Pondicherry to Kovalam

Pondicherry, 5 & 6 January

 It took us about three hours to drive from Chennai to Pondicherry, a former French Colony. Our hotel Maison Perumal was once the home of a wealthy merchant and has now been tastefully restored. 

Cow versus Toyota outside our hotel in Pondicherry

Breakfast at the hotel

Kris about to open our bedroom door with a very large and heavy key

 Pondicherry is divided into two parts with the French Quarter on one side of a canal (really an open sewer connected to the sea) and the Indian town on the other. The French Quarter is much nicer as it has a seafront promenade and the architecture is French. The Indian side is like many other mid-sized Indian towns.  We spent our first afternoon exploring the Indian part of town and particularly the very colorful and interesting market.

Colorful dyes sold by weight

Lots of fruit for sale

One of many flower stalls

Spices sold in packets or by weight

Next morning, we met our tour guide who took us on a walking tour of the French part of the town. 

 A typical street in the French Quarter

Of course, besides coming to trade, the French came to convert the locals to Catholicism, so they built three churches, one for themselves, one for the high caste locals and one for the untouchables. 

The French Church, Notre Dame de Agnes, built in 1858 by the French, for the French

Interior of Note Dame de Agnes

 The much brighter Sacred Heart Church, built for The Untouchables, but now the most popular church in Pondicherry

Sacred Heart interior

Of course, there are lots of temples as well. This one is dedicated to Ganesh, the son of Shiva and Parvati born with an elephant's head. This temple has it's very own elephant, which sits outside the temple during the day, accepting offerings of food from the faithful.

Sri Manakula Vinaygar Temple

We also visited a paper making factory where eveything is done by hand. Here cotton pulp is being strained in a large square strainer to make a kind of felt, which when pressed and dried, becomes paper.

Hand making paper - after this step the paper is pressed and dried and then ready for use 

That evening, we went to watch the sunset, only to discover that the sun sets in the west and we were on the east coast, so no sunset. However, there was plenty going on along the promenade.

Food vendors on the promenade

The  Promenade was bustling with families strolling along the waters edge.

 On our last day in Pondicherry, Hari our driver took us to a very strange town called Auroville about 10 miles north of the main city. The town was the vision of The Mother from Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. She envisioned an international town where unity would be celebrated and all would have a spiritual vocation. There are now about 2,300 people living in Auroville - many are French and German.  The town is envisioned very much like a spiritual EPCOT with a center globe with the community radiating from it. However, after more than thirty years, only the Matrimandir, the central "sun" of the complex has been completed.

Kris struggling to get into Lotus position to meditate in front of the Matrimandir. She never did succeed

Tanjore (January 7)

After Pondicherry,our next stop for one night was Tanjore. On the way, we stopped at another impressive temple.

The Brihandeswara Temple - A UNESCO World Heritage site

The carvings are often interesting - these two seem to be very intimate

These girls seem to have lost their clothes apparently stolen by mischievous Krishna who can be seen hiding in the tree above their heads.

These kids were a little surprised when I photographed them playing on a statue.

And this girl, taking part in a dance contest within the temple, could be a carved image on the walls of many of the temple walls.

Just before we arrived at the hotel, we stopped to take a picture of these fish for sale.They were very fresh. Some of them there still moving and one of them was still jumping

The Ideal River Resort

The hotel was located on a river

That evening during dinner, we were entertained by Classical Indian music, although I think it was more "Best of Bollywood" than classical. When the guy on the left started doing his impressions of various wind instruments using his mouth, it was time for us to leave !

 That evening, we went to see how bronze is cast. It can't have changed much in thousands of years. I think they were hoping we would buy something but bronze is very heavy and we were being eaten alive by mosquitos, so we didn't hang around for long.


Pouring molten bronze into a mould made with the lost wax process

Next morning, on our way out, we saw an ox cart being used to remove sand (illegally) from the river. Another image which seems quite timeless.

Timeless India

Chettinadu (January 9) 

On the way to Chettinadu, we stopped to watch and help a group of farmworkers who were threshing and bagging rice.

Harvested rice goes into the machine and with a little help, bags of rice come out at the other end.

The hotel in Chettinadu, The Vishalam,  was another Heritage property.  It was a private house (known as a Chettiar Bungalow) and has been converted into a hotel. It has a very impressive entrance. That's Hari, our driver, in front with our car, a Toyota Innova. The rooms were huge and the swimming pool was pretty impressive as well.

Chettinadu isn't really a tourist town, but Hari took us on a short tour of the old "palaces" - large private homes really, most of which are in a sad state of decay, but they remain impressive. This one was in better condition than most. It's owned by a member of the Chettiyar family, a very prosperous local family.

A "Palace" in Chettinadu

We also went for a demonstration of tile making at a tile factory. Everything is hand made and the tiles aren't fired like ceramic tiles. The process uses concrete and a special mix which sets like glass when pressed against a glass mould. Pretty clever stuff !

Pouring the color into a mould which is then filled with concrete

One tile, setting in its form

And the finished products, which are usually used as floor tiles

Madurai (January 10 & 11)

 We spent two nights in Madurai, with sightseeing on the second day. The three things to see in Madurai are a huge "tank", the inevitable temple and the Palace.

The Teppakulam Tank  used for religious festivals in Madurai

 Craftsman on the street using a large open space to prepare material for weaving

The main tower of the temple, The Madurai Meenakshi

 The interior of the temple 

Couples and their relatives wanting children (and perhaps not getting them quickly enough) will buy small toys and hang them in a tree in the temple grounds as an offering to the Gods.

A much smaller carving in ivory

A full size statue (actually larger than lifesize) playing a musical instrument

 Our last stop in Madurai was the  Puthu Mandapam Palace, built by a local king, Thirumalai Nyak, in the 17th century It was built by an Italian Architect and restored by the British in the 19th century.

The Pillared Hall where the King would meet his people 

The colorful and highly detailed frieze above the main courtyard stage 

A private theatre for the King and his guests, where musicians and dancers would entertain

 That evening, we went back to the Palace for a Son et Lumiere show, which told the story of the royal family which had built the palace, together with some of the politics and battles which had led to their eventual decline. Before the show started, a large cloud of choking insectide dust was sprayed all around the sides of the audience. I'm sure it killed the mosquitos - I just wonder what it did to us !

Kanyakumari January 12 

Kanyakumari is the southern most point on the Indian subcontinent and the meeting point of three oceans, the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. It's on the religious tour route taken by Hindu pilgrims and the place they all come to visit is Vivekananda Rock. On this rock is built a shrine to a wise man and scholar who meditated here at the end of the nineteenth century, before going to Chicago, of all places.  

 Vivekananda Rock

The rock is reached using a very old and very rusty ferry. They made everyone wear a lifejacket, which wasn't encouraging. Anyway, it was only a short journey and we made it OK.

The Shrine on top of Vivekananda Rock

As Hari (our driver) was leaving us the next day, we took the opportunity to take a photograph, although it was rather windy  

On the adjoining "rock" was another shrine and very large statue of another famous philosopher and writer who lived in the sixteenth century, but the ferries weren't going to this island, so we had to settle for a photograph from the shore.  

 From the island, we could see a very pretty white church, so we walked from the ferry terminal to see what it was. It was very impressive from the outside, but very plain inside. The altar was interesting because the Virgin Mary was wearing a sari, something we had seen in other churches.

The Church of Our Lady of Ransom built in 1914

The altar, with The Virgin Mary in a sari. We aren't quite sure what Jesus is wearing !

We only stayed one night in Kanyakumari and the next morning we left for Kovalam.

 Kovalam (January 13, 14 & 15)

On the way to Kovalam, we stopped at an unusual palace called the Padmanabhaswany Palace. It's unusual because it was built by a Rajah from Kerala around 1601 but it's actually in Tamil Nadu. The land is still owned by the government of Tamil Nadu. The other reason it's interesting is because it's built mostly of wood, where most houses and palaces were built with granite.  

The entrance to the Palace. The clock just visible in the picture is over 300 years old and still going !

 As we waited to buy our tickets, we were besieged by a group of school children who were also visiting the palace. They seemed to think we were something of a novelty and would have waved to us and asked us our names all day if we hadn't escaped ! Now I know how the animals in the zoo feel ! 

Excited schoolkids encourage us to take their picture  

Taking a break from the Palace tour. Note the lack of shoes - not always comfortable when you are walking on gravel and stones - especially hot stones

Inside the Palace grounds

The King' s Council Chamber.  The windows allowed the occupants to see who was outside without being seen and also kept the room cool

An intricately carved ceiling made from Rosewood

The only room in the Palace made of stone. Built in the early nineteenth century, this is the Hall of Performance, where dancers and musicians would entertain the Maharajah. The wooden box at the left rear is for members of the household to watch without being seen. Note the highly polished floor

One of the statues protecting the entrance to the dance hall, but from the cup she is holding, the enigmatic smile and the way she is dressed, perhaps she is more of a hostess than a guard. 

We stayed for three nights at the Travancore Heritage Resort, which was located on the side of a cliff. Our room was actually located at beach level, but it took an elevator ride and a steep uphill climb to get to the lobby and the restaurant. 

Our hotel room at beach level. Kristine is sitting in front of our room

Although we spent most of our time in the hotel, we did take a morning to go into nearby Trivandrum. The main tourist attraction there is the zoo, which had some impressive animals to see. The zoo was established in 1857 and occupies 55 acres.

The very lush and very pretty hotel grounds

The view from the top of the hill down to the beach, where the fishing boats were left during the day

The zoo (or park) was very green and open

But of course, the big animals are always the star attractions

In the same grounds as the zoo is the Napier Museum, which is more impressive on the outside than inside 

The Napier Museum, Trivandrum

 So after three days in Kovalam, we set off, with a new car and driver, to Allepey, to start the next part of our tour in Kerala.