Exotic Trichy

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jul 11, 2012

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What I did

Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Monday, February 20, 2012

For our first bus journey in India, we rose at 4:00 a.m. and were lucky to find the guard already sitting at the Park Guesthouse gate to let us out at 5:15, fifteen minutes before the official opening time. We walked the relatively quiet streets of Pondicherry for about five minutes before encountering a rickshaw driver who spirited us to the bus station. We were his first passengers of the day, and when we handed over the 50-rupee fare, he held it to his face and kissed it before putting it away.

The bus station was crowded: rows of women were sleeping side-by-side under shelter, and passengers milled about and waited on chairs in front of bus bays undecorated with any alphabet we could recognize—but we had visited the bus station the day before to get our bearings and went straight to Bay #7, as we'd been told, for the bus to Trichy. As we had twenty minutes or so to wait before our 6:05 bus, we ordered our first cup of bus stand chai. The chai seller threw several spoons of sugar into a tea liquor, then applied what looked like a blowtorch to a large saucepan of milk to bring the milk to a wild boil. He mixed the milk and sugared tea in a big cup, then threw the tea from cup to cup so that it made a long arc in the air, and finally poured it into two tiny plastic cups and presented them to us. We paid about 12 cents a cup for this drama and shot of caffeine and sugar—as well as for his advice: the Trichy bus didn’t go from Bay 7, he said, it went from Bay 11. We went to Bay 11. Oh no, said the chai seller at Bay 11, the Trichy bus didn’t go from Bay 11, and it had already left at 4:40 a.m.; the next bus was at 10:00. Undeterred, Dan went off to ask conductors of random buses where they were going, and eventually found the Trichy bus parked out in the melee of vehicles and people beyond the bus bays.

The bus did leave at 6:05, and from our window we watched a round tangerine sun rise over a river as we crossed a bridge. There was lots else to see as the day lightened.

Huge billboards of Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and members of her party lined the streets, although there is no impending election. These billboards are huge, and portray her several times on each billboard in different poses—standing beside herself three times in slightly different saris, embracing a petitioner, signing a piece of legislation, laughing in gigantic face shots. The billboards are not all the same, and sometimes there are six in a row. As we approached the bus station in one town, Dan and I counted out loud in mounting amazement, to the amusement of the passengers around us. We counted 53 billboards over a distance of perhaps a kilometre, and as we left the bus station, the man in front of us pointed out a few more. I’ve since learned that Jayalalithaa was formerly a movie star, and since her transition to politician she has become the plump woman she appears today. Anyway, in spite of this apparent waste of state money, according to all accounts Tamil Nadu is, along with Kerala, one of the best-managed states of India.

From the window of a bus, it still looks dusty, however. Looking out the window at one of our town stops, Dan declared, "India is beat, but the women sure brighten it up," and he is right: even the sanitation workers wear colourful saris under their visi-vests. The oxen also have flair, with their coloured horns; and trucks are decorated with flourishes, flowers, and special names.

On arrival in Trichy, we took a rickshaw through teeming streets to the Hotel Femina, a business hotel. In the evening we watched our first Indian television—the Indian Film Awards show was on and India’s beautiful and rich people stood up and thanked their producers and family etcetera amidst glitz and glam. The commercials fascinated us as well—most were in both Tamil and English and depicted people of a wired and consumerist modern society most concerned with their SMS messaging abilities and face-lightening masks, quite unlike what we had seen from our bus windows that day.

Besides television, the other cultural advantage of staying in a business hotel was daily delivery of The Times of India, full of interesting stories to give us a beginning of insight into this complex and intricate society. With such a huge population and complicated politics, Indian reporters don’t have to go far from home to find news. I found international news toward the back of the paper.

We learned that Trichy has three major Hindu temples, and so the next morning we asked a tuk tuk driver to take us to the closest one. The driver agreed, but after driving for about two minutes, he pulled over and turned off the engine. Then he turned around to have The Talk. By the end of The Talk, he had hired himself to us for four hours and would wait at each of the temples while we looked around. This was more lucrative for him than dropping us and trying for other fares.

Although we had argued against the four-hour tour, in fact the tuk tuk ride to each temple put us in the middle of the street action, and it was an entertainment in itself. The temples exceeded expectations as well, with the huge Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple especially memorable. It was alive with people wandering the grounds, hanging out, chatting, worshipping a bewildering array of gods, and visiting specific temples inside the complex, to most of which we were barred entrance as non-Hindus—door minders put up their hands to stop us, so there could be no doubt about the rule. A temple elephant stood in the central area to give blessings. All you had to do to be blessed was to put a coin into the elephant’s trunk, which it passed back to the mahout. Then the elephant tapped your head lightly and waited for the next proferred coin. It was a cute trick, if you could ignore the chains around the elephant’s two front legs. I preferred meeting an elephant wandering through the temple grounds with his mahout on the way back from this work.

Trichy was a sensory extravaganza, and not all of it was beauty and colour. Walking the streets as we did to find restaurants and do errands we had to face the unbreathable stench of urine on the roadsides and in open sewer ditches. I partly remedied this by following the lead of Indian women and buying a string of jasmine flowers to put in my hair. For the rest of the day, I was followed around by a subtle jasmine scent. I found this a civilized antidote. And I look forward to seeing more of how Indians cope with the press of humanity that is their birthright: this world that is Trichy’s daily life is to us as exotic as any set from an Indiana Jones movie.
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Marion on

Catherine - are you two camera shy - let's see some pictures of you in amongst all this wonderful, lucious colour.......and as we vote on the ever important workloads on Thursday, we think of you lots.....

cathonaventure on

We are a little camera shy but will work on getting up some photos of ourselves to prove we're really here!

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