Talk about a hasty travel plan! Last Wednesday we were looking for options to travel during the Diwali weekend, found the complete absence of bookable train/bus tickets and opted for a long drive. But since we are expecting the arrival of a new niece/nephew in the last week of October, (DH keeps wondering aloud whether he'll be an aunt or uncle this time over and I tell him that is a very stale PJ!) we decided to keep that weekend for baby visiting and settled for the Puja hols. We didn't make any reservations whatsoever and just plunged ahead on Saturday morning.
On Saturday, the sun came up on us entering Kaliyakkavilai via Poovar and Uchakkada. The road that had been silky smooth till then but suddenly gave way to huge pits that seemed to have been left by some Decepticons who had preceded us to go to Kanniyakumari! It was with relief that we reached Arulvaimozhi and joined the fabled NH7 - wow, what a road!!!
She enticed DH so much with her buttery complexion and sinuous curves that I had to keep a strict watch on the speedometer to prevent any indiscretions - men and good roads - absolutely explosive combination!!!! But I had no need to worry. After all we are still in India and there are natural speed breakers ...
Yep, intrepid jaywalkers all over the place taking leisurely strolls across the tollway not even noticing the honking hunks of metal hurtling towards them. After all what is the price of a few human souls including those of the ones in the vehicles??? Around Tirunelveli, we even saw a pickup coming towards us calmly in the onward lane. I was so indignant that I forgot to take a picture.
Anyway after no losses other than those incurred at the 4 or 5 toll booths, we reached Madurai around noon. Fortunately Gmaps guided us straight to the Madurai Jn railway station which is just a stone's throw away from the Meenakshi temple and opposite which hotels are lined up in orderly fashion. It was just a matter of choosing an acceptable room and ensconcing ourselves in it. We turned on the TV for the progress of Phailin and were relieved that she would make landfall only in AP and Odisha, so we could visit Rameswaram in peace.
Contrary to my belief that the Meenakshi Amman temple would be visible from a distance, we could find the gopurams only when we were directly in front of them. I really wished there were zoning laws preventing the building of tall structures around such landmarks. But that gem of Indian architecture was all that I had imagined it to be. Our younger one kept asking if it was as big as Padmanabha Swamy temple and I told him that probably 4 Padmanabha Swamy temples could fit inside that huge complex. Once we were inside, I wished I had several eyes to take in everything. It was difficult to concentrate on chanting when there were so many divine sculptures around. After worshipping Sundaresar and Meenakshi Amman, we also took in the Aayiramkaal mandapam.
Our little one was very much taken by the hundreds of Nataraja idols he saw in the temple...
The mudras are totally wrong, but you get the idea....!
We finally came out of the temple near dusk and just in time to catch the first light and sound show at the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace nearby.
As we sat in the open courtyard of the king's dream palace and listened to the stories of bravery and treachery, DH wondered aloud whether the king had ever dreamed that his dream palace would once be open to visitors who paid for the privilege. Well, he couldn't have imagined that his own grandson would demolish part of the palace to take away fabulous wood carvings in preparation to build a palace for himself, so what was the point of thinking 5 centuries ahead???
The next morning, we set out to find the Kochi-Dhanushkodi highway. Here Gmaps tripped us up, because of the changing one-way laws. So we sought the help of traffic policemen who gave us the correct directions. At the edge of the city we sought the famous Theppankulam - the 16-acre manmade lake where the famous Theppa Thiruvizha takes place. What we saw was this...
I guess the rainy season has to come before this becomes a lake again. We had heard that the pavilion in the middle of the Kulam was fabulous and was the favorite retreat of Raja Thirumalai. Since we had a long way to drive and didn't dare walking through several cricket pitches, we decided to give it a miss.
On Gmaps I found that the Kochi-Dhanushkodi ran parallel to the famous Vaiga river and eagerly looked forward to seeing her when she curved to come near us on the road. But the river bed broke my heart..
Yep, that area between the two ridges is the river bed - dry and dusty. But the saving grace was the greenery of the land around her, unlike the arid stretches on the sides of the NH7, this highway was lined with tall trees, the gift of the Vaiga. Some other day perhaps, I can see her in full spate...
It was also heartening to see the clearing work going on in the canals - which signified preparation for the north-eastern monsoons. On the way out from Madurai, we saw several educational institutions and familiar place names. As we passed the verdant Manamadurai, I searched in vain for the Pachaikkili so that I could reassure her that her eyes and wings are indeed very beautiful :) Got the song????
After we passed a busy Ramanathapuram, the land on both sides began to narrow down. At first when I saw a blue glimmer on my left, I thought we were seeing the Bay of Bengal, but when I checked my map, I saw it was the Vaiga. DH stopped near a maidan and we jumped out wondering how a river could have water now if she had been dry all along the way.
A cloudy white shape in the water close to the shore gave me the first clue and I warned the kids not to go near the water. A tasting later I knew it. It was a jelly fish in the water and the water was just the sea backing up the bay in high tide. So we continued our journey to Rameswaram.
I think that's enough for the day - the Pamban bridge, Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi are begging for a post by themselves.