It’s hard to believe but after almost two weeks in Kerala, we didn’t see or visit a single temple. So time to see some temples and there are plenty in Tamil Nadu!
We took the train from Trivandrum to Madurai and left behind Kerala. The train took quite long and was delayed so it was already past midnight when we arrived to Madurai. In a few days we would be flying out of Madurai to Sri Lanka. But before our flight we had some time to explore some cities near Madurai.
The first stop on our short Tamil Nadu adventure was Trichy, also known as Tiruchirappali. From Madurai we took the train in the late morning, only a few hours after we arrived the night before. The train ride was about 3 hours and beautiful! We couldn’t make a reservation for this train so we had just ordinary second-class seating but it was fine and not too crowded.
Mum and toddler on the train to Trichy
Trains in India are loooong
We arrived in the afternoon and found a hotel near the train station and bus station in a part of town called Trichy Junction. Trichy is quite a big city and has around 860,000 inhabitants. The rest of the afternoon we didn’t do too much as we were pretty tired from two train rides within 24 hours. We did find our first working ATM since the 500 and 1000 rupee bills were scrapped, so that was an accomplishment. The maximum we could take out was 2000 rupees (EUR27), though so not much, but enough for at least a day or two.
The next morning, it was sightseeing time! In Kerala we didn’t visit any temples so it was about time that we saw some temples. Trichy Junction is not near any of the main attractions but well connected by bus (bus number 1 to make it easy). I love taking the local bus as you don’t have to haggle with a rickshaw driver and still overpay and you get to see the real local life. The first stop was the Rock Fort Temple, a temple, as the name suggest, on top of an 83m high rock. It was more a temple complex and many of the temples on the way up to the small temple on top of the rock were not open for non-Hindus, but there was still plenty to see and it was a nice climb up. At the entrance we were greeted by the temple elephant and nearly at the top of the rock, we saw many monkeys and eagles.
Entrance to the Rock Temple
Monkeys and the temple elephant
The last climb up to the temple
The view from the top of the rock
Once we were down at street level again, we hopped back on bus 1 to the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, described as quite possibly the biggest temple in India. It’s such a large complex; it feels a bit like a mini-city. It has 49 separate shrines that are all dedicated to Vishnu. When we got off the bus it was just chaos and a Saturday was probably not the best day to visit this very popular temple. There were just people, cows, dogs, rickshaws, mini-vans, taxis, cars, bicycles and motorbikes everywhere. To get to the main part of the temple, you have to pass through seven gopurams. These are high towers, often very colourful, decorated with gods. The first gopuram you pass through is one of Asia’s highest with 73m. All the traffic, people and cows have to pass through the gopurams as well and I was convinced a few times that we would be crushed as the tunnels were so narrow. But we made it and from the fourth gopuram onwards, it’s people, and bicycles (and some cows and dogs) only. Once inside the temple it was so peaceful and quiet, the difference with the outside world couldn’t have been bigger. We walked around for a bit and admired all the beauty inside the complex and watched people making their offerings and doing their rituals. After a while we were ready to face the craziness outside again. We jumped back on the bus to Trichy Junction, grabbed our bags at the hotel and walked to the bus station to get on another bus to go to Thanjavur that evening (only 1 hour away).
Chaos on the way to the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
Thanjavur is a much smaller city than Trichy so we thought it would perhaps be a bit less busy and chaotic, well we were wrong. It’s very compact so even though there are less people it seems that they all live in the same area so it was very busy in the centre. We arrived in the early evening from Trichy and only left the hotel for some dinner and to try and find and internet café where the internet worked and an ATM that worked. We didn’t find either of them…
The next morning we visited the UNESCO World-Heritage listed Brihadishwara Temple. This temple was built between 1003 and 1010 during the Chola period. It was very busy at the temple with almost only local Indian tourists and very soon Harry was a big attraction. He had to feature in a lot of selfies and group pictures. The temple itself was really impressive and big. To see the main shrine, we queued up with the locals for about 30 minutes and were rewarded with a 2-second glimpse of I think Shiva, but it was too short really to even see inside. So I felt a bit sorry for all the pilgrims who travelled from all over India to see this and then only get 2 seconds. But they all seemed to be ok with that.
Harry the celebrity of Thanjavur
Me at the Brihadishwara Temple
People exiting the main temple
Statue of Nandi, Shiva’s bull. Carved out of a single rock.
After the temple visit we went for some lunch. We were at a very local place where they gave us menus but when we ordered it turned out they only served one dish, a Thali. This is in South India normally served on a banana leaf and just means you get a lot of small dishes with rice and sometimes a chapati. Everything on the banana leaf was super spicy so I really struggled and only ate the rice and the chapatti. When the staff asked me very concerned what was wrong, they gave me some curry that was less spicy and very nice. After lunch we went to the Royal Palace, which is described as a must-see while and Thanjavur and quite impressive. What a disappointment! I think it’s the worst 200 rupees per person we’ve spent so far in India on entrance fees (especially when cash is an issue in India at the moment). I would not describe it as a palace, at least not as any of the other palaces I have ever seen in India, but more as a collection of bigger than normal houses that have fallen apart and are in very bad condition. Some parts of the ‘palace’ you even had to buy a separate ticket for on top of the main entrance ticket. A lot of the sections in the palace were closed off and not open to visitors (even signs say that they are open to visitors) and the only interesting part was the very small Sarawasti Mahal Library Museum where very old and interesting books from all over the world were displayed. Some even in Dutch! All in all though, I really don’t know why it is even a recommendation online and in guide books… At least we got a good bit of exercise done walking there and back to the hotel.
The next day we took a train in the afternoon back to Madurai. There we no reserved seats so the first part we had to stand but later we could sit. I was sitting with a family of 8 or so and Harry found a seat somewhere else in the carriage. At one point one of the women in the family started cutting up an apple and offered me a piece. Rule number two for not getting Delhi belly, after don’t drink the tap water, is not to eat any fruit you can’t peel or that has been washed in purified water. This apple had been lying on the floor of the train most of the ride and now I was offered a piece. I politely declined but the piece of apple was placed on my knee in case I wanted to have it later… So I ate it anyhow but tried not to eat the skin. In return I offered them biscuits, which they only ate half of, I think they might never had one before. Luckily I survived eating the apple and never got sick.
Station signs in India look like Underground signs in London
Around 6pm we arrived back in Madurai and we decided to treat ourselves during our last days in India before heading to Sri Lanka and splurged a little bit on the hotel. Not only did the hotel have a nice, clean and big room, hot water, A/C, a big bed with clean sheets and hundreds of channels on TV, it also allowed us to pay everything by card, even the food in the restaurant next door. Cash was still a problem as we couldn’t find anymore working ATMs after the one in Trichy, so paying by card was essential.
In Madurai we didn’t do much for the next two days, we enjoyed the movies on TV and the ‘luxury’ hotel. We did try to go and see the Meenakshi Amman Temple but it was closed for the afternoon, Harry went up a rooftop and saw it, I had seen enough temples in the last few days so didn’t see it… And we spent half a day finding an ATM that was working and finally we walked past one being filled up so we queued up for about an hour and managed to get the maximum daily limit of 2000 rupees in 100 rupee notes. We didn’t use cash anymore before going to Sri Lanka, but we thought it would be good to get it while we could so when we returned from Sri Lanka and there were still cash problems, at least we had some cash to survive for a day or two.
Meenakshi Amman Temple seen from the rooftop
Queueing for the ATM, find the bald head sticking out
The next morning we took a taxi to the airport and we flew to beautiful Sri Lanka. All about our Sri Lankan adventures in my next update! In the meantime, check Polarsteps to see where we are from day-to-day.