Wednesday, 30 November 2016

30hrs in Trivandrum

Day 3 of solo travel South-East India 2016/17, Coast to coast

I had 2 main items on my itinerary for trivandrum, 1 was to visit the Sree Padmaswamy Temple which is about 2km from the train station. Thua after depositing my backpack in the cloak room i took a stroll and finally reached. First of i had to deposit my bag & mobile outside as the Temple has severely tighten it's security measures after coming to world wide fame for the wrong reasons. (Too much wealth).
Then I had to change since ladies have to wear saree or an alternative would be to wrap a mudu which I did.

Inside of course needless to mention is beautiful, it's not colourful like the temple of Tamil Nadu but rather has a graceful regal aura, I could envision myself dressed in finery like a princess walking along the stone pathway as the lights from the brass holders flickers in the breeze. 
While many temples do not allow non-Hindu, this was the only place wherein I was questioned several times of my religion just because of my non-Aryan looks.

After an hour long queue I finally saw the Ananta Sree Padmaswamy for 10 second. The reclining statute has 3 doors from where 3portion is visible, the stretched arm shading the Shiva Linga, the navel from from where Bharma sits atop a lotus and his feet. 
As expected there are numerous signs of riches from the large brass lanterns, gold plated pillar, silver frames with intricate etchings.... however only parts of the compound are open for visitors.

Just outside the temple are 2 museums and a cow shed. A birth had just occurred a few minutes before as a cow was licking her newborn as it struggled to get up.
. Beware actions to see the animal up close gets solicitation for donations
Tickets are sold together at the counter.
The Puthenimalika Museum is livingly maintained but one is not allowed to see unguided. Tour through the museum is rushed, faster than a bathroom break and explanation sorely lacking.  Oh even to take pictures of the exterior one needs to lay... I managed to take 2 shots before I was asked to either pay up or put away my cell.
2 semi circle grill on either side of the door gives an appearance of a no?
Puthenimalika Museum is a harmony of traditional Kerala architecture using various types of woods and granite/marble.

Next to the Puthenimalika Museum is another museum displays various photographs of the Travancore royalty throughput the dynasty. One can take your own sweet time going through the museum but unfortunately its not well kept as the Puthenimalika Museum & pictures of serveral royalties are a second class print copy. From Sree Padmaswamy Temple, the Ganapathy Temple is very close by when a scene to be noticed is people breaking coconut offerings in a well which is then collected and bagged off to be sold off.
Finally it was time for some food as my stomach had been complaining for at least an hour or so.. Starbucks is apparently not present in Trivandrum so I had to stick to Indian Coffee House for my caffeine fix, the one near the train station has a circular structure and placement.

The prices are also very reasonable.

A pot of coffee that was only 1/2 filled, Bombay toast aka French toast and vada (without chutney) cost only about 80rs. So it's cheap but not so great taste wise.

Finally it was past noon & I could check into the hostel. I chose the Vedanta Wake up, dorm bed. It's reasonable at about 650rs per night, it's a 6 bed dorm but only 1 other solo traveller was there. A/c room with ensuite bathroom. There are options for cheaper if one looks around but who the hell gonna do that if a hefty backpack?? At least not me. It's near the train so if you wanna walk it's possible as well, about 15mins away by walking and 4 min in auto.
Post a refreshing shower and nap, I headed to see the museum, and thanks Google map- I ended up walking somewhere close to 5kms. I could have taken an auto after 30mins but it seemed like I would be giving up so I continued. Up & down the various alley, back & forth as apparently I'm  walking the wrong way again, again & once again. but finally I reached the Napier Museum which is actually just a building in a large enclosure with other museums, zoo, cafeteria and what not. And very popular with the young crowd who like to sit on the steps/pavilion/shade etc.

 the Napier Museum has a nice collection of ivory items, & the most delicate was a Shiva-Parvathi statute craved within a single tusk, they also have South-Asian collection featuring mainly Balinese items.

The Chithra Art Gallery featured some artwork by an artist who didn't impressed me much.
There were lots of these trees around with huge seeds/fruits.
I could not resist trying some street food and boy was I glad that I didn't. had the best ever banana fritter, a nice crunch on the exterior and appropriately ripe banana. Not sure which banana they used.
 I continued my walk towards the city/commercial area, too tired and with my phone about to die out, I had to sit down somewhere where I could charge my phone.
Had watermelon juice. It was an expensive phone charging station.

I had reserved a table at the renowned Villa Maya. Reading the reviews I thought perhaps it would be overhyped but was very pleasantly surprised.
 One look at the interiors and it's easy to assume that the dining experience would enthralling.
Amuse bouche was complementary. Mini puri with also bhurji and lemonade-ish with basil seed.
Ordered for the seafood rasam. it was served deconstructed, with grilled seafood-squid, sea bass and other seafood served in a bowl of maids and rasam pored on the table. Accompanying it was some prawn crackers, chutney of crab & capsium along with lemon.. needless to say, amazing!
For main I chose the chicken stew served with appams, as recommended by the server. Well i guess the seafood rasam set a high bar to surpass.
Since I could not stuff dessert, I had coffee which came with three tiny cookies- all different flavours. The bill was not too heavy on the pocket, in fact 60% of what I would have paid in Bangalore around 1300rs nett .

Oh even the bathroom is atas. the only thing that could have made the experience better was some banter from my girls.

It was a great day in Trivandrum and should I come back, I wouldn't mind visiting both the Sree Padmaswamy Temple & Villa Maya again.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

A morning in Madurai

Day 2 of solo travel South-East India 2016/17, Coast to coast

After the exhaustion of yesterdays' walk I slept early and woke up early, a good thing since I wanted to go to the flower market which is about 6km from the Periyar Bus Stand. The market actually starts from 3am when the fresh stock arrives to be quickly sold to the various retailers. 

I managed to reach around 7:30am when everything was more or less sold off. Still the fragrances of the various flowers lingered in the air..
 roses dime a dozen...not my favourite flowers but could come around to liking it through
 So happy to see this - to "titay patey" not sure of the English name - maybe mugwort, love theses shrub/herb.
 there must be more than a few million of these ladies in India, all selling fresh flowers by the footpath
Ah Jasmine...the beloved flower in the Indian subcontinent. The jasmine in perfumes do not do justice to the real thing.
 breakfast was by the road stall of vada variation in coconut chutney & tomato based chutney. This is by far the best chutney accompaniment i have eaten in South India, & I have living in South for several years. The stall is just at the entrance of the flower market. ( Bring your own wipes)
 The wild flowers are not to be outdone by the cultivated. Bright neon flowers carpet the sidewalk.
 all the walking had me craving for chocolate , this is my selection, reminiscent of my school days & perfect for travel. Unfortunately it's sold only in few places, I bought my stock from Bangalore.
 then it was off to AlagarKovil Temple about 20kms off. 
 lovely shaded path towards the Temple.
 an invasive bourgenvilla that has taken over half the tree.
 a stone madapa just outside the sanctum, popular with devotees for nap or picnic.
 another crooked tree in the vicinity of a place of worship
 the prasadam famous in this Temple, dosa. 
Although 4 times the cost of other prasadam, the price is worth its weight in black peppercorns. Share with others. Take a plastic bag or container as it would be difficult to finish it in one go either because it's too heavy or the monkeys come by..
Who are always looking for an opportunity to steal.. keep all belonging safe & definitely do not hold food in it hand and swing it casually while walking. That's just plain temptation & invitation for them.
I noticed quite a lot monkeys tend to use their right hand when eating with one hand...and they like to stuff food in their
The puliyogore is awesome!! The perfect balanced of flavours, just a hint of spice, tempered by the sour from the tamarind and moist without becoming too oily. Must try as well. For a non Hindu who will barred entry into the temples, eating the prasadam is the best they can do out of the situation.
As for me it's always a joy to be able to pay Darshan...I have been asked to convert for the sake of marriage but somehow it feels like I'm not accepted who I am.
 the original outer walls as nature fights back, inch by inch, leave by leave.

From the foot of the hill of AlagarKovil Temple a shuttle bus runs to this Murugan Temple. It's a 5 bus ride and cost 10rs.
 It may lack grandeur but pops out due the colourful decor. They also sell some good quality calendar at reasonable prices.
 lunch was at the British Bakery just out the Periyar Bus Station. This combo is 160rs & is not bad. It's KFC without the magic seasonings that KFC uses. The fried chicken is juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Perfect for those days when craving for non-Indian junk food.
 Vandalism or modern art?
While in Bangalore there has been a big hula about water grievance, but truly the river beds are dried & exposed in Tamil Nadu.

Next stop Trivandrum....

Monday, 28 November 2016

A day in Madurai

Day 1 of solo travel South-East India 2016/17, Coast to coast

I reached Madurai almost on time and went to the airbnb rental in SS colony which is centrally located.

First stop was of course the famous Meenakshi Temple with its' confusing North, South, East & West tower since I wanted to enter from the East tower which is generally deemed more auspicious.

Beyond the outer perimeter, only Hindus are allowed and photography are not permitted which is fine by me since I'm too engrossed either staring in awe in a queue or praying as fast as possible before the pandits literally push off the devotees.

After the Darshan of the Meenakshi idol & her groom-Shiva (which is a good 5 mins walk + 30 mins queue) I sat down in the floor and soaked in the ambience. I have been accused of being a little on the classless side & truly these days it no longer matters to be if my new jeans get dirty by just parking my butt on the floor. It's not like they are chairs to be found inside a Temple is there anyway.

A funny anecdote was while in front of Saraswati Devi (Goddess of Knowledge) I spied an elderly man take the burnt out wick, flip it over, gather some spilled ghee, proceed to light it up and offer a prayer. Lol, cheating habits die hard heh??

The good thing about visiting Temples are the prasadam one is encouraged to partake - all sold just outside the main sanctum. I had the payasam (???)  & Murukha.

Then after all the sugar & salt rush, I spent about close to 40 mins trying to find "Chetty Nadu Mess", did I mentioned that the various towers are confusing????? Thank God I found the alley I was searching for which is 'Thiyagi Thayamal Street' an alley between East & South tower roads. Or was the South-West junction???

This hole in the wall eatery has South's best curry served with their Thali/meals. The gravy was just the right thickness with the perfect amount of spices and seasonings. the 2 refill I had still left me wanting for more. The fish was also recommended but I could have easily forgone and not missed it. Maybe the fried version is tastier. The Thali was little on the expensive side at 90rs but the meen molly at 150rs for a single piece of fish in the same curry as the one in the Thali set was seriously way too overpriced. & I don't even care if fishes are too expensive in Madurai.

From there it's a short walk to the Thirukural Nayakar Place but first I had to walk around the perimeter to find the right tower street to exit from. Did I mention how tiring these towers are?? having reached the palace, read the notice that it's shut for some restoration work etc, for the upcoming Heritage Week.
Even the Church was closed during the day. Frustrated went to the second most famous Temple in Madurai, the Thiruparamkundram Murugan Temple, about 10km away from the city side.
This Temple is said to be one of the 6 residence of Lord Murugan, son of Lord Shiva & Parvathi Mata. The interesting feature of this Temple is that it was craved out from the rock that's visible in the background.
As I went for Darshan I saw this.
It was closed for the afternoon and I was not the only one waiting....
 I thought about it for like 2mins and sat down. I couldn't help it I was so tired that i might have dozed off for some time  as well.
Not wanting to embarrass myself further I took off to climb the rock having noticed a Temple on top. The steps to the hilltop is about 1km away....
Meet my nemesis, steps uphill. the temple is pass 7 or 8 of those rest gates..and quite popular amongst couple who could hear me wheezing and struggling to climb up from 5 metres away, enough time for them to rearrange themselves. I must have alarmed them quite a bit, even got a pitying look from a wizened old man who through sign-body language informed me that i had 3 more gates to pass before reaching my destination. The thing about these hills & mountains is how they all look so close and easy initially but sneakingly throws in a dozen or so turns and bends. I admit I was thinking of giving up and would probably might have had I not known it was a Shiva Temple but...

 I think I deserved the swagger after the mini took me about 45mins with a lot of rest to reach the top.
 the view...
It's needless to mention how very disappointing it is to see the sink without the pipe/tap/running water. Wth happened, someone obviously allocated the budget to install these and work was done but only 40% with no water supply....

The trip down hardly took me 15mins as I scampered easily even if my legs were shaking a little on level ground. This time I took a shared auto to the temple and finally paid my Darshan. Of course nphotography & non Hindu not allowed. It's awesome inside, definitely visit if in Madurai.

It was a  long day and i ended up sleeping early.

Next is day 2, continuing to explore more of Madurai.