When from a distance, we spotted the monolith- that seats gracefully atop, with a weight of 800 tons, we knew we had arrived at the rice bowl of South India – located on the fertile delta land created by the river Kaveri- Tanjavur.
There are three Chola temples of Southern India representing an architectural conception of the pure form of the dravidian style- These temples are the Brihadeesvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. Our bus came to a screeching halt infront of the ‘BIG temple’ and a passerby guided us further. We stood right there in awe- gazing at the vast premises of the mighty- Brihadeesvaran temple.
Rajaraja named this temple as Rajarajesvaram and the deity Shiva in Linga form as Peruvudaiyar, the temple is also known in the deity’s name as Peruvudaiyarkovil.
The tallest temple tower in the world stands testimony to the Cholas’ love for art and fine engineering skills even in the iron age. It is believed that a ramp was laid from about six kms to facilitate the erection of the monolith Kalasa atop the tower. The walls of the corridor are adorned by fine paintings that were done with mixture of limestone and organic extracts. The temple walls have sculptures of numerous mythic animals which is the highlight of the Cholas’ temple architecture.
From there, we took an auto ride to Saraswathi Mahal. This is a very old library patronised by the Tanjavur rulers(functional even today). One can find some very old, rare & original copies of important manuscripts, scientific research publications etc. here.
Adjoining it, is the palace of the Marathas of Tanjavur. The palace is partially used as the residence of the descendants and remaining is converted into a museum.
Behind this building, is the art museum which houses the rare and the infamous bronze idols created during the Cholas. Cholas were the earliest people to use the lost wax technique to create the bronze idols.
Just outside the museum, we picked up a pair of Tanjavur dolls from the souvenir shop. These are colourful handcrafted models where the head is suspended on a pivot which gives a dancing/swinging movement to the doll.
From there, we took a local bus to Grand Anicut / Kallanai- the standing example of the engineering marvels constructed 2000 yrs ago by the Cholas(later modified by the British) which is the oldest functional water regulation structure in the world. It is a dam constructed with uneven stones / random boulders across the Kaveri with a desperate intention to divert the water before joining the sea so that it can be used for irrigation of the delta region. This dam divides the river into four streams known as Kollidam Aru, Kaviri, Vennar and Puthu. Later, the Lower Anicut/ Kollidam was constructed by the British before the water actually joins the sea.
From there.. Our journey continued… to another town of history………
We alighted the bus at a small junction which seemed like any other fishing hamlet. The bus conductor pointed to a small road to the right and guided us telling “one kilometer ahead is the fort”, and blew the whistle indicating the driver to proceed. My parents looked at my face blinking and I could sense that ‘Where are you taking us?’ question in their eyes.
We walked about half a kilometer and an old arch with finely done Danish art welcomed us to- The land of the singing waves- Tranquebar, the Danish port town also called as Tharangambadi in Tamil.
Super empty & super clean roads lined by old Danish buildings on either sides made us feel like we were walking in a different country..The Zion church, the Teresa’s convent school, the Danish governor’s bungalow etc.. finally lead us to the fort peacefully nestled on the calm shores of the Bay of Bengal. The moment we got a glimpse of the beach from the fort entrance, we got the link to the name of this quaint little place- Land of tranquil waters (air, land- read it anything that you want) – Tranquebar.
Tranquebar is still unconquered by the tourist radar. Since, the bungalow turned resort run by Tamil Nadu hotel is the only place to eat or stay for kilometers around, the place is not crowded at any point of time. Except for a handful of fishermen and couples countable on finger tips, it is all you strolling along the calm beach 🙂 This is by far, one of the BEST beaches I have been to along the east coast.
The well maintained fort is now converted into a museum where we got good information about the old port days. An important port between 1600s to early 1900s, the port walls now lie dilapidated, mostly washed away by the tsunami. There is Masilamaninathar temple on the shore, to which some mythological reference is made. The sculptures on the walls and the minaret have been damaged due to sea erosion.
There is nothing much to see around but being there for a few hours fills one’s mind with peace and tranquility. But, I must admit- It is THE PLACE to cuddle up and enjoy the pristine waters on a cool evening. Since, the visit was just a stop over in a long journey, we could not even get a place at the resort there in such short notice. All of us HAD to leave the place with a very very heavy heart asking for some more peaceful time 😦
This place is a DEFINITELY COME BACK for MORE – place on my list.. and I WILL go back for a long weekend. Just lazing around and getting lost in tranquility. Nothing else..!!
The weekend trip turned into certainty only when Madhu had the confirmed tatkal tickets in her hands after over an hour long wait in the queue at the station.. So the next day evening, the all girls’ trip started from cantonment station. We just had a small chit with a list up of places to see.. No room reservations, no other tickets booked.. Totally unplanned.. We wanted to explore 🙂
The train reached Madurai by 7.20.a.m and we freshened up at the station itself.. Left for Rameshwaram by TNSRTC bus which are quite frequent.. 3.5 hrs through and we passed Ramanathapuram- the last stretch of mainland India. We entered Mandapam, the entry point of the island town of Rameshwaram.. 15min further, we couldn’t contain our excitement as our bus was cruising over the bow shaped road bridge overseeing the infamous Pamban rail bridge 🙂 A very very warm welcome to the town that would host 100s of stories from the Ramayana in the next couple of days.. Once, we had safe landed at the bus stand, we registered ourselves at the tourist office that stood right opposite. We wanted to try our chance to get permission to the Kurusudai island. Our visit there did help us BIG time(indirectly though 😉 )
We walked towards the temple road, checked into a decent hotel, freshened up and headed to Sri Ramanathaswamy temple. Lord Sri.Ram is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Then, why is the city’s named after Eshwar? It is important to know atleast this while you are there in Rameswaram. Here goes the story.. Ravana, (a Brahmin) was a devotee of Lord Shiva(aka Eshwar). On performing prayers, he was blessed by Shiva such that- anyone who tried to harm Ravana would face Brahma dosha. During the war between Ram & Ravana, Ram(a Kshatriya) killed Ravana and happened to face the wrath of the dosha. He had to perform pooja to Shiva, the only one who could help him out of it. Here, Eshwar helped Ram. Thus, the name to the town- Rameshwar. There’s a similar story for a town called Ravaneshwar in Lanka 🙂 The world’s fifth largest monolithic Nandi statue guards the entrance of this temple.. Ok, thus said- We were overwhelmed to walk across the longest temple corridor in the world and felt blessed after bathing in the water from the 22 sacred wells on the temple. It was quite a tiring day due to a lot of traveling. We decided to sleep early as we had a long day tomorrow.
Next morning- it was Holi day- The festival of colours. We were sitting at the Agnitheertham beach at 4.30.a.m watching hundreds of devotees taking a holy dip in the sea. But, we were waiting for something else… We were waiting to welcome a day that would unfold with a palette of the best colours that nature could show.. We witnessed what is by far one of the best sunrises we had seen till date.
We boarded a bus from there to Dhanushkodi- The ghost city. Though this part was the most awaited part of the trip, it was a let down by the end.. 100Rs per head for a round trip of the deserted city can be done in 3hrs for a tourist. But, we wanted to explore.. This can be best done if you can drive down in a jeep all for yourself without having to abide by other fellow traveler’s convenience. The road stretch upto Dhanushkodi is to die for.. It is BEAUTIFUL….!! You can do and explore LOT MORE if you have a vehicle at YOUR own disposal..
A walk through the waters of the Bay of Bengal till the Kodandaramasamy temple is a must do.. The water level never goes above your knees. The Sethusamudram can only be visualised if you have a proper guide with you. On your way back, you can also cover Jada Theertham & Nambu Nayagiamman temple which are just a couple of kms before Dhanushkodi..
One hour down line the timeline.. We were back in the main town.. an auto guy charged us Rs.250 for a quick round of the places around the town. Gandaparvatham / Rama paadam is the highest point in the island town from where one can catch a good view of the scenery around. Also cover Sugreevar theertham(a small pond), Satchi Hanuman temple, Bhadrakaliamman temple, Rama theertham, Krishna temple, Lakshmana theertham, 5-faced Hanuman temple(The floating stones used for the construction of Rama Sethu can be seen here) are the other places of interest. Except the main temple, rest of the temples are all typically North-Indian in architecture.
And we enquired where Sita theertham was.. And to our dismay, the auto driver stopped at a small tank with stagnant green mosquito breeding water body.. “Damn..!! Male dominated Indian soceity…!!” I exclaimed. It was followed by a quick visit to former President, his honour; A.P.J.Abdul Kalam’s house which is now converted into a museum. We were done with local sight seeing by early evening. And we had a LOT of time till sunset.
We headed towards Pamban. Standing on the road bridge and peeking down at the train tug over the century old engineering marvel- Pamban is a sight not to be missed. Once done, we decided to stroll around the fishermen’s village just across. We got some good clicks of the Pamban from the boat jetty. My eyes fell on the light house a few mts across the village. We asked for directions and reached there in less than half and hour’s time while we tagged along some new friends- from the fishermen’s cove. The kids were excited to converse in English with us as we did look foreign to the. Once near the lighthouse, we further walked down to the sea shore from where we got a sight to behold. We settled down there under the shade of a mangrove tree until sunset.
It was soon dark and we had to head back to the temple road for a safer crowd. We bought some peanuts masala from the vendor on the seahsore and found a comfortable seat for ourself to catch some peaceful time. It was a full moon night.
We saw the faint horizon emerge out from the pitch darkness of the sky that brightened into broad daylight with a series of colour change and then the white sky fade into the black of the night’s sky… And again the night’s sky being lit up by the beautiful full moon… Yes.. We witnessed one COMPLETE day… 🙂
Day 3: We had to check out early and catch the 8.00.a.m bus from Akka Madang to Vivekananda memorial hall. Our boat was waiting for us with the guide to take us to totally another world- World of exotic marine animals- ‘the Kurusudai island‘. This place needs a more elaborate presentation and hence, will be done in my next post. to sum up here- “A MUST VISIT”. From there, we got dropped at the Pamban boat jetty.. Our motor boat was anchored somewhere amid hundred other boats and hence, we had to walk across to the shore. This walking experience was unique in its own way as you don’t get such a sight in any other boat jetty. Also, every step had to be placed carefully so that you may not accidentally step on the in-numerous star fishes or sea cucumbers and kill them.
We walked further up to the Pamban railway station and bought our tickets to the 12.00.O’clock train to Madurai. And soon the train arrived. We boarded and our hearts were pounding hard with excitement.. And MY My… An experience of a lifetime.. the train journey over the historical Pamban bridge on its 100th year of existence.. couldn’t ask for more..!!!
In 4 hrs, we alighted at Madurai junction… But, yeah I was wondering how everything went so fine through the entire trip.. And the surprise was waiting for us at the station- our train to Bangalore would arrive 3hrs late.. and what followed is.. history.. 🙂
May be the coconut trees lining the coastal line abundantly and the rhythmic beats of the infamous drums resonating in the air…. And maybe the SUVs & MUVs that underwent the brutal checkup by me during my so called ‘Business trip’….. These surely made my visit to this little silent capital city an AWESOME one 🙂
A city of Trees & Vans & Drums put together…… Trivandrum it is..!!
A morning flight from Bangalore landed at Trivandrum airport by 09.30 a.m. The car was waiting for us outside which drove us past a fishing hamlet enroute to our workplace.. Fishing dories anchored, fishermen carrying their day’s catch, the blue sea water reaching to the horizon and a lovely lady’s figurine sculptured by the Shangamughan beach.. Further, as we crossed the toll road and drove across a bridge through the by-pass road, we were greeted by the backwaters dotted by the houseboats.. Such a warm welcome to the city..:)
And ofcourse, we began working without wasting much time… And definitely did not miss a chance to drive around the city as a part of the check-up routine 😉 In the evening was the much anticipated part of the trip- Tagged as the richest temple in the country – Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple visit it was .. For all the hype and media space grabbed by this temple, I had expected a BIG crowd of tourists(Not Pilgrims), fussy Godmen, lot of petty shops dotting the walkway selling pooja items etc.- A common sight at any of the famous temples in India.. But, totally contrary to it- This is one of the BEST temples I have EVER been to.. According to me- ‘A temple is a place where one has to feel GOD with PEACE’. And this place stands out for just that..!! A strict dress code and prohibited entry for non-hindus, a stringent adherence to the temple rules, limited crowd, silent ambience, an eyeful of the darshan of the massive idol lit by mere oil fed lamps- The place has not given up its sanctity to all the attention its hidden wealth has grabbed.. I’m really not a pious or a temple person- But this place is truly commendable 🙂
Later, we visited the old wooden museum inside the Puthenmalika / Kuthiramalika Palace just outside the temple premises.. This was built by the erstwhile Travancore kings.. A damn nice place for the art lovers 🙂
Day 2 : We started work early hoping to finish it early so that we can do a little bit of city trotting before we board our return flight.. And as per schedule, we were done with work by afternoon.. We shopped for some local crafts at SMSM institute crafts emporium.. We walked through the narrow lanes to one of the biggest shops that is all for ‘CHIPS’ – ‘The Mahachips store’.. Edible chips of different varieties made to order and packed just then.. I picked up about 10kgs of banana chips & jackfruit chips- something that will be much awaited for back home in Bangalore, even more than my safe return 😉
Just before sunset, we reached Covalam beach.. We walked upto the Vizhinjam lighthouse for a good view of the beach- it turned out to be a treat to the senses 🙂
A stroll along the crowded beach, beautiful view of the sunset, some yummy local chaats to munch on.. Indeed an awesome end to an eventful business trip 🙂
Don’t miss to try 3 things while you are in Trivandrum:
1. Fresh banana & jackfruit chips and halwa
2. Hot palam puri with a cup of burning hot Kerala tea
3. Frog thigh fry (available only in select places)
If not a business trip, one could cover all these places in a day and combine it with a day trip to Kanyakumari- the southern-most tip of mainland India.
There is no existence of a place without the people, And with civilisation exists the culture. Madurai has its own share.. Here goes the list:
* The temple arts- the sculptures on the temple towers and the wooden vahanas used to carry the idols.
* Handicrafts- accessories used for decorating Devi idols to made of delicate sequins, etc.
* Mural paintings from the Pandyan era adorning the temple walls
Breakfast – Idly & Sambar, Pongal + a cup of filter coffee
11.00.a.m – Jigarthanda(more like a combination of falooda & kulfi)
Lunch- Puliyogare @ the temple store, curd rice, Sambar rice(similar to Bisibele bath)
4.00.p.m.- Karupatti(palm sugar) coffee
Dinner- Anything after 7.00.p.m is called meals.
Must try is the ghee roast & rava Masala dosa
Jigarthanda – A roadside vendor
* Sarees for women & Dhotis for men
* Madurai cotton sarees with simple prints and zari borders with temple designs are famous
Among the locals- particularly those belonging to the Thevar cast, it is believed that women are prettier with bigger earlobes. Hence, the girl child born in this community is made to wear a particular traditional earring called the ‘Thandatti’ when she is young. Each piece of this weighs 27 gms and is made of gold. This is particular to Madurai. The thandatti is said to evoke the 3 levels of our world: terrestrial, astral and divine and these levels are associated with Mandala.
A Thevar woman wearing the traditional Thandatti earring
Shopping at Madurai is all about wholesale vendors… and there are specified streets for each of them.
* Cotton sarees/ dress materials- shops are all around the temple complex
* Steel utensils- plastic beads & girls’ accessories, gold plated imitation jewelery to name a few.
* Pooja related accessories & crafts- particularly inside Pudumandapam
* Varieties of plantains / bananas and green groceries among the others.
A brief intro to a city full of life and activities.. Justice yet to be done..
Signing off with a hope that it has helped someone somewhere in some form who is seeking for some info on this Pandyan city….
An overnight bus journey took us to Madurai at 6.00.a.m.
We found a decent lodge to stay for the day-freshened up there and left for the main part of the trip- The Meenakshi temple- An abode of the Pandyan architecture. The entire temple complex is fortified by walls with 4 entrance towers at 4 directions. The sculptures on each of these towers are out of the world. Once inside the complex- you start to wonder which world of wonder you have stepped into.. It took us about 3-4 hrs to finish our rounds admiring this place of beauty and also get blessed with the darshan of Meenakshi Amman and Lord Sundareshwaran. There are a lot of stalls inside the complex selling various handcrafted articles.
The temple art museum within the same premises is a must visit. There are 1000 pillars- all decorated with rare pieces of sculpture. The dim light used for each pillar adds up to the beauty of the place.
A small walk through the narrow lanes took us to the Thirumalai Nayyakar Mahal built in the 16th century. Fine architecture with elegant paintings on the roofs and vaults is neatly presented in a simple combination of off-white and velvet red colour combination. There is sound and lights show every evening conducted here. However, we could not make it.
The interiors of Thirumalai Naickar Mahal
We took a local bus to Vandiyur. This is where the annual event of the famed Teppotsavam / Float festival takes place to celebrate the birthday of King Thirumalai Nayak in January. This tank is supposedly the biggest of its kind in the state. With the float festival just 2 months away and monsoon season just passing by- this tank still remains dry. When enquired how the event is going to take place in a dry tank, we were told that the water will be fed in January from the Vaigai river through artificially laid underground channels. This is truly amazing how such a concept was laid way back in 16 century. But, for a new-commer, the dried lake is an eye sore as it is used as a watering hole by many vandals.
Another bus from there to Periyar and a small walk from there through the stinking / dirty by-lanes, we reached the Koodal Alagar temple. A quick pooja and a walk around the temple was a nice boost up. The architecture here too is similar to that of Meenakshi temple.
We had to rush to The Gandhi museum as it would close by 6.00.p.m. However, we could not make it on time. This was once called the Tamakkum palace of Rani Mangammal. Today, the museum supposedly houses 14 artifacts used by Gandhiji including his sacred ashes and blood stained dhotis. Gandhiji is said to have visited the city 5 times.
So next we headed back towards our lodge just infront of the temple;s west gate. But, on the way- we checked into Pudumandapam. This is a 1000yrs old shopping mall- supported by huge sculpture rich stone pillars. The stalls are occupied with tailors, handicrafts vendors, wholesale dealers of pooja related and general Ladies’ accessories. A good place for shopping traditional aritifacts at Madurai.
We took a local bus from Periyar bus stand to travel 21kms to reach Alagar Kovil- the temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu- Meenakshi’s brother. The village is surrounded by an old fort wall, gives a good view of the green hills around the temple. The architecture is similar to Koodal Alagar temple in the city.
A trek of 3kms uphill though green forests and monkey infested walkways leads you to the Murugan temple. It is one among the six abodes of Lord Murugan and hence important among the pilgrims. A walk of half a kilometer further uphill leads us to Pazhamudhir Solai temple. A temple dedicated to Goddess Rakkaya exists close to a natural spring called Nuburagangai here where the devotees take a holy bath. But strange & probably the only temple I have ever been to where there is an entry fee into the temple itself. This is where the famed Chittrai festival is observed during the month of April.
From there, we took the next bus back to Periyar from where we had to take a bus further to Tiruppanakundram. This is a cave temple at the foothills of a rock hill. It is believed that Lord Murugan was wedded to Devyani, daughter of Indra at this place. Hence, this is also counted one among the 6 abodes of Lord Murugan. Up the hills is the Dargah of Hazrat Sultan Sikandhar Badushah shaheed Radiyallah Ta’al anhu. Owing to time constraint and exhaustion, we thought of skipping the climb.
Other lesser known places we skipped due to time constraints were the Kazimar mosque and Goripalyam Dargah.
At the centre of the city is the Kattabomman junction- This is where a part of the old Madurai fort exists. Today this is not more than a public library.
I don’t do this usually, but would make a special mention about the streets of Madurai. Every street in the city has a history behind it: This link to an article from “The Hindu” explains it all- ‘Where moats made way for motorways’
It was Sunday morning and our trip was fixed: to cover Belur, Halebeedu and Shravanabelagola.
I prefer to write less in this as I choose the pictures to speak for themselves..One among the very few well maintained monuments in Karnataka- The Hoysala Style of architecture is a treat for the art-buffs.
We started at around 6.00.a.m from Bangalore to Belur in a KSRTC bus. Then to Halebeedu in a local bus. Then to Channarayapatna from where we took KSRTC to Shravanabelagola.. And back to Bangalore in KSRTC.
Shantala- the wife of King Vishnuvardhana was so mesmerised by the Sculptures of the dancing ladies carved here in different postures, that she used to dance with these Madalikes or ShilaBalikas in her dreams.
Hoysalas founded their dynasty with Belur as the capital initially. Later, the capital was shifted to Halebidu.
This is one of the most important pilgrimage places for the Jains. Also, this is considered to be the largest monolithic stone statue in the World. ShravanaBelagola has 2 hills- Chandragiri and Vindhyagiri. The statue is on the Vindhyagiri hill.
The Gomateshwara Statue
A view from the Vindhyagiri hills
getting lost in traveling through places and time…