KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We are really enjoying our travels around Tamil Nadu. The people are very easy going and friendly. The younger generation speaks English pretty well, but we do find a slight communication problem at times. I keep thinking about the movie "Amadeus" when Mozart's father was told his son's music had "too many notes". I find that the Tamil language has "too many syllables". Take a look at the name of this city for instance. Thank goodness for the nickname "Trichy" or I would really be in trouble!
Yesterday was a travel day so we decided to take in both the main attractions at Trichy today and then push on to Madurai tomorrow. This meant I had to hustle Anil up and out early once again - he is getting used to it - but still grumbles a little. We took an autorickshaw to the Rock Fort, a distance of about 2.5 km. The hotel told us the charge would be about 60 rupees and we had to bargain a little to get that rate. As we passed into the older part of the city, we could see all the school children in their fresh uniforms heading off to school. We arrived at the Rock Fort and after removing our shoes, began to climb the 437 steps to the top. The temple stairs are never very clean and we had to grit our teeth to cope with the grit on the stairs. Anil commented on the fact that he is losing his "wind" now that he is not running at all. He laughed and said "so this is how everyone else feels - winded when climbing". Right!
The view of the city of Trichy, built by the Nayaks of Madurai, was worth the climb. I should have taken a photo of the stairs at the top. The temple was built by the Pallavas and then later by the Nayaks. The stairs cut into the rock near the top have been worn down so much by all the devotees that have climbed them over the centuries. I guess I was just thinking of making it up the stairs and didn't think to take a picture. We could see across the river to the Sri Rangaswamy.... (lots of additional syllables), our second destination of the day. The Sri Rangaswamy temple is a huge complex with a series of seven walls and gates to pass through to get to the inner sanctum. At each gate there is a large gopuram above. Non-Hindus can only enter up to the sixth gate.
After coming down all those steps again, we decided to take the local bus to the temple across the river. We had read in the Lonely Planet that the buses in Trichy were very good and we wanted to try them out. We were directed to the bus stop by a kind passerby, and the bus came almost immediately. We told the conductor that we were going to the Sri Ranagswamy Temple and he charged us Rs 3 each. This was for a distance twice as far as we had come in the auto. The windows were open and there was a pleasant breeze blowing. The inside of the bus was lined mostly with stainless steel - easy to keep clean and with the sunlight reflecting off the shiny surfaces, the bus was bright and airy. The ride was over almost before we knew it. We walked the two short blocks to the main gate and with the largest gopuram (73 meters high) above it. It is a striking sight and was the beginning of a wonderful adventure deep into the heart of the temple complex.
The temple covers 60 hectares and there are seven concentric seven walls with entrance gates at each wall to pass through. This is possibly the largest temple in India. There is a gopuram above each gate, but what was most surprising is that the people live and work within the outermost walls. As we passed through the first gate, we expected to see only religious shrines, but instead we found shops and tons of people carrying on their daily routines. It was only after we passed through a few more gates that we came to the place where were had to remove our shoes in respect. Just after entering this area of the temple, we were approached by a family and greeted with smiles and lots of "hellos". The group included a young girl about ten years old who spoke very good English. She said that she goes to a convent school outside of Trichy and that her family had come to worship at the temple. There were two young boys in her family and they both had their heads shaven and covered with what I took to be turmeric powder. I asked if this was a religious ceremony and if they were offering the hair to the temple. She said yes, and I assume she understood my question properly. Her family was delighted when I asked if I could take their photo. You will see the girl in the center of the picture; she has such a beautiful smile.
Just before reaching the sixth gate, we came to a shrine to the God Garuda. This shrine was so amazing, the statue of Garuda so beautiful that we were dumbstruck. The statue is 25 ft tall and very unusual in design. It is draped with thirty meters of cloth and the priests told me that the cloth is changed every week. Photographs of the deity are forbidden so I cannot share its beauty with you. Maybe this will motivate you to make your own pilgrimage to India to see it. (Smile).
Non-Hindus are not allowed through the sixth gate and on into the inner sanctum. I suppose I could have tried to make an issue as I was married to Anil in India in a Hindu ceremony over thirty years ago, but we decided it was not something we wanted to pursue there. Instead, Anil went in alone and I went back to stand in front of Garuda and take a second look. I also discovered a huge elephant off to one side, giving taps on the head to those who came to give it offerings. Anil was gone for a very long time and when he returned, he said that the line-up inside was very long, but that he had been whisked around the side to the "express lane" when he was asked if he would make a larger offering. He did, and it was worth it, so he said.
As we were leaving, we saw a sign that said that we could go to a roof-top viewpoint to see all the gopurams at once, if we paid an additional Rs 10 each. We did and it was more than worth it too. The photos I took from the roof show the golden dome above the inner sanctum. There were only foreign tourists up on the roof and once the tour group left, we had the place to ourselves. On the way down we found the gate closed and someone on the other side laughed that we were now in "jail". It turns out he is a guide that we met at the restaurant in Thanjavur, one who came over and congratulated me when he saw that I was eating Tamil Nadu-style, with my hands. No one in his tour group gave it a try and he was so impressed with me. He praised me once again!
We took the local bus all the way back to the Cantonment area of Trichy where our hotel is located. The fare was Rs 4 for each of us. To think that we would have been charged Rs 300 - 400 for the autorickshaw rides and waiting time if we had chosen to travel that way. We were pretty pleased with ourselves and knew that Deven Pabaru in Mumbai, would be proud of our sense of adventure. We passed by the Annapurna Restaurant on our way from the bus stop and decided to eat there because they served South Indian thali meals at lunch. We were delighted to find that our meal was served on a large banana leaf - no plate in sight. We were given the banana leaf and the waiter told us to wash it with a little of the bottled water we had asked for. Once we had washed the leaf, another waiter came along with pots of vegetables and rice and piled it on till we said "enough". They kept coming with more food until we were full and then a woman came and disposed of the leaf straight into a bucket. Now how's that for bio-degradable, eco-friendly eating.
Tomorrow, we push off once again for Madurai and the famous Meenakshi Temple. Stay tuned for more photos. I hope you are not too weary yet. Once we travel to the tip of India after Madurai, we will start our journey northwards again into the state of Kerala. Then it will be beaches, ayurvedic massages and backwater canoe rides. It will be a welcome change from the hectic pace we have set for southern part of Tamil Nadu.