In Pondicherry – the formerly French territory on the Bay of Bengal – for a short break. So, with the sun setting on the first day of the year here, I’ll wish you all a Happy New Year!
(Don’t worry – back to my Kerala trip and more regular postings after this)
Pondicherry at sunset, New Year’s Day, 2014
Well, it’s 2 am here in Madurai and having just returned from midnight mass, I’ll wish you all a Happy Christmas… Time to take a quick power nap before the daily Hindu Mārkazhi prayer service kicks off in the next door temple at 4:30 am…
No worries about sleeping-in in Madurai!
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a seasonal picture of some errrm… psychedelic chicks?
Chicks for sale in Northern Madurai
Took a week off from classes a while back to catch up with friends visiting Kerala. Due to yet another train line gauge upgrade though, the train to Kerala from Madurai runs out of track at Sengottai (*1).
So, it seemed like as good an excuse as any to visit the nearby Courtallam Falls.
Its a popular place – mostly on account of the beneficial effects of the water itself, but also as a place of pilgrimage. And yes, of course I took a dip – just ask any of the traumatised locals who bumped into me – I don’t think they get so many Irish bathers in these parts…
There are actually separate bathing spots for men and women, but it still gets hectic enough – especially during particularly auspicious times – that the police have to carry big sticks.
After the falls, it was a drive through the hills of the Western Ghats – which compared to the by times hot and dusty plains around Madurai was a nice break. Its a lot cooler and damper up here – making it ideal countryside for rubber and spice plantations which are all over the place.
Tamil Nadu/Kerala Border
Next stop Kerala!
*1 Also helpfully spelled as Shencottah, Shenkottai, Chengottai, Chenkottai and Senkottai – if there was ever a reason to learn Tamil, visiting செங்கோட்டை could be it.
Wikipedia article on the Western Ghats
Wikipedia on the Cardamom Hills
Wikipedia article on Courtallam and its falls
Wikipedia on Sengottai
It’s going to be a long month… With the full moon, December 16th marked the beginning of the Tamil month Mārkazhi (*1) – one of the most inauspicious in the Tamil calendar (*2).
There are different ways of dealing with a problem month like this, and the most common is to head to the temple extra early in the morning when the earth is closer to the heavens (as I understand it). In the case of my next door neighbour temple, that means kicking off the ghetto blasters at 6 am – just as well I’m such a morning person… Turns out that even 4 am starts aren’t all that uncommon.
On the flip side, households this month usually make an extra effort to have particularly decorative kolams – the doorstep floor paintings common across South India.
I snapped a few on my way to and from class today…
Someone was particularly busy at the roadside mini-temple around the corner – this one is about two metres across.
*1 – the ‘z’ in Mārkazhi doesn’t actually sound like a zee – but then the ழ character doesn’t sound like anything in any European language, so it’s probably as close as any Roman letter.
*2 – Yes, Tamils use a slightly different calendar from the rest of the Hindu world – Wikipedia has the details, but they have the same months occurring at different times.
Wikipedia article on Kolams
Wikipedia on the Tamil calendar
The Notorious Z
Now that I’m a resident of sorts here in Madurai (albeit a very short-term one), next thing you know I’ll be blogging every trip I take down to the shops. Okay, maybe just this once…
First stop, the 400-odd year old Pudhu Mandapam arcade (just beside Madurai’s main temple – Meenakshi Temple). While it may be no Liffey Valley, its hard to beat when it comes to calendars, pots and pans, booksellers and tailors (and fantastic intricate stone carvings). There’s talk of the authorities throwing the shop-keepers out to restore it to its original ceremonial use – not expected to happen any time soon though.
After that, if it’s spices, fruit & veg, PVC pipework and gold & platinum you want, we might just need another blog post…
Btw, So I have been asked “Where am I?”, so here’s Madurai courtesy Wikipedia maps…
Language classes you say?!? But English is widely spoken and used in Southern India… Unless of course you’re desperate for your Sandra Bullock fix, want to get a Vodafone top-up or just plain hungry. Sometimes Roman characters aren’t always there to save the day…
Luckily there are text books… for five year olds…
Don’t worry – back to regular travel pics in my next post – just as soon as I’ve done my homework…
So, before I fall too far behind – a quick update… I’ve made it to Madurai, apartment share and language classes all sorted.
More about Madurai again, but as ancient temple cities go, there’s a lot to like here. In the meantime here’s a quick preview.
Meenakshi Temple Gopuram
And while I’m at it, you can never have too many pictures of cows can you?
One for the train and bridge geeks.
I’m heading over to Rameswaram for a couple of days and you get to cross the Pamban Bridge(s) on the way. The rail bridge in particlar is nearly a 100 years old and was built to ferry both pilgrams to Rameswaram and passangers on their way to Sri Lanka. It was only in the last couple of years that it was upgraded to broad gage from the old British 1 metre gage.
Ramanathaswamy Temple is what brings the pilgrims of course. Alas, like many other South Indian temples, much of it isn’t open to non-Hindus. An impressive gopuram though.
For other visitors (kite surfers aside – great conditions here apparently), Dhanushkodi is where to head. Its a town abandoned to the dunes after a 1964 cyclone and can be a nice 10km trek there and back along the beach – when its not in the sweltering heat and you’ve remembered your suncream…
Next stop Sri Lanka
Next stop – Madurai…
The first thing that strikes you about Tuticorin (aka Thoothukudi) are the thousands of acres of salt pans on the approach to the city – salt it would seem is big business here. The second thing – for me anyway – was how the locals all figured I was a Russian sailor… You see, Tuticorin is, and always has been a big port city in this part of the world – they’re well used to visitors from all over.
Only got to spend one night here, so not so many pictures.
Salt pans, Tuticorin
Salt pans, Tuticorin
Tuticorin post office
Basilica in Tuticorin
A quick stop off on my way north at Tiruchendur – a busy pilgrimage town. I’ll leave it to a braver person to make comparisons with Knock, Lourdes, Fatima etc – I was just trying to figure out the dancing elephants and fortune-telling parrots…
Gopuram at Thiruchendur
Temple Bazaar, Tiruchendur
Shrine with cobras, Tiruchendur