Madurai and the Meenakshi Temple

After three lovely days near Periyar we headed off in a taxi to the 2500 year old city of Madurai, dropping down very quickly from the cool 1200m-above-sea-level zone to the tropical plains of Tamil Nadu. Three hours later and we arrived in Madurai, mad, busy, noisy Madurai. It’s not like Madurai is any different from other cities but after spending the last four days in serene countryside the noise was deafening.

Straight off to the railway station to check our rucksacks ahead of our overnight train several hours later and then it’s time for some food at the rated Kumar Mess and shopping at Chennai Silks, which is massive.

After lunch and shopping we head straight for the Meenakshi Temple which was potentially built in the 7th century, making it the oldest temple I’ve visited. It’s 1:30pm, it’s closed until 4pm, or is 2:30pm or is it 3pm. It’s so confusing, even the entrance guards don’t know when it opens. Either way we’ve got time to kill, it’s boiling hot, it looks like it’s going to rain and we’ve got nothing particular to do. Ok then, time for more shopping I’m informed.

Foreigners only have to pay Rs50 (65 pence) to visit the inner temple, the outer courtyard is free, but we are quite rightly restricted to the non-sacred parts. In the outer courtyard there’s a queue for the inner courtyard, it’s very long but instead of queueing we decide to go for a little walk around it. At the entrance it turns out you can queue for 1 minute and pay the Rs50 to get in, it turns out queueing gets you in for free…after about an hour.

What we can see of the temple complex is stunning, its painted ceilings, its ghats, the carved pillars, all of it. With only so much to see we didn’t spend long here and we left feeling happy to have visited such an historic pla

Afterwards we headed to the Hotel Supreme’s rooftop restaurant where it duly pissed it down, leaving us to eat at a table just under shelter, watching the rain and lightning over the Meenakshi Temple a few yards away. We had a great meal and Jane’s Kashmiri Naan, with its layers of fruit, nuts and raisins went down very well.

Here’s a little video of the template:

Elephantastic – by Jane and Amy

We arrived at Elephant Junction excited for our 2 hour elephant experiance in Periyar. We were a bit apprehensive of the treatment of the elephants but were really pleased to see a friendly, safe and litter-free environment where both the staff and animals were extremely happy. After mounting our elephant, Ramba (who was 35 years old and 4 and half tonnes), Kev climbed on board his elephant who was ten years younger than ours.

Jane sat comfortably behind Amy who was thrilled to be just behind Ramba’s ears and we felt positively royal swaying slowly above the ground. All five of the elephants were rescued females from circuses or working in the forest – which is probably why Ramba had a hole in her ear 🙁 .

The skilled mahout steered Ramba through the forest, yet she seemed to know exactly where she was going anyway. Kev’s elephant needed a little more encouragement than our own as it continued to stop randomly along the journey. All too soon our hour ride was over.

Next we were shown Meera, formally a forest working elephant, and her mahoot who gave instructions to her using just his feet behind her ears so she moved the huge logs of timber. Jane jumped at the chance when she was offered pumpkin to feed Meera as a reward, and was shocked at the softness of the elephant’s tongue.

We were then ushered to the bathing area where Lakshmi, the teenage elephant, was lying on her side loving the cool water. Her mahout was throwing buckets of water over her stiff hairy body. We were promptly given scrubbing brushes and told to scrub hard as an elephant’s skin is 2cm thick. So we got stuck in, apart from Kev who was cameraman extraordinaire (or was it just an excuse not to get wet me thinks!). I can honestly say it was a privilege to be given this opportunity to get so close to one of the most beautiful, majestic creatures on this Earth.

The final part of our experience we shall never forget. In turn, Jane then Amy clambered onto Lakshmi’s back, once she had lowered her body into the pool. She proceeded to suck up clean water with her trunk and give us a shower, several times.

Pure magic!
One of the best days in India so far.

 

 

 
NOTE: For the animal welfare concerned people: this was in an elephant santuary and rescue centre, where elephants are cared for very well. In fact, they’d all be dead if the sanctuary had not rescued them as not many are willing to take on the £50 a day feeding/caring cost of elephant who is not allowed to work. All walks are conducted in the forest, the elephants are fed and bathed well, and the mahouts treat them very well indeed

Video: Kerala’s beautiful backwaters

The Kerala Backwaters trip we did from Kochi a few days ago was lovely, relaxing and generally very quiet*

Here’s a little video:

 

 

*apart from the really annoying Australian who was clearly a parody of a posh twat on a Gap Yaar, very much like Ben from Inbetweeners 2

Periyar accommodation – Periyar Inn Homestay

Rs1500 £18
Our accommodation for our 2 night stay near Periyar National Park is in the nearby town of Kumily where most accommodation seems to be. Periyar Inn is a small block of three rooms built in the back garden of a local family’s house, with breakfast served in the main house. I really like the idea of staying in places like this which see money go to local people rather than large multinationals.
On TripAdvisor at the time of booking it was 12th out of 113 B&Bs in the area, receiving 5 stars from its modest 40 reviews.

 
STOP PRESS:
It’s Saturday, we’re meant to stay here for our second/last night but…
We love it so much here that rather take a taxi to Madurai tomorrow we are going to stay here another night and go to Madurai early in the morning the day after. We’ll use the cloakroom at Madurai’s station to store out rucksacks whilst we do some sightseeing.

Kochi accommodation – Walton’s Homestay

Rs2500 £30
Our longest stop of 5 nights on the trip is Kochi (Cochin) and we’re staying at Walton’s Homestay, a small hotel in Fort Kochi and within easy reach of the local sights such as the much photographed Chinese fishing nights. The place has a five-star rating from 304 guest reviews on TripAdvisor, many of whom are repeat customers, and at the time of booking was 11th out of 429 B&Bs.

I’m going to miss Kovalam, a lot

After 4 lovely relaxing days here in Kovalam and as we ready ourselves to catch the train to Kochi for 5 nights I’ve been reflecting on Kovalam, which is meant to have really gone downhill in the last two decades since we last visited. Yes, it’s changed from the single storey palm-roofed places to multi-storey hotels, yes the small little restaurants have grown and grown, leaving behind their charm. Yes the hawkers have increased. But so have your local tourists and at the same time the drug-fuelled hippies have moved on – not a bad thing.

So, I reflect…

I’m going to miss your many different bays and your roaring seas.

I’m going to miss chilling with Amy and Jane in some of the nicest places to have a drink, like here at Bait.

I’m going to miss the beautiful hotel, the KTDC Sumadra.

I’m going to miss watching all the eagles, kites and fish eagles soaring in the early afternoon winds.

I’m going to miss the sunsets.

I’m definitely going to miss the way the fishermens’ tilly lamps twinkle like stars as the waves between us rise and fall. I love this is still the same as it was 21 years ago.

I’m going to miss all the fresh seafood at next to no money – Rs600 or £7 for 15 large prawns.

I’m going to miss being served a freezing cold Kingfisher Strong in a massive bone china tankard, just in case the police walk past…especially when I’ve eaten nothing that day (hic!).

I will be back.

Kovalam accommodation – KTDC Hotel Samudra

Rs5000 £60
In Kovalam our accommodation is the KTDC Hotel Samudra, a hotel Jane and I stayed in before in 1996 and as our arrival coincides with our 23rd wedding anniversary it seemed fitting to stay here again.
With its views of the sea over the swimming pool and through hammock-supporting coconut trees it’s an easy choice to stay here, once we’d decided to blow our budget a little to celebrate our anniversary..

And to top it off no only have they given us a returning cutomers discount – it was 21 years ago! – but we’ve got the same room too.

Here’s my first pics of the place:


If we’d stuck to budget we would have chosen the Hotel Thushara which is a third of the price at Rs1700 per night.
The only downside for us is that it’s a 1km dark walk back from the restaurants and bars of Kovalam. At the time of booking it was ranked 4th on TripAdvisor and 1st within its class of a mid-level hotel.