Madurai. Temples, pilgrims and colour.

As with everything else in India you need patience to fly internally. We discovered that delays were normal and frustration was useless. We were flying to Madurai in Tamil Nadu after a week in Mumbai. Madurai is one of Southern India's largest cities and is a centre for learning and pilgrimage.


The Madurai Airport site reminded me of Mildura in Victoria, with red dust, heat and very scrubby trees, to add to the picture a group of children were playing cricket in the  red dust. We drove straight to the hotel, the Taj Garden Retreat, a fabulous large old  Hill Station type of building high on a hill, in the fresh air, over-looking the very polluted, smoggy Madurai.

Madurai is known as the temple city and the temples are amazing. The main temple is the incredible Sri Meenakshi Temple complex.



It sprawls over six hectares and it buzzes with pilgrims, holy elephants and holy cows.



The complex is full of brightly coloured carved towers and statues.




The grounds are surprisingly clean but still with ever-present beggars: I even saw a woman pinching her baby to make it cry before she came up to us for money. The complex is not a peaceful place of worship. The major temple is vast and at one stage we were lost in the maze of rooms and people.


The next day we were woken at 4.30 by the noise of drums and trumpets blasting out from loudspeakers at the temple. The temple was a twenty-minute drive away so it must have been deafening at the site. Close to the temple was a mosque and they had their loudspeakers on full blast as well. This was to be the beginning of everyday in Madurai.


Omar left for Tuticorin and I hired a driver. We were both appalled by the driving habits on the open road. Cars overtake buses that are overtaking trucks on a two-lane highway so you look up and see a mechanical wall hurtling towards you. Gulp.




My driver spoke English very well and we had a good time exploring the countryside and town for the next two days. On the first day we drove out into the country and visited an almost deserted Hill Station. He told me that the locals were from the merchant class and the men had all moved to Chennai closely followed by the women so they could live in a modern city. The mansions they had left behind were largely in an incredible state of decay.





We also went to a marble quarry which was incredibly primitive with the workers hand chiselling the large blocks into smaller blocks. We then went, uninvited, onto a peanut farm. The children were terrified at the white woman and ran away screaming.




On the second day we visited local temples and the Tirumalai Nayak Palace. The Palace was built in 1636, today not much of it remains but it is worth visiting.




Another temple we visited was the Terra Cotta Temple, the Kochadai Village Deity Temple. It has a sacred tree that is supposed to be 2000 years old and had a hollow in its side. The hollow was filled with snakes that were fed eggs and milk every day.



The driver invited me to his home for lunch to meet his family. In retrospect it was probably dumb to go off with a strange man to a strange area but at least the hotel knew who I was with. His house was a tiny concrete block in a line of small concrete blocks. His wife and sons couldn't speak English so there was a lot of bowing, smiling and laughter. They had gone to a lot of trouble but I realised that they expected me to eat alone while they all watched. I finally convinced the driver to eat with me.

The driver told me that I was the first tourist to ever accept his invitation.

Omar returned after a successful trip just in time to catch a cultural event at the hotel. Traditional dancing and music.




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