Now that I’m back in Ireland, posts will likely be thin on the ground for a while until well, I have something to post about. So in the meantime, thanks for reading all and how about I leave you with one last picture…
And so, after the best part of eight months, I find myself in Tiruchirappalli Airport (aka Trichy) boarding my flight out of India. So, before they close the door of the plane on me, to my friends in Madurai, Chennai, Banglore and beyond – I’ll be seeing you around!
Somewhat unfairly, Port Blair (the largest town in the Andamans) often gets overlooked by visitors on their way to the beaches and jungles when it’s easily worth a couple of days of traipsing around. First stop – especially for the Indian history buff – Cellular Jail.
The British had been using the Andamans as a transportation colony for Indians ever since the uprisings of 1857. With the growth of the independence movement, Cellular Jail itself got built in the late 19th century. Given the whos-who of independence leaders imprisioned here, it’s now an Indian national monument.
With all prisoners kept in solitary confinement though and hard labour the norm, there’s no doubt life here was tough – from the prison museum:
“The revolutionary fighters […] found themselves confronted by the cruel Jailor, David Barry, an Irishman who believed it was his God-given destiny to suppress these enemies of Her Majesty the Queen with violence and vile abuse”
Hmmm… so, it would seem I wasn’t quiet the first Irish to visit.
Beyond the prison and just across a short stretch of water – a bit like a ghost town of a long-lost civilisation – lies Ross Island.
For decades the island served as the seat of British administration here. Long abandoned though – partly due to damage caused by both an earthquake and the Japanese occupation – in its heyday Ross Island was said to have been one of the most opulent headquarters within the Raj.
There are still hints of the opulence here and there, but these days its the fig trees and encroaching jungle that rule Ross Island.
And with that – and with some nasty squalls blowing – time to get back to Port Blair and a flight back to the mainland – no three day ferry this time!
Think tropical island and Havelock Island in the Andamans has it all – sugar-white beaches, palm trees, fantastic sunsets, swimming elephants (retired) and well, rain, lots of rain.
With the rainy season arriving in the Andamans weeks before the rest of India, it was at times a bit like a wet Summer in Kerry – albeit with temperatures in the 30’s and falling coconuts to be avoided. Not that it was a problem – with both foreign and Indian tourists keen to stay dry, the place was largely empty and totally relaxed.
Inland from the coast, the island is covered with rice paddies that push up against dense jungle. Not being a fan of leeches and trudging through muck – hammock dozing won out over jungle hiking in the rain.
It wasn’t all just hammock-time though – with Havelock having some of the best diving in Asia, I could hardly pass up the chance to take some lessons. Alas, while I fairly well mastered the ‘how not to drown’ class, my underwater photography needs a bit of work. So, failing miserably to photograph a single fish, I’ll leave you with a blurred underwater selfie for now…
It had been a long time since I’d been at a cattle market, so when I heard about one of South India’s largest dairy cow markets taking place on Thursdays in Erode – I could hardly give it a miss. So yes, one last dose of cow photos from India…
(Still fixing the hammock on my remote tropical island btw, but this this would be a post I made earlier)
Located right at the centre of the Indian peninsula, Erode is well placed to draw farmers from all across the south. Its actually only getting back to normal now after being effectively closed for a couple of weeks on account of the general election.
Organised like farmer marts of old back in Ireland, there was no central market as such – simply turn up at 5-6AM with your cow and hope you find a buyer. Getting there myself just after six, bundles of rupees were already being shuffled between farmers.
No shortage of farmer coyness either – while I saw one young jersey cow go for 12,000 rupees (about 150 euro) – cards were being played close to chests (I believe typical prices would be 2-3 times that). Even for the few posed photos of farmers with cows I had to persuade them I wasn’t a well-dressed big-farm agent disguised as a tourist.
There didn’t appear to be much in the way of officialdom either – although without any animal tagging, there’s probably not much to be done. It seems the only tagging is done on larger farms who tag for insurance reasons. Out of the hundreds of animals, perhaps I saw one cow with a tag?
The bulk of the cows (say 70-80%) on sale were Jerseys – they seem to be better adapted for the heat of the plains. Friesians and Herefords are said to be popular in the Cauvery Delta for some reason, but are also to be found on higher altitude and larger farms with cooling showers – they accounted for say, 15% of animals. The remainder then were buffalo and local cattle breeds.
And with that, I may just have run out of cow pictures – so farewell from Erode!
Sorry for there being no updates lately – alas, with Internet access being a scarce to non-existent resource on remote tropical islands, not much that can be done. But don’t worry, as tough and all as living the disconnected life is, they do have nice sunsets – I’ll be fine…
In case you’re wondering btw, I’m on a dot near the third red dot down in the lower right of the map below
Etir Sevai is the day that the procession of Lord Alaghar finally arrives in Madurai for the wedding of his sister – the goddess Meenaskshi. It’s actually a local holiday, so there was a big crowd out when I caught up with the procession for a couple of hours to traipse around the backstreets of Madurai.
Although his temple is only 20km away, with stops at various temples and 400 mandapams (canopies erected by locals to receive blessings) along the way, it takes the best part of three days to make the trip – in the scorching heat (lots of happy ice-cream sellers here).
The precession finally reaches and rests up at a small temple not from from the northern banks of the Vagai and that’s when the madness begins – you see, no-one is going to bed tonight.
I didn’t get so many photos of the madness mind you – probably because I was busy dodging armies of teenagers with waterguns – but with the crowds, the roving drumming circles, temple cows and elephants, musicians and wandering monks the place was buzzing.
Eventually though, with dawn approaching, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands – who knows how many – move down to the riverbed for the main act. You see, as even the smallest child in Madurai will tell you, Lord Alaghar was late for his sister’s wedding and on hearing this at the river, does an angry about-turn.
And so, this is what everyone has come to see – the highlight of a month-long festival – Lord Alaghar on his pure gold steed entering and then leaving the Vaigai River. It was all a bit crazy really, but next thing it was all over – and time to catch up on lost sleep.
Although I did manage to catch one last 4 am procession as part of the festival – with yet more insanely large crowds – that’s largely it for Chithirai this year. By now Alaghar is back to his temple and the newly married couple returned to theirs and all is back to normal in Madurai. At least until this time next year when it happens all over again.
At the heart of the Chithirai Festival of course is the wedding of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar. This being one of the most important festivals in South India, I don’t think there was ever a chance of landing an advance ticket, so it was time to queue.
Now, while I probably could have sorted one of the reserved tickets for foreign visitors, guess I’m a sucker for queuing for hours in near 40C temps hoping to get a same-day ticket. Well, a couple of buckets of sweat later, I was in.
The ceremony itself was quiet short in the end – barely half an hour. It also turned out to very solemn event – up to the point when the knot was tied that is and then you never saw so much happiness – people were beaming.
With ceremonies over and like any good wedding, it was time to get fed. In this case – and on behalf of the deities – it was neighbouring shopkeepers and residents who were feeding the masses and providing free dishes of sweet pongal and biyrani for all.
Wedding over then, the newly married couple make several processions around the streets of Madurai – and none grander than the Great Car Festival early the next morning.
Take two house-sized, hand-carved, wooden chariots – one for him, one for her – each with three to four meter-wide granite wheels, get thousands of energetic locals to haul them at speed through dense crowds – without casualties hopefully – and you’ve got shock-and-awe.
And its not just the two deities and their cars – throw in some jesters and elephants, temple fan-bearers and musicians, the hawkers and the hucksters and now that’s a parade.
Finally, the two cars return to where they started – not that you could tell from shouts of the crowds that it had been five hours in hot sun (fingers crossed – my first video)
And lastly – spare a thought for the guys from the local electricity company – seems half of Madurai was in the dark while the temple cars went by…
The lavishness of Indian weddings is well known, but when it comes to the celestial wedding here in Madurai of two of Hinduism’s principal deities it gets taken to a whole new level.
After ten or so days of events preparing for the wedding, the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarar takes place tomorrow morning, followed then by days more of related events and celebrations.
With the population of the city said to nearly double for the festival, you could say Madurai is bracing itself.
Above – while out earlier this evening, I did manage to catch a final procession of the two deities before the wedding – this shot is of Lord Sundareswarar with both priests and police keeping close eye on things.