Tour With Madurai Mani- A Cycle Rickshaw Champion
Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
215Trip End Dec 20, 2010
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Where I stayed
After devouring a packet of sesame seed balls, a packet of Lays and a packet of Tiger Snack biscuits bought from the train station shops, we boarded a train going from Trivandrum to Madurai and managed to get ourselves into an empty sleeper class cabin and sprawl out with our books. Our senses seemed to be heightened probably because they have not been stimulated so much in the peace of the ashram life. We cruised through many stops but nobody seemed to bother us except for some chai wallahs who had tasty brew, a coffee vendor who stopped for a chat about the cricket and to massage one of my feet and a magazine seller who looked at me and said 'would you like to buy a fashion magazine miss, so you can look trendy'. I looked down at my backpacker threads and asked him if he thought my Afghani Ali Baba trousers were out of fashion already. Then i told him that the pirate look is very trendy in Australia and that i wouldn't be in need of a magazine
We had the first few hours to ourselves as the train chugged on past small rural villages built next to the railway tracks where locals smiled, blew kisses and waved at us and we saw water wells, bathing lakes filled with lotus flowers and lillypads, rubbish littered everywhere and people lugging impossibly huge loads of produce, sticks, bricks, rocks, anything and everything on their heads. At one part we passed a mountain with a temple at it's peak and could see the pilgrims making their way to the top for puja. We also cows, goats, chickens, temples, shrines, beautiful Keralan women and children playing with even smaller children carried on their hips. I sat at the open door of the train for awhile to catch the air rushing by and to watch the people going about their lives of simplicity on the farms amongst the greenery of palm trees and banana crops. Day trains are gold when they're not overcrowded.
Once we crossed states into Tamil Nadu we saw the landscape was littered with windmill farms. Wind power is the new renewable energy that is being harnessed in India to meet its growing needs. It will only make small difference to India's overall energy mix, but in a country rapidly industrialising, some would say that for green energy to play any part at all is a significant achievement
As night started to fall, the legitimate ticket holders of our sleeper beds boarded the train and we had to vacate the seats and walk with our packs through the very narrow aisles for the entire length of the moving train whilst trying not to bump into limbs or spill people's banana leaf thali dinners. We crawled into some empty upper berths ignoring some lads who told us it was a 'citizen's carriage' and slept until an angel of a man woke us up at Madurai station, lucky he did or we would have woken up in Chennai. I breathed in relief after a brief moment of terror when i thought i'd lost a beloved Birkenstock only to discover somebody had kicked it a couple of cabins ahead. We did the walk down Madurai main hotel street where a few touts got the sniff of fresh blood on their territory and stalked us as we looked for a budget room
Next day Nadine had her hair cut by some ladies in the street using some dodgy paper cutting scissors but they had no experience with short styles so we later had it trimmed up at a place called Big Boss Barber where the boss had faux red vinyl and chrome original swivel chairs and were listening to American rap music on a TV in the corner of the room. Nadine was ushered into the back of the shop and the curtain was pulled across the glass windows out front so nobody would know they were cutting a woman's hair inside. I took up position in the window so i could watch the action outside but was soon hidden from view too. The barefoot 'Big Boss' watched closely as he stood over his nervous young apprentice chopping away. The kid was so nervous to cut a western woman's hair that he dropped the comb five or six times.
Our hotel was in the industrial area of the city and we enjoyed wandering around the streets where life was a fusion of old and new school and things were still being done by the traditional methods with a modern twist
We surrendered our shoes then went through a metal detector, had our bags checked and were taken to a curtained off area where all the female visitors are frisked by a female security guard beofre we could go in. Once inside the temple we were greeted by the first Indian man we have ever seen with an afro and by a midget selling postcards
Madurai is one of India's oldest cities and has been a textile centre from way back, the city was also where Mahatma Gandhi made his decision to wear nothing but khadi (homespun cloth)
There's many cloth stalls and tailor shops around so we headed to Puthu Mandapam where there are rows of underemployed male tailors sitting at sewing machines and shelf afetr shelf of beautiful cotton print fabrics and silks lined up behind them. Next to them there are some Shiva and Parvati shrines people were worshipping amidst the noises of the sewing machine feet whirring away. I couldn't resist getting some red and gold jester trousers designed and Nadine had a beautiful raw silk kurta top made. Life is peachy
We ate on the rooftop of a restaurant where the menu said they have some 'excitement' in the basement. We went to investigate and i turns out that the excitement was the weird Apollo Bar, an 80's style darkened room decked out like a spaceship. It was a little like being in Dr Who's tardis and stank like stale cigarettes. We got out of there and Nadine bought us a feast of street food including lentils, peas, idly and sauces, noodles and other delights which we ate picnic style on our bed.
We're parting ways for one month as of tomorrow, Nadine is off to the Sivananda yoga ashram in Madurai and i am going to Rameswaram, one of the holyiest sites, a Shiva's abode that each Hindu pilgrim is expected visit once in their lifetime.