I am back from my vacation and have taken my own sweet time to write a post about it. Its not that I dint want to write earlier, I dint have access to the net for over two weeks. Hence the delay
Now that I am writing down my travelogue I don’t quite know where to begin! What to write and what to leave out? Eight days is a long time, you see. A lot happened, a lot was experience and a lot was seen and appreciated. We visited three places and I am jotting down things I liked and memories that stayed with me.
Peaceful Puducherry– I have been to Pondi quite a few times before so in that sense I dint discover anything new. I know the place and I know where to find what. But amazingly as familiar as I consider myself to be with the place, I always stumble upon something I had previously missed. Generally I am not the kind who does touristy things when I go to Pondi, I prefer to unwind, contemplate and recharge. And this is the perfect place to do just that. A visit to the Samadhi is recommended, whether or not you are a believer.
The lack of a common language always adds spice to the trips. Take for example this incident at a local eating joint-Anand Bhawan. We ordered for two masla dosas and got served four. Explaining to the guy at the counter that two people cant eat four dosas was pointless. Like a broken record he kept repeating “Madam ask four.”( in these exact words) Madam in this case was yours truly. No way had I ordered for two surplus dosas but the guy refused to listen. He eventually switched to “Manger ask” which meant “Go ask the manager to sort out this problem you have gotten yourself into”. Manager dint quite know how to handle the situation and language continued to be a problem with him so he asked us to “eat and see later.” .Anyway we ate two dosas and God only knows what they did with the remaining ones. I tell you its high time I learnt that language. My broad vocabulary of five words of Tamil is getting me nowhere.
There is bakery that I like and visit often when I am in Pondi. Its called Hot Breads. They make nice pastries and large variety of decent looking breads etc. They also serve meal but the choices they offer are rather limited. So its best to visit them in the evening for a snack and eat your meals at the Ashram Dining Hall or wherever else you may like. (Madman doesn’t like this place. I don’t know why!)
I spent Dusshera in Pondi this time and realised what an important festival it was for the locals. We don’t do too much for Dussera. As a kid in Delhi I looked forward to the burning of Ravana’s effigy. But I don’t think that tradition is very common nowadays. And Bombay does practically nothing for the festival. Dusshera was becoming a forgotten festival so naturally it was nice to see all the festivities and excitement. Beautiful white rangolis in front of homes and shops, strings of twisted grass (that’s what it looked like to me) tied together to make torans and lots and lots of white pumpkins broken near the doorways. I assume that’s done to ward away evil.
I love the architecture of the buildings there. though I have never done this before, this time I decided to click pictures of buildings/structures I like. I should have become an architect. May be I missed my true calling !:P Btw, if you ever need to shop for daily necessities while in Pondi there is a shop called Nilgiri. You will get absolutely anything there. Not just anything, huge varieties of anything! We found more kinds of tea on their racks than we have ever found in any shop in Mumbai !
Chidambaram– Land of the Natraja
Chidambaram is a short distance from Pondi and so we made a day trip to visit the famous Natraja Temple. The temple at Chidambaram is famous for two things- having Natraja as the main deity and gold plate covered roof. The roof of the sanctum is covered in gold and has ridges. Each of these lines represents the nadis in the body or the number of breathes a person take in him/her life. I am not too sure. The architecture of the temple is similar to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. The materials used and the motifs and style of carving seem similar too. The idol is breathtakingly beautiful but because it is lit only with oil lamps , you have to get as close as possible to get a clear view. If you don’t, you only see lots of glittering jewels and the basic outline of the idol.
As beautiful as the temple is, it isn’t as well maintained as I hoped it would be. I agree it’s a big structure and maintaining it is not an easy task but still I felt some improvements could be made. The rule of the temple are not too clear. One priest will tell you you are allowed to take photos of the temple compound and just as you fish out your camera another priest will tell you the exact opposite. It gets a bit confusion for someone who is visiting for the first time and doesn’t speak the language. The Madurai temple officially allows you to but a ticket and click pictures( of course the diety cannot be photographed). Aside from the minor confusions that persisit in the temple, the temple is certainly worth a visit.
Kanchipuram– Temples and Saris galore
Kanchipuram is an ancient town and has an unbelievable number of very old temples. According to the driver who took us there, Kanchi has more temples than houses! We could have spent a few days visiting all the temples but instead we chose to visit a few selected ones. I tried remembering the names of all of them, but sadly as I write this post I am facing great difficulty in recalling the names!!The first temple we visited was dedicated to Shiva. It was called the Kailashnath Temple. It was so old that the stones used to construct it had started wearing away. The temple is under ASI and restoration efforts are on. For some reason this temple reminded me of the Hindu temples in Cambodia. Very beautiful, very peaceful and not overly visited by tourists. Most definitely a place to visit.
After visiting a few other temples like the Ekambarnath Temple,we went to the main temple of the town whose deity lends the town its name.
The Kamakshi temple was a lot like what I had anticipated it to be. In fact it went a little beyond my expectations. It had a small (small is a relative term here!) elephant at its gate! My mom wasn’t willing to wait for me to finish admiring the cute creature. She was too worried about the long line that would greet us inside the temple. She wasn’t worried without reason. The line was serpentile and figuring out where what was posed a serious problem because no one seemed to speak either Hindi or English! Sign language came in hand and fortunately one of the younger priests in the temple noticed how utterly lost we were and helped out. Darshan done, we went back to the elephant. We couldn’t resist talking a few picture with him. Let me warn you, pictures don’t come free. Each costs at least one coin of a denomination of your choice,that needs to be delivered in the elephant’s trunk. Braveheart that I normally am, I dint want to risk my life at the hands of this seemingly calm creature. One light swipe of the trunk or one foot placed wrongly, and I was confident that I would be history. Mom was big time into petting the elephant and smiling and posing, at close quarters, I might add. Never seen this side of her. Usually I am the one who is fond of animals and everyone else stays away. Role reversal once in a while is a good thing, I think!Kanchipuram is world famous for its silk saris. We went around town and wondered into shops hoping to find one or two pieces. Surprisingly we found nothing appealing. It gave me the feeling that the town exports practically all that it produces. And local needs are seemingly limited and therefore they export more than they consume locally. We really wanted to see a few traditional wearers working at their looms. Sadly we couldn’t find any.
By the time it was time to pack up and go home, the north-east monsoon had arrived in Pondi. I am not making up stuff here. There actually exists a north-east monsoon! It shorter and milder than the south west one but makes the weather just perfect. On the way back to Chennai, I did a bit of cloud chasing. Here are the results.
All in all the trip was memorable. Would have loved to spend some more time and visit a fewof the other close by places like Mammalapuram. May be next time. I need to start saving some serious money for the next trip! There is just so much to see, experience and absorb.By the way , the roads in Tamil Nadu are very well maintained. So travelling by road is actually fun!:)