Saturday, August 4, 2012


Early on January 1st, we hired a car and driver to take us from Kanchipuram to Chennai, a trip that wasn't possible by train. Our plan was that we would take an overnight train that evening from Chennai to Madurai to see the huge Meenakshi temple. We decided to leave our suitcases at the Accord Metropolitan Hotel for the day while we attended the Chennai Dance and Music Festival which was held annually from mid-December until mid-January.

 Lobby of the Accord Metropolitan Hotel

We inquired about the music festival, which is huge, and were very disappointed to discover that, this being New Year's Day, no concerts were scheduled. Having seen a wonderful performance of Indian classical dance in Mamallapuram, we were very eager to see more. Instead, we spent the day at the hotel, enjoying our surroundings and the good food, and catching up on the outside world at the hotel's Business Centre.  Shortly after dinner we took a taxi to the station to catch our train.

Taking an overnight train in India is a very pleasant and inexpensive experience. We normally booked an upper and lower bunk bed in an air conditioned coach. Our fellow travelers almost invariably spoke English and were very friendly and helpful. On each side of the compartment there will be an upper and a lower bed complete with clean sheets and a reading light. We were a bit nervous about sharing a compartment with strangers, but, after taking many overnight trains, this had never been a problem. Heavy dark green curtains screen you from the corridor, providing adequate privacy. By around 10 p.m. everything becomes quiet except for the clack-clack of the wheels. The soothing motion of the train quickly puts you to sleep.

The places we visited in the state of Tamil Nadu were dusty and dirty. You have to look the other way and try not to notice the rubbish beside the road. Madurai, a city of about two million, was a good example.  

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 People Making their Way to the Meenakshi Temple

 Madurai Tailor
 Madurai Coconut Vendor

Madurai's main attraction is a large and famous temple - the Meenakshi - that covers 45 acres. It has fourteen huge towers which are covered with colourful plaster carvings to illustrate stories of the gods Shiva and Parvati, to whom the temple is dedicated. The towers had been painted 18 months ago and were looking bright and beautiful.

 Two of the Meenakshi Temple's 14 Towers

Inside the temple it was dark and mysterious, with hundreds of pillars, carved figures, and the strong acrid smell of smoke from many small oil lamps. Pilgrims' shadowy figures moved in and out as they made their devotions. It was all surprisingly quiet and tranquil considering that hundreds of people were moving about in a confined, relatively small space. Our tour of the site took well over an hour with our own guide, but as I was coming down with a cold and feeling feverish, I didn't remember very much of what he told us.

 Temple Devotees

 Large Sculpture of Mythological Creature 

Inner Sanctum, Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

The Meenakshi is the largest temple tank in India.

Like all Hindu temples, the Meenakshi has its elephant.

While in Madurai, in addition to our visit to the Meenakshi, we went to see the Gandhi Museum and the 17th Century Thirumalai Nayak Palace, which was partly in ruins but very attractive. The museum has interesting pictorial displays on the life of Gandhi and the history of India told from an eastern rather than a solely western perspective, which was interesting particularly as it pertained to the colonial period. What westerners call the Indian Mutiny of 1857, for example, is depicted as a fight for freedom.

Displayed at the Gandhi Museum

Thirumalai Nayak Palace

On January 4th we left on an ancient bus full of Indian tourists for the hill station of Kodaikanal.

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