Southern India day 8 – bathing ghats and Madurai

12 Oct 2017. Derek and Abbie headed out to see the rock temple this morning, since they’d done other things yesterday. Meanwhile, Matt and I had a relaxing morning breakfasting and just puttering around. We packed all the bags into our new car at 10:00 and headed to the Amma Mandapam bathing ghats.

Since we aren’t traveling much further north, and therefore won’t see, for example, people bathing in the Ganges, I was really interested in seeing and maybe experiencing the bathing ghats. And it WAS really interesting: very practical and very much the sense of daily life happening. As we entered, there were entry points for men and women separately, so I went to the women’s side and Matt went to the men’s. At first, I thought the water looked really sketchy, and then I realized that the “scum” on the water was soap suds from women doing their laundry.

Although it was fully visible to the men’s side, this was the only area where women were bathing wrapped only in sarongs. I assume that allowed them more access to fully wash themselves in public. They were also doing the practical work of their laundry. I waded in, and Matt took a picture of me, but I decided against going all the way in for the simple reason that I’d then have to change somewhere into dry clothes for our drive. I’d worn fisherman pants and flipflops to make a shallow wade easy.

After, we walked over to the mixed-gender area, where entire families and gatherings of friends were playing and swimming and washing. Here, the women wore saris and were more fully clad, although the children and men were pretty scantily attired.

There’s a small temple onsite, and offerings were being made (and an elephant, of course)

Off to one side, there were barbers cutting hair and shaving faces. One was kind enough to unnecessarily turn his client around for a picture (yes, I asked first).

In general, however, I think this was one of the few places that my camera wasn’t very welcome, so we gawked at the activities a few minutes longer then headed out.

Derek and Abbie had already been waiting there for us, so we all piled into the latest Toyota Innova for the drive to Madurai.

Madurai has a very different feel to it than Trichy. Somehow it seems a little friendlier, although it’s also very dirty. Our hotel is near the main temple, and there is a lot of activity at all hours. The streets around here are varying sizes, from larger thoroughfare to alley. All of them are teeming with traffic and people, although I realize you wouldn’t guess it from these rather calm photos.

The alleys are often organized by specialty, for example, the spice sellers or the electronics shops. There was an entire alley of garlic, but I didn’t get a picture.

The first thing we did after checking into our hotel was to have lunch, which was scrumptious, in the hotel restaurant. We are finding more and more delicious things we like eating. We already knew about most northern Indian cuisine (as far as I can tell from that part of the menus), although it is frequently somewhat different than we are used to in terms of flavor (and delicious!!). Southern Indian cuisine is delicious, but aside from dosai (a dosa is a thin pancake, sometimes with a filling, sometimes plain, always with various sauces or just one at breakfast), and thali (a set lunch menu served on a large plate with various sauces), we don’t know most of the words. New to me is idly, sometimes spelled idaly, which is a thick white bread which reminds me of dry knedlicky (Czech bread dumplings). It’s a little less substantial, though. I prefer eating my food with naan, paratha, dosa, or just rice. Pooris (a puffed fried bread) are not super convenient for me, although I love the presentation. Again, I will try to add a picture or two of food later. I’m usually too busy eating.

After lunch, Matt and I raced over to the Gandhi Museum in a tuktuk. The museum is housed in a beautiful mansion near the university (also near an amusement park we were tempted by).

Inside, the only fee is for the camera. Although there wasn’t much that makes a good photo, I never avoid paying these fees. I see it as a way to support the museum. Since I’d paid it, of course I found a couple of things to capture.

The museum is well-arranged. A concise history of Britain’s involvement in India is presented in a series of panels, with pictures and vignettes into lives affected. The story continues in a numbered route through several rooms, with occasional objects of relevance as well, continuing on while Gandhi is introduced, from his youth and experiences as a barrister and living abroad, to his return and a detailed description of his involvements and works in India. Eventually, the path winds you around to his death. This cloth is bloodstained, and I admit I felt just a bit horrible taking a picture of it.

The rooms after that had his letters and small objects from his life. I really enjoyed the letters, but I also took a photo of one of his pairs of glasses.

When finished, I went into the attached bookstore, where I bought two small volumes, again partially just to support the place. Together they cost less than a euro, so it wasn’t much support. With the camera fee, it added up to about a whole euro.

Anyway, as we finished up, we got adopted by a friendly yellow bitch with a torn nipple. She was pretty mangy, but really really wanted Matt to pet her. He scritched her forehead for a while. Abbie and Derek, who had walked, arrived as we were leaving.

A tuktuk drove us back to the neighborhood around the temple (also the neighborhood of our hotel), and we walked around for an hour or two through very lively streets before heading back to the hotel, where we met Derek and Abbie and discussed plans to see the procession in the temple later, after a rest.

We didn’t really know what was going on in the temple, but we checked our shoes and our cameras in the entrance and went on in. This temple had a particularly lovely water reservoir.

A colorful character took it upon himself to take Abbie (and hence the rest of us) to see something in a back corner. I’m still not quite sure what he was trying to show us, but we could hear the music starting up elsewhere, so we made our excuses and headed that way.

Video would have captured this better, but I got a few pictures. First, something happened inside the part of the temple where only Hindus can go, then a few men filed out with torches and hauling boxes, which they stacked out of the way. The musicians started making more noise. Some Hindus came out all at once, but they all went separate directions with intent, and none of the tour groups went after them, so we stayed too.

Finally, men came out carrying a gold and red palanquin. There was more energy to the music, and everyone joined in to follow it around the corridors. Sometimes we stopped and the musicians played more music while the bearers chatted.

At what became the end point, near another entrance into the Hindus-only core, the palanquin was set down, and all non-Hindus were herded into a semi-circle of viewing. The musicians played, and people made offerings both to the palanquin and to an older bearded man in a green lungi who sat on the floor near it.

My favorite were two young women, in their late teens or early twenties. They were dressed for the occasion, and had flower offerings ready to go, but seemed really uncertain, and were hanging back with all the western tourists. When the man in the green lungi sat down, some of the other Hindus handed him offerings of money and flowers, so one of the young women worked up her nerve, egged on by her friend, and selected a flower from her arrangement. She came up behind him and tapped him gently on the shoulder with the flower. He didn’t seem to notice. She did it again, and someone he was facing gestured, and he turned and took her flower. This brought the two girls more prominently to the attention of the people in charge, and they tried to encourage them to walk around where they could properly make their offerings at the palanquin. This took a lot of “help.” The young women were so shy and uncertain, but eventually they got their offerings made and backed away nervously but smiling.

And that was pretty much everything. The musicians played, then the bearers picked up the palanquin and took it inside. And everyone just left.

Derek almost got one of the very shy temple kitties to let him pet it. Ten more minutes and he might have succeeded.

Things were much quieter when we exited the temple. We went back to the hotel, to the rooftop restaurant, where we had some of the most deliciously succulent food I’ve had yet and a great view.

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