Kumbakonam – day 99

Both feeling much better after our refreshing afternoon of watching Harry Potter and sleeping, we decided to try attempt two of visiting the Brihadishwara temple in Thanjavur. Left the hotel around 7am and caught a bus that actually had space although the bus driver kept looking over at us and saying ‘sexy’, so I guess you can’t have everything!!! The 41km journey took just under an hour and a half, which is practically a miracle by Indian standards (notice, my love of buses has decreased slightly since we began travelling!!). We jumped out at the bus stand and walked the rest of the way to the ‘big temple’ using the walk as an excuse to stretch our legs. The temple, built between 1003-1010, is considered the crowning glory of Chola architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze carvings. You walk through two ‘gates’ before entering into the temple complex, each one built to celebrate a Royal victory. There is a covered statue in front of the temple of Nandi (Shiva’s sacred bull). Carved from a single piece of rock, it is the largest statue in India of Nandi, weighing 25 tonnes, measuring 6m long and 3m high. Another long hallway leading to the main temple, filled with less carousel horses but more bat guano. The temple itself was similar to yesterday’s although today’s priest was willing to let us violate the no photo rule for a small ‘donation’. Suffice to say, we left without taking any photos! The outside of the 66m vimana (tower) in this temple is straight and severe when compared to its ‘sister’ temple that we saw yesterday – you can clearly see the difference in design.

IMG_4067Along the temple walls, the king who commissioned the temple had inscribed the names and addresses of all of his several hundred presents, 400 dancers, 57 musicians, barbers and poets into the stone. After the temple, we walked back towards the bus stand and decided to get out of the midday sun by using an Internet cafe to sort out our plans for the next few days. Also had lunch in a nearby ‘hotel’ where our food was served on banana leaves directly onto the table.

IMG_5122Think the waiters were fascinated by us eating with our fingers and not making an awful mess, although one did keep coming over to give us ‘tips’ and to pore sauce over my rice to make it easier. Got back on a bus and got off at the town before Kumbakonam to visit the third and last Great Living Chola Temple. The Airavatesvara Temple of Darasuram was built by Rajaraja II between 1146-1163 and was, by far, our favourite Chola temple.IMG_4100Less grand than the other two, with its 24m vimana, it was overflowing with mini sculptures, columns, paintings, stone chariots, elephants, horses and a stone image of Shiva on the rare incarnation of Kankalamurti, the mendicant. IMG_4093Having avoided the priest who, when I said I didn’t require a blessing, blew out his candle and huffed away to look for more visitors and the shoe boy who wanted money cause he didn’t touch our shoes, we left the temple and walked the 3km back to our hotel. As it is Pongal tomorrow (the Tamil Nadu region Indian version of harvest festival), we got to see all the beautiful and intricate kholams that were being created to decorate the outside of most homes we walked past. IMG_5089As we continued our walk, a group of guys slowed down on their scooter and practically drooled as they said to Jayne ‘niiiiiiicccccce quality’ – I couldn’t contain myself and the three of them drove off looking slightly wounded to the sounds of my laughter. I then, being lovely, teased Jayne about it the rest of the way home! Decided to visit a couple of the colourful temples in the town before heading to dinner. IMG_5128There are 18 temples in Kumbakonam, mostly dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu but we only visited two – the Sarangapani Temple which is the largest chariot-based Vishnu temple (at 50m high) and the Kumbeshwara Temple which is the largest Shiva temple, claiming to contain a lingam made by Shiva when he mixed the nectar of immortality with sand. Headed back to Dosa Plaza for dinner before returning to the hotel, packing and falling into bed.

Thursday 14th January 2016

Kumbakonam – day 98

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!

IMG_5090We 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.

IMG_5099Fortunate, 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.

IMG_4027There 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