27.01.2017 25 °C
We brace ourselves for another long train journey (7 hours) knowing that this time we're entering Tamil Nadu which is meant to be a lot less westernised and we've heard less friendly too. Travelling as a couple certainly makes me feel safer. I'm generally left alone whilst they talk to Rob asking the usual where he's from and what he does for a living and then asking him to be a part of the countless selfies they take everyday. I am seen to be rather more of a second class citizen and as I'm not "available" they don't want to know which is fine by me most of the time.
When we arrive in Madurai at 11:30pm the train station is insanely busy. There are sleeping bodies to wade through and intense stares - it already feels like a very different atmosphere. A helpful man, who has been talking avidly to Rob (telling him to just pop off the train during the stops to buy some food; I had visions of him standing on the platform in the middle of nowhere as I speed away on the train stuck with all the baggage - I expressly forbade him to go!) helped us find our hotel and we rather hungrily and tiredly went to bed.
The next morning we headed to breakfast and decided on a place teeming with locals. Normally the cheaper the food the tastier it is! Sorry Lonely Planet but you haven't helped us much except find the most expensive and rather poor food places to go in comparison. As it turns out the cashew dosa was the most delicious we've had but it was the first place we'd been where most people weren't happy to talk to us. In fact some people refused to sit next to us which was a shame.
Then we went on a search for the temple which was pretty easy considering all the touts. Before we knew it we were rushed up stairs in a tourist shop to be shown the view of Meenakshi temple which is a huge Hindu Temple and the main reason why people visit. The view is impressive and although I don't buy something there I do somehow, unconsciously so, get led into another shop where after much bartering end up with a much desired cashmere/silk scarf which is the most expensive thing I'll buy here but the momento I've wanted. Having lost my sandals and Rob having his stolen (don't ask) we finally get to buy some much needed but rather unintended matching sandals for our tired feet.
In the afternoon we walk for miles through the streets watching all the local children who flock to Rob for "selfie selfie" and end up at the Gandhi Museum which provides a comprehensive and harrowing account of the struggle India had in gaining independence. It was an eye opening experience and provided us with a lot to reflect on.
That evening, with many local people as it's Republic Day, we enter the temple. Its huge! 15 acres , 4500 pillars and 12 towers to be precise. The purpose of our visit is for the architectural splendour which is so different to the sacred reasons why the Hindus visit. We watch in awe as they express their devout loyalty to their faith shown by lying in front of different Gods to pray, paying the priests and sharing offerings. Its a hub of frenzied activity and quite a sight to behold. They're getting ready for the nightly procession where they carry the statue Shiva (husband) to Parvati (wife) for a night ceremony. This is meant to happen at 9:30pm but having experienced Indian timings of things before we know it may be a way off and decide to drag our weary bodies to bed.
Our experience of city life has been more positive and we leave the next day with a changed perspective of what city life has to offer.
Onto Trichy, a chaotic and authentic Tamil City where there isn't another tourist to be seen. We're so used to government buses now we navigate our way to the oldest temple in India which is pretty impressive considering how unhelpful the local people are being. In order to get to the centre you walk through pillar after pillar filled with market stalls as well as ATMs to pay for your goods which is a bizarre experience. The temple offers some beautiful stone carvings and a nice walk around and then we're off,back to work out the buses again.
The next day we get up early to walk up the Rock Fort Temple which is a 400 step climb to a place where you make offerings and get a good view of the city. I always like to look over the colourful skyline where people paint their houses in such fluorescent colours and hang their washing on their roofs. Its so different from a skyline you would see at home. This time it's me who's asked for the selfie and the children are huddled around forced by their parents to have the photo. It's an odd experience and one I'm not quite sure of the reason. Does it give them luck? Do they post it on FB and pretend to have new friends from abroad? Or do they simply laugh at how white we are in comparison? Who knows.
Our last few days of city life has been more successful than the last but we are now looking forward to Pondicherry which is a French Colonial Town that is meant to be rather more Westernised than the other cities we've experienced. We're rather curried out now! But first the always eventful bus journey - wish us luck!
Susie and Rob xx