Ivan and I hopped on another bus from Thanjavur towards Madurai. Thank goodness Madurai is a transportation hub with its own airport; it only took one bus and 4 hours to get to Madurai from Thanjavur.
This is the last stop of the India part of my month-long journey in two continents, and this temple is the best of all the temples I have seen in Tamilnadu. If you are in Tamilnadu and only have time for one temple, the Meenakshi Amman Temple would be it.
Ivan headed to Munnar in Kerala after spending a day in this city. So I was left with no male protection on my last day in Tamilnadu.
This temple reminds me a lot of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. I am not sure why – the Meenakshi Temple did not have gold but many tall and colourful structures. Maybe it is because it has four gates like the Shwedagon, and the temple compound is constructed like the Shwedagon. Have you been to the two temples and felt this way?
The temple has four gates – north, south, east and west. Visitors are to leave their shoes and large bags at a minding booth outside the temple. The booth is free to use, but minders will ask for tips. People are more forward in asking for tips in this city!
Ivan is obsessed with elephants. He gets very excited when he reads or sees that a temple near us has a resident elephant. We missed two other elephants in the other cities/towns that we were in, and he was happy to get a picture with this one.
If you see this elephant and you wish to have a picture taken with it, give its handler 10 rupees. He will then position you accordingly.
I could still feel its trunk on my head hours after this incident.
An hour later, the elephant was seen heading towards its rest area.
Even as the elephant was moving towards its rest area, people were still running up to touch it.
If you wish to see this elephant, please head to the temple early in the morning – about 7am. I am sure the elephant will return later in the day, but I did not stick around long enough to find out.
Temples are better in the morning as they are less crowded. Most of the foreign tourists come in the late morning.
This temple is dedicated to Parvati, the consort of Shiva. She had three breasts before she married Shiva. Legend says that she was born with three breasts and the extra third breast will melt away when she meets her intended one.
Man, I wish I had a third breast that did the same so I won’t have to bother with men who don’t matter. Who has time to date anyway?
We spent around three hours wandering around the temple compound until my stomach growled due to the lack of breakfast. This is a very beautiful temple and should not be missed.
Ivan left that afternoon. I stayed a day longer – I had a plane to catch to Chennai from the Madurai airport.
With the extra day, I holed up in an internet cafe to write, and went to the Gandhi Memorial Museum.
The museum is free to enter, and narrates India’s journey towards independence. Since Gandhi was the most important figure in this narrative, he has his own gallery in this building. The British were really terrible people in India.
The things that Gandhi used can be found in glass displays.
The museum is a distance from the city centre. There is a public bus from the main bus station which stops about a kilometre away from the museum. After that, one has to walk the remaining distance to the museum.
This was when I missed Ivan the most. Between the both of us, he was better at reading maps and finding the best way to get to the place. He was also the one who spoke some Hindi – some people spoke better Hindi than English in South India.
Above all, his presence ensured that I would not get harassed by random men. Yes, he is shorter and younger than I am, but he’s MALE. I think that’s all that mattered.
When females are born in India, they have a first name, then the father’s first name is entered as their last name. Her last name changes to her husband’s first name after she gets married. From this, I inferred that women are always under a man’s protection.
On the day without Ivan, I took the bus towards the museum and got off several stops after the stop for the museum. The bus conductor just unceremoniously kicked me off the bus without much explanation.
I did not know where I was, so I decided to take an auto to the museum. I flagged an auto down and haggled the price. Halfway into the journey, the guy peers into the mirror and says “You’re beautiful.” I started feeling uncomfortable, and muttered “Thank you.”
He started making suggestions like, “Swimming pool. Want to see?”
I shook my head and tapped my watch, “I am in a hurry. Please go to the museum quickly.” (The museum had limited opening hours, and I had spent my whole morning at the internet cafe tapping out blog entries)
He drove a little while more, and asked me if I wanted to stop for some watermelon. He adds, “I love you.” He repeated that phrase earnestly a few more times throughout the journey, while looking in the rear mirror.
Cue major freaking out.
I waved to the front, and tapped my watch impatiently. “Please go.”
After ten long minutes (they went by forever), I paid him with the exact amount that we agreed upon and ran into the museum compound.
This was probably why D insisted on sending her driver to fetch me from the Chennai Central train station instead of letting me take an auto on my own. A solo female traveller should not take an auto on her own.
I took the public bus back to the city after spending about an hour at the museum. I walked out carefully of the museum, while keeping a lookout for that particular auto driver. Luckily, he was nowhere in sight.
I walked out to the nearest bus stop… Only that I could not identify bus stops in India. Most bus stops will not have bus signs – just people standing around waiting for the bus. I walked for quite a distance before asking a woman (always a woman for me!) for directions. She was very kind; her husband and her walked me back to the bus stop.
During the walk, she told me that she’s a famous singer in Madurai and even sang a line for me. She also has a friend in Singapore – gave me his number from memory.
I should be more thick-skinned when promoting my skills – like she is.
I caught my plane to Chennai from the Madurai airport.
The Madurai airport is located quite a distance from the main bus terminal. One can take a public bus (9 rupees) to the outskirts of the city. After that, one has to catch an auto (50 rupees) to the airport. I managed to share an auto with a couple, with me clutching my backpack with my fingers. It hung out of the side of the auto.
On the day of my departure, I headed to the main bus station. Apparently, there is a straight bus to the airport from the main bus station. I never catch these buses. I wonder where they are.
I got on the wrong bus at the main bus station. When I asked a girl on the bus, she told me to get off and got me on the right bus. Not only did she do that, she asked the auto for a good price from the main bus station to the airport. (300 rupees) Finding the price too expensive, she got me on the right bus, and told the bus driver where I was going.
As a result, the whole bus knew where I was going. When the bus conductor got to me, he merely said “9 rupees.”
When you tell one person something in India, the whole bus knows. South Indians are helpful like that.
I took the budget airline Spicejet to the Chennai airport. The flight cost about SGD$100. It was really expensive, but it was only an hour’s journey from Madurai to Chennai. Taking the bus from Madurai would have taken me 9 hours. I am not going to sit in a bus for 9 hours!
I got to the Chennai airport with 5 hours to spare before my flight to Frankfurt. The problem with Indian airports is that passengers cannot enter the airport building until 3 hours before their flight. I hung out outside the airport building and chatted with a couple of girls from Australia.
I was really excited to go to Spain where the weather is slightly cooler and beer is cheap.