playing catch up

I don’t think we’ve managed to be on top of the blog for the whole time we’ve been in India, so watch this space as we try to push it out in the next few days.

Madurai is not much chop as a town, although it is home to two wonderful things: the spaceship-themed Apollo 96 basement bar and the Sri Meenakshi Temple. Despite having recently read the Hindu epic, Ramayana, we’re still fairly baffled by the twisted familial webs of the gods, although I’m pretty sure Meenakshi is Shiva’s three-breasted, fish-eyed consort.

Sprawling and cavernous, the temple towers rise out of the dusty, chaotic streets like a massive sort of Hindu-themed Christmas tree dripping with deities. I could look at these towers forever – the riotous colour and activity, dotted with obligatory cows, is like India itself. We hit it up early to avoid the heat and crowds and enjoyed a few hours of padding around barefoot on the cool stone floors, exploring quiet corners and taking in all the bells and smells.

Kanyakumari lies at the very tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal meets the Indian Ocean meets the Arabian Sea – reaching here holds a definite sense of satisfaction. Part pilgrimage point, part seaside fun fair, the place was thronging with domestic tourists, of whom we surmised that many were experiencing the ocean for the first time. Watching Indians do the beach is rather delightful – women happily bobbing about the shallows in gorgeous saris; groups of young men splashing each other and squealing like school girls; parents approaching the water’s edge with their tiny kin who are either delighted or terrified by the very modest waves lapping at the shore. Add in some pony rides and innumerable vendors hawking chai, fried snacks and balloons and it’s very Enid Blyton.

Two small islands about 200m off the coast commemorate the Tamil saint-poet, Thiruvalluvar, and the wandering monk, Swami Vivekananda. We queued for an hour to board the ferry in what can only be described as a very Indian experience – all the time being poked and prodded from behind by some shrunken grannies, then joining a Boxing Day sales-style race to seize some decrepit life vests from the pile and being herded onto the vessel like cattle, envisioning tomorrow’s headline of “Hundreds Die in Indian Ferry Disaster.” Clearly I wasn’t the only one with such visions, as aforementioned shrunken grannies clutched each other and mumbled prayers for the two-minute duration of the journey before casting aside their fears and joining the scrum to get off.

A night of brazen bed bug attack – these bold little buggers didn’t even wait until we turned out the light to launch their offensive – ensured that we were well and truly ready for some easy living in Varkala, where the big question to ponder was how I managed to get so much sand in the lining of my bathers without there being any apparent entry point. Goa for grown-ups, we revelled in a couple of weeks of all that real India can’t provide – eggs on toast, body surfing and unadulterated quiet. And we received a visit from the Tall Man, whose birthday (and Easter) we celebrated by watching a giant storm roll in from the horizon over bulk Kingfishers and a BBQ seafood feast.

We were jolted from our reverie by a 30-hour train journey back to Bombay, sharing our cabin with some giggly art school students, a banana farmer, a Catholic priest and a gaggle of inquisitive kids. There’s something very comforting about arriving in a familiar city, being able to confidently stride past taxi touts to the local train and navigating our way around town sans map. We visited some old haunts and some new ones and had a somewhat tortuous and ultimately ill-fated flirtation with the purchase of some antique furniture. Suffice to say that when we found out what a customs broker is and how much their services cost in Australia, our killer deal suddenly became a lot less viable. Goodness knows how, but somehow we must have endeared ourselves enough to the dealer to prompt him to offer us our deposit back, which means another trip to Bombay once we get our onward visas sorted in Delhi. For those details, you’ll have to wait a little longer…

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3 Responses to “playing catch up”

  1. Tom (late-at-night) Says:

    I kind of thought being “treated like cattle” in India would be pleasant experience?

  2. Tricky Cricky Says:

    Parsonator – horizontal, trying to survive the Indian Heat hey? Is that what he’s calling himself these days?

  3. beyondbagot Says:

    Your comment is bloody hilarious. Perhaps it was divine retribution for all the big juicy scotch fillets I’ve been craving… dodd

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