I met up with Ali and Blake from Boulder, Colorado in Thanjavur. They're on a six week trip to the south of India and we've hooked up to travel together for a few days. We decided to get the Lonely planet recommended for a hotel in Trichi which was right by the bus station. Convenient ? Yes. Timesaving ? No!
And this is all caused by one tiny little innocent green lever conveniently located right next to the drivers wheel of an Indian bus.
Its so convenient that the bus driver does not even need to have his hands leave the wheel while applying the horn .... and I am sure that drivers are locked in a competition on who can use the horn the most. Any excuse will do; the bus is just about to leave, it leaving, it now moving, someone is the way, pedestrians nearby, its overtaking, its joining a roundabout, trying to get goats/cows to move in a vain effort, etc. The horn has replaced any form of signaling and is the key instrument of road safety in India. I'm told that most buses and cars are fitted with custom horns, just for that extra bit of oooomph. Its makes you jump.
Net result, not much sleep.
I was saved this morning by something different... the hotel served toast for breakfast, which is a change to my regular morning "Special Masala Dosai". Thanjuvur is big enough to have demand for a bakery. So I had toast for breakfast, however in India it comes spread with Ketchup ... strangely nice ... But I'm not sure if it comes with Ketchup because that's what the hoteliers expect tourists to have with their toast, or its how Indians like their toast.
So today I'm back on the tourist trail in Trichi. There are a few more travelers around and the temples have stepped up a notch in terms of grandure and importance to Hindu's. The Shiva Brihadishwara Temple in Thanjuvur is a magnificant and sizable example of a King Rajaraja Temple built during the Cholan empire. It's simply extraordinary. Yesterday I visited the Sri Ranganathaswarmy Temple at Srirangam. This Temple has the largest Gopura in southern India at over 100m high. However, what I found more interesting was the atmosphere of the temple, packed fully of people picnicking, relaxing, playing, arguing, selling, begging and praying. It was like a community centre on a enormous scale. I wondered if this was due to it being the Tamil Nadu new year, but i'm told its not a public holiday and most of the people in the temple are Lord Vishnu Pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh.
Vishnu Brahman relaxing at the entrance to a Ramakrishna Temple
With the tourist trail comes a few gotchas. I've finally had my first rickshaw not-taking-me-where-I-want-to-go-experience. He took me to a high end sculpture/rug/bronze shop. When I threatened to walk without paying and actually got out of the rickshaw, he asked nicely that I just go in to have a look, without buying, as he gets a commission for getting a foreigner into the shop. I started walking, at which point he started playing ball and took me where i wanted to go.
I know there are a few French readers of my Blog... Interestingly I've met a couple of French families who are on holiday in Southern India from Pondicherry, which is a former french Colony near Chennai. They have left France because of "what Szarkozy is doing to ruin the country and our civil liberties". I find it incredible that they have decided to bail out .... for India! What a contrast....
Today I am off to Madurai and the Sri Meenakshi Temple, which is also a good colleague's of mine's family goddess temple. The sight of the main temple Gopura on the cover of the rough guide to southern India sold me on coming here. I am sure it will live up to expectations having just been renovated. I just hope that i can sleep tonight...tonight's hotel is quite some distance from the bus station...