Madurai, India's biggest loony bin
Madurai Travel Blog› entry 12 of 37 › view all entries
Tour leader Digna has given us a choice how to spend our day today. We can either go our own way in
As it turns out, most of our travel companions want to hear what the guide can tell us, so nearly our entire group walks towards the
At the entrance a young woman in a beautiful purple sari awaits us. As soon as we all have gathered around her, she starts to talk about how the temple is the geographic and ritual centre of the ancient city of
The temple complex has four entrances with huge gopurams, but all of them are covered in scaffolding for repainting. It’s a pity, but no disaster, since we can now completely focus on the temple itself in stead of being mesmerized by those gorgeous entrance towers.
We first head to the Porthamarai Kulam, the sacred pond inside the temple complex, which is a holy site for devotees.
The name Porthamarai Kulam means ‘Pond with the Golden Lotus’. According to legend, Lord Shiva promised a stork that there wouldn’t grow any fish in this pond. Therefore, there is no marine life found in the lake. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to be a judge for the worth of new literature. Therefore, authors place their works on the water. Poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float.
Another highlight of the
When there’s room for questions, I ask the guide if there is a special meaning behind the flowers that local women wear in their hair when they visit a temple. It turns out they wear them because its pretty, so there’s nothing stopping me anymore for doing the same, since I think it is nice-looking as well.
When we walk towards the exit of the temple together, the guide lets us know there’s a last thing she wants to show us. We all go to the ‘shoe shack’ and retrieve our shoes, but since it quickly gets busy, I take my shoes outside to put them on there. The moment I step outside with my shoes in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I get ambushed by what seems dozens of touts and beggars.
They stroke my arms and my hair and I start to panic. I’ve heard that giving money to beggars in a situation like this will only make things worse and it’s obvious that trying to ignore them doesn’t help either. Therefore, I do the only thing that comes to mind. I take a deep breath and start to shout as loud and angry as I can: ‘Everybody get the hell away from me right now!!!’ I throw a furious look around and by some miracle this seems to help. The touts immediately look for another victim and the beggers take their distance, hoping that I might give them something anyway.
After I get a chance to smoke my cigarette, I’m calm again and I can see some interesting men sitting outside the temple walls (one of them looks like an Indian version of a ZZ Top member!). I take their picture and give them some money, hopefully showing others that it doesn’t pay off to ambush someone and that I’m perfectly capable of deciding by myself how I can spend my money.
Our guide leads us to
We manage to shake them off and head for the exit as quickly as we can (this is not easy, since there are several floors of mouthwatering objects). It’s the fact that they don’t price their products in rupees but in euros that turns me off.
When the two of us are having a quiet lunch by ourselves a little later, we flip through the Lonely Planet guide and see the following comment: ‘Every tout, driver, temple guide and tailor’s brother will lead you to the Kashmiri craft shop in North Chitrai Street, offering you the temple view from the rooftop. The views are good, and so is the inevitable sales pitch.’ It looks like we have to read Lonely Planet better BEFORE we go somewhere…
Once we’ve finished lunch, we take a rickshaw to the
The palace is undergoing heavy reconstruction work, but that doesn’t mean its beauty is invisible. There are lovely details and the entire building looks like it belongs in a fairytale from a 1001 nights.
The Nayaks ruled the former
While we wander around the complex and admire the spectacular ceilings, a man comes up to us. He doesn’t seem to speak any English, but it’s apparent he’d like us to take a picture of himself and a large group of women.
While we’re wondering if this happens to be his harem they all pose for us and look at the screen of our camera to see the result.
As we check the pictures we took and decide whether we should keep these or not (believe me, if it seems we have taken a lot of pictures of local people, this is nothing compared to the number of pictures we deleted) another man comes up to us. He has an even bigger group of women with him and he’d also like to have his picture taken.
The women start gathering around the man, but the smaller women end up in the back and the taller ones in front. While Rens holds the camera, I start rearranging the group, even though I have no idea why. They’ll just take one glimpse of the result at the screen and that’s it.
As soon as the outcome has been admired by everyone, we see two other large groups entering the courtyard. In order not to be held up any longer by other people who like to be photographed, we leave the last room and head for the exit. Here Rens sees a rickshaw and while he fastens his pace to let the driver know we’d like to hire his service, I see a woman with the cutest puppy I’ve ever seen. I start cooing, but Rens, who’s seen me spend hours on petting animals, starts dragging me towards the rickshaw.
The woman with the puppy follows me though, and while we get seated in the rickshaw and Rens explains to the driver where we want to go, the woman tries to push the puppy through a hole in the covers of the rickshaw as if she wants to get rid of it. Since I don’t want to take the puppy with me (actually I do, but it’s a bit inconvenient), I start pushing the small dog back.
Rens and I are being driven away in a state of shock.