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Sudheer Poppa

A whirlwind spiritual tour of Tamil Nadu

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Ok, here is an update on my recent tour of Tamil Nadu. For those waiting on the Tsunami report, would need to wait a bit more as I need to be 'inspired' to write on that !!! Though visiting Nagapattinam was high on my agenda, I wanted a spiritual break due to some personal reasons.

What was most interesting through the journey were the continous election campaigning adding more flavor to my trip. Plus my basic Tamil prowess helped me to talk with others on the politics of the land :D

TN tips
- Learned the fairly enterprising skills of the bus conductors and drivers in Tamil Nadu transport corporations. They would not allow you to board the bus in the starting point unless you are going to the last stop. This is to ensure maximum revenue, there by making sure long distance passengers are not disheartened by a full bus. But would allow you to board just when they are starting off
- Instead of buying bottled water, you may think of buying packaged water as they are basically use and throw at the same time certified ISI (quality standards board). You may as well buy butter milk (locally called "morre') which is a good coolant as well as nice for belly.
- If you are travelling by bus, it maybe easier to go to connecting stops and take busses rather than waiting long times at terminal for direct busses.

[u][b]29th April[/b][/u] - Woke up around 5 in the morning, did some mail checking and all before showering and heading to the main road to jump into a rick. Previous night, I had realised I have no bags to carry and decided to carry my laptop bag for the three pairs of clothes and a towel I was carrying.

Around 5.50, found a rick and negotiated 20 Rs above the meter for the drive to the station. At station, was a huge crowd for buying tickets, that there were cops to manage the passenger queue. I decided to try my luck without ticket.. Within 5 mins of the train moving, the ticket examiner came to check my non existant ticket and was happy to fine me Rs 250 plus Rs 75 for the actual ticket fare to Salem.. I was quite relieved with the fine as coming to pick up the ticket earlier would have cost me atleast Rs150 for rick and a few hours of my non existant time.

Me and my fine'r had a good chat and he told me about his visit to Kumbakonam a few days back and I decided to include it in my itenary. The previous night, I had included Thiruvannvamalai due to a recommendation from a good freind. Train journey was fine as I was enjoying one after ages and unlike the air con trips of the recent past, this one I was in unreserved class sitting on the door with legs hanging out!

Train finally chugged along to the Salem station where I got off in the blistering heat on a look out for a bus to the new bus stand where I was to take a transfer to Trichy. It was the classic over crowded Indian bus jorney, which I was to experience in a fairly good volume in the next few days. Loud music, screaming conductor, aggressive pushers, giggling college girls, complaining old timers, everything was just out of countless accounts I have seen in IM.

Finally at Salem bus stand, I could trace the Trichy bus within a few mins and immediatly the bus started. It was quite a long winding journey, but then I was quite surprised at how cheap the bus ticket was! Around 3 pm, I reached Trichy where I took a fairly good room with a color tv at Rs 160 per night, and what was better, they took credit card !!! After two showers and watching come pink floyd live, I decided to head to Sri Rangam - one of the largest temples in South India.

The temple experience was very good, though I had to wait an unduly long time for the darshan. Due to bad crowd management, I would suggest anyone planning a visit to pay extra for the special darshan unless ofcourse you prefer to be with the crowd and savour the vibes of the place in a relaxing manner.

The night stroll around the Trichy bylanes were quite uninspiring for an old India hand as there was nothing too remarkable !

[u][b]30th April[/b][/u] - Got up early around 5.30 and vacated the room by 6. After the morning coffee (dont miss the coffee when you are travelling in TN) I headed to the busstand were as usual my bus was waiting for me to board. About 70 mins later I was in Tanjavur busstand, from where I took another local bus into the city with a 5 mins walk to the temple. The temple was grand from outside and it was a really peaceful feeling. The shiv linga I saw in this temple was undoubtedly the largest I have seen anywhere in India. There was a good lawn around the temple and a small water park as well! I spend a fair time in the temple and surronding areas.

Finally on deciding to move, I strolled over to the bus stand where I was surprised to know that I can get a direct bus to Kumbakonam. That bus as well came in about 10 mins which would be the longest I had to wait for a transport in my entire trip. Again another journey into the tamil inlands, with greenery all around and drying up rivers. Bus stopped bang in front of the temple, and it was yet another deeply spiritual experience that I felt in this temple. After spending a while in the temple, I headed to the main bus stand to board a waiting bus to Thiruvarur, from where I changed bus to Nagapattinam.

On arriving Nagapattinam, I was eagerly looking forward to hitting the bed for a while due to the blistering heat... This town where I personaly felt buffered up with ego, gave me a rude welcome :( On checking into the better looking hotel this time (http://www.indiamike.com/India/showthread.php?t=8962) they kept me waiting for about 30 mins to give me a room. First there was an interview with a room boy, then with the manager and then he cross questioned me as if I just crossed the border from Afganistan, then he wanted to know exactly who all my freinds in the town was, where they live, where they work, and basically he was just getting on to my nerves.. Finally he asked me to wait for the room boy to finish his lunch.. He was making phone calls and discussing stuff about me being given a room. About two minutes before my self induced timelimit to walk out, he finally called me to fill in the register... All this for a bloody Rs 100 room, which on entering I was bloody peeved on the quality. There was a bed with totally torn out mattress and no bed cover, a bathroom with a zero watt bulb, a fan with no regulator and there disappeared my thoughts of sleeping! I took a quick shower, and went down stairs to ask them to provide me with bed covers immediatly and headed for a lunch. For maybe the second time in my life, I went to a restaurant ONLY because it was airconditioned. Enjoyed a fair meal there and headed back to my dingy room where they had thrown two bed covers through the window! Too exhausted to pick up a figth, I decided to head for another shower and hit the bed for a while. Around 5 pm, I called up Raja my friend in town and I headed to meet all my other pals.. More update on it in the forthcoming Tsunami thread.

Calls were made to make sure my room was changed to a livable one and when I returned later in the night, I was given a lot better room reserved for special guests :). At night I went to see a local festival for a goddess where children were being lifter several meters into the air and made to do a circle in the air through a crane like structure.. It was a real festive atmosphere with lots of crowd to the temple, crowds who came to see the crowds, pettty vendors of all sorts, as well as the usual ring of death where bikes and cars run in a semi hemishpere life built up..

[u][b]1st May [/b] [/u] - Morning was spent mostly visiting the Tsunami affected areas including the famous Nagore Darga. Evening headed to the beautiful Velankanni Shrine, one of the (if not THE) most popular church in India. It was a very peaceful experience and was lucky to witness the evening prayer procession there. The place almost looked like Kerala, as most of the devotees, touts, priests and nuns' were from kerala. For those willing to offer candles, please note to buy only from the church counters as the shops outside are a major rip off (Rs 2 in church shop and Rs10 in others!) The meditation room, confessions chamber, the church of Mary's appearance as well as the main shrine were really captivating. We headed back to Nagapattinam around 8 in the night. I managed to get my clothes washed up at Raja's house for that was a major concern as it was getting dirtied up fast and quick !!!!

To be continued..... :)

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Guest priya
Great write-up Sudheer. Waiting for the next instalment!!!

(Love your sig. btw :D)

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[u][b]2nd May[/b][/u] - I was up around 3.45 am to catch the 4.15 am bus to Pondycherry. When I packed off and came down found the way to the hotel reception locked and people inside fast asleep, finding no way of waking them up, I put the room key in through the space on the grills and I went to the bus stand... I believe there was no money to be settled hence, they wouldnt have minded my action :D

At bus stand got a shocker knowing that the bus I was to catch left the previous nights itself (yeah it happens only in India!!!), and the next bus was around 7 in the morning.. I was again peeved for I have thrown my room key there and could not imagine getting back to the room without creating a ruckuss to wake up the sleeping beauties!! But to my surprise the authorities woke up a sleeping driver and conductor, to get that bus to go to a place called Chidambaram from where a lot of busses are supposed to go to Pondy. So that way yet another early morning journey for me, where I slept most of the journey. And as soon as bus got into the town, I was seeing yet another temple there. I got off the bus and learned that this one as well is one of the most important temples of South India. One of the most interesting fact here is that this temple has the main deity as a status of nataraja or shiva in his avataar as the god of dance, unlike shiv linga in almost all other temple.

All visitors to this temple are cautioned on the very aggressive, money minded nature of the priests here as almost everyone is behind your buck. Incase someone starts off a conversation with you, just tell them you know a priest there and already receive prasadams by mail everymonth !!!! But for the mobbing priests in this temple, it was again an exhilirating experience and a great place for peace and unbounded positive vibes. I let myself immerse in this great place and moved on. On my way out, I was surprised to see a group of muslim women in burkas going inside the temple.

As soon as I got out of the temple, there was a bus waiting for me to take me to cuddalore, where in a matter of minutes I got another bus to Pondycherry. I took a fairly good room here and had a long shower and bit of rest. After shower it was time to head for Auroville, where I decided to take an adventurous walk of over 8km in the blistering sun to reach the commune. Well about 3km into the walk I realised that it was a misadventure, but decided to continue and finally made it there with my bottom of pants pitch red due to the red dust. It was great disappointment that the Matri Mandir was closed for visitors due to work being conducted there. So I settled down at the café and has some three drinks and curd rice. Had a walk around the Matri Mandir gardens and took a rick back to the main road.. Headed to the auroville beach as well to have a quick wash of my pants which otherwise gave me a construction worker look !!

Back in Pondy town, I did not have much to do as I hate crowded beaches and I had not really planned on Pondy much and hence, did not know about the Aurobindo Ashram there :) That probably was my only disappointment in the whole trip, but who knows there was a reason behind that as well! Plus while being in Auroville I got a call from work that some major break down has happened that can only be fixed by me. So I was wondering of returning to Bangalore. Other places I thought of visiting were Mamallapuram, Thirukulakundram and maybe Kanchipuram, but there was not a real call from inside to go to these places. Hence, I thought of heading back to Bangalore the next day after going to Thiruvannvamalai where I really wanted to go.

I spent an hour in the evening browsing and got a major shock when opened the first webpage - indiamike! Later while checking mails, I saw the news on the new site and browsed through. Otherwise did somemore research on the other destination which I was thinking of giving a miss. Later I walked around the Pondy town area for a few hours and settled early to bed.

[u][b]3rd May[/b][/u] - Checked out around 5.45 and headed to the bus stand to see a bus ready and waiting to take me to TV malai. I happily boarded the bus on my last morning ride of this trip and heade to the temple town. Here again I got out of the bus just before the temple, and I was to call a priest who would help me with a good darshan and some puja's. Unfortunatly, he was in Pondy (we must have passed each other on the road that morning!) and gave some other references whom I can meet. It was a pleasure to speak to this priest for you got that feeling of speaking to a real man of god, humble and caring unlike many other priests I met in this trip who auction their services aloud!

The temple was really awe inspiring and maybe the most spiritual of all the great experiences I had in this trip. Place was captivating and I really enjoyed just being there. For the first time, I took a special darshan ticket and unlike all other temple the special darshan here entailed you to actually enter the main shrine and sit there for a while while the priest performs the pooja. In this temple that I was soo much looking forward to visiting, I couldnt believe my luck to sit about three meters from the main deity. Priests were a lot humble as well as divine. I spent a fair deal of time here and decided to leave. I was to take a bus to Dharmapuri and from there to Bangalore. But for some strange reason, instead of walking that short distance or as usual taking the bus, I took a rick to the main bus stand. Where to my ultimate surprise was a bus ready to move straigth to Bangalore!!! Had I not taken the rick, I would have missed that bus for sure and my previous plan of going to Dharmapuri would also have been a no go for there were no regular direct busses.

So I was in the bus enjoying the last leg of my whirlwing tour of spiritual places of Tamil Nadu. It was a tough journey but things just fit in perfectly enabling me to finish it in a wonderful manner. Given the fact that most of these were interdistrict journey with limited bus frequency (from once an hour upto about once a day busses) and no planned approach, the fact that the maximum I had to wait for a bus was 10 mins is really beyond logic.

On returning to Bangalore, it was quite refreshing to sleep in my bed and breath the home air !!!

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[quote name='yogagal' post='1100' date='May 6 2006, 06:51 PM']Nice!

[b]"Around 5.50, found a rick and negotiated 20 Rs above the meter"[/b]

Tamil Nadu rickshaws have meters?!? B)[/quote]

B) That was in Bangalore where I started my saga B)

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