February 20 -21, 2017
Accommodations: Hotel Valli; 770INR/night + tax (bookings.com). Kind of a strange hotel; David Lynch might use it for a film. Located at the end of a lane inhabited by metal works and welding shops. Large and sprawling but very few guests. Looks like its heyday was back in the 60s or 70s. Clean enough but faded. Slightly musty smell in the room. Friendly staff who seem petrified of their manager (owner?). Close to train station.
Transportation: We arrived in Thanjavur from Mandurai via state bus. Comfy enough for the few hours we were on it. Some nice stretches of tree-lined road broke up the hot and dusty delta plains. Once in a while we hit divided highway, or smooth asphalt, but much of the trip was on secondary highways.
Food: We ate reasonably priced breakfasts at the hotel. Our favourite spot, however, was Bombay Sweets which not only featured a bakery but excellent meals at good prices. Spotlessly clean and with great service it was a busy place. Once again I was bowled over by a thick, tasty lassi.
Thanjavur won out over Tiruchirappalli as part of our leap-frogging to Pondicherry because we could pronounce its name. Just kidding. We actually were going to go to Trichy (as it’s known) but then a couple we met in Munnar recommended Thanjavur because of its World Heritage designated Brihadishwara Temple which celebrated its 1000 anniversary in 2010. Unlike the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai the ‘Big Temple’ (as it’s known) has little colour. The huge complex, built of granite, is stunningly monochromatic. The towering vimana is 66m, built over the inner sanctum. Although a functioning temple we could have entered the inner sanctum but chose not too (I feel intrusive as a non-Hindu agnostic). However, just walking through the entrance hallway to the sanctum felt very special. We felt very peaceful as we walked around the temple and its grounds, in part because there were few people, but it’s so big it’s easy to find one’s own space (mostly in the shade!). The large Nandi sculpture, carved from one piece of stone, created its own big patch of shade.
We also visited the Thanjavur Royal Palace, a fading structure but with the enthralling Saraswati Mahal Library (one of the oldest in Asia) and many rooms filled with ancient sculptures. Our first stop was its cinema to watch a short film. The best part was the ten a/c units mounted on the walls blasting out cool cool air! We considered staying for a second viewing of the film. The library museum, the only part of the library open to the public, featured some remarkable books handwritten on palm leaves and some intricate, miniature works. Also on display were bizarre physiognomy prints by Charles LeBrun which compared the faces of various animals to those of humans (with great exaggeration).
Although the temple was magnificent and we were glad we’d stopped in Thanjavur, the heat, dust and loud honking of vehicles was getting to us. We spent some time figuring how to get out of town and on our way to Pondicherry. Eventually we decided on the train as the best option. We shall see…