Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Periyar to Madurai - Day 11

The boarder crossing between Kerala and Tamil Nadu was in Periyar Town, just a short distance from our lovely hotel. 

We had come to this region earlier than planned because of the national drivers strike, a strike which was still continuing. But Tamil Nadu is not Kerala, where our driver would face a dangerous journey if he broke ranks. Crossing the border into Tamil Nadu was crossing into a less charged environment where we could continue without worry.  All we had to do was make the short trip from the hotel to the border which went off without a hitch.

At Periyar Town, the crossing gate was down so our driver Jos parked the van, gathered his documents, smiled and went across to the office. And we settled in for a long wait.

But it wasn't long until Jos returned. He jumped into his seat as the gate was lifted and we crossed into Tamil Nadu. I am not sure if I had reason to be nervous, but I was. One thing is guaranteed in India, a good driver is well aware of what can and cannot be done. Once again this was proven.

As we had climbed into the Cardamom Hills to reach Periyar, we now descended from these heights as we left. A strange looking tree with no leaves, just pods, began to dot the tropical landscape on this side of the border.

"Jos, what kind of tree is that?"

"Hmmm... like the match box."

To which Marion replied, "Mesquite!"

"Yes, that's it!" 

It is so great to travel with a small group and a great driver. The conversation just carries on as we ask questions, laugh and include everyone.

On arrival in Madurai we checked into to Taj Gateway Hotel, a heritage hotel high on the top of a hill overlooking Madurai. As they would say, "away from the maddening crowds".  After checking in, and finding our rooms, we joined our local guide for a short visit to the Thirumali Palace and the Gandhi Museum. Marion decided to stay back and was enjoying quiet time beside a lovely swimming pool in the garden. Her company, peacocks!

Our first stop was the Thirumali Nayakkar Palace.            

"Thirumalai Nayak ruled Madurai between 1623 to 1659 CE. He was the most notable of the thirteen Madurai Nayak rulers in the 17th century. His contributions are found in the many splendid buildings and temples of Madurai. His kingdom was under constant threat from the armies of the Delhi Sultanate and the other neighbouring kingdoms, which he managed to repulse successfully. His territories comprised much of the old Pandya territories which included Coimbatore, Tirunelveli, Madurai districts, Aragalur in southern Tamil Nadu and some of the Travancore kingdom.

Thirumalai Nayak was a great patron of art and architecture and the Dravidian architecture evolved into the Madurai style. He rebuilt and renovated a number of old temples of the Pandya period. His palace known as the Thirumalai Nayak Palace is a notable architectural masterpiece." (Wikipedia)

The palace is currently being restored: the pastel southern India colours once again renewed to their original splendor. Everywhere, you see soft pinks, yellows and turquoise, highlighted by burgundy to bring out the carving at this magical place.

Thirumalai Nayak is not to be missed!

Not everything in Southern India are ice-cream colours. A visit to the Gandhi Memorial Museum gave a detailed history of India and the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

"Gandhi Memorial Museum, established in 1959, is a memorial museum for Gandhi located in the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India. Known as Gandhi Museum, it is now one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas (Gandhi Museums) in the country." (Wikipedia)

We returned to the hotel for a short rest before meeting on the patio of the hotel dinning room. It was a special day for one of our group. Today was Marion's birthday. Our moving along had confused the order for the cake. At the Spice Village this morning the chef told me the cake was ready, at breakfast. I was sorry to tell him it had to be at dinner. He was disappointed, but Marion had not joined us for breakfast as she was preparing for our departure. A cake at breakfast would just not do.

At the Taj Gateway, the chef had kindly accepted the challenge of producing a cake. On the completion of our meal, the cake arrived, orange and mango complete with a candle. On the top was written, "Happy Birthday Marion!" It is always fun to share a special event in someone's life as you travel. I have a special memory of my birthday, while on a cruise on the Nile River. I hope Marion will include this birthday in Madurai in her special book of memories.

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