Wednesday 22 June 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 9

Thu 14 Jan

We set off for Madurai, driving through many paddi fields.  In due course we reached the magical city of Madurai, which is dominated by its magnificent temple complex.  Babu dropped as off somewhere in the city centre and we followed Nats through many side streets until we reached our lunch spot, The Sree Mohan Bhojanalay Restaurant, which is a simple upstairs workingmens eatery.  Humble as it was, we had a very tasty Marvari – South Indian fusion lunch with generous portions.

We then walked back to rendezvous with Babu, taking in all the colourful sights.  We checked in to the Heritage Hotel which is set in extensive picturesque grounds and possesses a unique swimming pool shaped like a step-well, reminiscent of the pool we were about to see in the temple complex.

Late in the afternoon we were accompanied by our guide, a Mr Johnson, to see first of all the Nayakkar Mahal (Palace).  This building houses many fine treasures, especially some exquisite old sculptures of various deities.  Sadly, the building and its grounds are neglected with paint peeling off and lots of pigeon damage and rank grass.  Many labels had come off the statues.

But the real gem of Madurai is its famous Meenakshi Temple, the best Hindu temple that I’ve seen in India.  We passed through tight security into the complex and were amazed at the beauty of the art work inside.  There was a maze of arcades lined with well-preserved statues of deities and gargoyles.  It is truly impressive.  There was a lovely Nandi with people whispering their secrets into his ear.  Local people were prostrating themselves in front of shrines and we could view some beautiful images of Shiva.  This complex is huge and one could get lost inside, although not entirely.  There is a formal layout.

Outside but still in the temple grounds, we gasped at the enormity and beauty of the gopurams and other structures – high and ornately carved buildings with little images telling a story.  Very colourful.  We sat by a central pool and admired the setting, both the temple complex and its devoted followers.

Leaving the complex we wound our way through a fascinating warren of narrow alleyways, with hosts of tailors on Singer sewing machines and a myriad of little dhukhas selling beautiful cloth and jewellery.  It reminded me of Change Alley in Singapore fifty years ago.

Nats then took us for an Italian meal at Phil’s Bistro – quite different.

Friday 3 June 2016

Al's Musings - South India trip Jan 2016 - Day 8

Wed 13 Jan

Started early for our drive to Kadiapatti, a village halfway between Thanjavur and Madurai.

En route we stopped to see a variety of things: a roadside family who roasted cashew nuts.  Took some interesting photos.  The raw nuts are first heated at high temperature in a pot over a fire.  The pot had holes which allowed the cashew oil to drip through to sustain the fire.

After a period of time the roasted nuts are taken out and whilst still very hot, an older woman would take a nut in her hand and hammer the nut casing until the actual edible cashew nut was revealed.  Nats bought some nuts off them and we took photos of the family with young children.

Further along we stopped to feed a troop of monkeys by throwing biscuits out the window.

We also stopped at a wayside village to purchase some pens at a small shop (“duka” in East Africa; “dhukhan” in Hindi; “kadai” in Tamil) to give as gifts for children.

At another point we stopped and walked down a dirt road lined on either side by terracotta horses, which were offerings to the gods, but we didn’t continue on to the temple.

Eventually we arrived in Kadiapatti and booked in to the Chidambara Villas.  This is a magnificently restored Chittinad House and after a superb authentic South India lunch, served on banana leaves, we were taken on a tour of the house by the delightful manager called Kavitha.  She spoke excellent English and was very informative.  The house is amazing in its architecture with rooms in the past allocated for various purposes, such as discussions between parents for the offering of a dowry, or arranging for loans, another one for formal hosting and other rooms for storing valuables.

For the next couple of hours we rested to let our sumptuous lunch go down. 

Around 4pm we gathered to watch Kavitha construct a Kolam on the road outside our entrance.  We joined in to chalk our own images, then we went for a stroll around the village.  The Chidambara Villas are an oasis of splendour amidst a neglected village (patti) where several grand old houses have passed their glory and fallen into neglect as the younger generation leave for richer pastures.

When we got back, Alison and I had a swim in the inviting pool.

Just prior to dinner, Nats had arranged for us to visit the kitchen and watch food preparation.  Dinner was a buffet of superb local dishes.