Had a brilliant plan to get up early and visit the two Great Living Chola Temples the furthest away from where we were staying – both of which are 40km away but in opposite directions! Left the hotel by 7.30am and walked to the bus stand, Jayne getting us lost en route and I pointed it out (something that never EVER happens!!). As we re-found our way back to the bus stand, we saw loads of decorated doorsteps using the coloured chalk. They were absolutely stunning and beautifully symmetrical – some had even laid bricks out around their designs to stop people walking / driving over them. Got to the bus stand and found our bus quite quickly. As it was still in the stand we knew we had a while until it was going to leave so Jayne went off to find some Chai and breakfast. Literally as she turned around the corner out of sight of the bus, the bus driver got in and started the engine! A quick hand wave and a cheeky wink, he seemed to understand that I was waiting for someone… Jayne strolled back into view and, as I tried to get her attention, stopped to get some chai. The bus driver saw who I was waving at and started beeping his horn to get her attention. He still waited until she got our chai before pulling out of the bus stand, only to stop and turn off his engine 5 metres down the bus station for 5 minutes… All that stress for nothing! Jayne spent the first part of the journey telling me (boring me!!) about how they make the chai differently here. Everywhere else in India, the chai is fully made in a pot and you just get poured some when you want it. Here, apparently, they boil the milk and tea separately and then mix them together in front of you like a cocktail when you order. I can’t really tell the difference… Started our hour and a half bus journey north to Gangakondacholapuram. Had to wait to cross a bridge that is clearly too narrow for two lanes of traffic. As we waited, we watched a man skin and gut a goat tied to a tree. It was disturbingly fascinating watching him burst the bladder with his bare hands!
We were just turning up the road for the last 2km to the temple when our bus turned into a remake of the bus we saw yesterday – people hanging out of windows. One young man even gave me his school books to hold through the window as he gripped onto our window bars – the conductor still demanded a fare, even though he wasn’t technically on the bus!! The bus tilted like a palm tree after a tropical storm. The natural disaster was abated as the passengers slowly spanned out of the bus like spaghetti in a pot. Leaning over each other and contorting limbs and luggage, the bus was able to pick up speed and head us towards the town with the impossibly difficult to pronounce name. (Yes Ed – Jayne wrote that last paragraph!!)
Getting off the bus was equally as torturous – literally climbing over people trying to get into our seats before we had even left them and then trying to pick our way through the throngs of people hanging out of the bus door.
Fortunate, it was actually funny and you could see the locals were amused just as much as we were by the situation – it was madness! Walked the short distance to the Chola temple, left our shoes with the shop keeper and walked in.
The Shiva temple was built by Rajendra I in 1035 and has a 49m-tall vimana (tower) that is situated on top of the temple. It has elegant sloping sides and, as a comparison to the main Great Living Chola Temple in Thanjavur, it is considered the feminine counterpart or sister temple to the Brihadishwara temple. The temple complex itself was blissfully empty and we got a chance to wander around at leisure, exploring all the nooks and crannies of the different buildings.
There was an extraordinary long hallway passage that led to the temple which was home to several shrines and, bizarrely, what looked like horse rejects from a carousel. I got bitten by ants when I accidentally stood on their ant hill… The little buggers had a feast on my feet!
As we left, we bumped into French Canadian couple who were having a disagreement with the shop keeper who had, apparently, asked for 60INR to store their shoes… We paid 6INR and, even then we probably paid too much!! Helped them sort it out and walked out with them. They were trying to find the museum that was attached to the temple complex. Chatted about our journey and they thought we worked for UNESCO (which was kinda cool – wonder if they need new employers to travel the world?!?). Found the one-room museum and decided to give it a miss. Walked back down the road to flag down a bus back to Kumbakonam to get some lunch. Headed back to Dosa Plaza for a thali and paneer dish before we both started to feel a bit dodgy. Decided to head back to the hotel to use the toilet and have a little nap before making our way to the next temple… Three hours later, Jayne finally woke up and, as I was still not feeling great, we decided to give the other temple a miss and spent the rest of the day in our room watching Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Wednesday 13th January 2016