Photos:Photo Album, Part II
Trip ReportAfter 3 weeks of work in Delhi, I had one week of vacation in India. Originally, I had looked into options to visit areas near the base of the Himalayas, but many of the tours had started to shut down in winter. Then I looked into tours through the Kerala backwaters, but I had waited too long and several tour operators said there was not time to even set up an independent itinerary, so I just hopped on a plane to Southern India and decided to work out the travels as I went.
I flew to Madurai, Tamil Nadu, on Indian Airlines, changing planes in Chennai (formerly known as Madras). As I got off the plane in Chennai, I followed the walkways which took me to baggage claim. I figured I must have missed the turn off for transfers to my next flight. On the jetway connecting to the plane, I saw several passengers take stairs down to the tarmac which I guess would have allowed them to walk over to the departure gates, but there was no sign. Even though my bag was supposed to be checked through to Madurai, I decided to wait and make sure it did not end up in the baggage claim. Sure enough, it came out. I looked around but could not find anywhere where I was supposed to re-check it, so I carted it over to the main check in area. The ladies behind the desk were rather confused that I was trying to re-check it, but they checked it in. They were speaking mostly the local language, so I was not able to figure out if I missed something, or if it was a mistake that the bag came out in the baggage claim instead of being transferred to my next flight. I did make out some comment in English about foreigners being helpless which made me think I missed something, but I could not get them to explain what that meant. Anyway, my bag was not lost and that is a little more important than figuring out what happened. My luggage lock must have been cut off by security, but nothing was missing.
In Madurai, a car from the hotel picked me up and drove me to the Hotel Supreme. I had a deluxe room, which I thin means it came with a European toilet. Instead of toilet paper, there was just a hose which I could not figure out how to use without soaking the whole bathroom. I went to the travel agent office in the hotel to work out my plans for the week. In the evening, I walked around some of the shopping area around the Shi Meenakshi Temple, and picked up a small lock for the luggage. The area was filled with pilgrims heading to the temple. Some touts came up and desperately tried to get me into some of the shops around the temple, but after 3 weeks I am getting better at getting away from such people. I had a very good Indian meal in the hotel restaurant.
The next morning the guide I arranged through the hotel travel office met me in the morning. We rode around on his scooter, which is one of the more popular vehicle types. The first stop was the Tirumalai Nayak Palace built in 1636. Then we went into the Shi Meenakshi Temple. This was a huge place. There are large gates at each of the main entrances covered with lots of animal and religious figures (see picture on right). After passing through the first gate, there is a courtyard before getting to the main temple. At the entrances to the main temple, there were elephants stationed to give blessings. Someone would offer a coin that the elephant would take in his trunk, then he would tap the person on the head to administer the blessing.
The next day I took a day trip to the hill station of Kodaikanal (Kodai). In the summer I am sure the higher elevation provides relief from the hot temperatures, but at this time of year it just seemed a little trashy. But I did get a few closeup pictures of some monkeys.
Then I took a two day bus-trip/tour to Kanyakumari, which is the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. (Note that Indira Point on the Island of Great Nicobar which is the southern most tip of India). This is where the Bay of Bengal meets the Indian ocean and the Arabic Sea. This tour was seemed focused for Indian tourists rather than foreigners, and was only $12. It included round trip bus from Madurai, hotel, and a ½ day guided tour. At this price, I should have upgraded to the deluxe room. Off the shore there are a couple of islands with monuments. One island holds the Vivekanda Memorial, dedicated to Swami Vivekanda. The other island holds a tall statue of the Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. Standing on those islands and looking back to the shore I first realized this was where the Tsunami of last year hit. There was a temple on the main-land which had some visible scarring from the wave. It stood on top of a cliff itself 70 feet or so above the sea, and there was damage on what appeared to be the equivalent height of a 3 story building. We toured a temple 15km from town, and then returned. In the temple, once again a local insisted putting the red dot on my forehead. This has happened at several places I visited, but the Indian tourists don’t get the same treatment, so I suspect this mark might have identified me as a dumbass tourist or else it gave a reason for them to try and extract an obnoxiously large donation. While others in my tour group did the boat tour to the islands, since I did that the day before I went shopping and to see the Gandhi memorial built around the point where some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were scattered. The care taker took be up to an observation deck a couple of stories up, and explained this point which seemed a couple hundred feet above sea level was under water during the Tsunami.
After returning to Madurai for a final night I flew to Chennai for a couple of nights. I got some good shopping here but there was not so much more to tell. Then I went back to Delhi for the last two days. I did some last minute shopping and took in a few museums before my flight out. I went into one of the 24-hour tailors to see if I could get a suit made, but they did not work on Sunday so I could not get it made in time. I ate lunch the last day in a museum restaurant. It was a buffet of Indian food. I overheard one of the Indian servers say “That guy eats like an Indian”. I looked over and saw they were looking at me. I was the only foreigner in the room who was picking up the food using the Indian flat bread, instead of using a fork.
Due to the heightened security at the airport, they would not let me take my carry-on containing my lap-tops and camera because it was too big, despite that there was no problem using it as a carry-on on the way over. So I crammed the electronic stuff into a smaller tote bag and checked the near empty bag I had intended to use as a carry-on.
When I got back to the U.S., I watched an episode of the TV show Heros where scenes were supposed to take place in Chennai and Kanyakumari. It looks like they had digitally inserted images of the main sights in the background, but I could tell they were not actually there since there was nothing like the beach scenes where the actors were when I was there.
- Post on 1st half of India Trip: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur