Tag Archives: driving

Agravation

S arrived promptly and we checked out and set off towards the Fatehpur Sikri, two monuments built in the mediaeval period. We paused for breakfast at a rest stop (poori) and continued to the hills. The roads in and around Agra had more than their fair share of potholes and I felt lucky to arrive with all my teeth still intact! S recommended we get a guide, which we did, and he parked up while we got into a rickshaw for the final hill with the guide hanging on with the rickshaw driver.

After getting tickets and avoiding the souvenir sellers we went into the palace, which was built to house Akbar and his three wives. The guide explained that Akbar was the grandfather of the builder of the Taj Mahal, and had ruled in a very secular way, taking a Catholic wife, Hindu wife and Muslim wife to show his great impartiality. He had had trouble producing an heir, and finally succeeded with the Hindu wife, who had the largest living quarters as a result.

We also saw the Catholic wife’s palace, and the Muslim wife’s palace, which was tiny. Our guide was quick to explain that though the palace was small it wasn’t a reflection of Akbar’s attitude towards her, as hers was the most richly decorated with beautiful stone screens and carvings. Though the air temperature was cool, the sun was relentless and I enjoyed having the chance to duck into the different rooms.

We also saw the royal bedroom, a massive bed raised six feet in the air with space for at least ten people! Something tells me that Akbar didn’t suffer if it was a cold night. Another highlight was the court which had a central pillar decorated with motifs from many world religious and cultures. This pillar supported spokes where the advisers would sit and… Advise. There was also an astrologer’s consultation room, and in the centre of the palace complex a huge stone throne sat, where Akbar would play pachisi with servant girls as pieces. He always won…

From the gardens and in the distance we saw the tomb of an elephant, which took the form of a huge cylindrical tower.  This elephant had been Akbar’s favourite and also the palace executioner; people judged guilty would have their heads cracked open by the great beast’s foot.

Next was the neighbouring mosque, a beautiful and bustling place with tonnes of white marble forming the inner part of the mosque, very striking within the red walls. It was about here that we acquired a fourth member of our party, a small girl trying to sell us pens. We all went around together and saw the mosque and its tombs. We even went out to the front gate which revealed a set of steep steps where we perched precariously to look at what had been the biggest door in the world back in the day. A baby goat nestled in the steps, bleating, and was given a good stroke by an incoming worshipper.

We went back to the rickshaw and rode down the hill, with the pen seller hanging on the back like a limpet. Even as we were getting in the car to go to the next site, she stood with us repeating her offer. Maybe she just wanted a free lift down the hill, but I’m not so sure…

The guide came with us to the ATM where we paid him, and S drove us back towards the city with my spine getting slowly compressed by the bouncing. He finished his water bottle and flung it cheerfully out of the window exclaiming proudly that he was able to do so with impunity because (beaming grin) “This is Agra!” He chatted to Sellappan along the way, occasionally pausing to spit out the remnants of his paan, and told us all about his family waiting at home – he could talk for India and definitely lent some excitement to proceedings…

We proceeded to Agra Fort, yet another spectacular red sandstone complex with gorgeous carvings and impressive arches. We emerged onto a rooftop courtyard and spotted the Taj Mahal shimmering in the distant haze – our first glimpse! Naturally this prompted a million photographs and a declaration from Sellappan that he was bored of this style of architecture now and we should get underway. I could certainly see his point (though it may have proved unpopular with Agra tourist board if there is such a thing) and we headed back to S to go back to town for lunch, excited by the prospect of the Taj Mahal in the afternoon.

S took us to a restaurant called the Silk Road which was popular with tourists. It seemed to be a purpose-built tourist attraction, heavily decorated, air conditioned and with very smart service and knives and forks. Most of the customers were westerners, some sitting with a local who seemed to be guiding them (though I wouldn’t like to make assumptions…) through the menu choices and dispensing advice. Two couples sitting near us were French, so we eavesdropped a bit as we ate our lunch.

I have to point out that at this point I was feeling very odd and touristy, and I think Sellappan felt the same! The one of the French couples was struggling a bit with the menu due to a communication failure about dal/lentils, so we heroically intervened to save them. They were very pleased and chatted with us for a while, asking for recommendations. They were from Lyon and said they had been eating the same thing every day because they didn’t have the confidence to try something new, they ended up ordering what we had – i hope they enjoyed it! It turned out that their daughter worked in Newcastle. Small world… I was feeling very weird by this point!

We piled back into the car with S and  he took us to a marble factory and  jewellery shop where we inspected the goods – this is a common theme and i think the drivers work on commission or get paid to bring people to the shop. It’s a good arrangement for them and sometimes maybe for the customer too, as long as you aren’t afraid of bargaining or the incredibly-hard sell. It’s perfectly possible to come back out of the shop without making a purchase as we demonstrated at the jeweller’s – he lost our business as soon as he fingered the necklace Rajini had given me!

Dear reader if you have made it this far you must be almost as ready as we were to just get to the Taj Mahal!  But no, this was the time to pick up some of the local speciality sweet, made from lotus plants. The closest I cancan come to a comparison is those big fruit jelly sweets you get at Christmas, but somehow lighter and not coated with sugar. These came in plain batons or colourful balls decorated with silver leaf. Sellappan quickly bought a couple of kilos for the folks at home.

Off we went on the rollercoaster to the West gate of the Taj Mahal. S dropped us off and told us to watch for pickpockets and scam artists, ignore everyone and walk quickly. The walk to the ticket counter was a kilometre gauntlet of horse/camel/auto drivers and souvenir sellers, which six-foot Sellappan strode through with me trotting beside like an overheated chihuahua. We got to the ticket counter and paid for our ticket (mine was 25 times the price of Sellappan’s, which sounds bad until you realise that it’s still only £2.50 for this amazing place) and we went through the security check. Separate queues for men and women and the imbalance of the gender of visitors meant I whizzed through the process and then had a little wait for Sellappan.

The Taj Mahal was still nowhere in sight, and we walked around to the gate in the red wall to see it framed beautifully in the archway. Excitement! We went along with the crowds and went through the arch, as the gardens and fountains revealed themselves below us. The manicured gardens were so simple they didn’t pull focus from the main attraction, and we walked alongside them towards the building.

After some fuss with shoes and getting in the right queues to get in, we entered the tomb itself and made the circle around the cool marble room. Signs calling for silence were wilfully ignored, not least by the security guard who blew his whistle at people who touched things. We came back outside and did two laps around the building before descending and getting our shoes back on.

One thing I had insisted on (and Sellappan agreed) was that we should spend plenty of time at the taj Mahal, so we left a full three hours to relax and really enjoy it. I was so glad that we did, because I ended up getting suncream in my eye which took up a good quarter of an hour! Of course, we took far too many pictures from every possible angle and with every imaginable pose, but the best part was finding a shaded bench and just looking at the building through the gardens. Despite the thousands of other tourists, we found a very peaceful spot and even managed to relax a bit for the first time since leaving Jaipur.

The Taj Mahal changed slowly under the setting sun, and despite having been inside and walked the marble halls, I could still hardly believe we were really sitting there. I have spent the first 27 years of my life looking at this incredibly beautiful, faraway thing on posters and book covers and being there just felt totally surreal. The scale of the building really blew me away too. You know it’s big before you go, but it’s just… HUGE! The hours disappeared and we headed out to run the gauntlet again, very happy that we had made it to this lovely place.

Next stop, bus station! I think it’s fair to say that we had both found Agra fairly stressful and a bit uncomfortable at times, despite the amazing places we had seen. When we got to the bus station, S squeezed us for a little bit of extra cash and sent us off with a cheerful paan-stained and aromatic grin as we promised to send more business his way if we ever had friends visiting Agra. It’s true that our visit wouldn’t have been the same without him! Sellappan visibly relaxed as we found our stop, and he bought chocolate to celebrate our triumphant Agra adventure. We boarded the bus to Delhi (big air conditioned Volvo) and settled down to chew over the day as well as the big bar of Dairy Milk.

By the first rest stop we hadn’t slept (it was only just outside of Agra) so Sellappan bought ice creams which we munched on the bus – talk about emotional eating! This new sugary snack trend was most welcome. At some point we dozed off and Delhi appeared, a little later than expected. We got off at the terminus near our hotel (The Southern) and Sellappan got us a rickshaw to cover the last few kilometres.

We finally arrived at the polished front desk at about 11pm, but happily the restaurant was still open, so we had a very southern meal of dosa which was gobbled down quickly! We filled in the millions of required forms and finally got upstairs. Sellappan went to the travel desk to arrange our cab for the next day, and we arranged to get up to leave by 8am. I soaked and washed my filthy feet (sandals) and read a bit more of Three Dog Night before sparking out.

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Back to Bangalore, and Driving Tales 1

Walking up again in Bangalore with an easy day ahead was quite comforting, though Sellappan didn’t have the same luxury, as he was heading for a long shift at the office.

I spent the day very peacefully, and spent some time gathering my thoughts about driving in India. Today I’m scratching the surface with how everything looks.

Road Signs

So far, I haven’t seen many, apart from milage (kilometerage?)/lane signs on the highway. There seems to be a push to make the roads safer, backed by politicians with huge billboards about keeping the road safe. There are also plenty of signs with advice such as: BE SAFE WEAR HELMET and FOLLOW TRAFFIC RULES.

Decorating Your Vehicle

I’m talking mainly now about the Ashok Leyland trucks which are ubiquitous around here. The bed of the truck is usually yellow, and will have various bits of information painted on the side, such as the driver/owner’s  contact details as well as any business names. On the back of the truck, there is a space to paint whatever slogan or idea you’d like – much like a US bumper sticker. Most trucks have SOUND HORN which is a request for an overtaking driver to do so. I have also seen anti drink-driving slogans. The most puzzling thing I’d seen painted so far was “We Two Ours One”.  Sellappan has explained this one to me now, but I’d like to hear your guesses. Some of mine were very far off!

While we’re on trucks, you can’t miss the flower garlands which occasionally adorn the cabs of the trucks. There is no end to the combinations of cool stuff to put on your dashboard either, gods are particularly popular. I’m not sure there’s a god of Ashok Leyland trucks, but their corporate buildings are huge edifices of steel and glass, so they seem to be doing ok. Other vehicles often have similar interior cab decorations, including rickshaws.

When it comes to buses, most of these are owned by private companies or by the government, so there is a lot less scope for personalisation. Some buses have a decorated cab inside, but my favourite type of bus has to be the disco bus. Let me explain. It is possible to attach ropes of lights around your windscreen, and it is also possible to adapt your headlamps to cycle through red, blue, green and white flashes, just like your windscreen rope. After that you can stick on your hazard lights and fog lights and be the life of the… Road.

The final thing I’d like to point out is what looks like a mask, which you can place on the back of your vehicle (or indeed on your house, place of business…) to prevent people casting eyes on you. The face is usually white, with dark horns, wide eyes and a red, pointy sticking out tongue. He’ll look out for you.

What’s on the Road?

The striking difference from the UK is the types of vehicles that you see – so many motorbikes and scooters, and of course rickshaws too. You also see people carrying impossible things on their motorbike/truck/scooter. There aren’t a lot of pedal cycles around, really, but there’s no such thing as a cycle lane either.

More driving tales tomorrow!

Ta-ta, Tata

Due to my tiredness yesterday, I hadn’t really taken in Bliss, or indeed its spectacular location. As such, emerging from the room to glorious sunshine and a phenomenal green view of tea plantations was a beautiful surprise, and I spent some time just taking it in.

Breakfast was provided, and was the usual South Indian fare, with omelettes too. We filled up – which would turn out to be a very good decision – on great food and water before packing up and getting in the car with John, who was fresh from an airport transfer job that morning! He must have been so tired, but didn’t let on!

We set off on our journey, stopping in many spots for pictures along the way – the layers of hills covered in tea seemed to go on indefinitely. We drove and drove and drove up, up through yet more beautiful miles of tea to our second secret location of the trip – an industrial site making use of local water resources (ahem). Some parts of the site were no longer in use, but a terrifying winch car dangled precariously over an edge like a 1920’s railway carriage crossed with Alton Towers’ Oblivion – a useful and hair-raising way to get between two of the sites. As the butterflies flitted around us on the precipice, we also spotted a huge black monkey swaying gently in a tree on the other side of the valley.

We continued our drive in the direction of Ooty, pausing at a recreation ground which was a large grassy hill affording beautiful views of the valley below. A bunch of horses mooched about cropping grass near the bottom, begging people to say no to a horse ride up the steep hill, offered by their owner.

The hill was a good work out after the day in the car, and Mohan, Sellappan and I made the climb while Bindhu and John checked out the snacks at the bottom. Upon reaching the top there were , of course, pictures to be taken, and we snapped away happily for a while before attempting the knee-crunching descent. Bindhu and John had made a full investigation of the snacks on offer, and there were newspaper cones of hot nuts and braised corn on the cob for all.

The final stop on the tour was our biggest walk yet from the car, led by the intrepid John. We stopped by the side of the road and looked up at yet another hill. Just as we were thinking about the climb, a herd of buffalo appeared from nowhere and walked calmly across our path, their hairy backs lit up by the golden sunset light. There were about thirty of them in total, and the boys were keen to get a bit closer to take some photos. The buffalo ignored them, entirely nonchalant. After they passed, a trek up the hill through a gap in the trees (no tigers, only a surprised rooster sprinting like roadrunner and crowing) revealed… the other side of a hill – and a small lake! The sun was on the way down as we were descending to the shore, and the tree-lined lake made for some lovely sunset views and pictures (Mohan was in his element with a flash gun holding assistant on call) and we eventually turned around back up over the hill as the light faded.

Apart from the quick snack, there had been no food since breakfast time, and everyone was really hungry! We eventually got to Ooty and had dinner at a chicken restaurant on the main street – with the spiciest chicken biriyani ever produced. When we were done, Bindhu and I got some chocolate for dessert in the car.

Sadly, it was time to leave (actually we were running late for our bus back to Bangalore) and we came down from the cool hills in record time, despite a lot of trucks dithering around the bends! John negotiated the Coimbatore traffic like a pro, and Sellappan’s network saw our luggage arrive to us by bike and get slung through the car window with a quick wave! We got to the bus station just in time and waved a hurried goodbye, safely bound for Bangalore once again! The journey was sleepy and uneventful, if a little bouncy, and we got back to the flat early the next morning.

The Night of the Doctor

After the usual morning routine and lunch, I spent some time writing and doing some origami, taking a look at Sellappan’s dad’s coin and stamp collections (British and American) and watching TV.

At about 4pm The Doctor¹ called to take me to meet his friends and family. First we flew the TARDIS² across town to Ragu’s place (another of Sellappan’s many friends). Ragu is the MD of a rice mill on the edge of town, and is a big fan of green technology. His house water is actually rainwater collected on the roof (though it very rarely rains, when it does it pours) and is powered by solar panels (now this, I can definitely see!) also on the roof. He also rents a second place with similar technology installed. As an added bonus the 360 degree view from his roof comprises the hills of Salem, lots of greenery and the rice mill itself. After meeting Ragu’s lovely family and having snacks and tea we looked through his wedding album, much to the Doctor’s amusement.

Next we went to the Doctor’s place and I met his family, and his tenants³ and we had yet more snacks and tea. Vijay’s mam asked me about my lack of jewellery and showed me her wedding jewellery which she always wore. She wears a necklace and silver rings on both feet every day. She also asked me how often I went to church and showed me the house’s puja room and lit some incense for the gods. Vijay’s parents were both maths teachers before they retired, and his mam was keen to learn some origami.

Vijay, his wife and his mam made a lotus flower each, after I had made a talking crow for Vijay’s son, who has tons of energy. He is top of his class in abacus and drawing, and loves animals just as much as his vet parents do. He also treated us to a dance show with his friend – another of his passions.

After the dancing I took the chance to teach a couple of ceilidh moves to the assembled family, with poor Vijay volunteering to help. I think it’s safe to say that everyone enjoyed that, just judging by the giggling. I also learned some more Tamil words and phrases from Vijay, who was a keen teacher. Watch out Sellappan is all I can say…

Vijay’s wife was feeling tired, so rather than eating at home we went out for dinner, and I had the spiciest dosa I’ve had so far, as well as French onion soup which was packed with chilli powder. The TARDIS materialised again back home, though a few hours later than when we had set off.

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¹ Sellappan’s friend Vijay, Casper’s vet. Sellappan calls him Doctor.
² He drove the Honda Civic.
³ Pun forcibly inserted, Whovians.

Yercaud Hill station and Meeting Friends

We got up and were served breakfast by Sellappan’s mam. As it was a Sunday it was the time for non-vegetarian food, and Sellappan’s mam had already been out to the market to get fresh meat and fish. Breakfast was mutton in gravy and idly, of course it was delicious.

As Mohan is going away on a business trip this week, he came to Salem so that Kowshalya could stay with his parents. Kowshalya gave me a yellow flower to put in my hair. We went to his family home and were of course given something to eat (pomegranate) and I spoke with Mohan’s mam. She has a treadle sewing machine and likes to make things, just like someone else I know! Mohan’s father is a chartered accountant, like Mohan, and the family business is conducted upstairs in the office, so clients can enter from the office side, but dad can come back to his house with no commute necessary!

Mohan drove Kowshalya, Sellappan and I to Yercaud, a hill station outside if Salem. There is a road all the way to the top of the 5000ft hill, and the route shows the view down to the ground through a few trees. All the way along the road there were monkeys sitting on the concrete, and a lot of them seemed to be eating tomatoes. When we got further up the hill we discovered a family car stopping at each monkey to give them tomatoes. We paused too further up and Sellappan gave a monkey an orange, and it quickly ran away with it into the trees.

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We stopped and climbed a small metal watchtower for a better view, and about twenty huge yellow dragonflies zipped around us in the sun. The ground was starting to look very far away! The strange thing about the topography is that mostly the land is totally flat, and then steep hills spring out from nowhere.

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As we climbed, the road started to bend around in hairpins, and signs told us how many we had passed through, counting hairpin bend 1/20, 2/20… All the while the ground below us started to get lost in the haze.

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We suddenly came to the top and after only passing a few cars and buses on the way up, it was surprising to see how many people were already there. There was a small town at the top of the hill, with a lake with pedalos and lots of people selling food and souvenirs. There are old plantation buildings, few schools and plenty of houses, restaurants and hotels too.

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We drove to the very highest point where there was a small temple cut into the rock like a small cave. We had to bend double to get inside, and were joined be another family. Once we came back out everyone had food in their mind, so we went back down to the town for snacks, including mango slices sprinkled with chilli powder and salt, pineapple slices, and egg bajis. There was also ‘American Style’ corn on the cob, which was scorched over a hand cranked burner. I took mine without chilli, just for a change! We ate this feast sitting in the car overlooking the lake, just like a British winter picnic!

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At another spot we stopped and Sellappan had our names written on a grain of rice as a souvenir. There was also a proper old fashioned candy floss cart, which I never would have expected to find there! Naturally some of that also had to be bought. We began our descent, and paused at some picturesque spots for snaps. We saw coffee, oranges and pepper growing, as well as the ubiquitous monkeys. It was very strange to see them all just chilling out by the roadside!

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When we got back down we stopped at Mohan’s again and there were people making flower garlands in the driveway, and Kowshalya fixed one of these to my ponytail too. Lots of buds and flowers were being strung together to make them. I had seen a lot of women wearing these flowers, but didn’t know about the strong, sweet smell that comes from the flowers every time they move. They were also very cool on the back of my neck.

The next stop was home for lunch – though it was already 5pm and we had been munching the whole time! We came home to one of Sellappan’s favourites – fish fry. The fish was a kind of river carp, and had been sliced perpendicular to the spine, covered in spices and deep-fried to a deep orange-red. It was very tasty, but I had a bit of trouble with the bones. The same fish had also been prepared in a green-brown gravy with a smooth flavour. Of course,  we had it with idly while the TV played Tamil movies.

As I had had a problem with my flip flops and contracted “shoebite” (a brilliant word for when new shoes rub or blister your feet) we stopped again at Sellappan’s friend’s shoe shop for some new ones. The shop was packed as it was Sunday evening, and so there wasn’t much time for chatting. I did discover that one of Sellappan’s friends is visiting my area sometime next year though!

My Tamil is certainly not good, but I have learned a very important word – enough! Everywhere we go there is always some kind of food, and this is always true when visiting others! On our way to visit one of Sellappan’s tutees we actually crossed paths with them (“small town” of 850,000 people) and upon arriving at their house we had honeycomb sweets, as well as nuts and fruits and tea. Sellappan tested his students both in French and English while we were visiting!

Naturally when we got home it was time for food, so after another meal with Tamil movies, Sellappan packed up his bag to go back to Bangalore. I’m staying here in Salem with his family until he comes back on Friday for more trips!

The Temple Tour

Sellappan had planned a day of visiting temples, and it was no coincidence that it went off as well as it did! The timings were pretty much perfect to see the best of the temples but avoid the sun and crowds. The journey was about 400 miles in all, and took us from 5am to 11pm that night. We started early from Salem – the driver picked us up at 5am to get us to Madurai for temple opening time and avoid the crowds. We saw the sun rise and along the way we stopped for breakfast (idly and vada, naturally) and had a fairly sleepy ride in the Tata.

The city of Madurai was suddenly upon us, even though it was only just approaching nine all the shops were open and there were people milling around. As the driver parked up I got my first view of an Indian temple, and what a temple to start with.  Meenakshi Amman Temple is huge, and very impressive! One enormous tower dominated the sky and loomed over the street filled with people. We left our shoes in the car and headed towards it. Upon going through the security of the temple, I was told to leave my camera at the cloakroom, but was allowed to bring in my mobile phone (with a camera), as was Sellappan. I suppose the idea is to stop tourists from clogging up the place with huge DSLRs and point and shoots, as photography itself is allowed in most places inside the temple. Everyone was just snapping pictures on their phones instead!¹

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Back to the temple though! The entry under the tower led to a cloister-like (you’re going to have to excuse my Christian-centred vocabulary throught this post…) covered area, surrounding a pool with a golden column rising from the centre. There was no one bathing as you often see, and I later found out that this temple was not for bathing in! Naturally Sellappan was visiting some of the gods, and we headed for the “inner sanctum” where I soon found out I wasn’t allowed (no foreigners). I waited for Sellappan, sitting on the bank of steps surrounding the pool, and watched the comings and goings. At one stage a group of musicians wandered through the painted hallways, playing (I think) a nadaswaram and a drums. The temple wasn’t very busy at this point, and I enjoyed the calm atmosphere. There was a man with a stand selling snacks, and the smell of this combined with the incense was very odd indeed!

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When Sellappan came out we walked around the pool, and then went deeper into the enclosed area of the temple itself. Here there were many gods to see, as well as plenty of worshippers gathered around each one. Here too the floor and ceiling was painted with rangoli/kolam type designs in many bright colours. Added to the colourful clothing of the atendees the effect was quite spectacular. As Sellappan visited a different god in another no-foreigners section I waited in the “meditation hall” which was actually just part of another “cloister” with people coming and going.

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Next stop? The gift shop, of course! We went through a sort of marketplace, selling any kind of religious item you can imagine, including statues of Buddha. I was gifted a souvenir keyring of Ganesha by Sellappan, but we passed up the flowers and food items. When we got outside the real scale of the temple began to dawn on me – the temple is actually set in 12 acres of grounds and is absolutely enormous! There are four huge towers and many, many smaller ones, all covered in gods carved from stone and painted brightly. Layer upon layer of figures stretch up towards the sky, finishing with a metal pinnacle which brings in cosmic energy.

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Walking around the outside areas, we came to a tree, where people wish for children. Models of small cots with babies inside are tied into the branches by people wishing to grow their family. Offerings are left here too. The other striking feature of the outside was a momentry whiff of manure – elephants? No, cows of course!

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We went back inside the temple and entered the temple museum, the room of a thousand pillars. I didn’t count, but it certainly seemed accurate! throughout the museum there were pictures and statues of gods, and people were also placing offerings here too. The most curious offering being that of a business card – a wish for prosperity in business. Here the columns were not painted, but that didn’t make them any less spectacular, and many of them were carved with images of the gods, some of them very ancient indeed.

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Out of the museum section we waked back through the cloister (sorry) and took a few pictures. As Sellappan and I posed for a photo with the temple tower, a group of older ladies approached and asked to be in the picture too… no problem for me! Then another couple of people came, and took photos of themselves standing with me. It was a bit of a surreal experience, but they were very nice!

It was really heating up oustside by now, and our business in the temple was finished. We came out and went back to the car through the street, which was much more crowded now! I retreieved my bag and we went back to the car. Off to the next destination in Madurai, the Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal – an ancient palace.

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Once a great seat of power, this palace has unfortunately fallen into some disrepair, and only about a quarter of it still remains standing. The interior was the most impressive, again built with many columns enclosing an open courtyard. The architectural details were quite stunning, and the palace is still used today for sound and light shows, as well as concerts and other events.

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There is also an archeological museum within the palace, and you can see ancient Tamil incriptions as well as a chart showing how the written langauge evolved through the centuries. Apparently until about the 5th Century it’s still readable by the man in the street, only for earlier scripts do you need more specialist knowledge.

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We piled into the car once more and settled in for our next drive, to a temple that is over 1000 years old – Brahadeeshwara Temple, Thanjavur.  Lunch happened along the way and we made short work of it.
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Luckily the sun’s heat was on the wane by the time we arrived at the temple; just in time for opening time at 4pm. Even so the ground was hot from the sun as we got out of the car and entered the first gate. Much of the temple’s grandeur is hidden behind the outside walls – it’s only when you have passed through the gates that you can see the full extent of it.

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A huge wall surrounds the temple itself, and is full of inscriptions of 17th century Tamil, as well as some older stones. Our first stop was at Ganesha’s shrine, and then we progressed to an enormous representation of Nandi, the sacred bull. Nandi is the bull to whom you can tell your wishes to be granted. This statue was enormous and made from black stone, standing on a plinth of red-brown stone with a slightly precarious set of stairs to climb. Once in front of the bull you can make your offerings or whisper to him, and there is space to circle him also.

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We climbed down again and this time headed inside the temple, under the single large tower. This tower is made up of less than ten individual stones, and all carved by hand – no machines in the 11th century! It was built with the help of elephants and sheer manpower – who knows how the 80 ton stone got way up on top. The tower was then carved from the top down, and isn’t painted at all. Entering the temple (foreigners allowed this time!) I tried not to think about all the rock that was supported only by the tiny-looking pillars. Inside the temple was a bit of a crush, owing to a couple of school trips which had entered at the same time as us. Eventually we got to the front and saw the god, popping out into the sunlight and breeze afterwards.

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Wishing for a child

After a few snaps we got ready for our next destination – Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, near Trichy. Darkness had fallen during our journey, and no foreigners allowed even past the gate made this a quick visit. The temple itself was absolutely alive with people coming and going, and night time shopping was in full swing around the gates and towers. In the dark the towers looked even more imposing, and a T-shape of lights shone out from each one. Someone was selling jackfruit, so we got some for an afternoon snack, chewing the orange fleshy pieces as we dodged motorbikes and shop fronts. We took a couple of pictures and then dived out of the chaos back into the car.
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I think it’s fair to say that the day had left us both pretty exhausted, and at some stage during the journey back we stopped for food in a hotel. We reached Salem again at about 11pm, and I for one collapsed into bed. What a day!

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¹ Certain sections of the temple had no photos allowed, so you will not find photos of those sections here. No selfies with God, please.