Yesterday was a tough day; two of the best temples of India and two palaces. The idea was to gain a day and after I visited that palace from Tanjavur I decided that I wished to stay in that city maybe 500 years ago but not now.
Trichy, or Tiruchirappali as is officially called, is also full of temples and today would be even a more difficult task than yesterday so we started early, around 7:30 am. I told Kumar that I let him go today, one day earlier, and he needed also time to drive home.
The Rock Temple was opened all day with no lunch break so I decided to leave last.
We drove across the bridge over Cauvery River. mostly dry and used by locals to do laundry and went first to the temple considered to be the largest in India, Sri Raganathaswami Temple. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu in one of his animal form Nairarishma and the main temple in the complex should have inside his representation, that I could not see without converting to Hinduism.
What strikes you at this temple beside its size is that you pass through probably 3 or 4 towers, gopurams, till you reach the actual temple area where the sacred areas are, the place were you have to remove your shoes. All gopurams are decorated with anything that mind can create when you sleep. Inside, the same temples and deities all over and in all directions. I was able to locate the main ones where I was not allowed to enter and roam the grounds for a while. They have a view point in the temple(10R), a roof from where you can see all the gopurams.
The columns are made of granite and the decoration is relatively similar with the one from Madurai, the major difference being the size of the compound and the fact that is not covered. And also, the entrance is free and you may pay 30/100R for the cameras.
At one of the side gates are remarkable sculpted columns, with horses and deities in fight against various animals.
When I got out I asked Kumar to go to Jambukeshawara Temple, a temple dedicated to Shiva and Parvati, one of the most important Shiva Temples. For some reason he got some info from another driver and he drove me ten km out of town to a village where it took me a while to figure out that the temple I visit is not even close to Jambukeshawara. No Shiva, no Parvati but a long line to a darshan to Sri Maryam, that I decided to bypass by paying a 250R fee and got a blessing and a flower garland, good for photos.
Outside was an elephant that was blessing the people with the same 1 rupee coin trick. It looks like the elephant business was franchised…..
I went back to the car and told Kumar that was the wrong temple. He started to ask around and soon we arrived at the real Jambukeshwara temple. Built in the same style, with gompurams, inside the compound, the main temples are dedicated to for Shiva, Parvati and the medium of water. One pujari wanted to show me around because the temple was closing and I gave him some money and a pencil that he liked a lot. I gave actually lots of pen also in Sri Ranganataswami, when a number of swamis asked me for pens to write. So my pen campaign moves successfully ahead….
We finally went to the Rock Temple, the citadel-temple situated in Trichy. The temple is located on top of a tall rock that was used in the past for defense also. You reach it by walking about 450 steps, but being a temple you should walk barefoot. These guys have an obsession with this barefoot business…The main problems is that I had to walk up around 1:00 pm when the entire rock was heated at the maximum, so you wait in the shade and start running up the steps till you get shade again….Come on guys! Let’s find another option….The temple, dedicated to Ganesh, Shiva and Parvati’s son, confer excellent views over the city. Beside the top temple it was another middle one that was closed at the time. I don’t know if forever or just for midday lunch.
I descended the steps and continued on the street to a neo-Gothic church name Feast of our Lady of Lourdes, a catholic church that looks completely out of place in the mayhem of an Indian city. When you cross inside its gates the atmosphere was much quieter than in the street in front.
On my way to the car i saw a guy with watches and belts and I asked him to change my watch belt that broke completely somewhere on a beach in Sri Lanka. He did it on the spot for 50R and finally I have a watch and don’t have to use my iPhone to know the time.
In the car I settled my bills with Kumar, paying him the difference and a generous tip covering some of his parking and toll expenses that made him happy. He wrote me the bill and we took a picture together in front of the Chevy SUV that carried us in the last week.
I took my backpacks and went to the bus station nearby where I boarded the first bus to Chennai, with a change in Villupuram(120R) and catch a bus to Pondicherry(18R).
The bus ride on the highway to Chennai is story-less like any other drive on highways anywhere in the world. It is just a highway and all look more or less the same, impersonal and boring.
The drive took 3 hours in a nice non-AC bus, my first ever bus ride in India. As the manager of the hotel in Trichy said, “It is not luxurious but is close to luxurious”, And he was perfect;y right…I got off at the bus stop of Villupuram and I boarded the a local bus, 1 hour, to Pondicherry. But his drive was different and not boring at all. This Pondicherry bus was full with people standing on top of each other and was going fast in the night. I was sitting right in front near the driver. He was doing 60 km.hour easily and managing continuously two horns, a very loud and annoying one and the classical sea ship one used according to the needs but almost all the time. When he wanted to announce the road that he is coming was using the loud one, but when things need to be controlled on the road he was using the sea ship one, When some car or motorbike made something stupid making it close to get creamed he was using both horns in a cacophony envied by all traffic partners. He was the king of the road. In front of my eyes the road displayed a macabre dance of vehicle passing each other, survival, light signals and close calls to which my neighbor driver was treating as the norm and he would not even flinch when a bus or truck was coming full front or a passing happened at just an inch. Just a casual look and move on. It is just life…. Travel by bus in India is not bad at all, however this was my first experience. I was always renting cars and driver and not necessarily for the comfort but because the time I am able to allocate for the trip is always short in reference to the travel plans. The car gives you the flexibility of saving days, like we did yesterday but if you have some extra time buses are perfectly fine. The train would be even better if it were not so difficult to reserve tickets from abroad.
In the end we made it safely in Pondy, got a tuk-tuk for 100R and found a beautiful room in Moorish style at L’Escale villa, close to the beach in the French Quarter and had dinner of Portuguese fish in Bamboo Garden. originally I planned to stay in Park Beach Guesthouse that has room views over the ocean but the staff is so unfriendly that I would give it a pass.