Monday, January 19, 2009

Day 13 - Jan 19, Chettinad to Madurai






Day 13 - Jan 19, Chettinad to Madurai

- Notes
- Open Market
- lunch
- An E-ticket
- Three breasted she/he story and temple


Notes:
- Today at breakfast, two tour members don’t show up, they are suffering from what appears to be a virus, feverish and diarrhea. When we return to pick them up to head out to Madurai, we’re surprised to see them walking on their own.
- MHB and I are doing a bit better, the cold/cough has affected several of us, less disastrously than other two who are feverish.
- On the positive side, one of the tour is a retired cardiologist so we are getting excellent care (I haven’t decided if I will have the openheart surgery since it is discounted…) fyi--cardiologists (per Michael) don’t do surgery…he did “procedures…like angiograms.

We tour the local farmers market, held here on Mondays. It’s rather large, probably well over 100 vendors, the vast majority are selling veggies and fruits (since most Hindus are vegetarians, that makes sense). Many of the products are similar to what we see, and a few are radically different. Each vendor has his own hand-held scale to weigh produce. The “aisles” are covered with curry leaves, giving a pleasant aroma.

MHB buys one of our missing members a pair of flip-flops, 80 cents. All they have to do is last the rest of the trip. Cows, dogs and goats roam the market, though not really right in the “stalls” which are really just patches of space covered by plastic tarps. We sample jackfruit and I buy cooked (lightly fried) chick peas, sort of like corn nuts but different. We also get the local version of corn on a stick, and here the kernels are more like corn nuts also (and, of course, different).

Off to Madurai, a trip of about 2 hours through mostly empty landscape, not too many villages. Of course, since my eyes are closed most of the time, I can not actually confirm this. We do hear a story of Meenakshi, and as I relate this do not try and make sense of it! A famous king wants a son, and in fact has no kids. He performs 99 austerities/devotions and is about to do 100 when a god (Shiva?) appears and says to stop and he will have a son, and should raise the child as a son no matter what. A baby is born, a three year old girl with three breasts, and they dutiful raise as a son and she becomes a fierce warrior. Sometime later Shiva appears, they fall in love and the three breasted she/he loses a breast, becomes a meek woman and they marry. This woman is named Meenakshi, because and the temple we visit in Madurai is dedicated to Meenakshi and Shiva (Martin advised, it’s ALWAYS a Shiva temple even if Meenakshi is more often represented).

We can actually a bit of a mountain range in the distance (not great visibility, we’re heading to the 2nd largest city in Tamil Nadu).

We get to the hotel, have another buffet lunch (one of two feverish no where to be seen, the other eats some small amount of rice and soup, gathers same for partner and heads upstairs). Food is pretty standard fare, we are all eating smaller portions (though I always double and triple up on naan).

Off to the temple, second largest in India. It’s an E ticket, we ride in the tut-tuts. It is exactly like being on a Disney ride, dodging various other vehicles, cows, people, in the street while closely following the tut-tut in front of you. No rear view mirrors. Just fast enough to feel a small rush, slow enough that even 5 year olds over 36 inches are allowed on the ride.

At the temple, it’s a bit of shock, there are a ton of vendors/stalls seeming inside the temple, actually in a large pavilion just outside the temple. we learn later that often markets in temples, since they are the center/heart of city. There are 11 large gopurams (pyramid like gateways), and all are covered in palm fronds, some wealthy donor(s) have sponsored repainting them all. We can see a bit of the new bright painting here and there. Some are disappointed, I think it is fine to have one where it is not same-same. Temple was constructed in various stages between 14th and 17th centuries with renovations done recently. Not easy to see all the carvings, some of the ceiling paintings have been refreshed - those that haven’t are quite nice. One of the major areas has a fantastic scalloped a-frame shape wooden ceiling, probably untouched for years. A lot of the scaffolding is made using Kerala wood, not bamboo, somewhat of a surprise. And we cannot
visit the inner sanctum, that’s just for Hindus (as long as they aren’t wearing lunghies, which appear to be flannel sarongs…not sure why, guessing has something to do with caste).

The tank (water reservoir, here more like a giant pool) near the inner sanctuary has bleachers on one side. We see a white breasted kingfisher (finally) and when the bird turns around we see the bright turquoise feathers running from the head down the tail. The candy of choice being sold is something that looks like a mini-carrot covered in orange powder. It’s tumeric and we see a shrine where the god is covered in the same colored powder. Must not be a candy, we don’t buy any to try. This tank is deep within the temple and the only one we’ve seen that doesn’t have people bathing and washing their clothes in it, though it must be used for purification.

Carol the guide tells a story of how a guru at an ashram they were visiting offered to make Hindis of here and Martin, and they turned it down. Plus side: access at a 10th the price everywhere. Down side: you had to shave your head.

Part of the temple is being painted freshly, though it looks aged. I agree with Ravi the local guide that we will meet back here in 100 (or was it 200?) years and we’ll see if we can tell how it has held up.

There’s a lull on leaving while some shopping is done and finally the group splits up and this time we ride back to the hotel on bicycle rickshaws. We’re in the lead this time, and it is not near as exciting as the tut-tut because we’re going a lot slower. It’s nearing dark and we see many cows bedding down for the night, in gutters (after 6pm you don’t have to feed the meter), in the middle of the street, basically just about anywhere they want. Supposedly they know where home is (they are owned) and head there after a hard day of urban grazing.

Buffet dinner at the hotel, includes French fries (or was that at lunch?) and smallish potato chips. It is a Moslem hotel, so no alcohol served anywhere inside. I think we’re down two again, but since I am fading, maybe it really is more.

One other oddity at the hotel, we’re on the 5th floor, the place is pretty modern, and at some point a squirrel goes by headed downhill. And, when we go to checkout they want to charge for a 2nd wi-fi session. The first cost $2 for 1 hour, of which it was working for ½ hour. Double charging and halving the time makes it same same with US hotels!

Hanging on and in, Ralph and MHB

2 comments:

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