, not a time interval.

Be that as it may, we are stuck with that, unless we decide to renumber all years from 1 B.C. backward, so that 1 B.C. becomes the year 0, 2 B.C. become 1 B.C. and so on.

Since we are likely to stay with the current counting system for a while... pop the Champagne today!