|Sri Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, viewed from our balcony|
As we have alluded to many times before, often times the quality of our accommodation can make all the difference to the length of our stay. By quality we don’t mean that it has to be 5-star luxury (come on, we’re backpacking on a budget!), although if someone were to offer that to us at 1-2 star prices, that would be great! A clean, insect-free room is a good starting point. Add a good sized room, preferably with a bed that all of us can fit on, an en-suite big enough to have a shower in without needing to sit on the toilet at the same time, and now we’re talking. Extras like a small table and chair, a window or two or even better yet, a balcony with a view, and we might just stay a while. Oh, and air conditioning is a must too. We’ve been lucky quite a few times on our trip so far, with memorable accommodation in Sanur and Amed (Bali), Chiang Mai (Thailand), Siem Reap and Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Mui Ne and Cat Ba Island (Vietnam), Pagapud (Philippines), and in Trinco and Arugam Bay (Sri Lanka) as well as in Mamallapuram and Kodaikanal (India). And we got lucky again in Madurai, and ended up staying longer than originally intended.
When we first arrived in Madurai after our 3.5hr bus ride from Kodaikanal, we had a really difficult time finding a room—we found many hotels were actually full. Eventually we settled on a very over-priced, small windowless room and started to get organised to see what we needed to see then to leave as soon as we possibly could. But the next day while walking around, we enquired at another nearby hotel and found IT. IT was a good sized room on the rooftop with a huge balcony and incredible views over the must-see Sri Meenakshi Temple. That was the deal-maker—the balcony. Travelling with pre-schoolers, we usually are in for the night from about 7pm-ish onwards as we try to have the girls in bed around 7:30pm. Having a balcony to sit out on and in this case, to observe the comings and goings of the people on the streets down below in addition to admiring the temple, is great nightly entertainment. In India particularly, after the heat of the day passes and the sun has gone down is when the activity on the street really picks up. Well after 10pm, we observed bicycle rickshaw drivers peddling huge loads of goods, while others tried to stuff their boxes of goods into the backs of tuk tuks and others still were walking around on foot.
|View from our balcony|
|Breakfast on our balcony at Hotel Sree Deve|
It gets hot here in Madurai during the day, although every now and then a refreshing breeze blows in. Unfortunately if you happen to be on the street at that time, it also means that you get a face full of dust (it certainly is not as clean as Pondy). Escaping to the ‘tourist attractions’ can be a great alternative. Madurai is known as the City of Temples, and the star attraction is the Sri MeenakshiTemple, said to be to the south what the Taj Mahal is to the north. It covers 6 hectares of land right in the heart of the city, with 12 gopurams (gates) defining the various maze-like inner sanctums. At first glance, we thought it would not compare to the imposing Sri Ranganathaswamy temple inTrichy. But the 1000 Pillared Hall really took our breath away, and some of the other inner temples which we were allowed to visit (the very inner most sanctums are restricted to Hindu devotees only) were very impressive as well. And no temple visit is complete without a blessing from the temple elephant. The girls cautiously waited for the elephant to inhale their Rs5 note (he then exhales it back out to the mahout/trainer), then he anointed each of them on the head.
We also toured the other ‘must-see’ attraction in Madurai, the Tirumalai Nayak Palace, which dates back to 1649. As soon as we entered through the doors, the Celestial Pavillion (aka Swargavilasa) presented itself right before us, and the sight was extremely impressive with its many huge columns and scale. (They also have a Sound and Light Show in the evening which tries to re-enact for you what it was like here in its day.) Further back from that was the equally grand main hall and Dance Hall. Students from several Madurai Secondary Schools were also gathered there on the day of our visit for a presentation on anti-plastic bags. Many of them later gathered around us, begging to have their photos taken—it was fun.
We intended on staying in Madurai for only 1 day and 2 nights, but ended up staying 4 nights. While it was very hot and dusty, our room offered a surprisingly tranquil (but not necessarily peaceful as that isn’t achievable in the heart of an Indian city!) retreat. Our youngest daughter, Yasmine was also a bit under the weather on our second day here which required a trip to a semi-private hospital right around the corner from us for a prescription of antibiotics, so we also stayed a extra day due to that. (Cost for consultation was $1.25USD/Rs50 and a course of antibiotics was $0.60 cents/Rs28 and an injection of paracetamol was $0.25 cents/Rs10 and we were seen right away.) But now, we’re off again to the end of India.