By Patricia Molinos
On the second day of this new year at 6:30am two buses were already at the parking lot waiting for those who had signed up for the early morning Gingee trip. Our first stop was for breakfast at Sristi Village, and since the driver did not know the way and I have been going there the past weeks (it is the organization I am working for), our trip coordinator Sacha Elder asked me to sit in the front and give the chauffeur directions. I was one of the few who did not sleep on the way. “What if we miss the left we must take because I’m not paying attention!!”, I kept repeating to myself, so phone in my hands with Google Maps opened (just in case :-p), I stayed focused on the road. We finally made it to Sristi Village and our sleepy faces vanished away as we were served some South Indian traditional breakfast prepared by the residents and staff of the village. It was delicious! Karthik created this inclusive village for intellectually disabled people in 2013, where he aims to train them in farming so that in the future they can have an independent and dignified life generating their own income. His goal is to give an opportunity to the 355 kids in need of special education living in the surrounding villages near Kunamangalam (between Pondicherry and Mailam). We ended our visit planting a tree together with some members of the community and we headed back to the buses.
After almost another hour and a half on the road, we reached Gingee, in Villupuram District (Tamil Nadu). “Ah! It’s not that high!”, we all said as we were taking water bottles and some snacks and sandwiches Sacha had bought for us. Only a few minutes later we realized we were wrong…What a climb! The stairs were the steepest I had ever witnessed, some of them being more than half a meter tall! The more we climbed the more monkeys we found. Some of them did not notice our presence and continued playing, while others kept their eyes on us following all our moves. We were told not to take the snacks out of our bags while climbing, since it would not be the first time monkeys steal food from the hikers’ hands. After taking several breaks under some shadows we found on the way, we finally made it to the top of the Gingee Fort Hill with our now sweaty t-shirts. From there we could have a 360-degree beautiful vision and many angles we could take good pictures from. The views were awesome!
The fort was originally built by the Chola dynasty during the 9th century and modified during the 13th century. It was under the control of different regional powers like the Kurumbar, the Nayaks, the Marathas, Bijapur sultans, the Moghuls, Carnatic Nawabs, the French and the finally the British in 1761. As Sacha explained, the fort is closely associated with Raja Tej Singh, who lost his life there when trying to revolt against the Nawabs of the Carnatic who ruled this region of South India between 1690 and 1801.
We met in front of the buses again around 1pm and headed to an ancient temple that is only five minutes away from the Gingee Fort. The group made it to the heart of the sacred building, where we received the blessing of two temple men with some kinds of crystal-sugar cubs, an azafrin rounded mark on hour foreheads, incense and some words they pronounced.
It was a really awesome day that combined both culture related learning, amusement, and also some intense exercise, very convenient to try to make up for all the masala dosas, dals, lassis, and Gobi Manchurians that we all are eating quite regularly here 😉