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Published: January 29th 2014
Most of this day was spent getting to Madurai. We left the Pondy hotel at about 0700 and went straight to one of the other french bakeries for breakfast. Nice coffee and muffins or french toast. Not excessive in semi-rural India. French bread sticks for lunch.
A few hours later we were at the Villupuram Junction waiting for a train. There was going to be a bit of a wait so I walked the platform photographing trains and people and the interactions between them. We were excited to come across several teams who were vaccinating children against polio - part of the campaign that has achieved a polio-free status for this populous country. They seemed to stop every family with a small child, give them some information, give the child a few drops of oral vaccine, mark the child's little finger and they are on their way. At least in these largely literate southern states that is all that is needed. We understand that elsewhere like Pakistan for example, tribal leaders see the polio vaccination program as a US conspiracy and point to sudden infant deaths as evidence of the dangers of vaccination. The teams we spoke with were justifiably
proud of their achievements.
As we have noted before our guide DJ says he is always stressed out when taking a group through an Indian railway station. He was pretty good on this day, it being daylight, and the platforms wide and clean. We were nonetheless keyed up for the arrival and all got on in record time. Very much like the last sleeper train and clearly many people were on-board from earlier overnight travel. We cleared out our room and six of us again shared one compartment. It was a long trip, maybe 5 hours, but there were two bunks for sleeping, some books to read, some blogs to update and Catherine got a taste of Cribbage from our Canadian travel buddies. Not much to see though we did travel through lush landscapes. Getting off was more of a hassle than getting on the train because there were plenty of people trying to force their way onto the carriage, ignoring the obvious fact that we are keen to get off and vacate their seats. With full backpacks, it was a little challenging. We walked the couple of hundred metres to the hotel. Madurai had more of the look
and feel of New Delhi. Quick turn-around and out to see the famous temple complex.
This was truly one of the most spectacular religious monuments we have seen - anywhere. The complex itself is bounded on four sides by massive entry gates. These are gently curved walls incorporating thousands of brightly coloured statues of Hindu dieties and mortals going about their lives. Inside was a complex maze of sub-temples and museums. Thousands of people moving through the complex and finding spots for focussed worship. This temple had many themes of femaie life including a Neme tree to worship for the achievement of pregnancy, and nooks in which to seek a smooth labour. The temple is dedicated to Pavarti, Shiva's wife. Elephants were part of the ceremony at several spots. At one, the elephant would take your 10 Rupee note and give your head a brush with his trunk - apparently a blessing. It was a bit surprising that little stores were allowed to operate within the temple complex. Thankfully the touts were not aggressive. I paid a guy 10 Rupees to show me how the stone work could be struck to produce a tune. The complex covers acres and also incorporates a lake where they host a boat festival when the monsoons are kind. We spent several hours following the guide around but unfortunately we were not allowed to use our cameras. Must have something to do with flashes and decaying vegetable dyes because mobile phone cameras were OK.
Dinner was on the roof top of the hotel overlooking the Madurai temple complex. Some of the group returned to the complex before we headed off again, which in retrospect we should have done too.
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