India – Part 2

4 Jan

My travels in India continue…

December 31:  New Year’s Eve, and Debbie’s birthday – Madurai

Hakeem drove us back down the mountain to our hotel in Madurai. The drive was fascinating… We drove with the windows open, past tiny villages, roadside vendors, and men and women walking with their cows.  I could have spent the whole day just stopping for pictures, but time and safety suggested that it might be best not to, so I satisfied myself with grab shots from the window.

A quick grab shot taken from the car window

A motorbike serves as transportation for the whole family. Dad drives, with children in front of and behind him. Mom brings up the rear, always sidesaddle in her sari and often with an infant in one arm.

The Madurai Residency Hotel is surprisingly nice, with a large, comfortable bed, good air conditioning, and an excellent fan over the bed. Like the bathroom at Debbie’s house in Kodaikanal, there is no tub or shower enclosure; only a drain in the floor. Hot showers were available between 5am and 9am; at other times you wash from the spout or fill the bucket that is always provided.

We wandered the streets around the huge Meenakshi temple and I bought some art, jewelry and clothing to bring home.

A busy street in Madurai, one of the Meenakshi temple's four towers in the distance

A busy street in Madurai, one of the Meenakshi temple’s four towers in the distance

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The Nandi in front of the Meenakshi Temple

One of the MeenakshimTemple's four towers

One of the Meenakshi Temple’s four towers

Women in line to enter the temple. These queues are always tightly packed. There are separate lines for women, men, and foreigners (who are charged a fee).

Women in line to enter the temple. These queues are always tightly packed. There are separate lines for women, men, and foreigners (who are charged a fee).

Next door to the temple a huge building, once an entrance hall, features spectacular stone carvings, and in addition to dozens of men hunched over sewing machines (tailors) is filled with vendors selling beautiful fabrics, books, calendars, artwork, souvenirs and more.  We spent quite some time sifting through and selecting some artwork to take home.

The books section in the old entrance hall building

The books section in the old entrance hall building

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One of the tailors

One of the tailors

At the vendor’s suggestion we returned to the hall at 6:30 in hopes of seeing a festival procession. A thunderstorm began as we walked over and we listened to it from inside the cavernous building, now empty of vendors and dramatically lit. We waited with a few people including a group of sari clad women who sat on the stone floor.   In the end the thunderstorm moved the festival procession to the adjacent temple, and we would have had to leave our cameras in order to enter and see it.  We made plans to visit the temple in the morning instead, so we could leave our cameras at the hotel.

The entrance hall at night

The entrance hall at night

Detail on the columns in the entrance hall

Detail on the columns in the entrance hall

In addition to the beautiful Hindu temples, there are many churches and mosques everywhere we've been.

In addition to the beautiful Hindu temples, there are many churches and mosques everywhere we’ve been.

We ate at the hotel’s covered but outdoor rooftop restaurant, a delicious meal to celebrate Debbie’s New Year’s Eve birthday, and I was awakened at midnight by the sounds of fireworks in the air.

The next morning we visited the temple as planned. Cameras are not permitted and unfortunately we had left our cell phones at the hotel as well, not realizing phone cameras were permitted for a small fee. If you’re interested, look up Meenakshi Temple and you’ll find plenty of pictures!

Later we split up and let the kids do their own thing while we took a three wheeled cab, known as an autos or a tuk-tuk, to the Gandhi museum. Unfortunately it was closed for New Year’s. (Note that their web site did not mention hours or closures at all!) Our driver offered to wait for us while we wandered around the grounds, which included a large outdoor amphitheater, an assortment of sculptures, and a huge dinosaur.

The Gandhi museum

The Gandhi museum

One of the sculptures on the grounds of the Gandhi museum

One of the sculptures on the grounds of the Gandhi museum

Our next destination, on the recommendation of our driver, was the flower market. What a treat! We had seen vendors selling flowers everywhere–but not on stems as we’re used to seeing. They use only the blossoms, and painstakingly use a needle and thread to string them together into beautiful garlands that are used to decorate women’s hair as well as temples and even trucks.  The jasmine ones smell heavenly! Well this was a wholesale market where the vendors bought their flowers. A riot of color and a bustle of activity.  And although no one objected to our being there, they certainly did not want us slowing them down and several times Debbie and I were pushed aside by someone in a hurry to get through. (Note to anyone planning to visit: the ground was very muddy and our feet were even dirtier than usual after this.)

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My niece Laura with a string of jasmine in her hair

My niece Laura with a string of jasmine in her hair

One last scene from Madurai:

The banana market, a series of stalls pointed out by our driver

The banana market, a series of stalls pointed out by our driver

Next: Trains and Trivandrum.

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