Hopping off the bus at Ridiculous-O’clock (5am), our fatigue allowed us yet again to get trapped in the rickshaw/guesthouse scam, and agreed to pay much more than we should have for a very basic room. Although we asked to be taken to Town Hall Road, our driver knew best – obviously. Annoyingly, I’ve forgotten the hotel’s name!
A few hours sleep and we were back out, embracing the glorious sunshine and chaotic streets of Madurai. Three years previously, Brendan had stayed in Madurai for a month, volunteering in a boys’ home. I was equally as excited as he for returning and eager to see what he could remember about the place. Madurai is a small, yet busy town, bustling with tourists and locals, spilling out all over the streets.
Our first priority, obviously, was food, and we headed for the recommended Raj Restaurant on Town Hall Road. We were ecstatic with this place, two-thirds cheaper than anywhere we’d eaten in India so far! And the food was excellent!! I had Dal Fry, and Brendan had Paneer Tikka, we shared a rice dish and chapatti, and we each had a couple of poppadoms (papads).
Bellies full, and back on the streets we were. We spent the day soaking up the excitement of this busy little town. We explored the streets and enjoyed a milkshake or two on the rooftop of Supreme Hotel, giving an awesome view of the Meenlakshmi temple complex. We stayed here well after the sun set, moving onto beers.
The following day, awoken with an 8am knock on the door, enquiring if we were staying an extra night. Declining, we got up, got ready, and headed downstairs. A different man was at the desk. We asked to leave our bags and they accepted, though much to our dismay we were told to pay an extra 600Rupees for the rooms as their rooms ran on a 24 hour basis. I flatly refused before remembering that we wanted to leave our bags there. Had we not needed to, we would’ve just walked away, nowing this was a made-up scam. However, not wanting a repeat day like our last day in Pondicherry, not knowing where else we leave our luggage and our train being at 11pm, we decided to keep the room key and keep our bags upstairs. At least if we could get a shower before leaving, we would have got SOMETHING for our money!
So, a reeling Brendan and Alex, angry at that man and ourselves for allowing ourselves to be ripped off ALL THE TIME, we devoured a tasty rooftop breakfast before heading to the stunning, mesmerisingly colourful Meenlakshmi temple. We entered through West Gate, keeping our shoes, bags, and cameras in security, though strangely being allowed to take our camera phones with us…odd! The outside of the temples were an array of blues, greens, reds and yellows, displaying thousands of perfectly sculpted Hindu Gods and deities. Despite no cameras allowed, I snapped a few hurriedly taken photos with my iPhone while noone was around. When we went inside the first temple, it was heaving with people praying and being blessed. The ceilings were brightly covered in Hindu paintings and the pillars were sculptured into a whole range of creatures. A truly incredible group of temples, which cannot be justified in any descriptions or photos – of mine, anyway.
As the temple closes for three hours over lunch, we
visited the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Museum, which lead you through the journey of India’s independence of the last few hundred years. I highly recommend this museum to anyone with a couple of free hours to spare, though it should be noted this also seems to be a popular school visit destination and your ears may be pounded by the sounds of the masses of school children, laughing at, and trying to get a good glimpse of, the foreigners, and you may be hassled to take hundreds of photos.
We returned to the temple in the afternoon, and were surprised at how long the line now was at the gates to enter. We kept walking around the site to the West Gate, which, luckily, remained completely empty. Upon re-entering, we were surprised at how much busier it now was inside, and we stayed a little while to watch a ceremony take place. People were singing and praying, lighting candles, listening to the guru preach his message, and further inside, we were greeted by a painted cow and painted elephant, standing tall between the pillars, leg chained. The elephant’s job was to take your money from your hand with it’s trunk and bless you (touching your head briefly with its trunk). Everyone was obviously loving it, overseeing the poor cow next to it, which was receiving no attention.
Personally, I could have stayed for many hours in this magical place, but alas it was time to leave. We let the rumbling of our stomachs lead us back to Supreme’s rooftop, where we indulged in delicious curries overlooking the sunset behind the temple site, and once dark, watched a storm silently ripping through the dark sky in the distance.
Back at the guesthouse, showered and refreshed, we carried our bags downstairs and handed our key back waiting for the return of our key deposit. Horribly, the man denied that we had given a key deposit at all and refused to give it back t ous. A few rude words from myself, declaring the man a thief, we took our bitter, angry selves to the station and calmed ourselves down by thinking of the beach awaiting us in Varkala!