We are getting pretty used to scary bus rides up and down mountains so apart from a near head on collision the trip down from Kodaikanal to the plains passed without much incident. Once down on the flats it was slightly less scary but we are still getting used to the driving here and just when we think we understand what’s going on someone pulls off a crazy manoeuvre and no one else around us seems to bat an eyelid.
Arrival in Madurai bought two main things with it. Firstly an increase in temperature up to 40 degrees and secondly an increase in the number of people by a factor of about 1000. We have been catching tuk tuks for a while now and are getting used to weaving in and out of traffic but our trip from the bus station to our hotel was another level!! At times we were both gripping hold of the seat and praying that we were going to make a gap!
Madurai was a lot more hectic than anything we had seen so far in India and coupled with the heat and the dust it was quite an impact on our senses. There were people and traffic everywhere and the incessant use of the horn actually blended into background noise after a little while. There was so much to look at and take in that we were once again walking along the streets with our mouths gaping open in wonderment.
The energy of the place was intoxicating and we were keen to get out and about. First stop was a history lesson at the Gandhi museum. It wasn’t just a history of Gandhi but a brief history of India and especially the British influence over the country. The museum didn’t pull any punches but by the end of the visits we certainly knew our stuff, interestingly there wasn’t any detail at all on Gandhi’s death. There were plenty of his fantastic quotes though and we left the place feeling we had learnt a lot although at the same time we always feel we are just scratching the surface. It has to mentioned that there was a tour party of Northern Indians touring the museum at the same time as us and we had to stop and take numerous photos with most of them!!
The next rickshaw driver we took seemed to take great delight in scaring the living daylights out of us on our way to the Tirumalai Nayak Palace. This palace was absolutely huge!! The centre was a courtyard and the sides were raised and we were able to walk through the columns escaping the heat on our way around the impressive building. The ceilings and the archways had intricate designs on them and the whole area was one big space with no division of rooms at all. We were most taken aback by the size of the palace. While there were a few tourists enjoying the place there were lots of young couples enjoying the relative cool of the shade even though the sign at the front stated that “adulterers would be reported to the police.”
By this stage we were fairly exhausted by the heat and escaped to our room to wait until the sun started going down. By about 5 there was a little respite and we headed back into the madness where we found a rooftop restaurant which unfortunately we arrived at just after sunset but from it we managed to catch our first glimpse of Madurai’s main attraction the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Which is a huge temple complex in the centre of the city and the towers rise up above the surrounding buildings reminding me of something out of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The towers are predominantly blue and are covered in hundreds of intricate Hindu statues depicting various gods. The whole sight was just out of this world.
I have mentioned it before but it is difficult to describe just how much energy there is in the streets here and it quite intoxicating. We set off for a walk in the early evening towards the centre and the the pedestrianised streets surrounding the temple. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a relaxing evening walk but the sights of the streets were fantastic. Madurai is a real city and the stores on the way to the centre weren’t for tourists they sold a whole host of things, basically anything you wanted could be bought here. As we neared the more touristy parts the shops changed to clothes shops and we were asked to stop and get measured up for shirts, trousers etc etc. They could have produced any design in 2 hours! Not only clothes but carpets were on offer too and we were ushered into shop after shop. It was fairly tiring but most appreciated a smile, a joke and a polite no. For us it was all part of the show.
The highlight of the evening was an ancient hall with intricate columns which was filled with stalls of tailors. It was obviously built for such a purpose 2000 years ago and it was really refreshing to see it being still used for that purpose today.
Everywhere we looked there was something to see and we were just getting more excited about the next day when we were going to get to go into the temple itself. So far we had just walked around the outside and that had been exciting enough! T
Difficult to capture the madness of the roads but the guys passing us on the left were actually going the wrong way down a one way street.
The locals relaxing in the cool shade of the Palace.
As usual the detail in the decoration was fantastic.
The church over the road, massive in itself but closed to visitors.
The views from the roof top restaurant which was a great place to cool down and appreciate a cooling breeze.
A typical street in Madurai.
The inside of Pudhu Mandapa where the stalls are still operating inside this ancient hall.
Sarah strolling through the mayhem.
I think this photo just sums it up.