Temple Tour of Tamil Nadu

 

 

 

Dindigul Melkote

–          Mahesh Hegde

View a slideshow of my photos from this trip on Flickr

I wanted to write this blog the very next day after I came back from this trip in 2007. However, since I didn’t have a blog site running at that time, I kept this for later. It was less than a year since I bought a new Tata Indica Turbo, and I had already done about 30,000 Kms on it by now. It was three of us who decided to go for a south Indian road trip to reach the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kanyakumari. Rameshwaram was the other place we wanted to cover. We did not have any other plan. We had three people, one car, two SLR cameras and the spirit to explore. Three of us included Lalith who was my roommate at that time alias “7 up boy” because he looks like Fido from the 7 up ad. The second person was Raghu my cousin and last myself. Raghu and I were the “Drivers” while Lalith enjoyed the chauffeur ride as he was legally not entitled to drive at that time as he didn’t have a license yet.

It was almost noon by the time we left Bangalore. We didn’t know the exact time required to go till Kanyakumari, we just knew we had to drive all the way south on NH7 which will take us to the tip of the subcontinent. As expected, as soon as we crossed the Karnataka border, we could see the drastic improvement in the road, which was much wider, smoother and straighter. NH7 is a part of the North – South corridor project and at that time the construction was half way through and there were many places we had to switch from left side of the road to the right. But considering the traffic was pretty low and we were enjoying the ride. The turbocharger in my car made driving on the highway a real pleasure. Our first stop was somewhere after Krishnagiri where we saw some interesting landscape and the highway wrapping around a small hill which we felt was a good location for some photos.

We continued our journey and as we approached Salem, we had a flat tire. It was my mistake to miss a pot hole. I had a similar problem in my trip to Kerala on this car. The problem was that I had changed to allow wheels and not upgraded the tire size to match the alloys. So, when I run over a pot hole at a high speed, nothing happens to the alloys, but the tires get cut. I got a new tire fixed at Salem where we had something to eat and continued south on NH7.

Our next stop was a place which we had not heard much about, Dindigul. This is a small town just about 40 kms from Madurai. We saw a relatively big rock mountain and a temple on top of it and were eager to find out what it was. After enquiring from the locals we reached the base of the mountain, parked our car and started climbing the steps which were carved out of the rock. The steps are similar to what you find in Shravanabelagola in Karnataka. On top of the rock was a fort and we found that lot of Muslims were also climbing the rock. We found it strange because there was a temple on top and Muslims climbing the rock! Later we discovered that the temple was abandoned and there was no worship going on there. The fort on top of the rock was built by Tipu Sultan. We were not aware that that Tipu’s kingdom extended till Dindigul. Dindigul has been a sensitive town where there have been instances of communal violence between Hindu’s and Muslims. The evening sun gave us excellent lighting to take some of the most memorable pictures of the trip. It was clear skies and a crisp sunlight.

Abandoned Temple on Dindigul Melkote
Abandoned Temple – Dindigul Fort
Line of fire – Dindigul
Photo session atop Dindigul Melkote

By nightfall we were in Madurai and it took us quite a lot of time to find a descent hotel to stay with descent food. The next day early in the morning we were out to see the world famous Meenakshi temple complex. As we entered the complex it was obvious to us that there was a time in Indian history, when the rulers showed off their power by building huge temples. Also, towns were growing around temples, i.e. temples were the fuel for growth of cities. The meenakshi temple is really huge and probably the biggest temple I had seen till date. There are 4 entrances and huge “Gopuras” at each entrance. In addition to the gopuras at the entrances, there are more gopuras inside the temple compounds for each smaller temples. The theertha or water tank inside the temple compound adds to the beauty. A 360 degree view of Madurai temple can be seen here http://www.view360.in/virtualtour/madurai/

We were done with the temple early in the day and left for the second stretch of our journey from Madurai to Kanyakumari. After about 50 kms from Madurai the landscape changed very drastically and so did the civilization. There were hardly any villages or towns in sight for very long stretches. There were probably stretches with 50 kms and no village. We realized that because we were looking for a tea shop by the side of the road and it took us very long to find one. The landscape was barren and only few palm trees scattered.

Deserted landscape south of Madurai – NH7
Vertical Rises near Kanyakumari

This barren land was very much like a desert until we were about 50 kms from Kanyakumari  where things changed drastically. NH7 passes through a huge wind farm with hundreds or even thousands of windmills and at the horizon we could see the last few mountains of the subcontinent, behind the mountains we knew was God’s own country – Kerala. We took some time off from driving and took some good snaps here.

Wind farm near Kanyakumari

It was almost 5 pm by the time we reached Kanyakumari. However, we just had enough time to check in to a hotel with a view of the Vivekananda rock memorial and rush towards a place on the west coast where we could see a nice sunset. Kanyakumari is sandwiched between Arabian Sea and bay of Bengal. The Indian ocean lies to the south. This is the point where all three huge water bodies meet. We noticed that each sea had its own character to it. They have their own color, texture of waves and of course size. At the time we were there the Arabian sea and the Indian Ocean were more violent than the Bay of Bengal. Probably it is different in seasons due to change in wind directions.

After dark the Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the Thiruvalluvar Statue are lit up with very nice lights and are a feast for the eyes and also beautiful subjects for a photographer. The lights are up till about 9 pm and make sure you have a tripod if you want to take some good snaps. That was the end of a very long day.

Kanyakumari – on a full moon night
Thiruvalluvar – Standing bright and high

It was about 5 a.m. when someone was knocking at our hotel door. It sounded like some fire and the hotel boys were trying to alert everyone in the room. In fact it was something really amazing. They were waking us up to see a spectacular sight which happens every morning in Kanyakumari before the sunrise. All the fishermen set out to sea in small boats and thousands of them. Each boat has a small lantern and the sight of thousands of boats setting off to sea is amazing and we could witness this from the balcony of our room. This is a sight one must see in Kanyakumari. We decided to spend an additional day in this place just to see the sight of boats the next morning for another time.

Sunrise and the fishing boats – Kanyakumari
Sunrise and the fishing boats – Kanyakumari
First sunrise at Kanyakumari

Later in the morning we went on the shuttle boats to check out the Rock memorial and the Statue which is the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent and the view from both these places is breathtaking. Looking back at the peninsula from these islands I realized what a great nation begins here. The afternoon, we set off towards Kerala and ended up in a strange place at a much unexplored beach which was really long, wide and very clean. Since, this was some place between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we asked a local guy there, who served us some good herbal tea, if the name of the place is Keral Nadu and to our surprise it was called Kerala Nadu!! We were the only tourists in this place which is less known to public.

After spending another night in Kanyakumari we set off to Rameshwaram. We thought the best possible route was via Tuticorn, but this turned out to be a very bad road. The best way is to go back to Madurai and take the national highway. Finally, we were on the Pamban Bridge which is the second largest sea link in India and also the first sea link to be built in India.

Walk over Pambam – One of India’s longest sea links

This connects mainland India with Rameshwaram Island. The 2.3 Km Bridge is so long that we cannot see the other end of the bridge. After an hour’s photo shoot here we went to Rameshwaram and checked into hotel Tamil Nadu. A cheap hotel operated by the government.

The Rameshwaram Temple is known for its huge 1000 pillar corridors which is big enough for elephant procession to pass. Also, there are couple of dozen of ponds or Theertha’s or holy waters where Hindus cleanse themselves of all sins. The pillar corridors and Dhanushkodi are two must see places in Rameshwaram.

Pillar corridors of Rameshwaram
Pillar corridors of Rameshwaram
Pillar corridors of Rameshwaram
Some well preserved parts of Rameshwaram temple

Dhanushkodi is a strange landscape carved by the Cyclone in 1964 that damaged the entire village. The only way to get to Dhanushkodi is by old rickety jeeps or tempos. You need to cross vast flat sand plains sandwiched by Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. You can appreciate the different character of the two water bodies here. The Indian ocean is very violent and deep and Bay of Bengal is shallow and calm.

Our Ride to Dhanushkodi – 4WD SUV!!
Enroute Dhanushkodi
Violent Indian Ocean – Dhanushkodi
Characters of the two Seas – Bay of Bengal & Indian Ocean
Trying to understand the strange landscape at Dhanushkodi
The Trio @ Dhanushkodi

After spending the day in Rameshwaram, we headed back towards Bangalore and visited a couple of places near Coimbatore the next day. One of them was called Thirumurthymalai, known for its Dattatreya temple in the valley between three hills and the other was Palani, known for its Subramanya / Shanmuga temple. The Palani temple is accessible by a rope way built on the hillside. The landscape from the hill is very scenic as you can see another hill with a temple on top. Anytime I am in Coimbatore I make sure I visit Annapoorna / Gourishankar restaurant which serves amazing south Indian food, especially Dosas. This hotel is locates opposite to Hoteal Tamil Nadu near the bus stand.

The route back from Coimbatore was via Sathyamangalam. The forests once ruled by the famous brigand Veerappan. We took this route as we wanted to stay in Mysore for a day before heading back to the grind in Bangalore.

Dimbham Ghat – Sathy – Mysore

Tanjavoor / Tanjore temple was not covered in this trip of ours, but I made a promise to myself that I will visit the Tanjore temple and the Golden temple at Vellore sometime. Without these, the temple tour of Tamil Nadu is incomplete. In 2011 I visited the Tanjore temple and was amazed by the size of the temple structure which was build thousands of years ago by the Chola King Raja Raja. The “Big” temple in Tanjore is surely the best maintained temple in Tamil Nadu; it is well preserved and also maintained well. Tanjore temple emphasizes on how important the temples were in that time and how they were the centre of the economy and the towns. Entire towns were designed around a temple at that time. Just like the way in which towns are designed around IT parks today.

Click here to see a gallery of photos from Tanjore

To summarize the story, we had a memorable time and also some memorable photographs, which I will cherish throughout my life.

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