Its funny how you can visit a place many times and yet be blind to its ‘placeness’. It took me 4 visits to Madurai to simply ‘unblind’ myself.
But then again, my first three visits were a complete rush with a zillion places to visit in a short time. Guess organised tours and travelling in a group doesn’t let you take in stuff. Or maybe I was just simply being cranky around people on all those occasions. Either way, there is no denying it. Madurai was one amazing place to visit this time.
Why? For starters, I stayed in the city itself – a paltry kilometer from the Meenakshi Amman temple that serves as the city center (Hotel Supreme, if anyone wants to know. Not the greatest rooms you can find, but then again you don’t exactly travel to a city to be totally cozy in a hotel, do you?). But, they did have a rooftop restaurant from where I could happily click away on my cam, having ordered just acoffee.
Secondly, my trip did not have a timetable for things to see & do. Hence my time was my own. That means walking around the city, walking to the temple on multiple occasions, at different times of the day and just people-watching. The pedestrianized street around the temples helped. Kudos to the municipal administration for this!
Third, love & worship Google, for it helps orient yourself & interact with the city in ways that no tour guide can do. I mean, c’mon, if I’m lead by the reins around places, there is no way I would look beyond what I’m shown, would I? So this is why I know how to spell Thiruparankundram and that it located south west of Madurai. Wikipedia helped me know some historic/ religious facts about the temple there. What the internet did not mention were the interesting pedestrian-priority streets around the temple.
Lastly, have fellow travelers in tow who share your interest. And that means people who are extremely patient with you when you stop every other step to click a pic or sketch or just take it all in!
Lastly, when possible, know the local language! My tip? First learn how to say ‘I can’t speak (the language)’. Saying that first helps establish a baseline for communication. Then sign language, nodding the head, wringing hands and dramatic expressions come in handy in speaking to locals. I traveled around Mexico just saying “No habla espanol”. That was the most useful thing I learnt from perusing four hours of Pimsleur’s Spanish (Yes, as you might have guessed, I’m lousy with languages).
And don’t bother souvenir shopping. These days, only postcards are original to the place. Apart from the place itself.
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