India – Madurai

As with Rameswaram, we also were inspired to visit the Madurai temple by a painting we saw in the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. Later we discovered it is actually famous for its sculpting and is rated as one of the best temples in South India. We decided not to miss it so here we are at Rameswaram, walking to the train with Madurai as our next destination.

The train to Madurai is a seating train, bench style, with no reservation—which means you have to keep looking through the windows to find a seat. All seems full until two spots finally appear. Not so many foreigner tourists take this route so everybody intensely looks at us while seating. In front, two women dressed with sarees are gossiping constantly until the liveliest one can’t wait more and starts the interrogation. She does not speak English but a man next to her helps translating a little. Where are we from, where are we going, are we married, why we don’t have kids, why does not Irene wear a sari, why does not Irene wear her tikka (the red dot in the forehead) and why does not Irene wear her jewels in the nose and on her feet. They are really funny and interested in us so we share some laughs especially when Irene receives her new unavoidable tikka.

Irene—with her new tikka—and company,

Irene—with her new tikka—and company,

We are going to cross again the bridge over the sea to exit Rameswaram, and this time too everybody is excited to watch it from windows and doors. Some modern dressed girls in the next compartment also speak English and ask us to not miss the bridge view. Turns out they are travelling with all their family, as it is common in most Indian trains. And all their family means literally everybody: siblings, cousins, mothers, grandmothers… All join the party and kidnap Irene to ask her even more questions and share some food. Lots of entertainment all the way to Madurai station!

Some of the food being shared.

Some of the food being shared.

Once at Madurai and after standard taxi bargaining our backpacks finally rest on the floor of our hotel room. From our window we can see an amazing temple that our lazy asses won’t visit during our stay. We’re tired so we eat some quick dosa at a common unhygienic place and go back to call it a night.

The temple from our window that we won't visit.

The temple from our window that we won’t visit.

Meenakshi Amman Temple

There is a small corner establishment next to our hotel—quite busy with no tables and customers standing—where they serve an amazing coffee, local pastries and samosas. We quickly cause expectation and order some embarrassingly late breakfast before heading to explore Madurai.
The main temple is called Meenakshi Amman and it is located fifteen minutes by walk. The streets of our neighborhood are really alive with restaurants serving street food and a great number of different stores. Close to the surroundings of the temple the number of shops increase, one serving some kind of deep fried paste that catches our attention.

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Suddenly, after a corner, we can see the South gate of the temple. It is crowned with its characteristic pyramidal gateway tower—full of colorfully painted sculptures—called gopuram. The sight is really interesting and we are eager to enter the complex, but then India partypooping strikes again. No cameras, no shoes, no smiles and the ticket is twenty times more expensive for tourists. I have to reluctantly leave all my camera equipment in a locker with the fishiest eyes in my live while asking myself why the hell can I bring an iPhone—and make pictures with it—but not bring my camera. Therefore all pictures inside the temple are iPhonish pictures, sorry about that.

The gate tower called gopuram.

The gate tower called gopuram.

The interior of the temple is indeed impressive, or at least the parts that we are allowed to visit without an Indian looking face as sections of the complex are closed to non-Hindus. There are a lot of hallways with hundreds of beautifully sculpted and painted pillars and roofs. Everything is full of detail and some parts even surprisingly empty and calm for our enjoyment.

Inside and close to the entrance there is an open space with water.

Inside and close to the entrance there is an open space with water.

The first hall with colors and statues.

The first hall with colors and statues.

Detail of one of the pillars.

Detail of one of the pillars.

Another hall full of color.

Another hall full of color.

An smaller gopuram seen from inside.

An smaller gopuram seen from inside.

Other not so empty areas are completely understandable since they are filled with amazing golden sculptures and shrines. Also, a part of the complex passed the souvenir shops serves as a lowly maintained museum, where more sculptures and old pieces of the buildings are being exposed. The experience is quite complete and rewarding so it takes us the whole day.

Full of gold everywhere saturates the iPhone.

Full of gold everywhere saturates the iPhone.

Another sculpted pillar inside the museum section.

Another sculpted pillar inside the museum section.

And another one.

And another one.

And another one with special features.

And another one with special features.

When we exit the light is already gone but it is a good timing since we get to see a procession—with ornamented cows, an elephant with paintings and beautiful golden statues—surrounding the temple.

A statue being carried during the procession.

A statue being carried during the procession.

Another statue with more gold.

Another statue with more gold.

Detail of the elephant painting.

Detail of the elephant painting.

The gopuram at night. Not seen on the picture are some local men behind us thinking we are from another world while using a tripod.

The gopuram at night. Not seen on the picture are some local men behind us thinking we are from another world while using a tripod.

Once finished, we go back to our hotel. On our way we meet some interesting street vendors—one using a scary cane grinder machine without any type of safety. Close to the hotel there are some authentic Tamil Nadu men—dressed with the typical white lungi covering their legs—loitering around. Tomorrow is bus time to Munnar and we need to rest, see you on our next post!

We are not sure what he's selling but he is really nice.

We are not sure what he’s selling but he is really nice.

Grinder machine without any safety, no problem!

Grinder machine without any safety, no problem!

Typical Tamiml Nadu dressing, all white with the cotton cloth on the waist called lungi. It arrives to the feet but when it's hot they fold the lungi half up to the knees.

Typical Tamiml Nadu dressing, all white with the cotton cloth on the waist called lungi. It arrives to the feet but when it’s hot they fold the lungi half up to the knees.

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