World traveler Clown Tom Bolton
Adventure stories & photos
Tom’s travels to Southern India 2
Hampi to Hassan – bus wreck
This is a continuation of the page Southern India. I was going from Hampi to Hassan when I had another disaster but this one man-made. Many buses in India are poorly maintained; they let the tires go bald till they burst. Like why take precautions since everything is determined by karma anyway? Buses and trucks would break down and be abandoned in the middle of the road. As we started this long night journey; I refused a seat at the front of the bus and crossed my arms in front of my face to keep from bumping into the metal bar at the top of the seat in front of me and as a measure of protection in a crash.
Sure enough, the driver, most likely half asleep, ran right into a vehicle broken down in the road. The only other foreigner on the bus, an American Indian from Canada, had been up front but had taken the precaution of putting his backpack on his lap. Nobody was seriously hurt but then everyone disappeared. With no place to go, we locked the door and slept in the disabled bus. In the morning there were kids climbing all over the bus like monkeys, looking at the strange foreigners like we were a zoo exhibit ourselves. It took hours before we got another bus to stop for us since they all seemed to just drive through this small town. Since then I often keep my backpack on my lap in such situations, better safe than comfortable.
Bus travel advisory
Be advised that if you leave your seat on a long bus or train ride to take a leak, you risk losing it. Indian woman didn’t have this problem since females pissing by the side of the road would be socially unacceptable. They just have to hold it in. The bladder control of Indian woman is probably more amazing than the physical feats of most Indian yoga masters. Paying a little more for a reserved place on a train is really worth it but one anyway needs patience, empathy and a good sense of humor to keep from freaking out while traveling in India.
Belur – Hoysala Hindu temple complex Chenakeshava
I didn’t have a good impression of Hassan when I finally got there. I had been burping some foul smelling air just before the journey but it had passed. The Canadian guy however had come down with a bad case of Giardia and stayed in the hotel. I went off to see the Hoysala Hindu Architectural styled Chenakeshava Temple in the village of Somanathapura just outside the city of Belur. I would see a couple of similarly designed temples in southern India, which are supposed to represent a lotus blossom.
The impressive thing was the carvings on the outside of the temple. Then one gets closer to see the details. And closer yet. Then you realize the awesome amount of work involved to carve such an intricate building. The figures are done with mathematical precision in 3 dimensions and not just etched on the stone. I imagine many of the master workmen spent their entire lives just doing elephants or horses or whatever. Not unique to these sites but unlike most Indians temples which concentrate on Hindu and Buddhist figures, here were many such erotic motifs even more so that what I had seen at Aihole. But I am no longer sure which of these carvings were at Balur and which at Halebidu since they share the same style.
Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu
Close to Belur was the holy site of Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu. It’s another example of Hoysla Hindu style of architecture. Hard to believe but it is even more detailed than Chennakeshava. There were also couple of enormous cow statues at Hoysaleswara temple carved from what seemed to be an especially hard, black stone. Made me wonder about the local methods and materials, which they used hundreds if not thousands of years ago to do such detailed work.
Gommateshwara Bahubali in Shravanabelagola
I did another day trip from Hassan. This time to the southeast to Shravanabelagola. There were temples and a holy pond below surrounded by gardens and rocky hills called Vindyagiri and Chandregiri topped with more ruins. The hills should be holy so one had to leave their shoes below. The dark stone was unbearably hot so I had to wear my socks. Here were etchings of the “feet of Buddha” which made me think of the story of Cinderella since there was a pretty close match.There were Hindu and Buddhist figures all around. Also, a number of figures up top, all very large but not very intricate – a style, which seemed almost the opposite of the others. These figures turned out to be Jain rather than Buddhist as I first assumed.
They were standing and a displayed a visible penis, which doesn’t seem to fit my experience of Buddhist art. I had seen phallic symbols used in shrines in Thailand but understood that these belonged to animistic traditions predating Buddhism. Even in India, various Lingams, which symbolize fertility, are more egg shaped or simple oblong shaped objects rather than a graphic representation of a penis. But the largest figure known as Gommateshwara Bahubali was not a Buddha at all. Some claimed that this is the largest monolithic statue in the world. Seemed big. But I had no way to measure it.
I spent 2 days seeing these sites from Hassan. There was also some kind of fair going on in town or maybe it was a religious holiday. There were a bunch of large wooden carts decorated and pulled through the streets. There was show with a magician/ventriloquist and an armless woman who wrote, smoked and threaded a needle with her feet – all of which I thought were probably pretty standard skills to most people born without hands. Now if she had painted a masterpiece or juggled five balls… I thought of making a show myself but was not in the mood to get mobbed. Don’t have any photos of the event as my camera was malfunctioning due to low batteries.
Mysore, palaces & yoga
From Hassan I got a bus to Mysore but again missed the first one as it came and left from the other side of the station as I patiently waited. Our bus had no accident but a couple of trucks on the road had and unable to pass them, we drove a good 15 kilometers back to take an alternative route. One can visit the palace of the Maharaja of Mysore, which is one of the main attractions for tourists. The family is especially known as a proponent of yoga and sponsored a school within the palace for Krishnamacharya who in turn was the teacher of some of the greatest modern yoga masters like B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabi Jois. Jois still has a local school teaching Ashtanga yoga, a hardcore variation known to some in the west as “power yoga”.
The palace of Mysore has a long history and is actually a complex of different palaces and a dozen temples. I found the architectural style of the palace to be a bit kitschy but there were amazing murals painted inside depicting the goings on of royal life. Unfortunately, photos were strictly forbidden inside. The Maharajas of Mysore were known as philanthropists. Because of this a lot of things run well in Mysore but like everywhere in India there is also poverty.
Ayurveda – traditional Indian medicine
Ayurveda is the traditional Indian form of medicine, which historically has a close association with the practitioners of yoga. Rather than saying certain things are always healthy, it proposes 3 basic body types and what foods, activities and medicines are best for you depend on your body type(s). Lots of products are still sold as being Ayurveda although one would not usually think of bodybuilding as one of their goals. These advertisements in Mysore seemed to suggest otherwise. Not sure if the balm is actually ayurvedic but what else?
Bananas for sale in Mysore
I have photos of banana being sold in at least 30 different countries. Somehow they just always make a colorful motif and these from Mysore are some of my favorite images. Here the bananas are also getting transported to the market as well as being sold.
Mysore known for incense
Typically colorful powders used for religious ceremonies were offered along with incense. Mysore is famous for its incense trade but the streets and markets didn’t smell any better here than anywhere else I went. One exception was a section where many Mysore sellers had these extensive strings of flowers. Not sure if they were used for religious ceremonies, weddings, funerals or maybe all three.
Mysore Temple on wheels
This was a curiosity. As if there were not enough temples around, here someone in Mysore had a mobile temple cart, which they used to collect donations. Seemed like a good marketing strategy as despite the poverty, people always managed to make their religious offerings.
Mysore – transporting sugarcane by oxcart
Oxen or cattle drawn carts were still used extensively in addition to the tractors to haul the sugarcane harvest from the fields. Agriculture is the most important industry in the Mysore area. And although other crops like rice use much more acreage, sugarcane has by far the most metric tons of production.
Mysore street show
I had bought some oranges at a street stall in Mysore and done a small show. This woman with child was happy to get the oranges afterwards. Not the first time I had to wonder if the audiences were more curious or hoping for a eatable handout afterwards.
Mysore – child labor- betel nut
This young Muslim Mysore boy was selling leaves, which are used to wrap up betel nut, which is mixed with a lime paste and often spices. Then it is stuck in the mouth producing a mild buzz. Users are constantly spitting out the dark red juice. Many Indian kids must work or sell things to help their poor families survive. As a kid, I earned pocket money by doing garden work in the summers and shoveling snow in the winters and later had a paper route. But child labor, where kids must work full time rather than go to school, or at least in most of their free time is still a sad reality for many.
Humorous stores in Mysore
Nothing really associates these photos except that I found them humorous. Thou poultry shop on the left just seemed so pathetic. Seeing animal carcasses like this should make anyone reconsider eating meat. And these 2 lone chickens hanging their look more like a clown gag with rubber chickens than a serious business. And I have no idea what should be American about the barber shop. I had to think that if I went in there I would probably be their first American client. Just cut it American style.
Mysore – large, provincial but comfortable
Although Mysore is a sizable city I found it comfortable with lots of accommodation (although my place turned out to be loud and have bedbugs) and eating possibilities for my budget level. One place I ate at must have had some pretensions of elegance as the menu stated that the washing of one’s hands in the plate was forbidden. I ate thalis throughout southern India. This was like a small buffet of rice and various vegetable dishes, often served on a banana leaf and eaten with the right hand.
I drank a local Thumbs Up soft drink in Mysore and noted that the straw provided was actually long enough to drink the whole thing. Normally, the straws were too short, so one would end up drinking straight out of the bottle to finish it anyway. There also seemed to be many westerners who were neither package-tour tourists nor hardcore freaks. One girl I met at a restaurant said she thought Kovalam Beach had become more of a scene than Goa since everything was concentrated on one beach while Goa was very spread out and quiet places where still to be found there.
I don’t think there were more beggars in Mysore than in other cities but I had a small incident just the same. A leper came up to me and seeing his condition I thought to give him something. Then I realized that I had no small donation handy and didn’t want to pull out my money belt from beneath my cloths in the middle of the street. The guy then harangued me repeatedly for baksheesh until I snapped and started yelling Baksheesh, BAKSHEESH! back at him until he got a bit scared and took off. Not my best moment but sometimes shit happens. Most beggars seemed to have some sort of handicap. Rather than aggressively beg, many just slept with a container out for donations. I’m including a few of photos I took of such people in Mysore and that region of India
Before departing Mysore I took the opportunity to change money and buy film for my camera and bought an English language national newspaper to catch up on the news of the war and the world. Not that they took a position I disagreed with but everything was so nonsensical and contradictory that I thought it not worth even wiping my rear with.
Bandipur – Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary
From Mysore I went through the city of Bandipur and on to the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of the Bandipur National Park. It was a holiday and the sanctuary was supposed to (but wasn’t) be closed due to drought anyway. I first hung out in a forest watchtower dreaming of seeing the most prized sight of tigers. The probability of actually seeing a tiger that close to the park facilities was pretty slim but I just waited and hoped but at the same time was thinking “holy shit” what if one DOES come.
There was nothing to stop a tiger from climbing up the watchtower ladder. Saw some locals down by the river washing their cloths and a couple of elephants nearby but noticed that they had their feet chained together. Guess these were park workers that run the elephant tours shown below which were booked out for the coming days. There was a training camp for elephants where they learned ceremonies to do at Hindu Temples. I think most of these animals had been injured or orphaned wild animals, which had been rescued.
Later I managed to rent a jeep with some others and we saw at last 5 groups of wild elephants and lots of deer but not lots of other animals. One elephant charged our jeep but the driver gave it some gas and we got away. What had surprised me about the trained elephants was the effort taken to wash them, seemed they were probably the cleanest thing I saw in India. But then again, elephants are a revered animal and the trainers are assigned for life and supposedly take the name of the animal. Normally such a job would rank one pretty far down in the caste system but such a position is a holy vocation.
Park tour by bus & elephant
There were some shady characters hanging around the hostel type accommodation, which had no secure place to store the luggage yet I stayed another day hoping there would be a cancellation for the elephant tours but no such luck, so I took the mini-bus tour which was pretty much a waste of time. The bus was always bumping around and the motor rattled so much that the animals kept their distance. I would have left the next day but then 3 young hippy types showed up and they had reserved 2 elephants and needed another person. So I finally got my elephant tour and although one can see a long way from up top, we saw deer, wild boar and peacocks but no large animals. It was an experience but I had seen more during the jeep tour. And at least in theory, tigers will not avoid the elephants as they would a jeep.
Way to Cochin via Ooty, Coimbatore
From Madumalai I took a bus to Ooty and caught the train towards Cochin or Kochi as it is now called. It was a beautiful ride with probably the nicest scenery I saw in India, winding through green mountains carved by numerous waterfalls. The train pulled by an old-timer coal stoked steam engine. The train whistle would toot and echo through the valleys and tunnels like a toy train set. We kept going over bridges and through tunnels and the smoke and ash from the engine also blew back into the windows in every tunnel.
As dramatic as the scenery was, there were few opportunities for good photos although we did take a break where I photographed the train. Also got a shot of a beggar at the window and towards the end and people working at a hay depot. We stopped in Coimbatore in the early evening where there should have been a connection at 1.30 a.m. but it was booked out so I took a room and got the next possibility at 7 a.m.
I was now in the Indian State of Kerala, having left Tamil Nadu. Upon arrival in Cochin, I found a bank to change some travelers checks. I had countersigned the checks and all seemed okay when they started freaking out because I use my first and last names when signing but omit my second name, which is shown in my passport. I got my money but only after hours of phone calls and discussions and multiple signing of documents. Seems that the signatures on the checks must match but then also match to the name in my passport although the signature there also is without my middle name. Yeah, just draw me a square circle here and you can be on your way. Just happy the place was air conditioned since Cochin was green but burning hot and humid.
Cochin – nice town
The town seemed nice as I wandered around; were lots of anti- Bush graffiti but also lots of communist banners and slogans. To get the following photo, I had to run to catch the men as they turned the corner with their over-laden cart. I couldn’t help but think that Michael Jackson probably earned more money in a few minutes than all of these men together over a lifetime and in 1990, I kind of doubt any of these guys even knew who MJ was.
Cochin – Jewtown
The area, which had traditionally been home to a Jewish community, was cleverly known as Jewtown. It was a bit shocking to see these swastikas displayed there but I quickly learned that the word swastika comes from Sanskrit and it is an old symbol pertaining to luck and well-being used in India with no connection or connotation to Nazis. Still, India always seemed to provide a surreal moment at least once a day. The community survived suppression by various powers over the centuries and still maintains their main synagogue here but in reduced numbers due to emigration and conversion.
The Portuguese had ruled this area for a while and under pressure from them many local Jews had become Christian. I saw more crucifixes and Christian images for sale in Jewtown than I did Jewish ones. Figured any Jews were not out advertising the fact with things heating up in the Gulf war. One guy in Cochin asked me where I was from, I answered Puerto Rico and he surprised me by believably explaining that he had been a sailor and had visited there on a trip along with Cuba and Honduras.
Chinese fishing nets
The most interesting things I saw in Cochin were the fishing nets platforms on the beach. There were many wooded platforms with huge nets that were raised and lowered by a handful of men with the help of large stones hung by ropes, which were used as counter-weights. I must have shot a whole roll of film of the nets which I have never seen anywhere else in the world outside of Kerala. Supposedly this technology originated in China but as I have never been to China I don’t know if it is still used there. Another connection to China is communism. Kerala is known as one of the more equitable, better off places in India, which is greatly due to the state government, which was one of the first communist ones in the world and unique in India.
Beach business; ice cream, solo fishing
There were also quite some fishermen who individually threw nets into the water. Never saw anybody catch much while I was there but the lone guys seemed to come up with comparable results for a lot less effort. I had seen a lot of what I thought were sharks but might have been dolphins (or maybe both) swimming here so maybe they had scared off the fish. I had stepped on something like a catfish half buried in the sand which left my foot bleeding profusely thus I stayed out of the water myself to be on the safe side.
And what would a beach be without your ice cream vendors? Of course in India any risk adverse person would never dare to eat actual ice cream from such a cart. Something freshly cooked perhaps, a poorly cooled milk product? No way.
Poling large wooden boats
Was a real contrast to see huge modern ships in the Cochin harbor and these simple wooden ones. I still don’t fathom how just a guy in front and one in back can pole along such a big vessel. Like what if the waves get big and push you into deeper water where you can’t reach the bottom with your pole?
Kerala Backwater tour
As picturesque as Cochin was, I just stayed a couple of days before taking one of the popular “backwaters” boat tours of the rivers and canals, which cover a large section of Kerala near the coast. The next boat out of Cochin wasn’t for a couple of days so I caught a train south to Quillon, now known as Kollam where there was a selection of different ones. The fancy government luxury boat, especially set up for tourists, looked nice but costed 60 rupees compared to 6 for the normal one. Most of the small boats along the way were being used to transport crops. Some slightly bigger boats had sails rather than having to pole the whole way.
Coconut groves galore
For the first half of the 7-hour trip, one mostly saw endless groves of coconut palms. The abundant water lilies were unusual in that when the water rippled as the boat neared, they would submerge. Camouflage is one thing but I never saw a plant that could actively hide. One place there was a mango tree in full bloom with bunch of chickens sitting in it. Okay, they are birds but one expects to see them scratching around on the ground or where there simply more delectable insects attracted to the mango tree? The canals zigzagged but I think we were rarely more than a kilometer or two from the ocean. I can only guess that using smaller boats in a more protective environment outweighed the advantages of larger ships on the rough oceans.
Coconut vendor, injured tourist
The boat stopped on occasion and a flood of sellers would come with snacks and drinks. This guy was selling coconut milk and sliced open the coconuts on the spot. He was peaceful but the picture of him with machete in hand always reminds me of an incident I later heard about. I met a Swedish guy at Kovalam Beach who had his hand all bandaged up. He had taken a similar backwater tour with a group of other Swedes. An Indian guy on the boat kept trying to hit on one of the girls and when she finally told him to just leave her alone, he pulled a knife and tried to kill her. The Swedish guy jumped in and saved her yet despite his injuries had pity on the perpetrator because “people in India are so poor”. I myself would have bashed the guys face in so that he would never think of trying something like that again.
Chaos continuing on to Kovalam Beach
I don’t even remember our backwater boat tour end destination but I spent the night and got a morning bus the rest of the way to Trivandrum where I changed for Kovalam Beach. The bus station was total chaos. No signs in English but an enquiry office where I was first told to wait in at a specific spot and assured that there would be a bus shortly, which then changed to “maybe in a few hours”. Then I was told I should better try the other bus station, which is 10 minutes away.
Kovalam Beach, Kerala
I avoided going to the beach on my first trip to India. Traveling there is adventuresome and never boring but also tiring so there is always the risk to relax at a beach that one doesn’t get away again. And I knew many Germans, who would fly to Bombay, take the first connection to Goa and stay there for months, never seeing anything of the country. Goa had a reputation at the time for a lot of drugs and partying and rumors that the police were staging raids. The new laid-back place for travelers was Kovalam beach and I decided it was ripe to see. I hear it’s developed into a crazy scene as well but it was still nice back then.
Here was the place to finally hang loose and get to know other travelers and exchange traveling experiences. Was interesting to hear about the Bhagwan Ashram in Pune where one had to first get an AIDS test to be able to visit. Even ran into a German girl I had taught to juggle in Thailand 3 years earlier and had run into again the previous summer in Germany.
Kovalam accommodation, hanging out at the beach
There were plenty of shops, restaurants and accommodation for all price ranges. I got a place that was simple but a step above the basic grungy shacks that were also available. I was concerned that most places did not have reliable locks for the doors and windows. I never had a problem but heard that rather than break-ins, things more “disappeared” off the cloths line, which could just as well be done by other tourists than any local thieves. Or maybe it was revenge for not taking up the constant offers to wash your cloths.
My room was okay for some days but suddenly one night there were rats running around and a bunch of biting fleas jumping around in the morning and I changed places. Forgot my Swiss army knife and Maglite but later got them back after having been told that there weren’t there. Was taking this photo of some of the people I had met at beach when this Sadhu came by. I think many tourists were often too caught up in their relaxation to even take note of such people.
Kovalam Beach vendors
Love the body language of this girl who seemed less than enthusiastic about the offer of sunglasses. But I remember that she was from East Germany and this shortly after the fall of the wall, many even young Ossies still hadn’t learned much English. There were a lot of vendors on the beach but I didn’t find them overly annoying. One guy I took note of was selling vegetable and flower seeds. I wondered what possible use a tourist would have for them especially since they were probably forbidden to take into many countries like the USA but someone told me that they guy actually did okay business. And yes, more ice cream sellers were around. Some sellers roamed up and down the beach while others set up make-shift shops at the edge of the beach.
Beaches used as public toilets
What got to me at nearly all Indian beaches was the shit. Of course it was a problem all over India but one didn’t expect it at such a tourist destination that had plenty of alternatives for the locals. Even ones that had access to toilets seemed to just prefer the custom of having an early morning shit in the sand. Although not generally an early riser, I got up at sunrise a couple of times here which was much cooler than the sticky hot conditions in the late morning. But to swim it was best to have given the tide time to come in and start receding again to clean away the waste.
Not all tourists so cool
I met a number of nice people and taught lots of people to juggle while at the beach but had some misadventures as well. I had met a couple of very nice German girls who had met a Canadian guy. He seemed like a real creep and kept telling me how he wanted to get the girls drunk and high and then they would be easy to get into bed. Somehow they seemed to lose interest in me and then one night arrived on the beach with him and took off all of their cloths to go skinny-dipping. It was late and I stuck around, thinking that I should keep an eye on their things or else they would likely get taken. Then they came out of the water and accused me of having stared at them, violating their privacy. Sorry but I was sitting there first and it was a public place so it was a weird energy.
Foreigners growing up in Indian communes
Also met a French girl whose mother had taken her to Auroville, which was a commune full of idealistic westerners. Her mother had left back to France and she stayed on living there for the next 6 years from the age of 16. As an insider she told me a lot of stories of conflicts and less than harmonious community attitudes which prevailed there – making it far from the “heaven on earth” it was promoted to be.
Kovalam Beach lacking balanced infrustruce
I think I had to change some money in Kovalam at a hotel. Somehow the local branch of the Bank of India didn’t seem up to the task. I’m not sure what services they actually had to offer? Maybe breaking a 100 Rupee note into smaller bills? At the time, there was a lack of business infrastructure nearby beyond the guest houses, hotels and restaurants. I would imagine it has developed since then at the time I think the accommodation offerings had exploded while other business were just lagging behind. The Lord Krishna Bank photo was not taken at the beach but somehwere in the region. At least they had a metal gated door for security. In god we trust.
Kovalam Beach community fishing
I saw this happen a couple of times in the 9 days I was at Kovalam Beach. Hundreds of people, even the kids, joined together to string out and then haul in these extensive fishing nets. Even some tourists would join in on occasion for fun.
Dividing the fish catch
Somehow the woman who divided up the catch didn’t look too happy. Looked like a lot of fish but who knows how many mouths it was intended to feed. These small fish were spread out on the sand and left to dry and it was like a minefield. One would be having a late night stroll and suddenly be in the midst of these stinking prickly fish. Someone told me that they were like chewing gum and sold in other areas of India but the locals didn’t actually eat them. Guess I wouldn’t either knowing they had sat in the sand and been trampled over by humans and dogs and picked over by birds.
Nearby beaches to Kovalam
I once hiked over to the next couple of beaches from Kovalam, which were small but very nice although the surf was rather rough. There I saw lots of fishermen tending to their nets after returning from fishing from their boats. That’s where I took the following pictures although I got some aggressive demands for baksheesh for doing so. I did make a donation to a leper near here and was surprised when he gave me a receipt in the name of the local Leper Society or some such organization.
Pink Mosque near Kovalam Beach
There was also a cool looking large pink mosque a bit farther on form Kovalam. A western girl and Indian guy who had come with me took a walk to get a better look at the mosque. They came back pretty excited. Seems a bunch of guys near the mosque started to threaten them and chased them while throwing stones. I don’t know if it was the sight of an Indian together with a western girl that incited them as the guy claimed or not. The kind of dress and behavior accepted at beaches like Kovalam and Goa was not really cared for elsewhere regardless of religion.
Kovalam Beach activities; volleyball, juggling
Playing volleyball on Kovalam Beach was fairly popular. There was one local boy who enthusiastically played along despite being severely handicapped. His legs were bent and withered and he hopped and scrabbled around on his hands like a crab. His hands folded in an unnatural direction yet he could still hit the volleyball over the net. He was so fascinated by my juggling that I tried to teach him. I didn’t manage it before I left because he always got so excited just to be trying, so happy to make a few throws that he couldn’t concentrate on continuing. I often think of him when somebody tells me that they could never learn to juggle because they are too uncoordinated. Unless blind, I think almost anyone, properly trained and motivated that they don’t give up after a few minutes can learn it with 3 objects.
My 2nd to last day at Kovalam, I met an Australian yoga teacher who had just been in Mysore with Pattabi Jois. I taught her to juggle and she got me started on some yoga basics: A good friend of mine in Europe had also done extensive yoga training and had many books, videos and magazines yet I never took the initiative to start before then. I don’t get too esoteric about it as I don’t really believe in enlightenment. But I’ve continued to do yoga for health reasons nearly on a daily basis ever since.
Madurai, Tamil Nadu
From Kovalam I took bus to Trivandrum and then had another comic episode trying to get the bus to Madurai. Enquiry place kept assuring me a bus would come but it didn’t show up and then I found out that there was another office on the other side of the building where they really sold the tickets to Madurai. No idea what the others had gained by telling me such nonsense but their only job was to give out bus information and everything they said was wrong. Madurai is one of the most important cities of the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Meenakshi Amman Hindu temple complex
The main attraction there is the extensive Meenakshi Amman Hindu temple complex dedicated to Shiva. There are 14 towers and a sacred pool in the center of at least of the temple sections. Lot of temples in southern India had this architectural layout. I had seen this elsewhere but it was prevalent in Madurai. Unfortuntely, it got too dark to get good shots of the interior as I left. As I had started to learn some yoga I went looking for some books recommended by the Australian teacher. Unfortunately I didn’t find the ones I wanted and others I did find were by fat Indians who looked incompetent or by westerners pushing their superficial, commercial versions. The temple complex was interesting anyway.
It appeared that people went here for advice and the priests would read them some relevant holy text. At least these priests looked scholarly in contrast to the Sadhus one sees on the street hat seem more focused on smoking weed and finding their next handout.
Elephants for religious ceremonies
This elephant was just outside of the temple. Rather than just giving tourists rides, many such animals are used to attract donations. One makes a little ceremony with the holy elephant and receives its blessing I guess. Seemed a paradox that villagers are killing elephants elsewhere that raid their fields. As humans have taken away their natural habitat this is an inevitable clash. But one would expect a humane solution considering how cows are so revered and tolerated but a similarly holy being according to Hindu orthodoxy is not.
Tiruchirappalli AKA Trichy
From Madurai I got a train to Tiruchirappalli AKA Trichy where I visited a couple of temples and the touted Rock Fort, which had a nice view but was otherwise unspectacular. When I arrived in the train station I saw that there were typically 2 restaurants: a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian. The hardcore vegetarians would not even consider eating in a place that served non-vegetarian fare. And the non-vegetarian restaurant had one item available, eggs with toast – not even any meat at that time of the day. Made me laugh to see the tables turned for a person looking to chow down on their meat, only to find some token offering on the menu.
Most of the places demanded money to take photos inside which I passed on. At one temple you could look from the roof down at another temple, which was forbidden to visit, and its attraction was a tower of pure gold. The guy who was in charge of letting people up to the roof was very unfriendly, as I had turned down his earlier offer to be my guide. He claimed that Indians are poor and I should stay at home rather than visit his country and not hire people like him. Was a point to what he said but I wasn’t much in a mood to hear it and responded that the locals were wealthy enough to build a tower of gold so they must be doing okay.
Thanjavur AKA Tanjore
From Trichy I got a bus the next morning to Thanjavur AKA Tanjore. Went to eat and the locals didn’t know what a thali was, which was the standard meal I had eaten all over southern India. Sometimes it was referred to as “rice plate” but that didn’t ring a bell either. Seems that the local version is simply called “meals”. Saw the attractive Brihadeshwara Temple complex, where I saw the biggest “holy cow” statue I had seen in India.
Tanjore – Thanjavar Maratha Palace Archeology Museum
I also visited the archeological museum in the Maharaja’s Palace in Tanjore known as the Thanjavar Maratha Palace. I copied down some of the English explanations from the museum which are too long to repeat here but win my award for all time funniest, bad English. And this is a hotly contested category in India to say the least. I don’t have any photos from the complex so it might not have been allowed inside. Outside there was a cool statue that seemed to represent yoga positions. I also have this picture of an observation post where lots of school kids were visiting. I’m not sure if it was at the palace or a temple – so someone drop me a line if they recognize the exact location.
I actually spotted this ad for a public toilet in Tanjore, which was a rarity anywhere in India then. I read in 2010 how much India has been changed since someone finally designed and built acceptable toilets. Sounds like a humble undertaking but the kind of thing that really makes a change in everyday life for millions of people.
One thing that doesn’t appear to have changed is the tradition of storing wealth in gold, mainly in jewelry for the average Indian that has any wealth at all. Thus such shops like this one I saw in Tangare (or maybe it was Trichy) are common throughout the country.
I continued by night train to Madras arriving at about 4.30 a.m. and got a bus one hour later to Mahabalipuram for a couple of days. This was my last chance to hit the beach, as I needed to get to Bombay in a few days for my flight back to Europe. My hotel was good and cheap although attached bath threatened to turn into attached swimming pool, as there was a water leak from floor above. The water eventually flooded my room the following night and I was very lucky that my things didn’t get wet, especially my camera that was under the bed. I took this photo on the beach there as these guys were repairing their boat. They heated big clay jars containing a tar like oil, which they used to waterproof the wooden vessel with.
The beach here was nothing special and like many in India – full of shit. The real attraction at this beach is the extensive temple ruins. I was fascinated to recently read that the 2008 tsunami washed away sediment revealing extensive temple structures below the waterline, which fits to legends that other important temples had previously existed here. Unfortunately, there was an ugly barbed wire fence surrounding the ruins, which destroyed the aesthetic of any possible pictures.
Mahabalipuram Beach raft repair
Not only were such boats being repaired but also a number of large narrow rafts. Just made from timbers lashed together, they seemed simply constructed. Getting one back in the water looked like an effort.
I didn’t find a very good atmosphere in Mahabalipuram and there were few tourists to chat with. There also seemed to be a lot of hard core beggars – one of which first approached trying to sell me a couple of stuffed chipmunks. I had come down with a cold and really couldn’t find the patience to be nice to such people.
Madras aka Chennai
From Mahabalipuram I caught a bus back to Madras, now known as Chennai, along with a woman I met from Quebec. She had taught a couple of other people to juggle that I met on my trip and it turned out that she knew a few performers I also knew from her involvement with a street performers festival in Quebec city. We just stayed one night at this really cool old hotel before I had to catch a long train ride to Bombay but first I had a mad dash of getting last minute souvenirs which replaced most of my well-traveled clothing and trying to get film developed. Lost at least one roll of film since the photo place was having trouble with their machine and it came out blank.
Back home via Bombay
Night train to Bombay was restful as I camped out on the upper bunk. We arrived at 5 a.m. and I went to the Salvation Army hotel but they were full and said check in time would be later. My flight was leaving in the late afternoon so I dragged myself around getting last minute things. Remember looking for Chinese shoes of all things, which I thought would fit to my show costume. I even saw an oriental guy in a shop wearing just the type I wanted but he said he had bought them in Singapore and such shoes were not available in Bombay to his knowledge.
Eventually I did get back to the Salvation Army hotel for a shower and a couple hours of needed rest and thought it a shame I hadn’t found this place before when I stayed in Bombay. I noticed the pants I had were dirty and stained in the back but there was no time for them to dry if washed and I had thrown my other ones away. I was worried to arrive in Germany looking like such a dirt bag so I bought some new pants and was on my way.
So, those were just a few tales from my many travels over the last thirty and something years. I hope you've enjoyed another side of a traveling clown! If you want, write me an email or better yet, book my show or set a link to this website or just state me as the beneficiary of your will!
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