The detour to the South Indian megacity Madurai was rewarded with two highlights. There is the temple of Sri Meenakshi. Never before have I seen such an impressive Hindu structure. And then there is the new number 1 on the list of my favourite restaurants. But is that enough to come back?
Madurai: a travelogue
We reach Madurai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu at half-past four in the morning. The city is still in the dark and in the station forecourt sleeping in blankets wrapped hundreds of people in the open air. Carefully we sneak past and pass the main street. Traders cook the first tea of the day and food preparation is in full swing.
Hotel with obstacles
We manage to avoid all rickshaw drivers and search for accommodation on foot. The problem in this part of India is that there is no fixed check-out time, and instead of renting the room for exactly 24 hours. This can be an advantage if you arrive in the evening. At 6 a.m., it is more of a disadvantage. Especially since we already know that we will continue our journey in a few days at night. Nevertheless, we check-in, with a double room price of 7.50 euros can cope with that.
Since we are not yet in the breakfast mood, we lie down to sleep first, but we wake up at 9 clocks very rude. First knock, then it drums on the door. Whether we want coffee or tea, asks a hotel employee. Since the temperatures are now properly climbed, it is difficult to fall asleep again.
Can one get used to India?
Around noon, we recovered from the fatigue of the night and leave. After the relaxing days on the beach in Varkala Madurai is like a slap in the face. It is humid and dusty. There is immense traffic. It smells like piss and garbage. And it’s loud, even louder than we remembered from Mumbai. Are they honking here at a higher frequency?
The relaxing oasis is found in New Town Hall Restaurant (2 Town Hall Rd.) a large room with huge fans on the ceiling, including simple tables and chairs and many guests dining there at all hours of the day. We take a seat and are well looked after by the nice staff. In the first attempt, we found directly our favourite restaurant for the next few days. The waiters show us the jewels on the menu that we try up and down and look forward to great thali.
We get the art of “mixing tea with milk” and are always the only Western tourists here, once even an Indian wedding party sits at the next table. Finding a good restaurant in India is not difficult, but this is perfect.
With new strength we explore the city. Crowded streets lead to the huge six-hectare Sri Meenakshi Temple. Its 50 meters high towers are visible throughout the city, already impressive. We do not want to go in on the first day but look at the area for a while.
The highlights at the flower market are round trip
The next morning we visit a much-praised in the travel guide flower market, but it is rather boring. We prefer the return trip with the rickshaw because we left early and Madurai just wakes up. The streets are almost peacefully there, we see small shops open and the dealers put fresh fruit in the display. Bananas seem to be particularly popular. They stack up high, are carted with bicycles or with the rickshaw.
Temple highlights Sri Meenakshi
In the afternoon we finally go to the temple. Before we have to leave our shoes outside, access is allowed only barefoot. Inside, a huge religious supermarket awaits us. Icons, figures, floral arrangements, incense sticks and other bells and whistles. Religion is a huge business, as everywhere else. The Hindu pilgrims are busily shopping; we walk slowly past and admire the temple architecture.
Unfortunately, many areas are only open to Hindus, but it is an interesting tour for us. Photos are allowed, but we have to pay an extra fee of about one euro for this. Later, we come to a place where a monk is in prayer with a believer, touching his forehead. We do not want to disturb this process, pass quietly and take a little bit further to photograph a mural. Suddenly the monk roars: “Show Camera ticket, please!” Puzzled by the abrupt end of the ceremony, we follow the request and show our permission.
Shortly thereafter, we leave the temple and have some trouble outside to get rid of the beggars and traders who promptly relocate us. Therefore, we retire to the roof terrace of a hotel. Here you can have a drink and enjoy the view of the Sri Meenakshi and of course the peace.
How was it? – OK
The city tour the next day is rather boring so that the farewell in the evening is not difficult. Madurai, I do not know what to think of you. But at some point I’ll come to you again for a thali.