This morning we left Kaivalyam. As there were only 10 rooms, we met many of the other guests, a few of whom we may see in LA. Suresh was at the top of the road to meet us and we begin our long drive over the mountain range (Western Ghats) from Kerela to Tamilnadu. Suresh has his own version of Waze. He checked in with a friend who was on the road ahead of us and learned that there was a one to two hour delay due to roadwork. So we detoured, saved the time, then sat back as he skillfully maneuvered the steep, hairpin tours between areas of rockslides and stretches of unsaved road. At the top, we crossed the state border, left Kerela and entered Tamilnadu.
Kerala is the southwestern state in India. Tamilnadu is the southern most state. Malayalam is the language of Kerala and Tamal, the language of Tamilnadu. Kerala has been a great spice trade center since 3000 BC. Tamilnadu has been the home for the Tamils from as early as 500 BC and the Tamil language is said to be one of the oldest languages in the world. Tamil literature is at least 2000 years old. Kerala is the seat of Ayurvedic medicine. Tamilnadu is the home of Dravidian (original people of the region) style temples. Kerala’s literacy rate is as high as 94.59%. It is the higher than any other state in India. Although the literacy rate in Tamilnadu is not as high as in Kerala, the state of Tamilnadu has 10.56% of the total business enterprises in the whole of India. Kerala prides itself on acceptance and and harmony between Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. It will be interesting to see what that is like in Tamilnadu.
We sensed competition between the two. They are clearly different. Entering Tamilnadu, I felt like I was entering another side of India. Here there are cows on the streets, more evidence of Hindu culture, certainly in terms of the temples, and in general, less order. Politically, there appears to be much more corruption.
We drove through Madurai to the top of a hill at the edge of the city. There we found the Gateway Hotel. Turns out, it is one do the Taj Hotels (very fancy). It has 63 rooms now, but it was originally built as the residence for the Chief Executive Officer do JB Coats Ltd., in 1890. That would be the massive textile company. If you have ever bought thread, it was probably JB Coats. The place is so British that our American accents disappeared and we started describing everything as ‘quite lovely’.
We had tea and a light lunch there (way too expensive), met our guide for the afternoon and headed out to Madurai to see the palace. Called the Tirumalai Nayakar Mahal, it was designed by Italians, built, including the carvings, by Tamils In 1636. Today, only a portion of the palace remains, but what is left is awe-inspiring. there is a sound and light show every evening, and it must look great after dark. We were there during the day and it is evident that funds for historic sites are sadly lacking. The place is partially restored, but mostly in a state of neglect. The museum section is filled with beautifully carved stone deities, but only a few of the brass name plates remain. We were fortunate that we had a knowledgable guide with us. Then it was time to go to the temple.
We asked our guide to find us a tailor in the Marketplace just outside. He said his karma kept him from recommending anyone, but it happened anyway. Pinchas got a few shirts and I got something as well. The tailor said he would have the clothes delivered to our hotel.
The Sri Meenakshi – Sundareswarar Temple is on the banks of the Vaigai River, in the middle of the city. It is dedicated to Parvati who is known as Meenakshi and her consort, Shiva, named here as Sundareswarar. It forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old holy Hindu city built around this incredible huge temple.
There was a long line to get in, but somehow we were put in front of everyone and got through security relatively fast. It would have been quicker, but the woman security officer kept finding cell phones on Ronni, three to be exact! The temple was filled with men on a pilgrimage who walked miles to offer pranam, or prayer. We learned that they are only required to walk the last 7 miles, but we have been seeing them throughout our trip. Only Hindus are allowed into the inner sanctuary, under the gold dome, but we saw much of the central portion. I love that the temple grounds are a place for much more than prayer offerings. You can buy food for offerings. There are families settling in and unpacking food, people taking naps, and others just socializing. There are snacks for sale and souvenirs to buy.
Eventually we made our way out, said goodby to our guide and had dinner with Suresh at an outdoor restaurant. I pressed Suresh about where he stays and learned that he has been sleeping in the car. Ronni knew from her India trip last year, that all the guides sleep in their cars, but it makes all three of us uncomfortable.
When we got back to the hotel, the tailor’s delivery man was there to both give us our packages and to try to get us to buy additional ready-to-wear stuff from him. He was quite insistent, but we were tired of being hustled, annoyed and done for the evening.