Arriving in Madurai

Madurai Travel Blog

 › entry 11 of 37 › view all entries

After plenty of time to explore the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, we get onto our ramshackle bus again, so Ajit can drive us to Madurai. In Southern India, Madurai is one of the oldest cities. Because of its Sri Meenakshi Temple complex, it has been a centre of pilgrimage for centuries. The city has also been a textile centre for a very long time, here Mahatma Gandhi decided in 1921 to wear nothing but khadi (homespun cloth) from then on.

We arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon, and a crowd of staff awaits us, eager to take our dusty backpacks to our rooms. The first thing I do when we get to our room, is change my shirt. It’s completely damp from sweating in it all day, and I feel disgusting.

Just as I have taken off the shirt and start looking in my backpack for a cleaner one, there’s a modest knock on the door. A few seconds later, before I can jump into the bathroom, the door flies open and a young man from the hotel staff steps into our room. I ignore him completely and disappear in the bathroom, closing the door behind me. Through the door I can hear him asking Rens if we would like him to get some bottled water for us. Rens answers that we have enough already, after which the young man leaves.

A couple of minutes later, after Rens has locked our door, there’s another knock, this time only followed by the turning of the door handle. It’s another young man from the hotel staff and this one wants to know if we need extra towels or pillows. As soon as we decline his extra services, it appears word has spread that there are no tips to be made at our room, since we are being left alone from then on.

Tour leader Digna has told us she knows a great tailor in the centre of Madurai and that she’ll take us there at five o’clock. Since I love clothing too much to ignore this offer, Rens and I are among the many others that join her to her favorite tailor shop. Once we’re there, an overly exited man tries to stuff at least ten of us in his tiny shop, while he starts pulling out all sorts of fabrics and pictures of clothing he can make.   

Apart from the fact that it is unbelievably hot and stuffy in the cramped shop, I’m not impressed at all. Other travel companions are caressing fabrics, but I’m examining a blouse, it’s an example of what he has made. The stitching is not very neat, and the lining seems odd. Next to that, the fabrics are too thin and don’t have great quality. His prices may be very low, but it doesn’t look like you’re going to get more than what you pay for.

Our travel companions are still looking at fabrics, but Rens and I have seen enough, we leave the shop and once we're outside we light a cigarette while we flip through the map in our Lonely Planet guide. We decide to have dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the Park Plaza Hotel, and try to decide which way we have to go.

At that moment a man walks up to us, asking if he can help. We tell him the name of the street and he points us in the right direction. Since we haven't finished smoking our cigarettes and I don’t like to smoke and walk at the same time, we wait before we start walking.

The man sees a chance to ask us where we are from, how long we have been in India and where we are going, the standard questions. He then tells us his name is Tamal and that he has lived in Madurai his whole life.    

We're still in front of the tailor shop and Tamal asks us if we have ordered some clothing. I answer that it wasn't my taste. At this point his face lights up. 'I can show you a tailor where you will defenately find what you like,' he says. 'It's on the way to the restaurant you want to go to, I'll show you.'

We decide to go with Tamal and see what the shop is all about. Maybe he's right. The place he leads us to is the complete opposite of the hot and stuffy shop we were earlier. It's a bright, large and inviting store with airconditioning, and next to tailored clothing they also have plenty of ready made clothing we can flip through. Tamal quickly says goodbye and within seconds I'm trying on a colourful sari just like all the Indian women are wearing. But it doesn't look as good on me as it does on the local women. I suppose I'm too pale.

I do fall in love with a beautiful scarf that has thousands of beads sown on it and a nice tunic. Prices aren't bad and after some negotions I have some fabulous pieces to add to my western wardrobe at home.  

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photo by: Stevie_Wes