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Madurai, Meenakshi Amman Temple

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Madurai, Meenakshi Amman Temple

After our very short flight from Bangalore, we arrived in Madurai. We decided on visiting Madurai. Firstly as it seemed a natural route on travelling north to Pondicherry, also after watching a travel program on British tv hosted by Joanne Lumley, who was tracing her Indian roots, and visited the Meenakshi Amman Temple. So it wetted our appetite to see for ourselves.

Madurai is the third largest city in Tamil Nadu and is just like any other busy Indian city, but the one thing that makes the town worthy of a visit is the the magnificent Meenakshi Amman Temple. Meenaksi Temple receives around 6000 devotees a day, and during the annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, the temple can attract over a million pilgrims and visitors from all over India. The temple has four very large Gopuram’s or towers. North, South, East and West, and are around 50 metres tall, 170 feet, and covers an area of some 45 acres. It dominates the Madurai skyline. We could see it quite clearly, and our hotel was some three to four kilometres away. We had four nights in Madurai, we just took things at a leisurely pace. You don’t have to stay this long if time is tight, but I would recommend two full days.

Visiting the Temple

The Temple is open from 05:00 to 12:30, then reopens again at 15:30 to 22:00. Entry is free, (except for the museum which is 50 INR ) but worth the entrance fee. You are free to explore everywhere, except inner prayer section, where non Hindu’s are not allowed. I would recommend visiting in the morning thus avoiding the afternoon heat.

Must see sights.

Putu Mandapam Market. Fruit & vegetable and the banana markets

The Putu Mandapam Market is housed in the confines of the temple,”underneath it in fact”. It’s mainly a wholesale market. Consisting of four long aisles, each aisle having it’s own specialty. One for cook ware, one for fabrics, one for beads costume jewellery ribbons and braid, and finally one for ornate pots, water containers and various elaborate Hindu effigies. Wandering through the market I couldn’t help admiring how the Indian people are so industrious. Each little stall was a small and very productive cottage industry. The fruit and vegetable market and the banana market are just a maze of colour, so many different types that I have no clue as to what they are. It’s a photographers dream.

Gandhi Museum

The building that houses the Gandhi Memorial Museum, is the historic Tamukkam Palace belonging to Rani Mangammal of Nayak Dynasty built about 1670 A.D. It was in 1955 the palace with about 13 acres of land was gifted by the Tamil Nadu State Government to the All India Gandhi Smarak Nidhi for the purpose of housing Gandhi Memorial Museum. Entrance to the museum is free, and from an Englishman’s point of view it’s a must visit. As you walk around there are panels detailing Gandhi’s life from the early days with lots of photos and quotes from various politicians. Taking you through Gandhi’s epic struggle to gain Indian its independence. Now being an Englishman I am not one who subscribes to the whole British Empire, Britannia Rules the waves, etc etc, and after reading his struggle and what the British did to India and how they left it, I did come away feeling rather ashamed. I know some will say that the British did a lot of good, and I’m sure we did in some respects. There are also probably many Indians, I’m sure, who were glad of the British occupation, but I’m also sure there were plenty that weren’t. Whatever you point of view is it’s always “in my view” good to look at it from another countries perspective, and the Gandhi Museum certainly does that.

Bangalore, New Years Eve.

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Where do I begin? After our brilliant time in Hampi it was time to move on to Bangalore. It was just for a couple of nights to break up the trip to Madurai. It started off badly as our train which was due to leave 21:10, but as always on Indian rail, it was delayed by an hour. The journey to Bangalore takes nine hours, and I did not get a wink of sleep. It wasn’t because the carriage was noisy, but the fact that the beds in the sleeper carriages on Indian rail are like sleeping an a bed of bricks. Also the fact I was not feeling very well at all. Hot one minute, cold the next and with frequent visits to the toilet, it was a total nightmare. When we arrived I was feeling, let’s just say well under the weather. So I could not wait to get to the hotel and have a shower and a nice rest. This wasn’t to be. On arrival at the Homestay we had booked we were very disappointed, it was nothing like the images on the website, not very nice at all, and when we were shown our room, the bed looked no different than the one on the train. We tried to contact the owners to explain our predicament, but with no success. So we just told the two guys who were looking after the place (who could not understand a word of English) that we were leaving and called a taxi, and found another hotel.

Our next hotel thankfully was much nicer, but unfortunately for me, I had to spend the whole day in bed, and being New Years Eve it was some what disappointing. The next day I felt a little better and was able to get out and around, but I still wasn’t hundred percent. We were due to be on another overnight train journey the next day. I really couldn’t endure this the way I felt. So we cancelled our train and booked a flight with Indigo Airlines for £22 each, this being a one hour journey instead of nine hours on a rattly uncomfortable train, it sounded like heaven.

What to see in Bangalore

There really isn’t a great deal of sights in the city except the Palace, which is worth a visit, and Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. This you could quite easily miss. The pictures on the website and Google images make it out to be a little piece of calm and serenity in the heart of the big city. Pretty flowers, nicely mowed lawns and a large picturesque lake. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s an overcrowded, litter strewn piece of waste land in my opinion. Very disappointing. Our day wasn’t all bad, as we met a very interesting French guy in a coffee shop , who lives in Bangalore and was studying Sanskrit. We had a great chat about Indian politics and the Indian culture in general. I have to mention our Hotel the Royal Senate Racecourse, apart from being a very nice hotel, it as a very good restaurant on the ground floor call the “London Curry House” I managed a meal here on our last day and it was amazing. A great selection of dishes and some Indian fusion food “the chef must have been an Indian Heston Blumenthal. Serving some brilliant creations. Like the Pani Puri, which is a selection of puri balls with a hole in the top, served with a selection of fillings. After you fill your small ball, you then pour a spicy sauce and a sweet sauce from the little pots below the puri balls and then pop it in you mouth. The taste is amazing.

As I haven’t much to write about Bangalore, I thought I would share some things I have picked up along the way.

Getting Around

Public transport There are plenty of buses in India, which are extremely cheap, but trying to decipher which one is going where is quite frankly impossible. Unless you are a local. Getting on one also looks an art form. “We didn’t use them we just watched in amazement from a distance”. For longer distances, there is a good selection of quite modern “I use the term loosely” buses for longer distances. A good App for this is called RedBus which looks very useful “or so we thought”, where you can pick your type of bus, A/C, non A/C, choose your seat and choose the time you want to travel. You need a Indian mobile number to register (which I will come on to). Where it all falls down is you have to pay for your tickets with an Indian Bank Card as they will not accept foreign ones. Great, but I suppose it’s useful for bus timings and bus types?

Taxis & Auto Rickshaw (Tuk-Tuk’s)

Tuk-Tuk’s are great for short distances, and to get to the main tourist attractions. Don’t rely on them to know anything other than that though. Like the whereabouts of hotels or restaurants. As we have learnt on more than one occasion. You either end up a few hundred metres down the road outside a coffee shop which had been closed for three months. “We wanted to go to a hotel for dinner”. “See last post” Or the complete opposite direction of where you want to be. The alternative is taxis, but the only way to get these is to use Mobile Apps, like Über, Meru Cabs or Olacabs. I have all three on my phone as some work in some states but not in others. These will give you the exact fare and the drivers use google maps to navigate, so you have a pretty good chance to get where you want to be.

Indian railways

Train travel in India is very cheap, and getting tickets on the day if you are going relatively short distances is easy. If travelling long distances, it advisable to book in advance, especially for overnight trains. You can do this at the station or via a ticket agent. Be warned though, travelling on the trains can be a very crowded and stressful experience at times, but on the whole they are ok, and you do meet some very interesting and friendly people.

Mobile phone SIM cards.

You can pick up a SIM card at the airport when you arrive “providing your phone is unlocked from you network”, but this is not always the cheapest option as they try to sell you an expensive package. It’s better to wait and get one in town. Remember when getting a SIM card you will need your passport and a passport size photograph “I always carry a few on our trips” I got a SIM card from the mobile carrier Ideal. For 600 INR around £7.00. This gave me unlimited calls within india unlimited texts and 1gb of data daily for two months. A bargain don’t you think. Wish I could get a package as cheap as that in the UK. One thing worth mentioning is if you are travelling to different states within India sometimes the phone settings need to be changed, as you may loose your data ability “well my iPhone did”. If this happens just pop into a friendly mobile shop, there’s plenty of them, and they will sort you out without any fuss or cost “providing they can speak English that is”.

Oh well that’s all for now. Next stop Madurai and the Meenakshi Amman Temple