India Travel Journal: Tamil Nadu

This Travel Journal is one in a series of three journals, all of them made during a trip through the South of India late 2009, early 2010.

> First Days in Tamil Nadu

18-12-2009 We barely had any sleep in noisy Chennai, where we arrived last night. Our tour in a tuktuk soon showed in what kind of city we've ended up here. We saw many homeless people, too much dirt and more rats then we could count. Not the kind of rats which make you think: ah, how sweet, let me put that one on my shoulder, but giant black ones, with dangerously looking teeth.
When we leave our hotel in the first morning light we see another huge specimen lying on the street, luckily it's a dead one. During the trip to the busstation we come across a lot more dirt and we are glad to hear that the next bus to Mamallapuram leaves in fifteen minutes. Chennai in WaterThe bus is to be our first without windows: just some black shutters which can be closed. Because we like to see where we are going we leave the city with the wind blowing through our hair. Fortunately it stopped raining after a couple of days of downpours and we see big puddles everywhere in the terrible, muddy streets.
As soon as we're out of the city we drive along the ocean, a wonderful blue one bordered by palm trees. Certainly no punishment and soon enough we arrive. Mamallapuram is a real backpacker's paradise and in no time we find ourselves a fine room. After a short nap we start to explore the village. We don't have to go far to find out why this place has been a tourist attraction for so many years. Extremely beautiful rock carvings are everywhere and there are several caves, being like small museums on itself.
Mamallapuram BeachWe enjoy what we see on the beach. No tourists, but cows are sunbathing here. Dozens of these holy animals are relaxing and ruminating amid the colorful fishing boats. The beach is wonderful for a walk. Unfortunately there's almost as much plastic as there are shells here, but when we get further afield it gets more quiet and there's less and less plastic.

> Backpackers Heaven Mamallapuram

19-12-2009 We take advantage of the fact that there are so many tourist shops here and buy a wooden Ganesha, still our favorite Hindu God. After that we leave the village to visit one of the must-see attractions of this place: the “Pancha (five) Rathas”. What we see from outside the enclosure is that it's not a very new experience regarding the carving and we find the entrance fee astronomical compared to what there is to be seen. The last couple of weeks we've regularly paid 250 rupees to gaze around for some thirty minutes and we decide to keep these 500 in our pocket to spend it on something better. Mamallapuram BeachEspecially since we know that the lady who is carrying stones at a neasrby house has to work two weeks for this amount of money.
We follow the beach back to the village and enjoy ourselves watching the Indian families on holiday here. Fully dressed in colorful saris they are laughing out loud in surf. We have lunch in one of the beach restaurants and relax a bit. After the rain earlier this week the area changed into some kind of Turkish bath.

20-12-2009 Today we are lazy again and all we do is walking along the beach in the afternoon.

21-12-2009 We're the first ones having breakfast at the neighbours' restaurant this morning, because we have a full day in the bus ahead of us. The first hour and a half we're in some sort of citybus, which drops us off at the highway leading to Trichy. Surprisingly easy we find the right bus here in this chaos. Unfortunately it's a private bus, which means we are being entertained with a real Kolleywood movie on dvd, naturally showed on the loudest possible noise level.
We're happy with the knowledge that this type of movies only lasts three (!) hours, but as soon as this one ends another dvd is turned on. Now we are supposed to watch colorfully dressed Indians screaming like they are constantly being pinched, while doing the Chicken Dance. One "song" has not even ended, or the next one starts. Altogether we're pretty much relieved when we reach Trichy by the end of the afternoon.
We find ourselves a good room and eat something, before we decide this day has lasted long enough.

> Grey Trichy

Nativity Scene in Trichy22-12-2009 The sky is grey today and it's even raining. We don't feel like going out in this weather and stay in our room. When we get down to buy something sweet at the bakery we find out how Christian the Indian South really is. Yesterday in the bus we were already surprised by the great number of churches. In this bakery there are no less than two flashing Nativity Scenes, they sell Christmas cakes and a real Santa is walking in the street. Many people decorate their homes with huge plastic Christmas stars. Joseph, the dark tanned man who controls the elevator, explains: “Me Christian, my name Joseph, praise the Lord”.

23-12-2009 The sun is still not back yet, but we decide to ignore the weather and just go outside. When we're out there in the chaos, waiting for the bus to the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple, it starts raining again.
Trichy Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple Fortunately it is just dry weather when we're there and despite the grey sky we're much impressed by the height of the Gopuram (tower) with its many mythical figures painted in innumerable colors. The interior of the temple is a bit of a disappointment, all the places that seem interesting are no-go areas for non-Hindus. The rest of Trichy is especially noisy and smelly and in this kind of weather we'd rather not climb the Rocktemple. We have another afternoon of compulsory rest.

> Christmas in Madurai

24-12-2009 In a crowded bus we drive the three hours to Madurai, one of the most ancient cities of India. Nontheless the smell and the noise are overwhelming and we're able to enjoy both for a lenghty period, as most hotels are full because of the Christmas rush. After a search of over an hour we've found us a room, which is way too expensive, but comfortably luxurious, for the next two nights.
Sri Meenakshi Temple in MaduraiImmediately we go out for a walk through town and for a quick visit to the Sri Meenakshi temple, the reason for all the fuss in this area. The exterior of the temple is equiped with a diversity of Gopurams, all of them even more impressive than the one in Trichy. Wow, all those colors and what a giant number of statues are there to be seen on each of the towers, very intimidating.
It's lunchbreak and hundreds of pilgrims are waiting outside the temple walls untill they can get back inside at four o'clock. Their dresses are all quite special and several of them perform rituals such as saying prayers near a fire. Perhaps they are praying for nicer weather, at least the sun is now peeping through the clouds and makes all of this look even better.

Sri Meenakshi Temple Madurai25-12-2009 This morning we return to the giant temple complex and we Vanochtend gaan we terug naar het enorme tempelcomplex en we move in a long line of pilgrims waiting for securitycheck. Thirty minutes later we're through and when we really enjoy what the interior has to offer us. The ceilings have been decorated with the most colorful paintings of Gods, there are statues in every corner, in a dark space there's a temple elephant who blesses everyone who puts at least ten rupees in his trunk. We stroll around for several hours and watch the rituals of the pilgrims and buy some souvenirs in one of the many shops.
In the afternoon we visit the Tirumalai Nayak Palace Madurai, which has been beautifully restored just a while ago. An American assures us: “this is the most beautiful temple I’ve been to”. Uhm... this is a castle. But it truely is stunning.

> More Info

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