It is warm but not yet hot as we are going up the path leading to the ancient Jain temple. We started our excursion early in the morning. Midday walking is not a very sensible thing to do in the southern tip of India.
We are spending our winter break with Appa‘s parents in their house. There is some catching up with relatives or friends almost everyday. But today, it’s just the five of us: Thatha, Aachi, Appa, Minette and me. Today, it’s about exploring a quiet corner of India some 20 miles away from my in-laws’ place.
The path is going up gently. We are following it in the shade of the trees. Each of us walks differently. Age, gender, and personal habits have shaped our bodies and our pace. As usual, Aachi’s posture and fluid movements draw my attention. Appa says she owes that to her daily yoga practice and it makes me think I need to establish my own daily routine, whether it’s yoga or something else.
We have made it to the top of the hill. We climb onto a flat rock platform. From here we can see the surrounding fields and hills. We are looking over the roof of the temple and the greenish pond in front of it. Now we go slightly down and take a narrow passageway between large rocks. The temple is there, at the end of the passageway.
Long ago the Jain religion was predominant in this part of India. Even Hinduism is not an immutable Indian fixture, it turns out. The Jain temple was originally built more than a thousand years ago. The version we see is a more recent, though still venerably old, iteration, partly carved in the rocky terrain. We are the only visitors. A man lets us in. Inside the temple it is dark and a bit naked. Stone floor and pillars. Small solitary statues in separate cells in the back. They look like they could use some company.
When we go back outside, the sunlight and the peacefulness of the place do their magic. It’s time for breakfast. Aachi takes our food out of her bag and puts it on a small wall near a blossoming hibiscus tree. Today we are not having a traditional Indian breakfast: Aachi packed soft white bread and coconut and passion fruit preserves, a product from my online French grocery store she and Thatha happen to like.
As we are spreading the jam on the slices of bread, Thatha remarks that hibiscus flowers are edible so we pick a few from the tree nearby and start tasting them. Next thing we know, we lay petals on our tartines. Whether it is a unique event or the beginning of a tradition, this is a breakfast unlikely to have ever been experienced before: tartines of L’Épicurien coco passion preserves with hibiscus flowers. A moment to savor…
After our Franco-Indian breakfast it’s time to head back if we want to escape the brunt of the heat. As we walk down the hill path we cross a few people coming to the temple. Appa overhears a local family talking about us: “Here come a white woman and a white man.” Either they are not very attentive or my whiteness is spilling over him, or both. How strange to think he is a white foreigner in their glimpse.
As we are driving back and I don’t have to stay focused on the erratic traffic or the road condition I am basking in the distinct sensations of our morning excursion. Is it the walk through the narrow passageway leading to the temple? The quiet mystery of the place? Or the red of the hibiscus flowers matching Minette’s shirt? I feel this memory will not fade away.