Sunday, January 14, 2007

Meenakshi Temple and Sticky Last Day in India

Hello friends,
Amidst the good news that the Ravens and Cowboys are out of the playoffs (and we're hoping the Patriots bow out, for the trifecta of hateable franchises to be knocked out of the postseason), this will be the last you'll be hearing from us in India. We board a British Airways flight to London Heathrow at 4am Monday (5:30pm Sunday, EST), wait it out a few hours at LHR, and then we make our sleepy return to New York, home around 4pm.

On the whole, our stay in Madurai was pleasant and our return ride in a second-class AC sleeper uneventful, if cramped.

Jenny did come down with a bit of food poisoning that had her reeling Saturday morning, but thankfully she recovered enough for us to go visit the city's gigantic Meenakshi Temple (you can see its four towers in the Madurai skyline photo in a previous post). It is quite a sight to take in.

South India is famed for its Hindu temples and it's really quite a privilege to get to them. As with many religious places, some parts are off-access to people who aren't followers of the faith, but there is still much to be seen. An obvious contrast is how much commercial activity surrounds the temple. Where Western religions generally hide any semblance of connection with the worldly and the economic, here these aspects of life are intrinsically linked with the temple. Markets selling religious trinkets and icons, jewelry, and even knock-off Nike gym bags and toys are within the outer walls. Here's Jenny buying some bracelets:

Even so, this was a surprise:

More temple shots:

In addition to praying to the god of their choosing, Hindus will dress and decorate the statues of gods in the temple and take a blessing:

Jenny being blessed by a trained temple elephant:

And yesterday we finally made it to Apollo 96 "bar to have world's performed light and sounds," the once-proud Madurai experiment in retro-future leisure. As they say, "make a happy flight to Venus in Apollo 96." Its 76,000 diodes seem to have lit better days, which was pretty much in keeping with the apparent downturn of Hotel Supreme (again, we'll let Rough Guides off the hook this time). I did manage a decent (or at least strong) beer though, and there were a good few Westerners in there smokin', drinkin', and killin' time. Note the triangular door; however, their airlock was broken.

Sunday our train pulled into Chennai-Egmore stati0n, and our friend Feroz met up with us there to help us catch a cab. Even after two weeks, it's a bit startling how much you can be looked at as a dollar sign (or Rs- if you want to be literal). Though we make painfully clear we're not interested in buying things or catching a ride, every available driver or hawker is interested in giving it a shot. It was nice to have him there to help us out at such an early hour, not knowing in detail the way back to Harjit and Ritu's.

So upon arrival this AM, we re-connected with our bag, which was easy because it was sticky and mildewey, as were some of the contents. What a wonderful surprise! We cheerfully did two loads of laundry and washed the bag over and over, and will be thanking British Airways ever so much for handling this matter so deftly and capably. Veins will not explode from our necks when we meet their personnel tomorrow. No, of course not.

Thanks for reading, fellow travellers. Wish us a safe sojourn that includes the safe and clean return of our luggage, with us, tomorrow, in NYC. We're looking forward to getting home so much that I actually woke up on the train from a dream about chocolate cupcakes, drooling Homer Simpson-esquely. No joke. Best to you all. And for those who have inquired: yes, this blog will continue. This trip has been a great opportunity for re-launching it, and we hope you've enjoyed keeping up with us.

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