Leaving Pondicherry we took a private bus to the train station and then caught a train to Madurai. It was a six hour train trip and on a sleeper style train. It wasn’t the most comfortable journey but we managed by trying to have a snooze and learning a card game called Pinochle from our Canadian travel companions, Ross and Carol. We were ready to get off the train once it arrived and it was a short walk to the hotel.
We were supposed to visit a temple followed by dinner but due to a queezy stomach, we decided to skip the temple and Christopher had dinner in the rooftop restaurant. Plans from the original trip changed for us for the next day as we didn’t think we could stomach the 5 hour local bus trip to our next destination so with 2 others from our group, we organised a private car. This meant we could visit the temple in the morning prior to departure and also see the Gandhi museum on the way.
The Sri Meenakshi temple was quite amazing and we can see why it is one of the most popular pilgrim destinations. It is truly a labyrinth of corridors and halls with many different shrines and people worshipping in their own way. It also includes a lake and during our early morning visit, there were two camels being led around. Worshippers can also buy offerings at the many stalls inside. The roof and walls were very colourful and the hall of 1000 columns (even though it only had 986) was quite impressive. Several groups of pilgrims were also chanting as they moved about the temple which added to the ambience. It was certainly worth the early morning rise.
We arrived at the Gandhi museum just on opening so were able to witness the raising of the flag and singing of the national anthem. Following this, the small wooden closed sign positioned on the stairs was removed and we were allowed in. The museum tells the story of the struggle for independence by India and then about Ghandi and his life, including the doti he wore when he was assassinated. Madurai was the place where he first donned the doti – hence the location of the museum about him.
Continuing on to Periyar we passed through many small villages and many brickworks and vineyards as well as a town called Cumbum which made us laugh!! A steep climb into the mountains towards the end of our journey brought us to a lovely hotel with a cooler climate. We would stay here for two days and after our pace of travel, two nights in the one spot was welcome.
We walked into town and looked through some of the shops and posted our postcards. On the way home we had kulfi which is Indian ice-cream and it was delicious! A quick rest and we then went to a display of Indian martial arts including jumping through fire rings, acrobatics and fighting with sticks, knives and rope. One useful tip we picked up is how to immobilise someone by tying them up with a stick – quite ingenious!!
Dinner tonight was “cook your own” as we went to a local family and we helped prepare dinner including peeling vegetables and learning how to cook papadums and a couple of curries including one made with ochra. Dinner was served at 10pm so quite an ordeal. The tandoori bbq chicken was rather tasty and we also had fried potato chips Indian style!!
Next morning was an early start as we went on a nature walk through the tiger reserve. A quick tea/coffee on our way and we then split into four groups to walk through the jungle in search of wild beasts. We saw monkeys, squirrels and lots of birds but no tigers!! When I asked the guide when he last saw a tiger, his reply was “never” and he’d been doing it for eight years so our chances were remote!!! Mind you, as we were walking, I’m not sure I would like to come face to face with a tiger. Nevertheless it was a beautiful walk through the tangled mass of vines and vegetation and crossing the river standing on a bamboo raft was quite fun.
In the afternoon we both had an Aveyrudic massage. The whole process went for over an hour and a half and included transfers from our hotel, the massage treatment and all for $40!! After disrobing completely and donning little more than a paper triangle tied between your legs, you are laid out on a massage table and oil is then poured onto your forehead continuously for about 30 minutes. Following this you receive a complete body massage of both front and back with large amounts of oil being used. As you roll over, you have to hang onto the bench to ensure you don’t slip off. It was quite different to traditional massage in that the strokes were very long with the masseus travelling from your hands to your feet in one continuous movement. A cold face pack and massage followed. The final step is a hot steam bath which happens in what can only be described as a cupboard with a hole in the top for your head. It was very hot but you can feel the oil and sweat running off you. A dry down, some herbs on your head to prevent sickness, get dressed and then back to the hotel.
Tonight’s dinner was at a spice farm – Abraham’s farm! He had been featured on the BBC series, Around the World in 80 Gardens so we look forward to seeing that episode again when we return home. It was amazing what he was growing in his smallish garden – all types of fruits and spices including ginger, pepper, lemon, banana, cardamon and the list could go on. Dinner was very tasty and served on banana leaf which we consumed with our hands (Indian style).