Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tiruvannamalai, Gingee, and Chidambaram

In January, 2008 I took a trip to South India (Tamil Nadu and Kerala). I didn't have much of an agenda, just a guide book and a map with too many places circled in red ink. In the end, I headed southeast to Tiruvannamalai. 
(Click on image to enlarge)
Blessed by the temple elephant
Arunachaleswar Temple
Sir Ramana Ashram is also here and offers an oasis of calm. I was not prepared (though I'm from NYC) for the (apparent) chaos of even small Hindu cities.There are no traffic lights, stop signs, or rules really of any kind. A driver communicates his intentions by constantly tapping his horn. It all seems to work pretty well, but the noise is exhausting.
Gingee is a very nice side trip from Tiruvannamali.
View from the Queens Fort to the Kings Fort
If you are in or around Tiruvannamalai and need transportationI can highly recommend Anand Kumar. He drives a tuk tuk in town and will be your driver for the day, he charges very reasonable rates. He also has a Tata Ambassador (the standard taxi in India) very good for longer distance, I hired his taxi for a week with anexcellent driver (very important).
Tel 944-241-6444
A small temple on the road from Tiruvannamalai 
to Chidambaram
Nataraja Temple and tank
Temple sweeper
Thanjavur next ...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Vaitheswaran, Thanjavur, Rameshwawaren

I met two women, Beta and Niki, in Chidambaram
 and we traveled together for a few days. They wanted to stop in Vaitheswaran, a town famous for Nadi Josiyam, a form of astrology which includes, to put it crudely, fortune telling. (I abstained). As it turned out, it takes a really long time (4-8 hours) and is really REALLY expensive. Fortunately there was an interesting temple and small town for me to explore.
Typical Pongal (harvest festival) decoration
Thanjavur is known for its famous Brihadishwara 
temple and the Marath Palace, but you 
won't see them here.
Back on the Road
We came across this scene, driving through the country side: a grass hut village with a small open Christian church (one of the few in Tamil Nadu). The local people were lined up with their cattle to be blessed by the priest. This may also have been tied in with Pongal, their year-end harvest festival.
Cows in their Sunday best
A causeway connects the mainland to the island of Rameshwaram. The temple is dark and mysterious, but the pilgrims and Brahman priests are very welcoming. There is a lot of excitement and joy in the air.
Claimed to be a holy man on Dhanushkodi beach
Fishing village nearby
Some rakish lads we encountered on Dhanushkodi beach
Banyan tree with small temple
Next: Madurai, Kanakumari

Friday, January 25, 2008

Maduari and Kanyakumari

Back on the road from Rameswaram, we stopped for tea and met this woman who has the most amazing, and heavy, earrings.
Tree stump splitter
Another middle of nowhere wonder in India
These horses and soldiers remind me of the buried 
terracotta army in Xi'an, China. 
The statues surrounded a small temple.
Slowly returning to the earth.........
We arrived in Madurai; Niki and Beta had a flight  the next morning. Madurai is a large city with good hotels (where I had a banana split). Sir Meenakshi is a beautiful and well maintained temple complex. It is surrounded by shops filled with really exquisite jewelry, carpets, and scarves with starting prices to match. You had better know how to bargain (they do)!
Sir Meeknakshi Temple gopuram
Ceiling painting with Hindu angles
Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin)
At the very southernmost tip of India
 The temple is dark and I think that photography is forbidden. The area around the temple was littered with trash and was generally dirty, but the town, full of pilgrims, has a lively, festive feel. One full day is probably enough.
Pilgrims bathing
Drying saris
What can I say?
A quiet public tank a short walk from the beach
Next, Kerala