A long long couple of bus trips down from the mountains. Dehydration is the norm because it is more comfortable than needing to go to the toilet when you just have no idea how many hours until you’ll next get a chance. Guys have it easier, as the bus drivers ocasionally stop in random places for a samosa or something.
Arriving late at night, dehydrated and tired makes for a hard slog. We eventually got a cheap room in a semi dodgy hotel that as it’s one redeeming feature was the tallest building next to the big temple we had come to town to see. A nice rooftop view convinced us to stay. We paid for the view in other ways, bug bites, room next to the incessant lift, etc Thems the breaks.
Back into city life was hectic. Tamil Nadu seems to have a different atmosphere to Kerala for sure, although staying on the beaten track to the temple probably didn’t help. Leaving the room encouraged a steady barrage of auto rickshaw, pedal rickshaw, “tour guides”, tailors, “tailors” aka. dealers, all crying. “Hallo. Hallo!” incessantly. Still you learn to blank or avoid them with practice.
The temple was stunning. Well the view from our roof was for sure. Actually going into the temple was a bit of a different story. It paints a different picture somewhat. You can’t help but be anything more than a tourist – and at a temple I have found that is plain uncomfortable. Sure it was nice to se inside some of it was stunning but was also depresing in ways I hadn’t imagined. The 16th C gopuram’s (gate towers) N,S,W, and E are amazing. The tallest buildings as far as the eye can see (bad karma I bet building higher!) adorned with over a 1000 fully painted and shaded statues of Hindu deities. They positively oozed energy. You can just about see them shimmering. The conecting walls and a lot of the internal structures are obviously built at a later time without the same care or attention to detail complete with ugly concrete things slapped together. What happened? At some point did they just stop caring? I can’t quite understand.
Then there are the temple elephants. Poor creatures taken from jungles and now living in stone temples. What fun. All for “religious purpose”. I can understand that they were the cranes and tractors that allowed the temples to be built in the first place, but miss the spiritual advancement gained but keeping them there now. Unles of course you consider the blessings they give pilgrims for a coin donation. So sad.
Then there is the rubbish. Even in a temple there is rubbish, sure it is not as much as outside but c’mon guys – what are you thinking? It is just more evidence in the reinforcement of the hindu caste system – and I have to say I don’t like it. The belief that someone else, some low caste invisible cleaner, will clean it up blows my mind (although it isn’t like bins are provided – again why?).
It is these low caste, dark skinned, hard working, humble (to an extreme) people who I seem to asociate with most. The smiles they give are so wide and genuine when we give notice to them with a wave and a head woble, it nearly breaks my heart. The true stength of India lies here I think.
Only fitting that we visit the Gandhi museum while here. A fascinating (if dilapidated) insight into independence form British rule and Gandhi’s life. As the icon of India so many of his beliefs have been taken up while others have been convieniently brushed under the carpet (caste, women, discrimination, environmental concerns, sustainability, etc, etc) all I can do is shake my head [again].
So Madurai was simultaneously impressive and maddening. A short stop in Trichy beckons… (or does it?)