Terrific Tamil Nadu

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 image004.jpgstumble 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.image034.jpg

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 offera.jpg 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 image164.jpgimage167.jpgtwisted 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. collage1.jpgI 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 image008.jpgsimilar 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 image012.jpgstructure 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.                                                                                                                                          

KanchipuramTemples 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 image087.jpgrestoration efforts are on. For some reason this temple reminded me of the Hindu temples in Cambodia.image082.jpg 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. image111.jpgWe 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. image113.jpgWe 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.image179.jpgimage186.jpg

 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!:)

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2 thoughts on “Terrific Tamil Nadu

  1. About your note on Hot Breads, did you notice they have a competitor who is cheekily called Breads and More. Have you seen it? It is on the first floor of the building right next to Hot Breads. I think the ground floor has a restaurant called Peep In, i take great delight in that name and everytime i visit Pondi, I always Peep In but never eat there. Im sure the proprietor thinks im mad.

    Other nice places to eat include Punjabi Dhaba and Surguru. If you turn the corner from International Guest House there is a horrid fast food place. A few years ago there used to be a lovely South Indian fast food placed called Ramana’s on this spot. The place was full of wee pixies in Bata chappals running around serving food to hundreds of customers at a moment’s notice. If you walk down the road from Cottage guest house towards the hand made paper factory you will come across a very nice Gujarati delicatessan called Mithai Mandir. They serve excellent Dabeli’s and mint chai and have an impressive range of mithais and farsaan.

    About your mention of supermarkes, Nilgiris is a very old supermarket which first appeared in Chennai. I remember hearing about it as a kid when i lived there almost 20 years ago. Don’t you love how the store seems to be entirely managed by an efficent army of women all dressed in white lab coats with their hair tied back in a pony-tail. Maybe they are all sociologists studying the buying habbits of meek South Indians? Another great place to buy food and groceries is Grinday’s, it is on the road which runs parallel to the Ashram play ground.

    Pondicherry does have some beautiful buildings, especially the colonial quarter which has several beautiful villas. Try and visit the Hotel D’Lorient, it is part of the Neemrana group. They have done a fantastic job and renovating the run-down villa into a 3 or 4 star hotel. There are around 16 rooms in the hotel, each is named after a fortress or palace. You can try their restaurant, which is reasonably posh and therefore dissapointing.

    Speaking of posh, did you notice the hi-design cafe on the promenade? They do an impressive buffet dinner with plenty of vegetarian choices. After dinner you can sit outside, enjoy the evening sea breeze and sip your coffee. But then again, despite all these choices I think the Ashram DR is the best place to eat, I try and eat my lunch and the occasional dinner there. In all the 10 years I have been going to Pondi, I have never managed to wake up in time for breakfast even once!

    Abhay

  2. ya, i did notice the other bakery next to hot breads but dont think i noticed Peep In. Are u sure it exists?!?!
    Ramanas was nice. we used to go there often. The new place is terrible. Thats where the episode about the 2 extra dosas happened. most certainly not one of my favourite eating joints!
    You missed mentioning the gajaras that ALL the women at Nilgiris wear!dnt know if u noticed but they sell stuff from auroville too.
    did see Hotel D’Lorient but dint go inside. in fact took a pic of mom standing outside it.
    which hi-design cafe are u talking of? there seem to be quite a few there! there’s a new hide sign restaurant too. seen that one?

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