Tamil Tour Part 2

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Cardamom House
On the road in our Nandi, a very spacious minivan for the four of us, we made our way back into the foothills of Western Ghats, to Cardamom House, our next stop on the Tamil Tour.

We stumbled out of the minivan into an explosion of vividly pink flowers, green bushes and all manor of flora and fauna. The shelter of plant-life and the surrounding hills, folded Cardamom House into a comfortable cocoon of rustic bedrooms and patios. Everything about the place was peaceful and relaxing, the cane furniture and beautiful garden, the bright blue pool surrounded by sun loungers – the fact that meals were served to us at regular intervals in the day by charismatic (and at times sassy) waiters (one of whom was aghast that I had repudiated my gender role and not made my bed whilst the gentlemen were out – and wasn’t afraid to tell me). We took walks through the surrounding palm trees and Sam wrongly assumed that throwing a coconut at a peacock would make it show us it’s feathers.

In short, it was the perfect place to celebrate Michele’s birthday, with some deliciously tasty mango juice and rum, that tasted more like Mango than rum and hence more than a few glasses were raised to toast the big day. The waiter made up for his sexist slip by arranging the surprise of a beautiful birthday cake with party poppers to be brought after the meal – Happy Birthday Michele!

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Trichy
Trichy (Tiruchirappalli, hence the short name) is another large city in Tamil Nadu, with temples and the largest textile store in the South. We had a new guide Sudha, who as well as guiding us through the features of the temples, enjoyed snatching our cameras from us to take pictures that only he had the skill to capture. Unfortunately, the temples were covered and under construction, so we had to exercise our imagination as well as our patience with the snap-happy Sudha.

In the afternoon, after a traditional South Indian Thali (little bowls of different local curries with rice), we got lost in the textile store (Sam treated himself a man-sarong) and then climbed to a hill top temple with panoramic views of the city. The day was busy, and at the end we bundled into Nandi to be taken to our next stop Thanjavur, where we would be sleeping for the night.

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Thanjavur
Thanjavur – the home of temples, a palace and lots of chola bronze artefacts. It is also home to Tanjore-Hi, one of the most experimental hotels I have ever been in. It featured dark blue glossed walls and floors, and a futuristic, illuminated, x-Ray vision photo panel , the size of half the roof, suspended above our bed. But they really knew how to serve a good breakfast.

Sudha was back and better than ever, warning us away from the ill intentions of Hindu women that brushed arms with us (?) and single-handedly directing and coordinating a photo shoot, with vision that Mario Testino would have been proud of. The city temple was resplendent with high towers, bare stone carvings and beautifully peaceful gardens.

We visited the city palace and then confused the hell out of waiters in a restaurant by trying to ask if there were nuts in the thali, and just about every vegetable variety, and even cheese was mentioned before we eventually reached an understanding. We were all very relieved.

Thanjavur was a busy but pleasant place to walk around, and we enjoyed sharing our extensive curry knowledge with Sam’s parents over our evening meals and confusing yet more waiters with my nut allergy. After a busy day of tourist activities, we thoroughly enjoyed our company and playing card games together, before turning into our room to sleep under the sky of the glowing blue-light-x-Ray-modern-art and awoke feeling cultured to our very cells.

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Madurai: More than Just a (Huge) Temple

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Sam’s lovely parents came to India for a tour around Tamil Nadu and spoiled us rotten along the way. We managed to cover a lot of ground in 7 days, thanks to our huge white traveller minivan (otherwise known as Nandi – The bull Shiva rode on) and our faithful driver (otherwise known as Ganupatti).

Despite being a busy city, Madurai had the friendliness and authenticity to carry off the typical Indian craziness – unlike most big cities in India (and Madurai was the second largest city in Tamil Nadu, after Chennai(=Madras)). You had the huge fluorescent flashing billboards and huge Sony adverts raised high above the streets, but at ground level you could be pushed along with the crowds through fruit and flower markets, and watch as old Hindu men hitch up their dhotis (essentially a man-sarong, often thin and white) as they pick their way along the pleasantly dirty pavements.

The place felt very alive, much reflected through the huge functioning temple, Meenakshi, that draws more Hindu pilgrims than tourists. Not only are the four towers of the temple some of the tallest and most spectacular I’ve seen, they were also garishly painted multicolours. You are invited to witness the grandeur and spiritual displays of devotion alongside one another – a rarity for temples in India, when one often has to stumble around ruins and only imagine what used to go on inside. Here you could see for yourself women in colourful saris, heads on the stone floor in reverence and priests with bare chests and heads painted fill the cavernous multi-coloured passages with burning incense. In fact, I would never have been able to imagine the nightly ceremony that takes place, in which Shiva and Parvati (Hindu God and Goddess) are put to bed amid much chanting and frantically chasing after a casket, as it is carried through the temple complex and eventually put to bed by the priests. I’m not sure why we ran, but everyone else was running too, so it felt right – there was religious fervour in the air. We were all very much ready to be put to bed afterwards, as the ceremony ended late at night.

I haven’t even begun to describe our bed for the night. The hotel, owned by a famous and decadent Tamil Nadu jewellery chain, featured a towering atrium with a golden elevator rising up the centre, taking you past beautiful artwork and down carpeted corridors to a room thoughtfully decorated, with all the luxuries to make Sam and I forget all about the distant cold and misery of Kodaikanal. It even had a wonderful desk for me to spend most of the next day slaving away in preparation for a video interview and unfortunately missing out on another day in Madurai.

That evening we enjoyed staggering rooftop views of the city and the distant view of the four towers of the temple, mingling within the other high rise buildings comfortably (no buildings are allowed to be taller than the temple) and rounded off the day with a few drinks in an Apollo-13 themed bar. Yes, a bar decorated to look like the inside of a spaceship. When in India…

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