February 18 and 19, 2017
Accommodations: BG Residency 1350INR + 15%tax (bookings.com)(thought I should start showing the tax as it adds up). We were only able to book a Deluxe Double for our first night and they gave us the same room for our second night at the regular Double price so we wouldn’t have to move. Great location, close to the temple; great room (clean, modern, lots of electrical outlets, biggish flat screen, good WiFi, super bathroom).
Transportation: We travelled by bus from Munnar. The usual exciting mountain roads; wonderful landscape – especially coming down out of the mountains onto the sudden flat plain. We transferred buses in Theni. Got let off in some obscure spot by the river in Madurai. Then ripped by an auto-rickshaw driver taking us to our hotel (150INR for a maybe 50-75INR ride; said his name was ‘James Bond’ – watch out for him). Our auto-rickshaw out to bus station on edge of town cost us 150INR, (the correct price).
Food: The restaurant below BG’s provided a great Indian breakfast (free with the room): lots of it and tasty. Plus we got to watch their chai wallah at work. Ate twice at the Hotel Supreme’s rooftop Surya Restaurant: excellent dosas, great view of the Meenakshi Temple and a nice evening breeze.
We visited Madurai for a couple of reasons: it made sense in terms of breaking up our trip to Pondicherry and, best of all, we saw the Meenakshi Temple. The Meenakshi Temple is one of the best examples of Dravidian architecture in India. All the towers (gopurams) feature ornate, highly coloured carvings of celestial and animal figures. The South Tower, the highest, is 50m tall. We first saw the towers from the Hotel Supreme’s rooftop restaurant and then walked to the temple as the sun set. The pedestrian streets around the temple were packed. We spent some time wandering through the amazing Puthu Mandapam, the ancient, pillared former eastern entrance hall to the temple, now a bazaar. It felt timeless walking the narrow aisles, surrounded by the dusty old pillars and sculptures. The florescent and LED lights don’t even detract from the timeless quality. Here tailors work at old sewing machines making garments, bags, scarves etc. I ordered two shirts that first evening and picked them up the next day. I haggled a bit but was happy to have two handmade shirts from such an atmospheric place. Sue bought numerous bags as the prices and quality were so good.
We visited the temple the next day. Warning: you can take your mobile phone in and use it as a camera (for 50INR) but otherwise cameras are prohibited (which means most of my photos of the temple interior are on my Instagram feed in the sidebar). We entered via the Eastern gateway, the traditional way to enter, passing through the long, high-ceiling hallway lined with vendors stalls. We then saw the Meenakshi shrine, with its splendid gold covering glowing in a ray of sunshine. We stopped at the Pond with Golden Lotus to sit and watch the crowds pass by and then walked the inside perimeter through the long, wide, high halls. The peace and quiet, especially after the hubbub of the city streets, saturated our souls. Apparently the temple is so constructed as to deaden sound. We couldn’t enter any of the inner sanctums but had brief, tantalizing glimpses of the Hindu crowds inside. Finally we visited the Hall of 1000 Pillars which houses an art museum, filled with sculptures of deities. We returned later in the day to once again walk around the outside of the temple, viewing the high towers and enjoying the street life.
It was hot and dusty when we visited Madurai. Although there are other sights to see we just didn’t have the energy. We retreated to our hotel in the afternoon and had refreshing showers and a break before returning to the streets around the temple. We did a bit of shopping, both in the old bazaar and also at an official khadi (homespun material following Gandhi’s principals) shop where we bought more scarves and fabrics. Sue also found another beautiful tunic top in a multi-storied garment store near the temple.
Despite the crowds thronging the temple (it receives 15,000 visitors daily, 25,000 on Fridays) we enjoyed our time in Madurai. Despite warnings about auto-rickshaw drivers scamming for business we seldom felt hassled and most touts accepted a firm ‘no’. And having such a comfortable room made our stay all the more pleasent!