DAY 0 (Planning)
It was 2 months since my last trip, the long trek up sandakphu. Now it was time for another, only this time with family instead of friends.
Given the short time in hand and lack of interesting spots to visit, I decided to visit some temple towns this time; ironic for me given that I am a pseudo atheist. Mother and sister wanted to though, so the trip was on.
The plan was to tour only two towns, thanjavore and madurai and back in 3 days. All via train.
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Booked all the hotels and train tickets 2 months in advance.
Day 1 (Bangalore to Thanjavore)
We had a late evening train from bangalore ; caught it at majestic as usual and was onboard by 7 p.m departure time. Now the food in IRCTC trains isn’t exactly reputed so to speak. I took the risk nonetheless, idli-vada it was and was it ..bad. The idlis were rock hard. To get that taste of the mouth, ordered “biryani” but that ended up equally bad, yellow colored rice is all. Disappointed with the dinner, it was time to forget it all. On the way to tanjavore, we passed by the railway track next to my house. We always did wonder where that track went on our usual weekend walk, well now we knew. If only there was was station next to my home. Our train was scheduled to reach TJN at 5 a.m.
Day 2 (TJN)
Spot on time , we reached TJN by 5.30 a.m. TJN station was clean and maintained well, as expected from small town stations. In darkness , Gmaps showed is the route to our hotel, hotel oriental towers. I had booked it close to the station by choice and it took us only 20 minutes by walk to reach the hotel. On the way we passed by the early morning tea stalls serving hot tea to travelers coming in/out of the town.
The hotel looked grand from the outside, is atleast 20 floors I think. The receptionist was fast asleep; probably cursed me when i had to wake him up from his slumber. He gave us the room on the top most floor which turned out to be mistake. The hotel itself is excellent; old paintings and sculptures adorn the halls and dim lighting gives a nice old world feel. Its definitely worth a stay. However It was summer already in TJN and without AC, the top floor rooms turn into ovens. I of course realized that through the course of the day. After freshening up, we were out by 8.30 a.m for so.
TJN is known for its authentic tamilian cuisine, the breakfast is especially good. Gmaps and trip advisor pointed us to sree krishna bhavan. Located only 1 km away from our hotel, it was rated one of the best in TJN, totally worth the 1km was our opinion. So we began the short long walk through TJN.
The restaurant had just opened it doors and we were probably the first ones in. Hot idilis, masala dosa and puri was the order. The breakfast is served with 2 delicious chutneys and the dosa was absolutely massive, almost too much for one person. We were pleased with it; especially my mom; sort of tired of eating the ultra liquidy sambar from BLR.
After the hearty breakfast , it was time to start our sightseeing; the most famous one of TNK being the Brihadishvara Temple. It is one of the largest South Indian temples and an exemplary example of a fully realized Dravidian architecture.Built by Raja Raja Chola I between 1003 and 1010 AD, the temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was never much interested in temples but UNESCO world heritage sights have always been on my checklist.
Managed to negotiate the 2 kms to the temple for 100INR and we were there in no time. The temple complex is massive, easily the biggest one I have seen. It is classified as a living temple; which means that it is not just an architectural wonder; there are live ceremonies always going on; some one is getting married, offerings to the god etc. all in parallel in the multiple ‘mini temples’ within the complex. Before going, slippers and bags have to given way; in the heat of the sun, walking barefoot on hot rocky ground is problematic but can’t be helped.
The main temple is massive and over a 1000 years old; thousands of carvings adorn the walls and a proper guide could probably explain the the history of it all. A very old & large nandi statue guards the entrance to the temple. We joined the long line of devotees entering the temple. After a wait of about 30 minutes in the line darshan was finally possible and we headed back out ; it out in sweltering heat. Thankfully the large complex has some rest spots.
After a quick drink of water and few more shots of the complex, we were out.
Next up was the Thanjavur Maratha Palace Complex , about 2 kms away with 100 INR for an auto. To be honest, the ‘palace’ is not well maintained; its not really a complete palace either , just parts of it. Over 200 years old, the complex comprises of Sardar Mahal Palace, the queen’s courtyard and the Durbar Hall.
A reasonable part of the palace is in ruins, but what remains is good enough for a single visit. There is a couple of small museums within & near the palace which one can visit for a small price. The museum contains sculptures and carvings hundreds of years old and could potentially take hours of time if one were really interested. I spent about an hour here.
Apart from the these two major sightseeing spots, there isn’t much to see in TJN. There is the sivaganga park though which local visit on cool evenings but given the heat, we just decided to skip this to rest in the hotel and get some of those sweaty clothes washed.
The temperature cooled down a bit further in the evening and thus time for some dinner; Aranya Nivas was universally rated to be the best restaurant in TJN; especially the traditional thali. Even though it is located about 1.5 kms away from the oriental hotel, we decided it was worth it; we may never visit TJN again in life after all.
For a small town, TJN had a reasonable bit of traffic. After some hectic navigation, we finally reached aranya nivas. There is a general seating area and another AC seating area inside. The general seating was full, so we moved to the AC seating area which was empty.
Our order, dosa, paneer pulao and nan-panner curry was decent enough; but we definitely wanted to try the traditional meal which was unavailable for dinner.So after a nice heavy dinner and the long walk back, it was time to hit the bed; our train was for the early next morning.
DAY 2 (To Madurai from TJN)
Our train to Madurai was scheduled for 6 am with the travel time to madurai 3 Hrs+. On the way to madurai, the journey was amazing. The fog lining the fields a few feet above the ground and relatively cooler temperature along with a hot cup of coffee, perfect for morning. Of course we knew it was going to get much worse soon, madurai is known to get very hot in the summer season. We reached madurai by 9 a.m or so; I had booked an hotel hardly a km from the railway station, so it was an easy walk to the hotel. Before reaching the hotel though, some breakfast need to be had. One specialty of Tamil nadu , in general, is definitely the awesome breakfast. Where else can find so many varieties of chutneys and all so delicious.
After an awesome breakfast, we arrived at our hotel which only 10 minutes away. There were only two sightseeing spots on our list, Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace and Meenakshi Amman Temple. It is always ideal to visit a temple in the evening, so that was postponed to the next day; which means the palace was on our list for the day. The advantage of a small town is that all the major spots are always close to visit; so was the palace located only 1.5 kms away. Google maps as usual helped reach the spot in most efficient way.
Thirumalai Nayak Palace is a 17th-century palace erected in 1636 AD by King Thirumalai Nayak, a king of Madurai’s Nayaka dynasty who ruled Madurai from 1623–59, in the city of Madurai, India. This Palace is a classic fusion of Dravidian and Rajput styles. The building, which can be seen today, was the main Palace, in which the king lived. The original Palace Complex was four times bigger than the present structure. In its heyday, the palace was considered to be one of the wonders of the South.
There is a small entrance fee for the regular entrance; in the evening , a sound and light show is organized with some additional fee. The palace is reasonably well preserved and worth a visit.
We were done with palace by 5 p.m or so and then it was the long 2 km walk back to the hotel. On the way , some dinner and hit the bed.
Day 3 (Madurai and back to BLR)
The most famous attraction of madurai is obviously the Meenakshi temple complex. The complex now houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), ranging from 45–50m in height, with the southern gopura tallest at 51.9 metres (170 ft). The complex has numerous sculpted pillared halls such as Ayirakkal (1,000 pillar hall), Kilikoondu-mandapam, Golu-mandapam and Pudu-mandapam.
We left for madurai temple early in the morning; on the way to the temple , we barely escaped getting ‘tricked’; an auto wallah met us on the road and told us that men were not allowed into the temple without a “veshti” or a lungi; legs must be covered which was true. However for 10 INR only , promising to take us to the temple dropped us off at an clothes emporium selling expensive sarees. No doubt he had sort of arrangement with them. Having been in similar situations before, we decided to bypass entering the shop and walked off to find a store where we could purchase an expensive veshti ; after an hours of roaming the streets around the temple, we finally managed to find a shop selling one priced at 100 INR.
Now phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple; so i could not record anything even for memories sake. After depositing shoes for safe keeping, we entered the complex through the eastern gate. There is an entrance from each of the directions, the complex spread over many acres.
The complex is quite vast; with multiple temples. We immediately entered the main deity temple first; there was a reasonably long line. The guards do not allow more than few seconds of sighted worship per devotee , so this was done pretty fast. On the way out, there are outlets selling snacks and delicacies at a reasonable prince which we were glad to purchase and gobble up. At various point , there are centuries old sculptures of various deities; the scale of the temple is mind boggling. After exiting the roofed temple complex, we entered the 1000 pillar museum which again has hundreds of sculptures. At another point, we witnessed a live puja with the aid of an elephant. Walked a bit more and an ongoing marriage; all these simultaneously happening is what makes this a ‘living temple’.
All this walking and it was almost time to check out of our hotel; 12 p.m is what was told to us. But our train out of madurai was scheduled for 6.30 p.m ; so we had many hours to kill and not a single sightseeing spot left to see, in madurai i.e. Well there are a couple of temples but we were done with out share of temples for the trip. Movie and mall came to my mind; under normal circumstances I despise malls but there was no choice left to us whatsoever. It was terribly hot out in the open and there was no where left to go.
There is only one mall in madurai, Vishal de mall and there were only two hindi movies running in the theatre at that time. The mall-theatre were located about 20 minutes away from the station, We deposited our luggage in the madurai station clock room and caught an auto to the mall.Ran my calculations and realized that we would be cutting in too close to train’s departure at 6.30 p.m; the movie was 2.5 hours long and scheduled to start at 3 p.m. So we decided to skip movie altogether and head to the food court to kill time.
There wasn’t much variety as such in the food court either but at least it was ‘cool’. I ordered a burger meal while mom & sister went in for some chettinad rice combo. Both were high on price and average on taste.
At 6.30 p.m we finally departed for bangalore. A good temple run had finally come to an end !
Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram, is a town on a strip of land between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for its temples and monuments built by the Pallava dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries. The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram is a collection of 7th- and 8th-century CE religious monuments in the coastal resort town of Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, India and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The site has 40 ancient monuments and Hindu temples.
The entirety of Mahabalipuram can easily be covered in a day. I managed to book a tour via trawell.in for 3.5K INR for pickup and drop in chennai along with sightseeing spots at mahabalipuram. As such this can be done at a much lower price if you manage to reach mahabalipuram using some form of public transport and then rent an auto for the day for 1.5k INR; but I was in a hurry and did not have the time for research.
The following are the sites which I covered in sequence.
1. Shore temple & Beach
The Shore Temple (built in 700–728 AD) is so named because it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. Amazing architecture, well maintained with a beautiful garden entrance and with a minor entrance fee of 30INR at the time of my visit. The beach is right next to it but not maintained well at all; its not impressive either , so skip it. Lot of local stalls selling handicrafts, watches etc line the entrance to the beach. A couple of stalls serve food items as well. Spend about 45 minutes here overall
2. Raya Gopuram
Few hundred meters from the shore temple is the Raya Gopuram; Stone remains of an ancient, unfinished temple entrance with ornate carvings & sculptures. Spend only 5 minutes here
3. Varaha Cave
Located right next to the raya Gopuram downhill is the varaha cave which is a is a rock-cut cave temple. The most prominent sculpture in the cave is that of Lord Vishnu in the incarnated form of a Varaha or boar lifting Bhudevi, the mother earth goddess from the sea. Also carved are many mythical figures. Spend 5 minutes here.
4. Krishna Butter Ball/Trimurthy temple
30 seconds downhill from the varaha cave is Krishna’s Butterball (also known as Vaan Irai Kal and Krishna’s Gigantic Butterball) ; a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline in the historical town of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, India.The boulder is approximately 6 meters high and 5 meters wide and weighs around 250 tons.It stands on an approximately 1.2-meter (4 ft) base on a slope, and is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years.
Attempts have been made for a long time to move the ball but with no success thus making the ball “legendary”. A visit to trimurthy temple which is next to the butter ball is good. Trimurthy temple is another fine example of indian rock cut temple architecture. Spend 20 minutes here overall.
5. Ganesh Ratha
Located 30 seconds uphill from Krishna’s butter ball is the Ganesh ratha.It is one of ten rathas (“chariots”) carved out of pink granite within the group of monuments of the Pallava Period at Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO-inscribed World Heritage Site since 1984. Spend 5 minutes here
6. Arjuna’s penance/Descent of the Ganges
Located on the same road as the entrance to Krishna’s butter ball a minute away and measuring 96 by 43 feet (29 m × 13 m), it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone at the Pallava heritage site.
7. Mahabalipuram Light house & Mahishamardini Temple
Located 5 minutes drive away atop a small hillock is the Mahishamardini Temple.
Mahishasuramardhini Temple is an example of Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century, of the Pallava dynasty. It is a rock-cut cave temple located on a hill, near a lighthouse, along with other caves in Mamallapuram. Atop the hillock is also India’s oldest lighthouse built in 640 A.D. The new lighthouse lighthouse with a circular masonry tower made of natural stone became fully functional in 1904. I decided not to go up the lighthouse since it was quite crowded as is. Spend about 25 minutes here.
8. India Sea Shell Museum & aquarium
A relatively newer entry to the list of “sightseeing” spots but an awesome one for sure, this is Asia’s largest sea shell museum housing a breathtaking array of sea shells on display. It was actually a visual overload to visit this place since I had never seen anything quite like this. There was a entry fee of 130 INR at the time of my visit but it is totally worth it. In addition to the Sea shell museum, there is small aquarium as well; not too big but houses at least 50 species of marine life. Mayabazaar offers consumers a range of products to purchase from including handicrafts, sea shells, bags etc.
9. Pancha Ratas
Pancha Rathas (also known as Five Rathas or Pandava Rathas) is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture and dates back to late 7th century. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith, of granite. The structures are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi, of epic Mahabharata fame.In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha.
There is a small entry fee of about 30INR at the time of my visit and is located 5 minutes away from the sea shell museum. The architecture is marvelous and structures are well maintained. Spend about 15 minutes here
Overall Mahabalipuram offers an amazing experience of old indian architecture. Totally worth a visit.