Journey to Madurai

Trip Start Jul 03, 2008
Trip End Dec 07, 2008

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Flag of India  , Tamil Nadu,
Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday July 18th,

Today was one of those days with too much driving, but we had to go from Kumily to Maduria, no small feat.  On the way we stopped at mango, peanut and grape farms that was interesting, but I have mixed feelings about being led out onto these farms to talk to people who live on so little.  We walk out there as affluent Americans, and it feels sometimes like the tour guides are putting these people on display for our viewing.  It really makes me uncomfortable to have human beings paraded in such a fashion.
But eventually we made it to Madurai!  A medium sized city (3 million!) the smog and pollution alone were astounding, as was the human mass of the place. Though smaller in population than a place like Chennai (7 million) the density was something to see.  After a brief respite in the hotel, we headed out to see some of the main attractions, the first of which caught me off guard.
It was an older structure, an amalgamation of courtyards and columns, but distinctly non-Indian.  It came to light that it was actually designed by an Italian in the 16th century who was commissioned by the Raj of the time. Confusion solved.
We then went on to Meenakshi Temple, which according to our guide is the 2nd biggest temple in all of India.  Thousands of pilgrims everywhere.  You know you're in India when a few hundred yards before the temple entrance you have booth set up much like a western coat check, but it's for your shoes.   What follows is the continuing saga of my love-hate relationship with the Dhoti. At the entrance to the temple they had a security checkpoint, essentially a PVC square that you walk through with no scanners of any sort, it was comical.  Everyone passed smoothly, but upon my approach the guards began arguing loudly in Tamil and told me to slowly back away and sit on some steps a few yards away.  As the rest of the group looked on, I checked my pockets.  I hadn't brought my pocketknife or anything remotely scandalous. What the hell was going on?  None of the guards addressed me, but one (who had a gun, holstered (but still), which I thought was a bit overkill) just sat there and stared at me beady-eyed.  They communicated to me that it was because I was wearing what's known as a lungi, or a colored dhoti, and only white ones were acceptable.  Not having a white one to my name I had expressed concern about this earlier, but our guide assured me I'd be fine.  Luckily Lalu, being the resourceful gent that he is, slipped outside in all the confusion and came back 90 seconds later with a white one in a wrapper, even though none of us had seen any clothing shops for blocks.  I promptly put it on and we were on our way.  The temple was incredible and alive with people, thousands of them swarming like ants through the outer and inner sanctums, it was crazy.  We passed by a small commotion around a man receiving a blessing, and on instinct I snapped a few blurry shots.  I found out later it was a member of Parliament, so that was our celeb fix for the day :) The rest was very interesting, and I also found out why people ask me to repeat my name so often.  Murugan is a deity, the second son of Shiva, so people often ask me how I spell my name when I introduce myself.  Non-Hindus always think it's Mohan, a very common name, and often I don't feel going through the hassle of correcting them. Afterwards we retired to the hotel and had a nice dinner, chatting with some British youths who were doing a house-building tour through some local villages.
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annchenh on

Hello from the land of Pismoidia...
I'm still enjoying your blogs, Morgan, though I get a bit stressed reading about illness, armed guards, and elderly infirm elefantes that you have befriended and may wish to bring home. I'm rather relieved you're now busy -safely studying in a classroom(??).
Love always, Maj

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