Saturday, November 7, 2009

India Day 3 – Sightseeing Morning in Madurai

Today we were going to spend the morning sightseeing in Madurai – then pop back to the hotel, change into our cycling gear and have our luggage ready for transporting to the next hotel. Then the plan was to have a buffet lunch at the hotel and then be driven out of town in order to cycle the remaining distance to our next port of call – Theni.

The first thing I did after getting up was look out of the window to check the view – it was dark when we arrived. As is not unusual, the view was industrial rather than picturesque, but a chance to observe people on the street.


I could see some Temple towers in the distance and assumed they would be on our itinerary. They looked rather imposing on the skyline and quite far away.


These two can be seen at the corner of the first picture – neighbours putting the world to rights. The chap in his dhoti looks as if he got up too early with a big yawn.


The breakfast buffet was good although I thought the mango juice was off, it smelt of “sick” in fact. It turned out to be papaya juice and tasted better than it looked – but not good enough to persuade me to drink it all. The buffet had a wide selection of vegetarian curries along with Indian breads to eat.  It was a good way to stock up on calories for the cycling ahead.

Eventually we met up in the foyer and our luggage was taken away.  It takes longer than you might think to get a bunch of cyclists together – they are like herding cats.

Here are a few chatting  in groups – Anil in the foreground organises the Indian support team and cyclists. We were visiting a Temple so had to wear long trousers (long pants) and the ladies had to cover their shoulders as well.

It turned out that we were going to walk to the Temple – it seemed like miles away when I looked out of my bedroom window, but apparently was only a 10-15 minute walk – if we took the short-cuts. The start was delayed by rain – we dithered a bit on whether to take rain jackets or not, in the end the rain stopped and those with rain jackets left them at the front desk.  Apparently we could have borrowed umbrellas from the Hotel – I am not sure they would have had enough for all of us though.


This was my first experience of the back-alleys of a large Indian town – just after some rain. There were quite a few people selling things in the street. Barry, Mary and Jay are on the left of the picture, going from front to back.


There was a lot to see as we trooped through the back-ways – this little chap seemed happy to pose with his TV remote control. As you might be able to work out from his dress (lack of) – it was plenty warm enough despite the rain earlier in the morning.


Indian people seem to be remarkably tolerant of tourists – this chap gave a big smile when we took his picture – just dressed in a dhoti in his doorway. I am not always so tolerant of having my picture taken with all my clothes on.



For a first-time visitor everything seems new and interesting even old posters stuck to the wall. Madurai is part of the Tamil Nadu region where Tamil is the main language. Several Tamil words have made it into English – mi-la-ku tan-ni – means pepper water – if you say it fast enough it becomes mulligatawny – the name we give to the peppery soup.


One of the aspects of Indian life you hear about is how the cow is a sacred animal and that they are allowed to wander the streets, I suppose I had assumed that this meant they wandered village streets out in the countryside – well I was wrong – we saw quite a few on our back-street walk – including this calf on a main road.


Auto-rickshaws are popular methods of transport – there were also quite a few rickshaws in Madurai – I guess as cyclists if we couldn’t afford the hotel bill we could always earn a bob or two providing a rickshaw service – it would be tricky finding your way around though.


Although we took the back alleys we crossed a few busier streets – the traffic looks chaotic – but seems to get where it is going – it was tricky crossing the road though.


So were some of the back-alleys – quite a few Indian people wandered around bare-foot – no-one walked through the puddles though – I read in a local English language newspaper that there is some concern about the hygiene problems posed by such standing water.


About 200 yards (or metres if you prefer) from the entrance we stopped at a part of the temple – it was a shoe and sock repository – we had to enter the temple barefoot.  However this meant walking along a well-paved street which meant that whilst we were barefooted they were not clean feet. I have always assumed it was for cleanliness – a way of avoiding taking the street in – perhaps I am wrong, or maybe the street we were on was considered part of the temple area.

When we reached the temple entrance there were two queues (lines), one male, one female for a security search – as we moved along the line we stepped through a metal detector – but I am not sure whether it played any part as when my turn came I had to step onto a box and be patted down.  The taller members of our party presented a bit of a challenge for the shorter Indian guards.

As part of the process we also had to show that our cameras would take a picture and were reminded to turn off our mobile phones – we were entering a place of worship after all.

The Temple area covers 70 acres and there were a number of towers – here is the one nearest  our entrance.  There were 5 entrances – representing the head, 2 arms, 2 legs, and shrines represented the heart and eyes. I have probably got it wrong and there were 4 entrances I will check. Hopefully before this post gets published.


The temples get renovated regularly (every 7 years I think) and it takes around 2 years to do so.  The renovations had just been completed so we were lucky to be able to see the Temple area. The detail was amazing – it must be a major undertaking to repeat this every 7 years.


There were quite a few towers in the whole complex and would have been covered with bamboo scaffolding and banana leaves – again perhaps my memory is wrong on that last point.


Inside there were many statues and the ceilings were all finely decorated. As it had been freshly painted the colours were vibrant. You could tell it had been painted recently as there were paint spots on the floor under the decorated panels. They would have been worn away by the visitors’ feet after a while.


The pictures were often geometric, but not exclusively so. These seems to be flower representations, the one on the left looks a bit like a lotus flower.


The statues were carved from rock-stone and the guide pointed out the shapely calves of the dancing ladies and their well sculpted ribs. I have not seen anyone take such an interest in statues before. This was not the statue though.


Overhead there were further colourful animal carvings.


It turns out that Ben learnt about comparative religion whilst at Primary School and knew about the Hindu gods. This is Ganesh the Elephant God. They have many hands and arms because they are superior beings and thus able to help lots of people.

We had to pay a charge of 50rupees (70p)  to take pictures inside the Temple – some chose not to. There were some interesting pictures though. There was an inner shrine only accessible to Hindus. We did pass an real elephant where for a small fee you could get blessed by the Elephant.


We think that this shrine is Vishnu at the end of quite an imposing aisle of pillars, each with carvings.


A close-up of Vishnu.


Outside there was a large pool area with a Lotus flower in gold in the middle.



The Lotus flower can just be seen peeping through metal archway with two towers in the background.


Everything had been renovated, including the wall carvings.


I think this is of the same image – but painted on the ceiling.


This priest was blessing people under a statue of Ganesh.


After leaving the Temple complex we visited a viewing area on the 4th floor above a shop outside, which allowed us to get a sense of how large the Temple area was.

It also gave the proprietors a chance to do a soft sell – they gave us some delicious tea – chai with cardamom and cinnamon. I admired a table and was shown all of its authenticity certificates, it was 70 years old and it would be ideal with a glass top. The price 450 UK pounds, with all taxes paid and shipped to the UK – urhh except VAT which he glossed over. It was all very charming though.


The rooftop view in the other direction was a little less imposing. A clutter houses and apartments. We did see a chipmunk running along the temple wall whilst looking over the town.


After the temple visit we walked back, what seemed like, a different way to the hotel.  This fruit stall caught my eye. I once used to work in a supermarket and at the end of each day we would “face up” a process where the goods on the shelves were brought to the front so that next morning people would buy more. These fruit look inviting on this stall.


Some more fruit on display.


The last thing to catch my eye on the return to the hotel was this row of Ambassador cars – they look quite old-fashioned – but seem to be new.  They are a popular model for taxi-drivers.


We ended the morning with a delicious buffet lunch at the Hotel – after  quick change into our cycling gear. Ben and I have tended to eat vegetarian food while on the trip it has looked more inviting and there has often been more choice. (Many Indian people are vegetarian.)  One dish seemed to fail the test though – it must have been a vegetable that simulated the taste of gristle. After all that culture it was time to get cycling.


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