12 Apr - 23 Apr 2011 Madurai

South Asia
Republic of Incredible India, the world's biggest democrazy
Tamil Nadu
Hotel Sri Deevi +914522347431
Double room with private balcony for INR 505.- or US$ 11.50 per night; matchless views over the western gopura from the hotel's roof-top terrace.

Click below for an interactive road map of the Sri Deevi Hotel in Madurai, which we would recommend, and for directions:

Exploring the touristy and chaotic city of Madurai which is famous for (i) its ceaseless round of festivals and processions, (ii) its profusion of busy markets and intriguing corners, and (iii) its squillion of street traders and open-air kitchens (where competing paratha-wallahs literally drum up customers for their delicious fresh breads with a tattoo of chopping knife/spatula-on-skillet signals) and discovering, by pure means of trial-and-error, the most effective countermeasure to immediately shut up any tourist-harassing tout, wannabe-guide or rickshaw coolie when simply answering their slimy sing-song attempts to get in touch with us ("Which country do you come from, my friend?”) with a short and brisk: "Izzzrrraelll!"

Circumambulating together with (i) the painted and decorated temple elephant in charge, (ii) a particularly cantankerous camel and (iii) many excited Hindu devotees the divine love-nest of Shiva and his consort Meenakshi, the mighty Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple, its 12 massive gopuram loaded with multicoloured mythological figures and crowned by golden finals, and being overwhelmed by an atmosphere largely unchanged since the time of the ancient Egyptians: (i) glittering market stalls inside the eastern entrance, (ii) endless rounds of ongoing puja ceremonies, (iii) loud music from nagaswarams (double-reeded, oboe-like wind instruments for which the Madurai area is particularly famous), thavils (barrel drums) and hand cymbals, (iv) ecstatic devotees prostrating themselves and (v) wandering holy cows (demanding the right of way with a peremptory nudge of the haunch).

Joining tens of thousands of zealous and excited Hindu devotees and taking part in Madurai’s colourful and exciting Chittirai Festival where all kind of icons from the temples and special movable images of the gods are taken out and lavishly clothed in silk and ornaments of rubies, sapphires, pearls, silver and gold, thus (i) witnessing goddess Meenakshi’s celestial wedding to god Shiva inside the crowded Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple (Thirukalyanam, on the 10th day), (ii) watching the procession where Meenakshi and Shiva travelled in fifteen-metre-high chariots, with giant wooden wheels, hauled in a clockwise direction through Madurai’s Masi streets by hundreds of devotees, all tugging on long ropes (Ther Thiruvizhah, on the 11th day), and (iii) sharing the disappointment together with flocks of devotees when god Vishnu, Meenakshi’s brother, who travelled to Madurai to give his sister away at the wedding, arrived on his golden horse too late only to find, on reaching the Vaigai river, that the ceremony had already occurred (Theppa Thiruvizhah, on the 12th day) - Grimm's Fairy Tales in India, ganz wunderbar!
“In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected."

Taking the crowded Southern Indian Railway’s passenger train, in “general class” for only INR 24.- or US$ 0.55 per person (from the “Guidelines to Passengers” on the back of our tickets: “It is dangerous to entrain or detrain a moving train...”), for the 161 km from Madurai to the sprawling commercial centre of Tiruchirapalli, usually referred to as Trichy, where Western tourists are still so rare that the friendly locals greet you on the street with welcoming handshakes.

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2011 Map Konni & Matt

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