Hop, skip and a jump. After flying in a small propeller plane from Sri Lanka , we arrived in the southern state of India, Tamil-Nandu. Housing the Ancient city of Madurai, one of the oldest cities in India. It is a Tamil-born and Tamil-rooted metropolis that traded with ancient Rome.
This Southern state holds the largest population of the Tamil people (around 65 million). This Asian ethnic group has history dating back 2000 years. A rebel group named the Tamil-Tigers tried to claim northern and eastern Sri Lanka as their own state. An oppression against the government which created a 26 year civil war to no avail.
Tight borders of India
Armed personnel carrying AK47’s, which looked like they had been salvaged from WW2. Greeting us with a stern face as we entered the airport. The process of getting through India’s customs itself was one of tightest I have experienced. My visa arrival card and passport were checked several times. Quite a few individuals whom were only a few meters apart looked it over, it seemed very unnecessary.
Tip: Have an address of a hotel or hostel, even if you’re not staying there. We didn’t and it made the process longer than it could have been.
Welcome to India
As soon as we exited the airport doors there was a swarm of local taxi drivers all hustling us for our service. Instantly the intensity had lifted from a rather subdued Sri Lanka. With no idea of prices, 500 rupees took us from the airport to the city center. The 15 minute drive unveiled little stalls where locals sold their goods. Chewing tobacco and hordes of goats were some of the goods that caught our eye. To my surprise all of the main roads within the city were eroded down to dirt. With accommodation sorted at a local hotel to the tune of 1000 rupees (expensive I know), we set out to explore.
It was overwhelming at first, within a few hours we felt the full wrath of India.
Horn after horn after horn! We quickly learnt that seemingly the only road rule was to beep your high pitched, extremely load horn. Literally beep your horn whenever you’re about to do anything. Horns going off all the time. Tuk Tuks, motorbikes and trucks all contribute to the noise and the chaotic traffic system.
It is known by most that cows are sacred to the Indian culture. They roam the streets in countless numbers. It seems every corner you go around there’s more cows! Hearing about it is one thing, but it was an eye opener to see it in person. Furthermore, they have the right of way whether you driving or walking. Packs of dogs, goats and chickens also roam around freely. Watching them eat rubbish and drink black water our decision vegetarian for the duration of our stay was easy.
Rubbish is everywhere! Unfortunately, India doesn’t have a landfill system so all the rubbish is thrown onto the street. It is then swept into piles and burnt. Assisted by the fumes of all the vehicles it creates a thick haze which you have no choice but to breathe in.
The poverty was confronting. Malnourished individuals are prevalent as you walk around the streets, some beg and some don’t. People sleep on the streets covered in flies, we pass by wondering if they are actually alive. Women approaching you for money to feed their children its hard to ignore. Encouraged by some not to give in to their mercy, it’s hard to walk away without giving them a few rupee, legit or not.
The eternal hustle, approached constantly by local shop owners and Tuk Tuk drivers. Being a westerner you stick out. To the locals, you’re a walking money machine. They are willing to try anything to take advantage of that.
Arriving in a new country there a few essentials we wanted to get sorted. Those being a sim card and a train ticket out of Madurai. After being escorted by a local to the Vodafone store, purchasing a sim card is not as easy as just buying one and walking out. Passport photos and photocopies of your actual passport are required. Something which is normally easy enough to obtain was anything but. We had to connect with a random guide and make our way to little stores around the city. We never would have found them by ourselves as it took hours. Train tickets were another story in itself which I will save for a later blog post. Long story short, we had a train ticket to GOA in General Class.
Here is some further information : http://www.madurai.com/
The main attraction to Madurai
Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located in the heart of the city. It is absolutely unbelievable. Easily the most architecturally historic building I have ever had the privilege to visit. Dating back to the 6th century it was hard for me to believe, as a carpenter, that such a building could be possible to erect all those years ago. Standing 50 meters tall the North, South, East and West towers help form the perimeter of the temple assisted by large stone walls. All towers are super detailed with coloured carvings of Hindu Gods.
Once inside the 45 ACRE labyrinth of stone carvings, halls and shrines it is hard to fathom the size. The temple itself is the size of a small town. Touching the walls and watching dedicated Hindu’s pray to their chosen gods made me feel insignificant. The amount of stories that would have unfolded over the thousands of years. I have never experienced such a feeling, I would highly recommend it.
Find out some more history here : https://www.maduraimeenakshi.org/history.html
Two days were spent in Madurai, at first it was confronting and overwhelming. However, once we settled in we realized why we choose to come here and experience all India could throw at us. We are excited for what lies ahead. With anything new it takes a while to adapt, India was no exception. With tickets to Goa for New Year’s celebrations, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip holds in-store!