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I had indeed overdone the sun and had to overcome my vanity and invest in a NY peaked cap to protect my forehead (my forearms had coped!). I tracked down the lady selling the South Indian flat combs; her eyes nearly popped out of her head when I bought 20 of them! I forgot to bargain.
I did not mention the terrible toll that water hyacinths are taking on the waterways in Tamil Nadu. You see a river some thirty foot wide with flowing water, turn a corner and all the water is covered with this pest for as far as the eye can see. I must ask Raj and his wife tonight what the villagers do about it. [I didn’t but will find out. The speed at which it can cover an area is scary.]
I thought about a massage but thirty minutes for sixteen pounds seemed extortionate (relative values quickly take over) especially since for me they never have any lasting effect. So I strolled to the town’s vegetable market (nothing special), returned to the hotel and downloaded several In Our Time programmes to send me to sleep when I wake in the middle of the night (which the magnificently intelligent professors do most successfully).
Dominic saw me but did not give me a Hello: perhaps James had told him I thought he was on a par with a witch doctor!
I selected an auto-rickshaw from what always feels like a hornet’s nest of yellow buzzing creatures and made my way to the train station with time to spare (as always). The stations have signs up on the platform detailing exactly where each coach will stop – so simple, so helpful, why can’t we manage that! I purchased some lemon rice and cooked bananas which was all that remained at the stall.
On the train to Trichy, no Indian reads a book or newspaper. No one spoke any English. The younger ones may look at their mobiles but most just sit and look … or sleep …. or families play together (the kid next to me was a Charlie clone for non-stopness!) I wonder what they think about. I need to try it more that I do …..
A Gopuram in the Sri Ranganathan Temple
People left the train and I could lie out on the window seat facing towards our destination. This was better for Kindleless quiet thoughts and watching of rice paddies which go on for mile after mile (the crop is being harvested right now and looks to be a bumper one), palm plantations, rivers, small crops of many varieties near villages, little multi-coloured shrines way out in the fields, many goats and sheep enjoying the remaining straw after the rice harvest, gigantic spreading trees shaped like oaks but on a scale to match the Dravidian temples. But there is much that is scrub, and poor housing outside the towns. I longed for a coffee man to walk through shouting for custom but only a lady with bananas. I was on the Chola Express but such a term is relative and does not apply to the time taken at each stop. I could see that I was 345km from somewhere!On the plane I had struck up a conversation with Raj from Trichy. He invited me to dinner on my first night in Trichy for he would be going back to Miami the next day to continue his work on cruise liners. He would meet me off the train and book me a hotel. After failed emails, unanswered texts, and unanswered phone calls we eventually made contact and I indicated my price for a hotel (16 pounds top whack). Change of plans and I was to take a bus to the hotel but I was still suffering from my ears not working properly and his heavy accent made understanding his instructions difficult so I took a tuk-tuk: an Indian hotel, very comfortable, much more than I had wanted to pay, no bar.
Once again I am not clear on my thought processes when choosing to spend four nights here but Chidambaram turned out ok!Washed and spruced up I called Raj expecting to be collected but more instructions, specifically “walk to the Main Gate and take a bus to the BHEL Training Centre”. I suggested catching a tuk-tuk but he was adamant about taking a bus. It ended up with a half mile walk, luckily finding an English speaker and a 45 minute bus ride! Finally we met and he took me back to his quite substantial house … which it needs to be as one after the other non-English speaking children, parents, siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces appeared from various rooms to shake my hand and stare at me. I sat quite near Raj but his accent and my ears produced many What’s. So what to do when conversation gets sticky? Out with the Wedding photos! This is the second such book I have seen in the last week and the two impressions I am left with are that the women age tremendously quickly compared to the men and they could make do with about 90% fewer photos. OK so what next before the food arrives? Would I like a beer? God, yes! So off we went on his scooter (at high speed and somewhat recklessly) to the local alcohol shop (they are all run by the government) where I was introduced to some of the gang of twenty friends who meet there most nights. On the way back we stopped off at the local temple where Sai Babu is worshipped, an old man in a funny hat but do Google him for it is quite a story. A modern temple with flashing lights, airy and wonderfully happy and genuine. Every Thursday lunchtime they feed 2,500 for free! It was 8.15 pm and there must have been 300 sitting cross legged singing songs to Babu. Raj collected two garlands so his wife must be a big cheese. Actually the conversation was not bad and I did learn about Hindu practices and persuaded two of his children to share the delicious food with me. The boy is the fourth best junior tennis player in Trichy…and if he were in better shape I fancy he could be higher. I said goodbye to the assembled throng (like the bus, some had left and others arrived), Raj dropped me at the bus stop and with the help of the wonderful Google Maps I made my way back to base. Baffled once more by the air-conditioning for which again there were no instructions I spent a comfortable but cold night! Raj spoke to his friend who runs the hotel and my rate will be reduced. Indians are really relaxed about telling you exactly what they earn and what outgoings they have.
An Indian breakfast and no masala omelette. How will I cope? Well I did because there was a particularly spicy veg curry and the coffee is always good.
Rice as far as the eye can see
I had my sights set on the three main temples and was feeling particularly happy and expectant of whatever might happen. On the way to the first I passed what must be the biggest cooking utensil shop ever with thousands of cooking pots hanging from the ceiling.Up 400 steps through many side temples to the Rock Fort Temple and I immediately struck gold. A puja (the act of showing reverence to the god and making a divine connection with him) was happening, I had a squat near the front and a delightful lady who spoke good English guided me through it. The god was a particularly attractive silver Ganesh. Many gallons of milk from a milk churn were poured over him, interspersed with water, a gallon of turmeric, curds, banana/honey/grapes mixed up together for food, sandalwood mixed with rose water, then washed again with milk and water, dried and garlanded with flowers and draped with beautiful cloths. Then candles were lit over which we passed our hands and touched our foreheads. I may have missed something but it is all very moving and much though I am an agnostic I just love these temples and the spirituality of it all. I was wondering where all the milk could come from and when I got the smell I can remember from my Uncle Michael’s farm I realised that the cow byres are on site, in this case on the third floor! I now make a point of tracking the byre down each time. I lit my usual candles (three now rather than eight!).
Coffee by the roadside is not to be missed. They make it with milk and if Indian two large teespoons of sugar and they pour it, without spilling any, from one container into another with a drop of about two feet each time and then serve it is a paper cup like a small ice-cream carton and it’s piping hot!
Four notes: I have just realised that there is no card playing here whereas in Orissa and Rajasthan the old men would be playing it anywhere from the streets to the temples; the town is clean as was Chidambaram with big blue dustbins everywhere; the faint – hearted would never get across a road; it is a high step to get onto a bus and must stop the old and disabled from getting about.
What a Kitchen Utensil shop!
Wonderful carvings in Ranganathswamy temple, Trichy
I set off for the Sri Ranganathan Temple (Vishnu), quite possibly the biggest temple in India with 49 separate shrines. There are seven gopurams (times four for each quarter) the first quite gigantic (73 metres) … and I have to admit that I am getting to like the architecture and appreciating the incredible colours and don’t find the figures quite so childish. I have tried taking photos to get the size but it just does not work. One side temple has 1,000 columns. You pass through streets, bazaars, an auction of saris quite near the middle, a large children’s sandpit, many columned areas, long cloisters … and in the whole area the only help they give to English speaking tourists are two signs “Only Hindus allowed” and “No cameras”! It was a bit frustrating not getting into the inner sanctum but I was happy enough to wander, sit and talk with Indian families (the conversations were limited)…and light my candles!
The Shop in the Temple
Sari auction in the Temple
Indian women in the Temple
Lunch, at 30p, was a delicious collection of samosas and suchlike from a roadside stall. And so for the last temple, another big one but not the size of the last but here I thought that I would try to get past the “Only Hindus allowed” order for I very much wanted this inner sanctum. So I hung around the entrance until I saw one of the temple people come out and asked him if I could go in. With a waggle of the head and the painting of a big red dot on my forehead, I was a Hindu and waved on, and saw another puja and again was moved by the experience.I had dinner in a restaurant overlooking the bustling bazaar full of lights, stalls, shops, tuk-tuks: mushroom soup and two chillie dishes of unknown origin but I fear may have unwanted effects!
The bustling bazaar in Trichy
It did and this morning I felt a bit rough and breakfasted on toast. The lethargy remained with me and it was just one of those travel days where nothing much happens. I took four buses to get to Tanjore for another gigantic temple. Carved from sandstone but under the overcast sky it just looked drab and the only enthusiasm I could muster was lighting the three candles in front of dear Ganesh and queueing up in the holy place to get the blessing in front of a ten foot lingam backed by a golden cobra – I received another big red spot!
Brihadishvara Temple in Tanjore
One of the 81 dance positions
For a change this town had another attraction apart from temples so I thought I had better go see it … and was subject to a delicious scam. Just before entering the Palace there was a hornet of tuk-tuks and the lead driver spoke quite good English, enough to tell me that it was lunch hour and the Palace would not open for another 90 minutes. However he had the perfect solution: just down the road is a place where you can see bronzes (being made I thought) and I could stroll around it FOR FREE! You can detect that I was not thinking straight as he marched me down the road ….. to a Government tourism store and there he left me. Well, I stated that I was just passing the time until the Palace opened and that I certainly didn’t want to buy anything since there is no room in my rucksack …. and you can guess the rest! Well, I do need to buy birthday presents. When I returned, chastened, to the Palace at 2.15 (a) the tuk-tuk man asked me how much I spent because he will be due commission and (b) I found that the place didn’t close at lunchtime! At least it made me smile though I have no one to share it with and laugh about it!I am now on a Passenger train on the way back to Trichy (15p ticket) and plan to have an early night and simple food. I might even have a crack at the Card Magic book.
I am changing my plans and going to Madurai for my last temple tomorrow and the next day then will head for the Hill Stations (Kodaikanal and Ooty) and the Western Ghats probably for the rest of the trip. I have nearly had enough of big town’s with little for the tourist apart from temples and hope for some walking and nature (birds)…and golf at Ooty and perhaps a hand or two of bridge!
I am now back in the restaurant above the bazaar and attach a photo: chaos but they really are bargaining and buying, not just looking.
Many hugs to you all.
Tamil Nadu Travel Journal by Nick Goslett
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The Second Tale from Tamil Nadu – Trichy and Tanjore
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