The driver warned me that I would not be able to go inside the Varadaraja Perumal Temple because it would be closed during lunch time, from noon until four.
I was awfully tempted to ask him whether god has lunch and takes a siesta as well; but, am glad I resisted that urge to wisecrack that way in a town of a thousand temples :)
A thousand-year old structure, with a great deal of history and art. A century or two older than the the Leaning Tower of Pisa, for instance, which is one heck of a tourist attraction. (Yes, been there, done that!) The tower at this temple hasn't leaned in any way over all these years.
To the inquisitive tourist that I am, there is a lot to see in Kanchipuram and I had to pick and choose.
There was no skipping this temple, though.
I was almost through the doorway when a thirty-something looking brahmin came rushing.
He pointed to my camera, and then pointed up to the sign that said there was a five rupee fee to use the camera within the temple grounds.
"Where do I pay for the ticket?" I asked him.
The brahmin, clad in a traditional dhoti and bare-chested with the namam on his forehead, said he would get the ticket for me.
"No problems. Just show me where the office is" I cautiously replied. I know I have become one paranoid American tourist. But, that is better than to cry later!
"I can help you. I can even open those closed gates and you can take photos there" the brahmin said.
"No, thanks. I will get the camera ticket and look around on my own."
"Why are you so afraid? I only want to help you."
I laughed. "Well, things are that way these days" I said, and gave him a five rupee coin.
"You be here, and I will bring you the ticket."
Of course, there was no way I was going to trust this guy--I walked right behind him. From behind a tree materialized a guy with a receipt book and the brahmin traded the coin for a receipt, which he handed to me.
Now, we were standing very close to each other and there was no breeze. I smelled alcohol breath on him. Yes, alcohol. At about 1:45 in the afternoon. In a place religious Hindus consider to be one of the holiest of holy temples. As Shakespeare wrote, "So are they all; all honorable men."
"What is your name, sir?"
"You are from ....?"
"From Madras. But, been in America for a very long time."
"I see. What is your gothram, sir?"
I laughed big time. "I gave up on those things decades ago."
Meanwhile, another "guide," who was wearing a pair of pants and a shirt that was tucked in, walked up to us. He had been siting a few feet away, beside a White European-looking woman. I wasn't sure if he was coming up to try to rescue me, or to assist the brahmin into trapping me. Am I paranoid about people, or what!
The brahmin looked at him and said, in Tamil, "he is Sriram from Madras. He has been abroad. And seems to doubt me."
With a chuckle that "guide" replied, "maybe he will trust you if you are a real iyengar."
I walked away, but always watching out for the alcohol-smelling iyengar who wanted to know my gothram.