I’m sitting in a hotel room in Chennai on the eve of a flight to Sri Lanka. The journey since last writing has taken us from Kerala to the state of Tamil Nadu. The last leg of the Kerala journey was up into the hills. We stayed at a place called Munnar. It was blissfully cool and green. The area is known for its tea and the tea plantations themselves were a sight to see. The wonderful sea of green was surrounded at times by beautiful wildflowers and trees that also had uniquely coloured foliage. The contrast from place to place in this country is quite amazing. Of course, I have been to Himalayan areas and know how different they can be but the more I see of India the more I realise I have seen so little and that will probably never change.
There wasn’t an awful lot to actually see around Munnar as the wildlife park I had wanted to visit was closed as the rare nilgiri thar (a kind of goaty antelope) were having their breeding season and they didn’t want them to be upset or put off. But the scenery made up for this deficit as it was verdant and the air was the freshest we had breathed in some time. In fact, the air of south India so far seems better. We will return to the north and probably much worse air later. As I banged on about before, the air pollution is one of the worst things about being in India.
From Munnar we got a car to Madurai. This is in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. Down from the Western Ghats to the drier plains. It was a beautiful drive and thankfully over fairly decent roads. The previous year there were very bad floods during the monsoon that caused quite a bit of damage, but a lot of road building had gone on and it was better than most we have experienced so far.
Of course, with the drop in altitude came the return to the heat. A drier heat than Kerala but very hot nonetheless. We were staying next to the huge Meenakshi Amman temple. It is one if the largest in India and quite imposing. We went inside but large areas are off limits to non-Hindus. We did see enough to see the extent of it and it was impressive. Madurai has been referred to as the spiritual heart of Tamil Nadu and this temple is at the centre of that. There is more of the history of it here. Out hotel was right next it and we didn’t know but the roads around it were all closed and so this necessitated a walk with luggage under the hot sun. We had to repeat this when we left. Madurai is a pleasant town and not too big, around one million, although this has probably grown since the last census in 2011. This is pretty small by Indian standards. It had some quite ridiculous traffic jams that belie its size, which is clearly an area that needs work. It was very low on western tourists as well so it was Indian breakfasts eaten in very downmarket places. Not really a problem for me and quite a refreshing change in some ways from much of the touristy areas we have visited. There was also a quite imposing palace, the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, that apparently used to be much larger. It had huge pillars and I was left wondering what it must have been like in its better days. Like most things in Madurai, the prices have not yet been jacked up to sting foreigners. These can often be quite high. Understandably they should pay a market type price in order to maintain them and that poor Indians should be able to visit them, but sometimes this is a bit steep. Foreigners are frequently made to feel they have the same status as a walking ATM in India. There is an understanding that they should pay more but sometimes it grates a bit. This is sometimes why I find myself bargaining down a tuk tuk fare by 60 cents. Unfortunately, you need to do this to an extent otherwise you will be treated with a degree of contempt. When someone is honest with me, I am happy to give a large tip.
So, we flew from Madurai to Chennai to catch the flight to Sri Lanka. This was poorly researched on my part as, when I got to the airport I realised there were direct flights from Madurai to Colombo! They are not particularly expensive either. So, I added an unnecessary flight to the trip. I didn’t need that as I have lost track of tge number of flights we have done here and airport security is a real chore. Some airlines in India perform an extra security check after you have gone through normal airport security.
Photos of this part of the trip can be seen here.