Monday, September 18, 2017

Madurai

Every visitor's first stop in Madurai is the Meenakshi Amman Temple. It is dedicated to Goddess Parvati (Meenakshi) and Lord Shiva (Sundareshwara).  The entire city is built around it. 

This magnificent temple was built between 1623 and 1655. But when Malik Kafur (a muslim king) looted the temple of its valuables, it was rebuilt by Vishwanath Nayak.

It has four towers and the South Tower holds the record for the ninth tallest gopuram at 170 feet! It has nearly 1511 statues carved on it! It is also the busiest entry point to the temple as it is the most auspicious. Many people had warned us that people get lost once inside the premises and wouldn't know where to exit! If you look at the aerial view of the temple, you will know why. One cannot but be amazed by the grandeur and scale of this temple. Now there are sign-posts everywhere and staff to guide.  
   

The pillars are beautiful and I was ensnared by the carvings on each one of them. 
The garlands in the picture below was the result of a special prayer performed by the priest. It was a surprise to us. The general practice is the devotees go around in a line and get just a few minutes of darshan of the deity. Tanvi was excited to see us like this - like we had just gotten married! 
Madurai is a historic city and was ruled by the Pandyas, Cholas, Madurai Sultanat, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Carnatic Kingdom and the British. It will soon be developed as a smart city under our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi's Smart Cities Mission.   

There are many stalls, restaurants and shopping centers right outside the temple. 

Look at the assortment of fried snacks - in so many colors too!






We tried the cream colored tender coconut. We don't usually find it in Karnataka. It tasted just as good as the regular green one.









Our next stop was the Thirumalai Naicker Mahal. It is a 17th century palace built in 1636 by King Thirumalai Naicker. He belonged to the Nayaka dynasty who ruled Madurai from 1623 to 1659. An Italian architect was commissioned to build the palace. 
The palace was in two segments - Swargavilas and Rangavilas but only Swargavilas has survived and that too only one fourth portion of the original palace remains today. 
We then went to see the Gandhi Memorial Museum. It was originally used as a sports pavilion to view elephant fights and was built by Rani Mangammal in 1670. It was convereted to a museum only in 1955. Mahatma Gandhi first adopted the loin cloth as his dress when he saw some agricultural laborers wearing it. It was in Madurai, in 1921, that he took this decision. The bullet-ridden cloth that he wore on the day of his assassination is placed in the museum. 
By the time we finished these three places, the sun was roasting us. There were so many more temples to see but the weather was a dampener. We did not have the energy or the inclination to see anything else. We had left the hotel at 10:30 and by 2:30 p.m we were exhausted by the heat. We ran to the hotel for lunch and to chill in the AC. 

By late afternoon, it rained heavily and the temperature dipped. It was also time for Sathya's beer hunting expeditions! Finding beer in Tamil Nadu (TN) is a real task. He had struggled to get some beer even in a big metro like Chennai. Liquor shops are not easily available and the concept of the whole family sitting together for dinner while the man drank is unheard of. No 'Family Bar and Restaurant' here. There are only hole-in-the-wall shops with grilled counters that you need to queue up to and they give you your bottle - without bag or even paper. It makes you feel like you are buying medicines! 

A van driver took us to one such place. Since it had rained that evening, the streets were completely water-logged. People waded through the mini swimming pools without flinching. There were parota stands, TENS of them, almost adjacent to each other, on both sides of the road. Dosai, vadai and idly -  the standard fare. That is both breakfast and dinner item, by the way. No other options or variety available. Pongal is another constant - in the breakfast menu. I prefer pongal that is slightly spicy. Here it is more like dal and rice cooked together with just a pinch of salt. Sathya loves the Tamil style pongal and was relishing it. The vadais are really small with generous sprinkling of pepper seeds. You become busy extracting them while you eat. By the fourth day of our trip to Madurai & Rameshwaram, I was sick of idli, dosai, vadai and pongal. I was effectively cured of my idli obsession, the comfort food of my hungry first trimester pregnancy days. 

We went to the hotel with our "loot" but were asked not to carry the bottles openly past the lobby lest we offended the other guests. So we rushed to our room, got our backpack down, hid the bottles in it and went up. 

We stayed at Sree Devi Hotel in Madurai. It is near Madura College. Rs 2000/- per night. Courteous staff, overall good service. But in the end, we got a shock. They had charged us for two days instead of one. Here, the format is not the usual 12:00 a.m check in and 11:00 a.m check out. It is check out the next day at the time you checked in. We had checked in at 9 a.m and checked out the next day at 10:30. And yet he had cunningly charged us an extra day thinking we wouldn't notice or check the bill. In fact, he hesitated to show or give the bill. When we insisted, he was exchanging glances with his colleague. He surely didn't expect us to demand the bill. And we did not expect to be cheated like that. 

We did get the money back, though.