We catch a day train to Madurai. It is a long ride that lasts all day and allows us to do a bit more bonding with our fellow travellers. Chand our guide joins in on the interesting debates about marriage and the differences of life in the East and West. What is most interesting though is the diversity of opinion about how life should be lived between the travellers from the west. While some of us argue the benefits of flexible rules that allow for all types of arrangements between people who love each other, there appears to be a strong view that everyone should strive to live according to the more traditional rules of marriage!
We arrive in Madurai to find a hectic, chaotic city. The incessant blast of horns and the throngs of people going places never seem to stop. After rooftop drinks that allows us to look down on the madness, we head to a local bar to get a taste of the real India.
The bar is grotty and dark and the dingy atmosphere is one I would never have ventured in if I had been travelling independently. The bar is patronised solely by men and they stare at us, perhaps wondering why we have disturbed their peace. After a quick beer we disperse to clean up for dinner.
We wake up early and head across the road for a breakfast of vaddai. The stand is busy with men having a quick snack on their way to work. I wonder where the women eat and wonder if I am breaking the rules again as I make my way to the counter and ask for our food to be parcelled up.
The historic Meenakshi Temple is what has brought us to Madurai. It is a temple dedicated to Parvati, also known as Meenakshi and her consort Shiva. This temple is the heart and soul of Madurai and bare-bodied men in dhottis and women in various shades of red and orange fill the street leading up to it. The temple attracts about 15,000 visitors on average, many Indians travel from far and near to worship here. It is an amazing work of art and comprises many towers and sculptors. It made the top 30 nominees for the New Seven Wonders of the World!
Madurai was a photographers delight. The streets are filled with the most interesting people and I kept stepping back from the group to capture a piece of this city.
We dine at a beautiful rooftop restaurant and are thankful to escape but we are still drawn to look down on the chaos of this city. That night we catch the night train to Varkala.
"India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of mature mind, understanding spirit and a unifying, pacifying love for all human beings." Will Durant