Monday December 9th
Ben- The drive from Ooty to Coimbatore took us through some of the most spectacular terrain on our trip thus far. As the drive into the mountains was, we experienced one hair pin turn after another while descending down the other side. Parts of it were a little hairy as large buses crossed into our lane trying to negotiate the turns. Honestly most drivers do as they wish in regards to passing each other which is no problem on the flat straight roads, but provides for some difficult driving on roads such as this. We are grateful our driver showed such skill in this regard. The vegetation changed back to that of palm trees and broad leaf evergreens. Here the mountains were incredibly steep with countless waterfalls cascading over their faces. The road was besieged with monkeys sunbathing on the stone wall that lined much of the road. What gave me great wonder were the dense forests that were untouched by agriculture or any development whatsoever. Looking out over this great expanse, one could not help but think how grateful we are to be blessed with such a wonderful planet to call home.
As we came to the base of the mountains we came to a plantation of betel nut palms. Thousands of palms on both sides of the road were clearly of value to all who enjoy this commodity.
Arriving in Coimbatore it was clear we had left the slow leisurely pace of the mountains behind us. Coimbatore is known for its many textile mills and the many brands of cloths that have production facilities here. We made sure to walk down the popular street “Cross Cut” to see the shops and get a sense of what the entire hustle bustle was all about. It proved quite an experience with a symphony of horns and noises that could wake Snow White from her poison apple induced coma.
Tuesday December 7th
We embarked on a very long drive on our way to Madurai. This had been the longest drive of the trip so far and took us over flat terrain for most of the journey. Along the way we stopped to try some of the local food. Throughout our trip we have seen countless venders along the road selling fresh coconuts but one vender in particular had a fruit that at first looked to be a small brown coconut. It was however something different. A type of Borassus Palm i had never seen. It grew on a palm that had fan shaped leaves unlike the coconut’s pinnate structure. It contained three seeds that were kind of translucent gelatinous structure. They had the slightest sweet taste to them and while I was not the biggest fan I was glad to have tried it. After washing them down with some fresh coconut milk in a palm leaf cup we hopped back in the car.
Another thing to mention was the miles and miles of wind turbines we passed. It was not a particularly windy day but the hundreds of turbines must have been capable of generating a lot of green energy. Upon arriving in Madurai we checked in to our hotel then went to some of the local shops to purchase some artifacts for the coming exhibit.
Wednesday proved to be a very eventful day! We started out by visiting the Thirumalai Nayak Palace early in the morning. The large open square in the middle of the palace allows for all the detailed carvings and grand columns to be lit with natural sunlight. All other ceilings within the palace featured hand painted floral designs. Quite impressive! We only saw about a quarter of the palace as the rest of it was closed to the public, but historic records showed large gardens surrounding the palace back in its day. The palace had been partially destroyed in the 1700s but was renovated by the British during their rule. It is now being taken care of by the Tamil Nadu Archaelogical Department and is a large tourist attraction!
As we learned, Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India, with records going back as far as 4th century BC. The city was originally laid out in the shape of a lotus flower with the Meenakhshi temple as the pinnacle. We were able to visit this beautiful temple that is still used quite regularly by the people of Madurai and from all over the country, receiving over 15,000 visitors daily. Standing at 55m high, each statue and detail was hand carved, and took over 500 years to complete. The ornate pillars within the temple were all carved out of one piece of stone. Ben and I considered what a lost art stone-carving is, and how structures such as this are not built anymore. As regular upkeep, the outside of the temple gets a fresh coat of paint (still hand painted) every twelve years. The city has really grown over the last 2500 years, filling in around the temple as densely as possible. Today, Madurai is known for its agriculture, with most of the crops being grown on the outskirts of the city. As we drove around we noted a lot of markets, and our guide pointed out that one entire street may be dedicated to selling one crop as we drove down one for onions and one for bananas.
And we’re off to the Gandhi Museum to gain some insight on the history of this beautiful country. We spent about two hours reading every single poster in the museum, enthralled by the story and the struggle of India’s freedom, and how Gandhi spent his whole life dedicated to gaining the equality and freedom of his people, both from the British and even among India’s own people. One room contained the clothing that Gandhi died in, it was moving to say the least. His non-violent means of seeking change is what inspired MLK Jr, and there was one room of the exhibit that discussed the similarities in both Gandhi and MLK’s lives and roles in their respective countries, how fascinating.
We went back to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace for the evening sound and light show. It was about a 45 minute program that told the story of king Thirumalai’s rule as timed lights flashed the pillars and the open hallways of the palace, setting the tone of the story along the way. This was a pretty neat way to see the palace; it is even more grand at night.
On Thursday morning, we will be leaving the state of Tamil Nadu and heading to Kerala, a state of dense tropical landscape stretching between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats.