Tamil Nadu smells of incense, masala and jasmine. Among the gods engraved in stone, traditional life passes with few similarities to the modern and nearby progress that takes place in places like Bangalore. For a week I went from temple to temple in this region of India. Here life stopped centuries ago and its inhabitants profess their gods in the most devout way in this amazing land.
Day 1 - Mahabalipuram
After two flights and a few hours of sleep on board the flight that took us to Chennai, we arrived in the city early in the morning. A little sleepy, we collected the luggage, and left in search of the car that we had hired for the tour. The first thing we noticed was a lot of heat and humidity, but soon we found our driver.
He accompanied us to the car and we leave the airport towards Mahabalipuram, a small town south of Chennai. It took us about an hour to get there, and along the way we felt a strong odor coming from the garbage dumps. The first thing we did when we got to Mahabalipuram was to go to the hotel. We pray that, despite being too early to have the room available, they would be kind and give us one to be able to shower and change our clothes.
And we were very lucky, because that's how it was. Our room was next to the sea, quite far from the reception but they have some cars like those of the golf courses. They transport us with our luggage. We went to our large and comfortable room surrounded by gardens, with sea views and a powerful air conditioning.
We left the room a few hours later and begin the visit of Mahabalipuram. It was incredibly hot, and the sun was still strong. In the first place we visit the Shore Temple. This temple is very close to the sea and its engravings are in some points quite deteriorated due to the erosion. It was built in the 6th century and is dedicated to Shiva.
It was believed that this temple was part of a series of disappeared buildings. This theory gained credibility after the tsunami. After the withdrawal of the waters remains of what could have been temples of the same complex were found.
After seeing the temple from all possible angles we went to the car wishing to enter and feel again the freshness of the air conditioning. Our next stop is the Pancha Rathas. These are monolithic constructions dug in unique pieces of rock. Each of these constructions bears the name of one of the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the Mahabharata.
On the outside of each ratha is an engraving corresponding to the animal mount of each god. We can see Nandi in front of the Shiva temple, or a life-size elephant next to Indra temple. This place was hidden by sand until the British excavated 200 years ago.
Then we go in the car to the main hill of Mahabalipuram. We said goodbye to the coolness of our car and began to climb the hill accompanied by a good number of locals. The truth is that the walk is not tiring. Also there is vegetation that offers shade from time to time.
First of all we stop at a temple near the Mahabalipuram lighthouse from where the views are really beautiful. And we spent part of our water trying to convince some puppy dogs to drink. We feel so hot that we believe that every living being that surrounds us must feel it too.
We do not go up to the lighthouse, as we believe that it does not offer us anything new. There are so many people to ascend that just imagining the heat that must be inside the building definitely takes away the desire to enter.
During the walk along the hill we saw several mandapas, which are rooms with columns before the temple and which were used for public rituals. All the columns are decorated, as well as the walls of each of these constructions and some of them are carved into the rock.
Finishing the walk on the hill we came across a large stone in balance known as Krishna's Butterball. The truth is that I have no idea where this name can come from, but what is clear is that everyone who goes by wants to hold the rock.
We now only had to reach one of the most important places in Mahabalipuram to Arjuna's Penance. It is a relief carving of the largest of its time. It is engraved on a huge rock and shows scenes from Hindu mythology and the daily life of South India. Elephants and angels are distinguished around Arjuna. This carving has a kind of channel in the center for which they say that in the rainy season water falls and that with them the course of the Ganges River is represented.
After the cultural visit of Mahabalipuram, we go walking to Othavadai Cross St where we know there are restaurants and shops. I find a lovely pair of pants that I bought and we are going to take our first beer of this trip.
It gets dark early and we are tired, so with the help of the Lonely Planet guide we look for a place to dine and finally we decided on one. The dining room is on the first floor. As it was on the open terrace, despite the fans it was hot, but the biryani that we ate tasted great.
With the gut full and flat in hand we went to the hotel that turned out to be much closer than we thought. We arrived at the room and after the essential shower that took away the heat we went to sleep rocked by the sound of the waves that broke a few meters from the door of our room.
Day 2 - Kanchipuram
After a good night's sleep in Tamil Nadu and a breakfast buffet that gave us the strength to face the day, we went to the door of the hotel. I thought that we did not start on the right foot, because after the twenty minutes of waiting the heat was surpassing me. Although freshly showered we were already sweating.
We got into the car and went to Kanchipuram, a city famous for its silk and its temples, apart from which there is little to do in that city. It is about 70 kilometers from Mahabalipuram, which in India translates into almost two hours of driving time. We could see a landscape of rice fields and palm trees. We already began to perceive that Tamil Nadu is different from Rajasthan from the landscape to the clothes of its inhabitants.
Arriving in Kanchipuram we went first to the Devarajaswami temple, dedicated to Vishnu. It is undoubtedly one of the most impressive temples of the city with the big gopuram in the main entrance. We leave our shoes in the street next to the door. As soon as we enter we can see on the right a hall with columns. It is the only area of the temple that you have to pay (it cost us 2 rupees) to visit it.
Outside we were struck by a stone chain in the corner of the Mandapam house. When leaving that area, we continue walking through the courtyard of the temple to reach the large pond. The ground was so hot that we were almost jumping rather than walking.
When we left the temple and walked down the avenue to get to the car we saw a good number of shops where they advertised dhotis and saris at incredibly cheap prices. We felt so hot that we only thought of going back to the car and our air conditioning.
By car we went to the next temple, much smaller than the previous one and also older. Vaikunta Perumal was built about 1200 years ago. The most striking were its interior cloisters with lion pillars. This type of construction evolved to become the huge rooms of columns that can be seen in later constructions.
The heat was intense, and the sun at that time was already strong. We continue visiting places to the Kamakshi Amman temple. It is dedicated to Parvati and the main gopuram is decorated with incredible large sculptures of gods and apsaras. Inside there is a marriage room (mandapam) and also an elephant that blesses those who leave an offering. The owner or caretaker was not letting us photograph the animal.
The next temple we saw in Kanchipuram was one of the largest in the city, Sri Ekambaranathar. It is dedicated to Shiva and has a main gopuram with beautiful engravings measuring 59 meters. Around the hall of mirrors in the center there is an image of Shiva that when reflected creates an allusion to his omnipresence. Of course, we always have to go barefoot, even if the floor burns our feet.
In the neighborhood I could not think of anything else but buy the only food I saw in the vicinity: a coconut ready to drink. The last temple we visited in Kanchi was also the oldest. The Kailasanatha temple is dedicated to Shiva as indicated by the large statue of Nandi that stands on the well-kept garden that surrounds the building. The decoration is abundant although due to erosion there are many details that have been lost. In this case, we access the inner sanctuary where the third largest lingam in Asia is located.
After the tour to all the temples of Kanchipuram, we returned to Mahabalipuram to rest for a few hours. What I dreamed of at that moment was a cool beer and a dip in one of those fantastic pools of our hotel. The first was possible, but the second was not. I never got into a pool with the water so hot.
Seeing that amount of liquid element seemed impossible to think it was warmer inside than out of the water. The only thing was to take a shower in the room before leaving for Tirukalukundram to take away a little the heat of all day.
Only 14 kilometers separated Mahabalipuram from our destination. What we wanted to see was the Vedagiriswarar temple that is dedicated to Shiva and located on top of a hill. To get up there is no choice but to climb 550 steps barefoot. Fortunately at the time of our visit there was no longer the sun and although the stairs were hot we could walk through them without getting burned. The temple is small and dark. It is nice to get there at sunset to see the incredible views over the rice fields while the sun goes down.
Back in Mahabalipuram we go again at Othavadai Cross St for dinner, but first we went to the edge of the sea. Here down some rocks we could reach the sand and from there walk barefoot to a bar, where we had a beer. We did not consider having dinner there because the place did not give us good vibes.
So we went through the hotel to the streets of the city to get closer to another restaurant in Othavadai, without a doubt the most lively street in the city. That night we chose the cafe for dinner, and we dined very well. The premises again on a first floor, had totally open terrace, with nice background music and with fans that were not enough to remove the heat.
But what we ate was really good, in quantity and with a more than correct price. After dinner, we return to the hotel. After another shower to cool off before sleeping we prepared the suitcase to leave the next day. We go to bed again with the sound of waves crashing near our window.
Day 3 - Pondicherry
We leave Mahabalipuram after the succulent breakfast. We go south along a road parallel to the coast towards an old French colony, to the city of Pondicherry. In two hours we were going through a city that mixed colonial houses, French restaurants, temples and large churches.
We took a turn before finding the guest house where we were going to stay during our stay in Pondicherry. Located in the French Quarter a few blocks from the sea, our accommodation occupied the ground floor of an old colonial house. With only three rooms and although we had booked one we were given the choice of the one we liked the most, since no one else was going to stay that night. The room was quite fair. There was just a corridor around the bed, and a chest that housed a small TV and a desk. What was amazing was the bathroom, with a dresser, an amazing shower and a gecko tucked into the toilet.
We settled in our room and told the staff of the house the breakfast time the next morning before leaving to explore Pondicherry. Once on the street, the first thing we noticed was the incredible heat with the sensation of humidity typical of the cities by the sea. We started to walk the streets of the French Quarter with their colorful houses. Some of them are in perfect condition. Many have been converted into hotels or restaurants, but others are unfortunately in a state of lamentable abandonment. In the streets, the sidewalks have disappeared in some sections and traffic signs threaten to fall to the ground at any time. Despite all the colonial atmosphere of Pondicherry is evident.
Another of the things that give that western atmosphere to Pondicherry are the churches that the French missionaries built. But here they are of colors. The most striking one without doubt is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, a typical Jesuit building painted in intense blue. We entered it to escape from the sun and the heat of the street. We found images decorated with the typical garlands of flowers that are carried to the temples as well as women dressed in Indian clothes praying the rosary. Of course it is a interesting image.
Probably the most beautiful of these churches in Pondicherry is Our Lady of Angels Church, built near the sea in the middle of the French Quarter.
We continue walking with more feeling of heat towards the Bharathi Park. It is the typical western garden but in this case with some Indian sculptures decorating the place. We sat under a tree and I had the sensation of having a tremendously sticky skin. My pants were sticking to me and as I sweat very little my face was burning. The few people who were in the park were lying in the shade. Some mothers were with their children dressed in school uniforms. The water that we had in our backpack had warmed up and it was no longer useful. So we decided to visit the city museum located in a colonial house next to the park and then go for a beer.
So we entered the museum and, what a waste of time. It is located in a fantastic colonial mansion in a state of absolute decadence. In their rooms are different objects from the French period that I still cannot explain how they stand. From furniture to carriages it seems that if they are all going to disintegrate as old and as careless as they are. And inside the museum it was hotter than on the street.
So we went straight to the hotel that we had seen in the guide and it was a few meters away. We entered and it was so cold inside the cafeteria that we decided to go out to the terrace and put ourselves in the shade. I do not remember having taken another beer with as much enthusiasm as I did that day. Suddenly its coolness seemed to give us strength and some encouragement to continue.
With a little more encouragement, we went to visit a couple of places that were pending. First we go to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. From there a short walk took us to the Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple, where an elephant blesses tourists and pilgrims. Inside we found a very colorful small enclosure thanks to its 40 painted friezes.
The sun began to go down but in the streets of Pondicherry there was no wind and it was difficult to move as we headed towards the seafront. It was a small blessing, because although the heat was a lot, at least a light breeze from the Bay of Bengal gave a break. At that time it seemed that the ideal place was by the sea. There were many people walking, sitting or buying something in the shops on the sand. It was a small international universe where we met many people speaking French, Australian, German, and Spanish.
At the end of the walk, in front of the statue of Joseph Francois Dupleix is the building of the French Alliance. It is located in a colonial building, of course, and its garden is now the cafe. A good number of tables are spread out on the lawn, and when we passed by there were a few French families with small children drinking something. The truth is that the place invited us to enter, so we cannot resist. Inside it was fine, as the sea breeze came and we just needed a cold beer. But they did not serve anything alcoholic. The beer had to wait and we had a few colas while the afternoon and soon the night came to the city.
As soon as it was night we thought about dinner. We had not eaten anything since breakfast, as the heat had not let us even think about eating. We searched the Lonely Planet for places close to where we were and on the way to the hotel, and ended up having dinner on the roof of one. The dinner was fine. The owner was very friendly, but the heat was still king and we could not even enjoy in peace this time.
Before going to sleep we decided to go to a place that we had seen on the way to the restaurant and that was on the roof of a building. It was actually a bohemian-looking restaurant where our idea of having a tea changed. We ended up having a drink after the waiter managed to convince me that the ice was made with purified water. The place was very original, with a mix of furniture of different styles and paintings of bright colors hanging on the walls. Under a fan and with a drink in hand we spent all the evils of the day a while before going to bed.
The best thing about returning to the hotel that night was undoubtedly sleeping with the air conditioning on. These are the things for which I willingly pay the rupees that are necessary.
Day 4 - Kumbakonam
After we got up we take a wonderful shower in that huge bathroom that I would want in my house. We prepared to have breakfast. They had the table ready for us in the lobby of the house, an area without air conditioning. We already had everything ready to get into the car and leave Pondicherry. We continue traveling to the south of Tamil Nadu passing through several important temples.
Our first stop of the day was in Chidambaram, a city without any interest if it were not for one of the most incredible temples in Tamil Nadu. It is the temple of Nataraja, the largest in India and one of the most sacred ones dedicated to Shiva in South India.
The temple complex, with high walls, has an extension of 22 hectares. As in almost all temples in the south of the country, most of it is a patio that we have to enter barefoot. That meant for us to jump around and look for the shadow while we watched surprised as the locals walked on that burning ground as if they did not feel the heat on the soles of their feet.
In the wall four accesses are abre, all marked by great gopurams. In its decoration the 108 postures of the Tamil classic dance appear. Inside we can see the King's Hall (they say that it has 1000 columns), the temple pond, the dance hall and the sanctuary itself. We can enter but not take photos, and the entrance to the sanctuary is restricted to the devotees.
The priests offer to show us the temple inside in exchange for a tip, and some even invite to take photos where it is forbidden in exchange for a few rupees. We ignore both. We left Chidambaram to the south continuing our route to Tanjore and stopped at two beautiful temples of Chola architecture.
First of all we visited the one in Airavatesvara, in Darasuram. Surrounded by manicured gardens we found the high wall that we had to cross to enter the temple barefoot. We visited and run once again from shadow to shadow to avoid burning our feet. The most striking is its golden color and its elevated colonnade that can be seen as soon as we enter the decoration.
A few kilometers from this last visit was another of these golden stone chola temples that seem forgotten by most travelers despite their beauty. It is the temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram, also dedicated to Shiva. It is very similar to what we saw later in Tanjore, although the latter stands out for its angular lines. Its sinuous lines lead people to say that it is the feminine counterpoint of the Tanjore building.
Although we also had to take off our shoes in this case, the entire interior area of the wall is covered with grass. We could walk calmly without having to run like fools looking for a shadow that would alleviate the sensation of burning our feet. In addition, the contrast between the green, the trees and shrubs and the gilding of the stone of the temple created a perfect contrast to take pictures.
Outside the temple we saw a group of women working in the surrounding countryside. They allowed themselves to take some portraits and showed the best smiles to our camera despite the scorching sun and their work.
With so much heat, what the body was asking us at that moment was to drink something fresh and eat something light. So before going to see Kumbakonam, our last visit of the day, we stop to eat something in a place on the outskirts of the city. Apparently it is the best accommodation in the city.
Although nice with a friendly staff, we found it a bit dated. Despite the heat we sat down to eat on the terrace in the shade and under a fan. Inside the dining room the air conditioning was so strong that it was too cold and we prefer to have a bit of heat and avoid a cold. I zapped a masala dosa.
After lunch we went to the center of a city that was once the seat of the medieval power of South India. It that has dozens of temples scattered around the city. Their colorful gopurams announce the presence of each of these temples, the majority dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. The downside of all of them is the visiting schedule from 6:00 to 12:00 and from 18:00 to 22:00. Wanting to visit Chidambaram it was impossible to reach Kumbakonam before twelve o'clock noon.
So at four o'clock we were waiting for the opening of the first of the temples we were going to visit. We were not the only ones, because after leaving our shoes at the door we entered the dark interior of the Nageshwara temple accompanied by a good number of locals who was going to make their offerings to the god. In that temple we were struck by the darkness. The columns and walls were blackened by the smoke of the candles. Without a single tourist in there we feel a little bit like intruders.
We picked up our shoes and we walk to the following temples we wanted to see and as night approached they would be the last. One of them, dedicated to Vishnu (Sarangapani temple) reflects his image in the pond that separates it from the Kumbeshwar temple, dedicated to Shiva with the highest gopuram in the city. Both stand out for the color of its main entrance in the purest style of South India.
The streets that surround them are full of shops, both of offerings and food and we even saw that of a tailor. Once in the temples we became the center of attention of a family who were visiting the city. They insisted on knowing where we were from and photographing themselves with their daughter.
Seen all that there was to see and a little saturated of temples we continue the trip to Tanjore. It got dark by the way and when we entered the city we found ourselves in a noisy and chaotic place. People, cars and motorcycles came and went in any direction. We had to cross much of Tanjore to reach our hotel, located next to the Royal Palace in a restored colonial house. Once in our accommodation we discovered one of the best hotels of the trip. It was modern and original, with comfortable beds and large rooms with a peculiar decoration.
We left our things in the room and went to dinner at a local restaurant about 500 meters from the hotel. It is one of the recommended in the Lonely Planet and the only one that was close to our location. We walked first through a quiet area, but slowly we enter into the chaos of the city. We were surrounded by people, and had to dodge food stalls.
And in the end we reached our destination safe and sound. The place was on the first floor and at that time there were a good number of locals having dinner. It is a very simple restaurant with an open area and another with air conditioning in which we sit. We ordered a couple of dishes including a special rice dish.
After dinner we returned along the same chaotic road to the hotel, where we sat on the terrace of the upper floor with a cold beer to say goodbye to the day.
Day 5 - Tanjore
We leave Tanjore in the morning and head to Trichy. We cannot avoid stopping in front of the fort to take some photos and also the main temple of the city that at that time look golden with the first rays of the sun.
But it is in the afternoon on our return from Trichy when we stop to see the monuments of this city. First of all we approach the Tanjore royal palace and the first sensation is not very good. We are facing what must have been a magnificent building that today is in a state of decadence. We walked around to get into a belfry from which the views are supposed to be very good. But the only thing we saw that was worthwhile was the vimana tower of the museum. It was hot, and there were many couples and it was all very dirty. so we went down after taking a photo to visit the museum.
We had to pay for the entry and endure the inconvenience of visiting the place between painters and scaffolding. The collection of the Tanjore museum is made up of stone and bronze sculptures. They are quite beautiful and all exhibited in glass cases, and above them is the tower that we had seen and photographed. We did not hesitate to climb to take advantage of the entrance. The truth is that we did not see anything interesting either by its windows or inside, except for a whale skeleton that we did not understand what it was doing there, in the middle of nowhere.
The truth is that it was a rather uninspiring visit. We decided to leave the latter's visit for the best occasion and go to the temple before it got dark. The entrance to the Brihadishwara temple is free. At the time of our arrival it seemed that all the people of Tanjore had gone for a walk there and then sit on the lawn around it.
After taking off our shoes and crossing the second door and passing under its gopuram we find the elephant who spends the day blessing visitors with his trunk. The first thing we saw upon entering the large courtyard surrounding the temple was a structure with columns and roof that houses a large statue of Nandi. So there was no doubt already to whom the temple was dedicated.
So we approached and found ourselves surrounded by ones who barely paid attention to our presence. People carried coconuts, flowers and other offerings in their hands. In the middle of that tumult we entered the dark heart of the World Heritage temple and reached the place where the priests wait for the devotees. They take the offerings and sprinkle in return with water. We then left on the side with a feeling of not having seen anything other than many people. But, we were there and we felt the religious fervor of these people.
The building was very similar to the one we had visited the previous day in Gangaikondacholapuram but in this case with larger size and also a more sober decoration. During the walk outside we met many people, some with the appearance of having gone there on a pilgrimage. There were others simply to pray, and many to enjoy the light freshness that the open space and the garden offered at that time in comparison with the oppressive city.
What was clear was that we were more interesting than the temple, because they all wanted to take pictures of us, either with their camera, cell phone or simply pose to appear in a photo of our camera. As it grew darker, I observed that the temple, instead of getting empty, was filling up. So I delayed my farewell while waiting for some surprise.
There was a stereo with music playing and I relaxed on the lawn watching the place and the crowd. The surprise was immediate. A couple of girls started dancing on a stage. The audience sat around the stage in a relaxed atmosphere. The type of dance they performed is called bharathanatyam and is typical of southern India. Late at night, the girls' performance ended and that's when the show really started. People began to wash the Nandi with milk and water. They also threw flowers. The people around seemed ecstatic. In turn, hundreds of devotees sang around me and embraced in the heated environment. It was a whole show that I did not even foresee. These are one of those surprises that impromptu trips bring you.
Shortly before nightfall we were tired and it was hot. So we appreciated having a car at our disposal. That night we decided to have dinner at the restaurant inside our hotel. We did not want to go on an adventure in a city that seems to have little to offer. So after a great shower we went up to dinner and finished the day with a cold beer on the terrace of the hotel. We come back to sleep, as next day the adventure continued.
Day 6 - Trichy
We slept great. As promised at first glance, the hotel bed was super comfortable. So we rested and after breakfast we left to visit Trichy (the abbreviated name of Tiruchirappalli). We passed by the temple and Tanjore Fort. At that time they were so golden and beautiful with the first sun of the morning hour that we cannot help but stop to take some pictures before continuing the trip.
After an hour and a half we arrive at Trichy, the city located in the geographical center of Tamil Nadu. The first intention was to see the city by going up to the Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort temple. Already at that time of the morning it was so hot that we decided to settle for the view from the car, since we have to walk up to it. On the way to the "star" temple of the city we also passed through a church that caught our attention in the middle of a city as "Indian" as Trichy.
The first temple we visited was Srirangam and I would dare to say that it is the king of temples here. It is dedicated to Vishnu, and is the largest temple in all of India. When we start visiting, the truth is that we have the feeling of being in a city. We cross doors (gopurams) that open on each of the seven walls that surround the temple. In that space between wall and wall there are markets, kitchens, and stores selling offerings. Finally we reach the door of the fourth wall and it was there that we had to leave our shoes and pay the amount for carrying a camera. After crossing the gopuram of that wall we find merchants, beggars, pilgrims, and priests. Everyone sit in the shade, rest or chat. It is right in that area where we buy a ticket to climb the wall and see the temple from top. It was worth seeing the place from that other perspective.
Just at that moment we were approached by a cordial and kind man who tried to convince us that without a guide we would not be able to see anything. If we hired him we could enter everywhere. Fortunately, the traveler knows more about travel than about anything else. We said no, but he insisted so much that in the end we turned around and left without more.
We toured our entire complex that is really huge and is full of doors, small temples, rooms of columns, and patios. It was an entertaining and enriching morning. We enjoyed one of the most incredible temples one can imagine.
In the city we also visit one of the five elementary temples of Shiva, the Sri Jambukeshwara. It is dedicated to Shiva, and Parvati and has a aquatic environment. It is much smaller and less impressive than the one we visited previously.
In this temple as in many others they had a small elephant that for a few rupees blessed with a blow of the trunk over the head. We joined the people who waited for the elephant's gesture and we left there with a blessing that never seems to hurt in India. We walked through the temple among priests and flower sellers. We enjoy walking barefoot in this case because everything was covered and the ground was cool compared to the heat we felt in the body.
And with that our journey through Trichy and its magnificent temples ended. After shuffling different options, we decided that it is best to change the initial route and divert to Chettinad, a region south of Tanjore.
The road does not offer much to see, except for green rice fields that almost always reach as far as the eye can see. We even go through many villages or see many people like in other parts of India walking on the roads who knows where to go.
After almost three hours in the car, we arrived in the region of Chettinad and entered an orderly town in which we barely crossed paths with anyone. But what are we going to find in this place? As in the villages of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, where the wealthy families built colorful havelis, the region of Chettinad is known for its mansions. Its patios and spacious rooms are decorated with marble and teak wood imported from Italy and Myanmar.
These mansions are now closed in many cases. Some have been converted into hotels and others can be visited giving a few rupees to people who are responsible for keeping them clean and orderly while the owners live and work in large cities.
When we went out and started walking, we found mansions closed that we had gone to see. We found some women drawing a kollam at the door of one of the houses. We went up a few meters and knocked on a door. An older couple opened the door. We went with them and saw patios, magnificent teak columns, and doors. The doors on two floors led to different rooms, the kitchen area, the toilet and so on until we reach the back door that was used by the service.
We went out and put on our shoes again and left the house to visit the other mansion they had told us on the same street. In that case the door was open and as we did not see anyone to ask, we entered the first room where it was great. It was very cool and totally decorated. We were a little curious. We looked out at the courtyards and saw people cleaning. They made us a gesture so that we happened to see the patios, and we did not doubt it twice.
We got into the car and go to what was the City Palace and went down to ask if the visit was possible, but the answer was negative. We left Chettinad after visiting the mansions to Madurai, one of the most well-known cities in South India.
We were surprised by the chaos and noise in the streets. The feeling is similar to that in other large cities in northern India where the streets are full of cars honking and people come and go in all directions.
We then went by car to a hotel in a mansion and they let us in without problems. Our hotel, is a little away from the center and is quiet because it is in the middle of gardens away from the road. We do the check-in and they accompany us to our room. The venue is quite large and has electric cars to carry luggage and passengers who need it.
It was the best of the place with its colors and the bright patios. We do not know what the rooms would look like, but the dining room and the reception area were quite decadent and outdated, although with a certain charm. At that moment it was incredibly humid. We decided that it would be our home for the night.
That night we go to dinner on the roof of the hotel. It had a wide menu with all kinds of Indian dishes, a lively atmosphere with natives and tourists. Above all, there is a wide view of the city with the star of the city illuminated in the background: the Sri Meenakshi temple. Despite the heat in the city, there was a little breeze that made the dinner even more enjoyable.
We go back to the hotel in a rickshaw. Once at the hotel after a good shower, and a little reading we go to sleep. That heat, at least to me, is one of the things that exhaust me the most.
Day 7 - Madurai
The buffet breakfast of the hotel is varied. After tasting a bit of everything and animating the body with coffee and tea, we go back into the chaos of the city. We move towards the Meenakshi Amman temple of the fish-eyed goddess. It is one of the most important in South India.
The square in which it is located is accessible only by foot. Once in it we leave our shoes in the lockers prepared for it and access barefoot to the temple. We pass under one of the four large gopurams full of colorful sculptures that connect the street with the sacred site.
Once inside the enclosure and although it is early we already meet who come and go with offerings. We settle for the view from the outside of the majority of the enclosure. The truth is that the temple is so large and has so much to offer that we know we have much to do and see in this place.
We began the visit to the Madurai temple turning to our right and found a space covered with columns under which we saw people with their offerings receiving the tikka from priests. Right there is an elephant decorated as in many other temples of Tamil Nadu. A few rupees or some bananas seemed enough to receive a blessing and there we were, having the opportunity again of a blessing.
Then we enter the dark and covered part of the temple. We find ourselves surrounded by the most spiritual environment that anyone can imagine. There were sculptures of deities, flowers, incense, candles, offerings, and devotees. The entire temple conveyed that feeling of a special place to which everyone who goes does it with that special passion of those who believe in something superior. Probably because of the amount of people in the Meenakshi temple that feeling of spirituality was greater than in other places.
This temple is immense and magnificent, full of recesses and doors (many of which we could not cross). There were long corridors covered with roofs full of color that support tall columns decorated with sculptures. It is a world of lights and shadows. The most absolute darkness sometimes disappears when a door or window is pierced by the strong light from the outside. To me it is difficult for me to lose my orientation in this and other temples of this area of India. I lost it completely as absorbed as I was in everything that happened around me.
We toured the entire covered area of the temple and I would say that twice. We never knew whether we had already gone somewhere or not, until finally we found something that we thought was a kind of way out and we headed towards it. A little further, was the light. We still see columns, but now placed as a cloister is concerned. In the center, there is a large pond. We pass around to see several of the magnificent and profusely decorated temple gopurams.
In this area we also saw some walls with delicate paintings, and once again devotees went from here to there carrying flowers or lighting candles. The last thing we visited in the temple was the museum, located in the room of a thousand columns. The truth is that we really liked the museum, and its sculptures placed between the fantastic columns.
As we left the museum, instead of going back to the door through which we had entered the temple, we left by another one. Here there were lots of fruit stalls, offerings, flowers, incense and a figure of Nandi, before which many people stopped to pray. We had to walk then barefoot down the street to the place where our shoes were. I think that those travel heights were already cured of horror and the same gave us. Also the area surrounding the temple is pedestrian as I said before and it was not as dirty as any other street in the city.
On the way to the car, we passed many shops, and in one of them we were invited to go up to the roof, promising unparalleled views of the temple. I encouraged myself and went to the store (where I greatly appreciated the air conditioning) and climbed the rooftop through plants full of crafts. And the truth is that the view was very good.
I could see six of the eight gopuram of the example, but I had just the sun in front. So I decided not to take any pictures (which would almost certainly go wrong). When the shop staff came down, he was determined to show me everything that was there. I declined his invitation to see every item that was there because he knew I was not going to buy.
Once in the car we headed to the Tirumalai Nayak Palace of Madurai. It must have been a magnificent building, because there is very little left of what was and is magnificent. You have to pay entrance and quite expensive considering what you can actually see inside. I do not think it's worth it, but of course, I've seen it and I can judge. The truth is that apart from the patio with huge columns, you can only visit what was the ballroom decorated with sculptures.
After the visit of the palace, and considering the heat that made in Madurai at that time, we decided that it was best to return to the hotel.
That afternoon we decided to treat ourselves and go for a beer at the hotel where we had read that the sunsets with Madurai in the background were especially nice. We were not lucky enough to see one, because in the middle of the afternoon the sky began to cover itself. It rained a little and the clouds decided not to leave the sky of the city.
Still, we kept our plan and went to the hotel on a hill outside the city. We did not see the sunset, but next to peacocks and monkeys in the trees we enjoy the calm of the place. As we found a very nice place, we decided to take the buffet dinner that the hotel had available to avoid the chaos of the city again in search of a place to dine that night.
In the evening we return to the temple, in which we knew that something happened every night. And it is that Shiva does not like to sleep alone, and every night he spends it with his beloved lady with fish eyes. We did not delay too much, because we knew that at the latest at nine o'clock we had to be inside the temple if we did not want to miss the procession that takes Shiva to Meenakshi's side each night. After taking a chai, I entered the great temple that is in the center of the city.
It was all dark and there was no one to ask so we walked to the temple until the first entrance we saw. The place at that moment was magical as it was illuminated slightly. Our steps were heard on the stones, but apart from that nothing indicated where the procession could be taking place. We walked until we began to hear voices and chants.
Through the door near the pond that we had seen that morning we found ourselves face to face with the god and his entourage. Many devotees, but also many tourists were eager to get a photo and not enjoy that special moment. At first I was quite surprised and curious. I went to see closely everything that happened.
Everything ended when the priests went through the door that would take the god to his goddess. At the end everyone goes back to their home or at the hotels to rest for the new thing that would bring us the next day.
Day 8 - Chennai
Once the breakfast is finished, the luggage is collected and the hotel is paid, we go to our next destination. We arrived in Chennai with the idea of resting a day after the long trip. However, the break had to wait a couple of days because we had to attend a wedding. The wedding was a cultural experience in itself.
Of course, food is not missing. In fact, the banquet is another of the characteristics of Indian weddings. There are no assigned seats or an hour to eat, especially since there are so many guests that we could not all sit down to eat at the same time. There is a room with long tables where you can approach whenever you are hungry and sit in the next free space. As is the tradition in South India, food is served on banana leaves.
We were exhausted and we did not have the strength to travel to Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India.