Madurai, Rameshwaram & Kanyakumari

Kanyakumari

Madurai-Rameswaram-Kanyakumari (Dec 2009) – Day 3

The final day of our trip started really early. We found out that the hotel we were staying was at least 35kms away from Kanyakumari. That essentially meant that to see the sunrise at Kanyakumari at 6am, we would need to leave by 4am. So we were up by 3.30am after a measly 4hours sleep. We managed to leave by 4.10am.

Our Hotel nr Kanyakumari

We reached Kanyakumari by 5.50am. The driver directed us to a small path a little away from the main viewing point. The location we were directed was still uncrowded, and we were able to find some comfortable seats on the stones linig the shore. Unfortunately we coundn’t see a proper sunrise as the sky was overcast. Still, the slow brightening up of the sky, and hints of sunrays reflecting through the clouds made the whole experience quite nice. At each stage the lights reflected among the clouds changed. At the end, the world became too bright, and the colour-show was over.

Spray from the ocean in the pre-dawn light - Photography by Hubby ๐Ÿ™‚

Sunrise

We left the beach at around 7am, meaning to visit the temple of Kanyakumari Devi. However, when we reached the main road, there was a huge queue along the road. The queue was for the ferry ride to Vivekananda Rock, and no one wants to be left out in waiting for the queue. So hubby decided to stand in the queue along with the others from the bus.

In the meantime the driverr wanted us to confirm that we would have lunch at a specified hotel. This time however, we had to pay for the lunch in advance. So we decided to go with it, and added our names into the list.

The queue started moving at 8am, and we finally got into the ferry at around 8.45am. I spent this time effectively, by looking through all the shops lining the paths and trying to decide my shopping list! ๐Ÿ˜‰

We reached Vivekananda Rock at 9am.
It was built in 1970 by the Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee in honour of the visit of the great spiritual teacher Swami Vivekananda to Shripada Parai during the month of December 1892 for deep meditation and enlightenment. He swam to this rock and meditated about the past, present and future of India. It is said that he attained enlightenment on the rock, and henceforth became a reformer and philosopher.
The rock has been long regarded as a sacred place. There is a particular spot on the rock which has an imprint of a small foot. This is belived to be that of the young godess Kanyakumari, who performed austerity here.

The boat on the way to Vivekananda Rock

View of the Memorial from the boat

Setting anchor at Vivekananda Rock

We spent some time here. There is a small meditation room, where you can spend a few minutes in meditation. At the back of the structure is a sovenier shop that sells all kinds of memorabilia. We bought a nice keychain here.

Vivekananda Memorial

Sripada Temple on Vivekananda Rock

Next to the Vivekananda Rock is the the 133ft statue of the poet Thiruvalluvar. This is located on a rock adjacent to the Vivekananda Rock. You can reach here by ferry. We opted to return to the mainland.

Statue of Poet Thiruvalluvar on nearby Rock

Once back on dry land, we made our way to the temple of Goddess Kanyakumari.

Legend has it the the demon Baabaasuran wreaked havoc on the world, and that Vishnu advices the people and Gods together to worship Paraashakthi, the primeveal energy force, to vanquish the demon. Answering the prayers, Shaktiย  appeared as a young virgin girl at Kanyakumari and commences penance with the desire of marrying Siva at Suchindram.

The Sage Narada had fixed the midnight hour as the auspicious time for the wedding. When Siva’s procession reached a site by name Vazhukkampaarai, a rooster crowd, heralding daybreak. Siva assumed that the auspicious hour was past, and returned home. The disappointed Godess decided to spend the resto of her life in Kanyakumari as a virgin, and all the food prepared for the wedding was laid water. The coloured sand at Kanyakumari is said to be the remains of that wedding feast.

The demon Banaasuran, upon hearing Shakthi’s story proceeded to Kanyakumari to win her hand by force. This led to a fierce battle in which he was slain by her.

The Goddess is beautiful to look at. Of particular significance is the nose stud of the Goddess. This stone seems to light up with a light of its own. It is said that in earlier times, the nose stud used to confuse ships sailing in the night, and caused them to crash into the ricks nearby. There is a door now, which is opened only 5 times a year.

View from the beach near Temple

We spent some time on the beach, bought trickets at the small stalls dotting the beach, and generally had quite a bit of fun. There is also a Gandhi Memorial at the beach, a place where some of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi are placed, but we skipped that. We slowle made our way back to the starting point, where the driver was waiting for us, and he directed us to the lunch house. The meal was typically North-Indian in preparation: rotis, subzi, dal and rice. The best part of it were that it was hot, and tasty.

After lunch, I wanted to have an ice cream, so we went over the Baskin Robbins nearby. Good fun! ๐Ÿ™‚

We left Kanyakumari soon after, and started our journey back to Madurai. We reached Madurai at around 7pm. It was a tiring journey, given the cramped space in the bus. Also we were exhausted because of the lack of proper sleep the previous night. In all, it was an uncomfortable journey. We were glad to get out of the bus. We all went over to the agent we had first met when we came to Madurai. He had all the return tickets. He gave us a note to another bus agent, telling us that he had the tickets. So we quickly picked up our bags and went over to this bus stop. This wasn’t the same we had come to. This one was within the city, and most private buses plyed through here.

When we reached the bus agent, he washed his hands off the situation saying that all buses from Kanyakumari were full, and we could try for a seat in that. The next bus would arrive only at 10pm, and we could try our luck there. After waiting till about 9pm, a driver approached us. Apparently, there was a jeep travelling to Bangalore, and the front seats were empty. We decided to take the chance. It was one of the most singularly painful experiences we ever had. Hubby sat near the gear-shift. So his leg was at an awkward angle trhough the ight. The good part was: we reached Bangalore by 5am, and by 6am we crashed out at home.

This unfortunaly marred the entire experience.

I would advice travellers to ensure they have all their arrangements made well in advance, and confirm when travelling through agents.

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Rameswaram

MaduraiRameswaram-Kanyakumari – Dec 2009 – Day 2

Day 2 started early, ast about 7.30am. We got the same mini-bus we’d used the previous day. We expected the bus to change at a later point, probably outsidethe city. But since that didnt happen we figured thats the way it would be. Also we saw a lot of similar buses plying between Madurai & Rameswaram.

View of Meenakshi Temple from bus

Signboard showing turn-off to Rameswaram

We stopped at around 10.30 for breakfast at small road-side restaurant named Hotel Anantha Bhavan. I spent the better half of my break-time watching the cook made some amazingly delicate parottas. There were mini in size, but tasted just yum! ๐Ÿ™‚ Since we were on the way to a mjor temple, we normally fast. But then i was too hungry to fast that day, so i had break-fast. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hubby just had coffee though.

mini-parottas

Hotel Anantha Bhavan

Wierd Painting on Building. Why would someone make that???

We set off for Rameswaram after 10 more mins. The rest of the journey was a changing vista that had water and land interspersed. As we were close to the coast, the water line is high. That basically meant that most of the land was marshy, and the houses were located between small ponds.

We reached Rameswaram by 12.30. It was a straight drive till the temple.

Boats moored by the beach

The story of the Jyotirlinga at Rameswaram is connected with the Ramayana. The story goes that Rama built the Sethu (bridge) to Lanka from this beach. On returning, he wanted to worship Siva, and ask for forgiveness for the bramanahatya (killing of a brahmin) of Ravana, who was a Brahmin by birth and also a dedicated devotee of Siva. Hanuman was given the task of bringing a linga from Varanasi (Kasi Viswanath). However, he was getting late for the pre-determined auspicious time. So Sita made a lingam from sand, and Rama was able to perform the puja at the given time. However, when Hanuman returned, he was disappointed to learn that Rama had already finished the puja. So Rama pacified Hanuman and installed the Lingam and called it the Kasi Viswanath Lingam, and decreed that it should be worshipped before the lingam Sita made.

There we spent a few minutes at the bus while the driver spoke to the various “agents” who gathered around. They had a rather straight-forward deal. Pay them a certain amount to the tour of theย  22 sacred well, as well as get us special darshan.After we paid the amount, we were directed inside the temple by the ‘co-ordinator’. The men were asked if they wanted to change clothes. Hubby opted to change into the traditional dhoti/pancha.

Corridor of 1000 pillars

The guy took us first to the 22 wells compound. The holy wells at Rameswaram denote the 22 holy rivers in India. It is said that the wells were made by Rama, and are the number of arrows in his quiver. These wells do not dry up, and water from each well has a disctintive flavour. The water in these wells never dry up, whatever the season, and are said to be fed from the holy rivers directly.

I opted to have my head sprinkled with the waters, since I was carrying the tavel bags. However, by the time i got ‘sprinkled’ by all 21 wells, I was drenched anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚ I say 21 wells, as the last one is water from the Ganga. Here we have to take teertham from the priest at the well, and not get soaked in it.

Well no 13

The Ganga

The whole process took about 25 minutes, and then we were ushered into the temple. Since it was special darshan, we did not join the main lines. Instead we were sent in through the exit gate and were able to take darshan from near the Lingam. It was quite a nice experience, if you ignored the crowds behind you.

Once we came out, we were handed the prasadam bags, and shown the exit route. there is also a spatik lingam here. But the guy who gave us directions, sent us outside the complex rather than give us proper directions. So that was left out. Hubby changed back into regular clothes, and we stepped out of the temple.

The whole darshan process took about 30 mintues (though it felt longer). We were all directed to our bus, and we set off for lunch. The driver stopped outside a small restaurant that served thalis, and told us all to have lunch there. We (again) decided to check out other options, and went ahead. We found a nice place where they served curd-rice, which was a great option when travelling.

We quickly finished lunch, and got back to the bus. As we got back, 2 ladies from another family in the bus we just getting off after changing clothes. I thought this was a great idea, as the place where we had lunch didnt have a bathroom where I could change. So with a bit of a contortionists’ skill and hubby standing guard at the door, I managed to change into dry clothes. ๐Ÿ™‚

By around 3.15 we set off for Kanyakumari. On the way out, we stopped at a small temple on the roadside. The temple is run by a family of priests, whose main income was donations from the visiting public. The temple was dedicated to Lord Hanuman. In a nearby pot were large “floating stones”. These are supposedly the same stones that Rama used to build the Ram Sethu connecting to Lanka. We purchased a piece of the stone. It is said to have medicinal qualities. For now it simply lies in the temple at home.

Floating stones

Entrance of the temple

The next stop was the Pamban Bridge. This refers to the cantilever railway bridge connected the Pamban Island/Rameswaram to mainland India. The spot on the bridge is a nice place to get some excellent views of the ocean, and of Rameswaram.

Pamban Bridge

Boats returning home - View from Pamban Bridge

From here we finally for Kanyakumari.

We stopped on the the way to Kanyakumari at around 5.40pm for tea at a place called Sri Annapoorna Hotel. We were quite happy to get out of the bus. The bus had seemed ok in the morning half of the day, was now taking its toll. The limited leg-space in the bus meant that we could relax at all. Also the handle on the outside seat was missing, so the person sitting there (mostly, hubby) couldn’t relax at all for fear of falling off.

Sri Annapoorna Hotel

When the driver wouldn’t start the bus again even by 6.15pm, we got a bit worried. On finally asking him, we found out there there was not hotel booking done for us. All hotels at Kanyakumari were full for the Christmas weekend. Finally the driver told us that some arrangements had been made, and we set off again.

We stopped at about 9.30pm for dinner at a some hotel called Sri Saravanass Restaurant (with the double ‘ss’). We finally got to a small hotel at about 11pm. They definitely didn’t seem as though they were expecting us. Anyways, rooms were opened up, and we finally settled down for the day.

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Madurai

MaduraiRameswaram-Kanyakumari (Dec 2009)ย  – Day 1

The Christmas weekend of 2009 yielded a long weekend. So we decided to put it to good use. However, we hadn’t planned in advance, and had originally planned to stay at home and relax. But, at the last minute, we decided to check if any tour packages were available. Since we’d gone to Ooty through a tour operator, and the deal he’d given us was decent, we decided to explore the same option.

We were pleasently surprised when we were told that tickets for this tour were available, and all booking will be done. Given that we decided on Tuesday to leave on Thursday, the ticket availability part was a welcome surprise.

We got a ticket in KSTRC’s Rajahamsa service that left Bangalore at around 9pm. The trip took around 9 hrs, and we reached Madurai at 6am.

The first thing that jarred us here was how money-centric everything was.ย  Even the auto-wallahs knew which agent to take us to. In fact, there was confusion over the address we gave, but that cleared when we gave the name of the agent we were to meet. In our previous travel through the agent, we were given all details prior to leaving Bangalore. In this case, we had to connect with the agent in Madurai for every detail.

The bus station is located outside the city, and the auto-wallah charged us Rs. 100/- to get to where we wanted to go. And no bargain. Its no use if we want to refuse one guy n bargain with another. You’re met with a blanket refusal. It doesnt matter who you talk to, they expect you to pay the same amount.

The agent was based in a small hotel within walking distance of the Meenakshi temple. In fact while entering into the city you can see the massive gopuram of the temple. A beautiful sight indeed.

The agent directed us to a nearby hotel called Hotel Palace. It was ok, nothing too fancy. The sheets and room were clean, and they delivered a nice coffee. What else did we need? ๐Ÿ˜‰ The agent set us up for a city tour starting by about 9am. So we went back to the main road, where a mini-bus was waiting for us. Actually we were expecting the Meenakshi temple to be a part of the city tour. However, everything else was covered, except the temple.

A lot of time was spent in picking up all the other members of the bus tour. Finally at around 10am we reached the Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace. The palace is located about 1.2 kms from the Meenakshi Temple, and was meant to be a the most grand of palaces in South India. The architecture styles incorporated are Dravidian, Islamic and European.ย  It was a nice walk-though that we had here. The decorations on the high ceilings as well as the exquisite work in the main courtyard were beautiful, and we spent quite some time admiring them. the rest of the palace though did not seem to have as much attention. It seemed as the the focus was the main courtyard, and nothing else. The lighting was average, and the placement of the artifacts was not attractive to viewers.

Right opposite the palace is a series of small tiffin shops. We decided to have our breakfast here. The food was hot, and very tasty. The food was served in a plate over-laid with a plantain leaf. Once we finish eating, we have to put our own plate in the wash bucket, and dispose the plantain leaf ourselves. Service was efficient. Did I say the food was hot and tasty?

Next stop was the Alagar Koil (Koyil/Kovil) temple located about 21 km from the city. This is a Vishnu temple, dedicated to Lord Kallazhagar who appeared for Sage Suthapas. The temple was constructed by Thirumalai Nayakar, a Vaishnavait and dedicated devotee of Goddess Meenakshi, built the temple aimed at fostering amiable relations between Saivaites and Vaishnavaite. The location is also very scenic, with beautiful hills surrounding the temple.

The temple is a beautiful structure. The main entrance is however kept closed. One has to enter from the side entrance. Even the Utsava Murti (festive idol) of Lord Vishnu doesn’t pass through the main door. Once a year the Sudarshan Chakra, the wheel of Vishnu, alone passes through this door.

The darshan was a bit rushed, as the temple shuts at about 1pm, and we’d reached at around 12pm. On the way back we stopped at a small temple that had a huge image of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi Devi on top of it. It workmanship was beautiful. We spent a few minutes taking photos at this temple, and then made our way back to Madurai.

Along the whole route, the tour guide pointed out various landmarks in Madurai, namely the Gandhi Museum, and some other ‘landmarks” like the Police Headquarters etc.

The tour ended at around 1.30pm at the gates of the Meenakshi Temple. The tour guide showed us a hotel where they serve thalis and asked us to have lunch there. While all the others in the bus went straight in to have lunch, we opted to walk around n look for another place. Our walk took us around the temple to the main gate, and to the road in front of it. This was a truly bustling road where most shopping could be done, interspersed with eateries. We had lunch at a place called Meenakshi Bhavan. The food was good and hot. Ther service too was quite quick. The only delay was getting a seat, since the whole place was jam-packed. ๐Ÿ™‚

Finally we made our way back to the hotel where we rested till about 4.30. The biggest advantage of this hotel was that it was walking distance from the temple. So we slowly made our way through the evening traffic to the temple.

The Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple of Meenakshi Amman Temple is dedicated to Lord Sundareshwar (Shiva) and his consort Meenakshi (Parvati).It is a huge temple complex spead over 45 acres. It has 14 gopurams, the largest being the South Gate at a height of 52mts. It is one of the few temples that have gates on all 4 directions.
The shrine of Shiva lies in the center of the complex. One would first visit Meenakshi Amma near the Eastern Gate, and from there proceed to see Lord Sundareshwar. On the way, just outside the shrine of Shiva,ย  is a large idol of Lord Ganesh carved from a single stone.

There is also a Silver Hall within the temple complex with a huge sculpture of Shiva in the Nataraja pose. However, this idol is different as Shiva has his right foot raised, unlike the normal left foot. Legend says that this was done on the request of Rajasekara Pandya, a devotee of Lord Shiva. He requested the Lord to change his position as keeping the same foot raised would put enormous stress on it.

West Gate entrance to Meenakshi Temple

We entered through the North Gate, and wound our way to the South Gate, from where we enter the main temple complex. The queue was huge and took us till almost 7.30 by the time we finished with the darshan and stepped out. As you step out of the main temple, you reach the 1000-pillar mandapam.

This mandapam has only 985 pillars (not 1000), and is famous for the musical pillars located near the entrance. Nowadays, this section is cordoned off. We were lucky as an old man decided to some of us tourists how the pillars sound but playing a short tune on them. But we were not allowed to touch them. Lesser known is that the stone idols leading up the main pathway, have their own musical abilities. If you put your ear to the shoulder of the idol, and strike the hand, you can hear a distinctly musical sound. But it is not audible out like the musical pillars.

There is also a small “museum” section in this hall. Nothing much to it, and nothing there really holds the interest.

Display in the Museum

We wound down finally, and stepped out of the massive temple complex. We had a light dinner at a nearby restaurant, and made our way back to the hotel, looking forward to the next day…

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