#17 Madurai and Trichy, India

We got up in time to take a 7AM bird-watching walk with a member of the staff who’s official title is “Green Butler” and who has become the resident naturalist.  He has been working for the hotel for 7 years and knows where to look for every bird in the area. With the “Birds Of South India” book and a pair of binoculars, we set off to walk around the property. He is working on clearing paths, restoring an overlook the British once used, and establishing a butterfly garden. He has been studying the caterpillars to figure out which one belongs to which butterfly. He identified plants and their uses and reminded us of a story Ragesh told us earlier in Kerela. There is a low-growing plant that recoils when touched. Commonly called the “shy plant”, it stays recoiled for about 15 minutes. Turns out the Viet Cong used it to track American Troops.

Anyway, we were so impressed with this guy’s initiative. With the support of the hotel’s manager, he created this position and is working to develop it as part of the hotel program. Ronni wrote a glowing recommendation and left it for the manager as we checked out.

Our next stop was the Srirangam Vishnu temple in Trichy. Suresh found us a very good local guide who took us through the grounds. It is considered the first, and most important of the 108 main Vishnu temples. Just to keep us all confused, this temple is also known as Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Periyakoil, Bhoologa Vaikundam, and Bhogamandabam. It is enormous, covering 156 acres, with seven prakaras or enclosures formed by thick, huge, rampart walls which surround the gold-covered sanctum. There are 21 towers and the Entire complex lies on an islet between two rivers. We saw all this, standing on the rooftop of one of the buildings. It was a great way to get an idea of the scope of the Temple.

Again, we became the object of many photo shoots. I’m sure there are more Indians taking pics of us, than we take of them. Part of it just might be that Ronni and I are dressed like many of them, which probably brings them endless amusement. After one group encouraged their children to pose with us, they insisted on sharing their lunch with us. We tasted two dishes, one savory, one sweet, then saw the outdoor stalls where the food was cooked, served, and sold.

We had lunch in town on our way to the Rockfort Temple. Lunch was typical South Indian – banana leaf plates, no utensils. What stood out were the squatting, hole-the-floor toilets, (not the problem in themselves ) up under the rafters of the building – dark, dank, low ceiling, and, by any standards, horrible. Ronni and I declared ourselves totally initiated.

Then we climbed the 1000 steps to the Ganesh (Rockfort) temple. On the way up, there are carved out rooms, one of which serves was being used as a study hall. A group of women were chanting in Tamil. We learned that the people of Tamilnadu pride themselves on restricting themselves to speaking only Tamil. They learn no other dialects so cannot speak Hindi or Malayalam, or any other languages. Many have some English skills, but that depends on where we are in Tamilnadu. Again, a huge departure from the culture of Kerela.

The temple itself is small, and at the top of the rock. access is through steep steps carved into the rock, mostly in an ascending tunnel, then the last part is outside and has stunning views of Trichy. From the very top, eagles soar at eye level. The only tourists we encountered there was an Indian couple from Australia. They made the point that this spectacular place should be world renowned, but sits here in relative oblivion. The temple is maintained by the Archaeological department of India.

We left the temple and walked back to the car. On the way, we almost bought yogurt shakes, but they were using ice chips so we politely declined. I think most do the venders understand. I hope so.