Blogs from Tamil Nadu, India, Asia


Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Madurai October 11th 2019

I really enjoy “hanging” with an auto rickshaw driver I met last year, Anand. He loves hauling foreigners around Madurai, showing them the least visited places, especially outside the city. This morning I asked him to take me to the Narasimha Temple nearby, a very old temple with a lion-headed deity. I’ve visited him before, and the deity has always captured my heart when I stare at his black head and powerful eyes. But it was the journey there and back that gave the surprises. The early morning light was just right on a nearby temple situated on a bed of granite. “Stop stop! The light is good!” We pulled over and I began snapping photos of the buildings. Then I noticed several men moving about in the open area beyond. They were setting up the ... read more
playing with the threads
Keep it straight
Animated conversation with the farmer

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Madurai September 29th 2019

A friend invited me to stay at his house with his mother. It is located about six kilometers from the heart of Madurai, the Meenakshi Temple. I accepted his offer, even though transportation to the city interior can be a challenge, since buses are infrequent and I instead need to call a taxi. But participating in an Indian family’s household in a neighborhood is worth the inconvenience. Their small apartment is tucked into a row of interlocking, identical units, each with a balcony and a pullout on the first level for parking a scooter, motorcycle, or car. Yesterday a cow had parked himself in one of the pullouts of a nearby house and looked very comfortable munching its cud near the doorstep. Dogs roam the streets. Most are friendly, but two males took a dislike to ... read more
Umbrella and puddle
Cow Poop Decoration
Cow in the Street!

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Madurai September 20th 2019

“I don’t want to die!” That’s what I screamed when my driver Muthu decided to make me happy by turning around on the highway and heading back to a temple that I had spotted. He was driving me from Auroville to Madurai. As always, I had my eyes peeled for interesting temples along the road. I’ve got a weakness for Ayyanar temples, and through the low scrub trees I saw the telltale horses rearing into the sky. I was in the backseat, friend Vinod was in the front with Muthu. Vinod had been driving when I spotted the sculptures and casually said, “Ayyanar.” “You want to see?” Muthu asked. “It’s too much trouble. Never mind.” I saw there was no place to cross the median to go back on the other side of the four-lane highway, ... read more
A Helper Deity
Ayyanar’s Vehicle, the Horse
Beautiful Large Terracotta Horses

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Auroville September 7th 2019

Auroville. It’s a place unto itself, belonging to no one in particular, instead belonging to “humanity as a whole.” I first visited this place in 1974, six years after its founding when it was still a dusty landscape. They were building something. It was so unremarkable I can’t remember much. Just that there wasn’t much here. Now, after massive erosion control and the planting of over 2 million trees, the place is a shady oasis. It covers an area of over 20 square kilometers, containing villages and guest houses, cafes, schools, learning centers, workshops, stores, residential spaces, and public buildings of astounding and eclectic architecture. My rented electric bicycle zooms me around the place. I get lost as I weave along dirt paths and paved roads, but I always end up somewhere. Google Map is my ... read more
A Standing “Harp”
The Matrimandir: the glue of the community
I Love my Electric Bicycle

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Mamallapuram August 27th 2019

“They look like vultures, not eagles.” My driver Muthu and I were viewing a sign commemorating the spot where the priests used to feed the “eagles” that came daily to the hilltop temple of Thirukalukundram. “No, no, they are eagles,” he insisted. After all, the temple’s name includes a shortened version of the Tamil word for eagle, “kalugu.” The sign depicted a priest feeding two white birds whose heads looked very much like vultures. And from my later internet research, I learned that they were indeed Egyptian vultures. Everyday since “forever,” a pair came to this place to receive the food offerings. But for the last 15 years they haven’t come. It would have been nice to see the birds and the feeding. Nonetheless, Muthu and I trudged up the 539 steps to visit the small ... read more
the tank seen from the top of the hill
Buying flowers in bulk
husband and wife split banana leaves

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Mamallapuram August 23rd 2019

Saravanan had just arrived on his motorcycle as I was returning from dinner to his guest house. His face looked tense. “You know my dog Daniel, he got in a fight with other dogs when I was away on vacation. For two weeks he was wandering around injured, but no one could catch him. So when I returned, I found him on the beach limping along with a huge wound on his neck. There were flies all over it, it smelled, and he could barely walk to me.” His troubled tone told me things were not so good with Daniel. “I thought he wouldn’t make it. But I called the doctor and she took him to a shelter and cleaned the wound and kept him there to heal. I had hoped that he would come back ... read more
Veterinary nurse and volunteer Elaine Philpot removes the old bandage
Elaine inspects the wound
Bandaged and secured.  Maybe.

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Mahabalipuram March 6th 2019

Retour en arrière. Date : 11 janvier dernier. Etat d’esprit : le cœur léger et le bagage mince, j’étais heureux d’enfin quitter Paris. Lieu : Charles-de-Gaulle. Je réalise cette envie de départ sans billet retour, sans date avérée qui serait une contrainte. Je peux rentrer dans 15 jours (peu probable, sauf catastrophe humanitaire, fuite de gaz ou diarrhée sévère !), dans un mois ou dans trois mois. J’ai juste fixé un délai maxi pour retrouver Tom durant les vacances de printemps. J’aurai toujours le choix dans la date (Haha !) et le choix du lieu (ça marche moins…). Je veux être libre, libéré, libertin, libertaire, même si tout cela n’est que temporaire et pas forcément dans le bon ordre 😊 Cette liberté cérébrale m’est vite retirée par des contraintes réglementaires dès l’enregistrement de mon sac. On ... read more

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu February 6th 2019

“You’re very young.” That’s the first thing I said to Vinod when I met him in the Fortune Pandyan Hotel in Madurai. Then I noticed his eyes with the long eyelashes. He did smile, I believe, when I said he was very young. I needed an experienced driver for my three-day trip. This 29 year-old has been driving since he was 16. Good enough for me. Plus, those eyes. After I explained my plan to go to non-tourist destinations like Dindigul, Salem, Mallur, and Mohanur to see the small and unusual temples, and searching on the Google map on my IPhone screen for locations, and trying to plot a route, he and I got tired of planning. “We can plan the first day, then after that we’ll plan the next,” he wisely said. Great idea. I’m ... read more
Pachaiamman Temple at Keelapuliyur
Terry and the Guardians
Villaiyandavar Temple at Anaikarai

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Madurai February 2nd 2019

There’s India. And then there’s India. I went on a quest. To find the real India. Whatever that is. In Madurai I met an auto rickshaw driver, Anand, who enjoys taking foreigners around. So we were off—early mornings and evenings. “I’m done with the big temples. I want to see the temples and shrines of folk deities, Ayannar and Karuppana Swami, the small places, the common places. Villages.” He seemed to know them all. The surprises came in their simplicity, their locations, their power. Over gravely roads, through fields of waving sugarcane, dense plots of banana trees, coconut palms gracing the skyline, pools of water settling in the rice paddies. Villagers went about their daily business—men hung out at the local tea shop, reading the newspaper, chatting, chatting. Women carried water pots on their heads—water sometimes ... read more
Rocky landscape at Arittapatti
pots and man

Asia » India » Tamil Nadu » Kanadukathan January 20th 2019

Saddened to leave the Chettinad area, where the pace is slow, Chettiar mansion doorways give passage to a more opulent time, and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Visited the Ayyanar temple outside Kanadukathan, where the guardians are huge. Inside, the priest motioned to me, asking if I wanted a puja. Yes, I nod. So he chants with the lit camphor, brings forth the ash, demonstrates what to do with it—place on my forehead. Picks up the red kum kum and offers, says, “Kum kum.” I accept, try to get it right on my forehead. He says something like, “kannadi”—pointing to the mirror. I dab it just right, above my nose, between my eyebrows, and when leaving I talk with a man who tells me I had fixed it very well on my forehead. The priest returns from ... read more
Painted Terracotta Horses
coconut shell and Kum kum offering
Entrance with guardians

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