Reached the tip of India - Kanyukamari in the state of Tamil Nadu - which seemed to be a mostly tourist and pilgrim town (I think you know which category we fall into!). This was the place with the worst accommodation to date - the hotel was literally a building site cunningly kept from our vision until cash exchanged hands! Ah well, it was only for one night and we managed to pack in a good few sights in that time. Right on the edge of the subcontinent stand 2 monuments; the first being the fruit of the labour of 5000 sculpturers, a statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. The statue is a mighty 133 ft high (sorry all you Europeans, don't know what that is in metres!) in honour of the 133 chapters of Thiruvalluvar's poetry. The second monument is to the 'wandering monk' and philosopher, Suami Vivekananda who meditated in Kanyukamari before heading off on his travels and 'finding' himself. Let's hope we manage to do the same...!
(Statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar)
Next stop was Madurai, where we viewed the impressive 17th century Sri Meenakshi temple complex. Madurai - one of the oldest cities in the south - dates from the 4th century BC. We stayed in a bit of luxury at the Hotel Supreme, which didn't have a Diana Ross theme but a rather strange spaceship-style bar in it instead. So on arrival, off we went for a wee drinkie until Susie was nearly refused a beer purely for being of the non-male variety (it's true!!). Needless to say, Big M stepped in, roughed up a few of the locals (he didn't really Deirdre (Marty's mother)!) and we were soon knocking back a couple of cool Tiger beers in the comfort of the AC bar!!
From Madurai we headed on to Pondicherry, an odd piece of leftover French colonialism which retains a very French feel in its architecture, particularly on the east side of the city. Oh, and it was the first Indian town or city we noticed had litter bins on the streets...
In Pondicherry we stayed in an ashram overlooking the sea and promenade. The ashram was set up to honour the principles and goals of Sri Aurobindo and his pupil, known as the Mother, namely "the evolution of another kind and form of life which would in the final end be moved by a higher spiritual consciousness and embody a greater life of the spirit", and is where mainly 'spiritual seekers' stay when they're in this part of the country (http://www.sriaurobindosociety.org.in/subnav/ashram.htm).
Intrigued by all this, we stayed a few nights at the ashram and duly obeyed the no-alcohol rules and 10PM curfew... (Sounds more like punishment than enlightenment, eh). We also took a trip to Auroville (http://www.sriaurobindosociety.org.in/subnav/aurovil.htm), a township designed by the Mother and aimed at creating "a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities ". Confused? So were we...
The aim was to have 50,000 'Aurovillians' living in peace here, but only around 2,600 live there today and it was difficult to see who was now in charge of progressing this "project for humanity" and giving direction to the place following the death of the Mother in 1973. Anyways, it was an interesting trip and did leave us wanting to learn more about this place.
After our time in Pondicherry, we moved on up to Mamallapuram. This coastal village hosts ancient rock carvings and yet more temples. The area was partly affected by the tsunami, although thankfully no lives were lost, and the rebuilding of schools and villages continues today. In between lazing by a pool and reading our books, we squeezed in a trip to a nearby crocodile and snake farm and watched in awe as tribal snake handlers extracted venom from deadly cobras to produce the anti-venom used in treating some cancers and as a pain relief.
And so our time in southern India drew to an end. Last Monday (14 May) we flew from Chennai to Delhi to start a mini-exploration of the north of the country, and to see how much we can fit in before the end of the month and Leg II of the Trip!
Delhi was full on and fantastic - although we counterbalanced this by staying in the very chilled Tibetan Colonly in the north of the city in Majnu-ka-Tilla. We woke every morning to the sound of Buddhist monks chanting and welcomed the distinct lack of hawkers trying to sell you everything and anything under the sun. During those few days we took in many of Delhi's amazing sights; the Jama Masjid the largest mosque in India, the 17th century Red Fort, some cool shopping areas and the spot where Gandhi was cremated in 1948. Oh, and Marty got his wish at last and enjoyed his first soya cappucino of the Trip from a Costa Coffee!! Food wise, it was Tibetan grub all the way which was deelish - Tibetan bread is uncannily like Irish soda bread when toasted and hit the spot every morning!
5 days in Delhi went by so fast and next stop was the Taj Mahal in Agra, truely really beautiful and no photo would ever do it justice. But other than the Taj, Agra was a bit of a dive and 1 night there was enough! So off we went to Jaipur, the Pink City (although Susan reckons its more terracota than pink...!). Then we left for Mount Abu which being a hill station was a few degrees cooler, where we spent a few days on a meditation course and learning how to make the perfect curry! Well we are tourists in India after all!!!
Heading tonight to Mumbai where we fly on to Singapore tomorrow (31st) evening - can't wait!! India was a great introduction to the East and now we can't wait to see more of it! XXX