Madurai

Saturday 27 January 2018

I was up early. 7am Uber to the airport (Rp.400, about £5) And ready for my 10am flight.

Finally. To Madurai.

I had some breakfast in the airport, some idli – with various sauces and coconut chutney. Was good. And cost about £2.50.

My flight was on time and took 2 hours to reach Madurai. Here at last.

When I returned home from my first trip to India (about 5 years ago), I watched a programme that featured India and they visited Madurai. It looked like everything I love about India – colour, markets, food and friendly chaos. And it’s been top on my india list ever since. I am so excited to be here.

Getting out of the airport was easy, a prepaid taxi booth, no queue and I was driving to the city within minutes.

Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India. The people here are Tamil. And a large Hindu population – so very different from Hyderabad.

The airport is in the countryside. So we passed by small farms. And small villages on the way in. Which started to give way to busy road side markets, sprawling shops and the daily chaos of people moving around.

I’m staying at a guesthouse tonight, right in the middle of the old town. The entrance was confusing. The instructions said it was next to a silk shop. I could see the silk shop. And the taxi driver told me which entrance. So I went inside. Down a dark corridor, only to be met with some staircases and what looked like various peoples homes.

That didn’t feel right. So I headed back outside and walked further down the street. And then saw a sign for the place I actually wanted to be!

It was up some stairs, past other peoples flats. But on the top floor. Rather confusing.

My room is massive. Simple, but everything I need. There is a roof terrace, with views across the colourful roofs of the surrounding houses. And across to the main temple complex.

After dropping my stuff I headed out for a walk. And to find some lunch.

The streets were busy. Lots of food stands. People hanging about. And small temples everywhere.

Near to the guesthouse was a small banana factory. They had whole trees that they were moving from place to place. And taking leaves and weaving them to make decorations.

For lunch, I wanted to visit the Modern Restaurant. Again, this was on the programme which I loved so much. The restaurant was just a couple of streets away from the temple. It’s a set meal for lunch – a thali, which they call a ‘meal’ here. You pay first, Rp 95 (£1). Then are seated.

A banana leaf is laid out infront of you. And then various people come along with different food containers, laying it all out on your leaf. Rice. Popadom. Chutney. Various vegetable curries. Lentil Dahl. Sambar. And a coconut sweet.

Wow.

It was delicious.

You aren’t given any cutlery. You have to use your hand.

Luckily I’ve had a lot of practice, so managed to eat!

The restaurant was busy. But efficient. The workers bringing round free refills of everything. I definitely did not need those!

After lunch, I carried on wandering around. And all around the pedestrian roads surrounding the main temple.

These roads were lined with shops. Largely I was left alone. But men who had tailor shops kept hassling me.

One of them told me there was a good view from the temple museum. I was pretty sure there wasn’t a temple museum. And there isn’t. It was a shop. Called a museum. But it did have a nice view from the roof.

I had some sugarcane juice from a street stall. It had lemon and ginger in too – so good.

One place I really wanted to go whilst I was here – the wholesale banana market. But I didn’t really know where it was. The guesthouse couldn’t tell me. I had a rough idea. So I just wandered that way.

I ended up going in a massive circle. Past the Nandi statue (very cute!). Nandi is a cow.

I thought I was getting close when I spotted a fruits and vegetable market. But it was just people spreading their goods out across the floor.

Past various different parts of market. Clothes. Books. Sewing men. Dried chillis. Dried spices. Wet tikka (I assume for rubbing on skin). Flower garland making.

Then I saw carts, piled high with bananas. More and more, moving in all directions.

And finally, I stumbled across it. Rows and rows of bananas.

It was so cool. So many branches hanging up. Laying down. Moving around as people carried them about. And in all colours. Yellow. Green. Red. Different sizes. Different shapes. So awesome.

They have apparently 16 varieties of banana here.

The men were very friendly. A few wanted selfies. A few gave me some free bananas. And I wandered up and down the rows, in disbelief at the numbers of banana.

It was gone 4pm by the time I was back at my room. And enjoyed the rest of the afternoon and evening lazing around. I had hoped for a nice sunset from the roof terrace, but it just got dark.

Sunday 28 January 2018

Up early again.

This morning I am going on a walking tour, starting at 7am.

I thought the walk would go inside the temple. But it didn’t. So that was disappointing.

We wandered around similar places that I had visited yesterday. With a lot of explanations. And not much opportunity for photo taking.

So whilst it was sort of interesting. I would have preferred a bit faster pace. With photos.

But we were done by 9.30am. And went for some breakfast. I was so hungry. I had a dosa – it was good.

Then I needed to go to the temple.

You are not allowed bags, or cameras inside. And I didn’t want to leave mine at the bag drop. So, as I was near my guesthouse, I dropped my stuff off there. And went with just some money and my phone. Oddly, you are allowed to take photos with a phone. Just not a camera. Absolutely no logic there.

The Meenakshi Amman Temple is an important temple in southern India. It covers an area of 6-hectares. And has 12 tall, colourful decorative towers (gopurams), which are decorated with gods, goddesses, demons and heroes.

The temple has two main shrines – one for Meenakshi. And one for Shiva.

As a non Hindu, you are not allowed into these areas. The queue was crazy. Almost the entire loop around the temple.

I was allowed into all other areas. Several halls, filled with decorated stone columns. Colourful ceilings. Stone statues covered in tikka and flowers.

Shops, lining some of the rooms – selling bracelets, bindi, flowers and tikka.

Stalls selling temple offerings – coconuts, flowers and string.

It was quite chaotic. And a complete maze inside.

In the centre, next to all the winding halls full of columns was a pool of water. This is apparently where the gods can bath.

There were people everywhere. Whilst the selfie problem wasn’t as bad as Hyderabad, I was still stoped a few times. I also sat down for a drink of water and was immediately surrounded by people. Initially they were just pretending to take a photo of themselves and happen to have me in it. But they gradually shifted closer and closer. The same for several groups of people. So I joined in.

After leaving the temple, I wandered around a bit more. I wanted some lunch, but it was only just 12pm and places weren’t open yet. Or they were just closed. Shame. I was very hungry.

So I went back to the guesthouse to collect my bags and sit for a while.

At 1pm, I wanted to head to the airport. The guesthouse man didn’t speak good English, but after I asked for a taxi to the airport, called someone, said that was fine and told me the taxi would be downstairs and what the price was.

After waiting for 20minutes, no taxi arrived. So I went back up and asked him again. He just pointed to the road. Great. He clearly hadn’t called me a taxi.

I wandered around the road for a bit. There were no taxis. I hadn’t even seen any go past in the whole last half hour.

So I got a tuk tuk.

Not what I wanted for the half hour journey to the airport. A noisy, bumpy, dusty tuk tuk. But at least I was on the move.

Ready for my 4pm flight back to Bangalore.

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