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A 6-week waking dream in North and South India.

A 6-week waking dream in North and South India.

Old May 10th, 2016, 06:10 PM
  #41  
rje
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Join Date: Nov 2005
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Kathie,
I'm so glad!

thursdaysd,
I think you're right about the French. I wonder if it is because they had so many colonies, like parts of Syria, Cambodia, Laos, and of course, parts of what is now Tamil Nadu - like Pondicherry and Karikal.so . Which I think explains why some less-visited places are very much on their tourist radar.

Southern Laos in 2002 must have been a great experience.

BTW, did you hear that American travelers who have been to Turkey, even for a just a change of plane, are now subject to being on a special list that calls for added screening every time they fly, and it can last for a long time? it is called SSSS. and it is printed on your airline ticket.
http://thepointsguy.com/2015/08/my-new-tsa-travel-hell/


CaliNurse,



tripplanner001,
Maybe my use of the phrase tour group gave a wrong impression. It was one of those tour groups that people sign up for to see a specific thing, like "the mansions of Chettinad". It wasn't one of those If-its-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium mass-market tours. But in a place where we saw so few tourists of any kind, it was unexpected to have them all walk in right before us. So we went elsewhere until we could see it undisturbed.

dragon88,
Thank you!
I found the hotel while I was doing research on where to stay in Tanjore. I saw that a hotel there (that didn't seem so great) was owned by an Indian company called the Sangam group, which among their properties also had a fairly new hotel in Chettinad (that did sound great). So after some additional research, I booked it for us.
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Old May 10th, 2016, 06:27 PM
  #42  
 
Join Date: Dec 2015
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Thanks rje..... will add "Sangam Group" to my list of resources when looking for places to stay in India..............you all are great with all kinds of resources............so amazing.................. Can't wait to hear about the rest of your adventures to compare and also to see what I've missed..............will stay tuned..........
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Old May 10th, 2016, 07:34 PM
  #43  
 
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Wow, I've just found the time and wifi to binge read your report. Thanks so much for sharing, and I'll be sure to check out the photos when I get home next week.
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Old May 10th, 2016, 07:47 PM
  #44  
rje
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dragon88,
Please don't think that was an endorsement of Sangam hotels!
I think Chidambara Vilas is the only hotel owned by Sangam that looked interesting to me.
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Old May 10th, 2016, 08:03 PM
  #45  
 
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"BTW, did you hear that American travelers who have been to Turkey, even for a just a change of plane, are now subject to being on a special list"

Yikes! I wish I had known that a month ago! I'm spending a couple of nights in Istanbul on my way to Uzbekistan this year. I wonder whether getting the Turkish visa in my UK passport instead of my US one would help? I was going to get the Uzbekistan visa in my US passport because it would be easier, but I can leave on a different passport than the one I entered with. Maybe they think you're headed for Syria if you go to Turkey...
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Old May 10th, 2016, 08:41 PM
  #46  
rje
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thursdaysd ,
I just did a Google search of SSSS + Turkey, and saw there are a number of articles about this, so maybe you can find out more that way.

SSSS stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection, and I think you're right that they want to look closer at people passing through Turkey who may have gone to Syria. Thing is, they are being so careful that they are designating SSSS for people who would seem highly unlikely to be a security risk.

And once designated, it appears to stay with people for a very long time, becoming an issue every time they fly.

If you can use a UK passport for Turkey, it might work. Or it might raise even more red flags if they have a way of knowing you've done this, as it might appear to them that you are using dual passports to evade scrutiny.

I wish I had more information to offer, but maybe further research on your part may yield an answer. Good luck, and I hope this sin't going to affect you.
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Old May 10th, 2016, 08:48 PM
  #47  
 
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No worries rje.......I am just using your resources to research further.........following you intently as all is informative for future return to your part of India....

Also, i had thought about travel to Turkey soon, but, thanks for the ssss warning
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Old May 10th, 2016, 10:21 PM
  #48  
 
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rje- I found your TR whilst browsing round fodors today, and I'm so glad that I did! it looks like just the sort of trip [perhaps just the southern part; i doubt that we could arrange 6 weeks away] that DH and I would like. Do you think that it would make a good introduction to India? We have been to Sri Lanka and loved it, and we're seriously considering going back perhaps next year, but the southern section looks like it's a terrific alternative.

As I understand it, you started in the south in December, in order to avoid the hot[ter] weather - is that right? What temps did you encounter there, if you can remember?

I love your photos, BTW - they are excellent - as are your descriptions of the places and people. you make it all sounds very enticing!
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Old May 11th, 2016, 08:41 AM
  #49  
rje
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annhig,
Thank you!

We started our trip the first week in January, and Kerala was warmer than historical norms then, but still not really hot. Daytime highs in the mid-80s.
Munnar, being high in the hills, had highs in the low 70s.
And Tamil Nadu was in-between, and less humid than Kerala, with highs in the high 70s to the low 80s.

December in the south is supposed to also have very nice temperatures, but is likely to have greater crowds, and hotels rooms will go fast, and may be more expensive then.

Hard to say if southern India is the best place to start. Arguments in favor over the north might be fewer tourists, less sales pressure, friendlier people (perhaps because of less tourists!), better roads, and if this matters to you, a greener lusher landscape (with some exceptions). Some may disagree with these assessments, they are just ours. But the north has a greater number of big sites, although many of them are spread out over a distance.

I'm not sure of the answer, but I'll be reporting on our experiences in the north, too, so stay tuned and maybe you'll come to a conclusion!
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Old May 11th, 2016, 09:34 AM
  #50  
 
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Thanks for the swift response, rje. I know about the great monuments of the north of course but like you could manage without the crowds. the climate of the south sounds fine - certainly no hotter than SL in September, which at times was very hot, except in the Tea Country.

I'm looking forward to reading more, and seeing more of your great photos!
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Old May 11th, 2016, 09:56 AM
  #51  
 
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I am really enjoying your report rje and the associated photographs are absolutely fabulous.

I visited some of these places around 30 years ago and whilst I am sure there are many changes since then some of the shots, in particular those which peep into small greeny/blue shopfronts in Madurai, are very evocative.

I remember Cochin as quiet, almost totally without tourists. I vividly recall feeling that I was literally travelling back in time when walking through the Jewish quarter. I still have a silk painting I bought there on my bedroom mantelpiece. I am slightly sad to hear that this area is now full of tourists but at the same time glad that others are enjoying it as I did and that the local economy and people must be benefiting.

I am so looking forward to your more Northern travels as am planning a trip there later this year. Please keep going !!
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Old May 11th, 2016, 02:15 PM
  #52  
rje
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Tanjore

Photos of Tanjore are here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157666547924491

They show more if you make them large!
I've supplemented photos from this trip with a few from the last trip.

On our way to Tanjore, we stopped in Trichy to re-visit the Ranganathaswamy Temple. The stars didn't line up for our visit this time the way they did on my previous trip. That trip had coincided with the visits of many pilgrims to the temple, making for a fascinating experience. Unsurprisingly, Trichy had been hot then, in early August, brutally hot, but the amazing sights must have distracted me from possible heatstroke. This trip had much milder temperatures, but the temple experience was less ideal. I noticed the tower art had been crudely painted, there was much noise and closures from repair/rennovation going on inside, the priests seemed cranky, yelling at people, and C still was having more mobility problems than usual. Not that it still wasn't great. Just not as great as the last time we'd been there. We weren't bummed, though –– I knew we had so many wonderful temples yet to come.

And the sweet temple elephant who greeted visitors upon arrival with a blessing with his trunk was gone for vacation. And so was the one in Tanjore, as we would find out later. Turns out, every year the temple elephants in the south have a 48 day meet-up in the Theppakadu forest reserve (between Mysore and Ooty) where they frolic in natural settings and presumably catch up on important elephant gossip. This getaway is a recent development, and is run by the government. The elephants are fed a special diet and veterinarians give medical exams and treatment if they need it. During their absence, the mahouts get additional training as how to best care for the elephants. I've never known how to feel about temple elephants. I may be wrong about this, but the temple elephants I've seen appeared to have an OK life. Unlike many other working elephants, they had no riders to wear down their backs, no logging or other hard work to do, no tricks to perform, nothing to do but hang out with their adoring public. I never saw any of them mistreated by their mahouts as they sometimes are in "camps". But I've never seen their sleeping quarters nor their treatment when they are not at the temple, so I'm really not sure. Still, knowing they get mandated time off in the country made me smile.

Our plan after Trichy was to check into our hotel in Tanjore and then head for the wonderful Brihadeeswarar temple. When considering where to stay in Tanjore, I initially had some qualms about the Ideal River View Resort. It is outside of the town of Tanjore, and I had wondered if it would be too far. It is not. The drive is maybe 15 minutes to the big temple when there was traffic, but the drive was always an attraction in itself, with horses crossing the street in town, wild peacocks on the river road, people bathing on the banks of the river, etc. The location is in fact wonderful. It's on an attractive river, with interesting things to see, like bullock teams pulling carts into the water and many lovely water birds.

And I had heard reports that bus tour groups sometimes stayed en masse at the hotel, and that might get annoying. Well, it does get some tour groups, but the layout keeps them spread out. The pool is in a lush garden setting, surrounded by large mature trees, with many parrots and other birds. And amazingly, the pool was empty save for us for the entire 2 days we were there. A welcome place to cool off in between forays.

They have a newly constructed wing, which I requested and got. The older part had more mature trees, so it was more attractive, but it was… older. And closer to more widely used areas. And of course the bathrooms are older. But I'm sure the it would have been fine.

And the food was better than I would have expected. Actually pretty good, and sometimes very good, which was lucky, because even though the drive to Tanjore wasn't far, we wouldn't have wanted to make another roundtrip in the dark just for dinner.

On the trip before, we had opted for the city center. Our experience there was not great! There are really not a lot of great options around Tanjore, and I think the Ideal River View was the best for us.

After a late lunch, we headed for the Brihadeeswarar temple. As we enter town we see a line of horses crossing the street, halting traffic and none of the motorists seem the least bit fazed. In fact, no one even honks –– a rare moment in India!

We arrive at sunset, as we want to visit at night. The temple is not painted colorfully like many in Tamil Nadu, but the artistry of the carving is better. The color of the stone is especially beautiful in late afternoon, when the sun turns it a glowing red. And there are far fewer people than at Madurai or Trichy. Virtually all of the people who are there are Indian, and are mostly dressed in their best temple-goin' outfits, which means many beautiful saris. I notice I am more often taking pictures of women in India, and realize that the eye-candy of the colorful saris is mostly why. Unlike the peacocks, the human males are sadly drab.

A man asks me where we're from, and then invites us into the inner sanctum, which is forbidden at many Indian temples to non-Hindus. And no one even pressures me to make a donation, prompting me to leave an especially generous one to help upkeep this treasure.

We stay for quite a while at the temple complex, watching as the nearly full moon rises over the massive temple, huge in the cloudless night sky. Illuminated by moonlight, the mood becomes even more mysterious and yet somehow serene. We wander through the outdoor areas, where ceremonies in smaller buildings create pools of warm flickering light, the melodic sounds of chanting wafting through the balmy night air. Families sit on grassy areas, the metallic threads of the women's saris sparkling in the moonlight. At the enormous nandi, priests waft pots of smoke during a ceremony, creating a foggy cloud, which makes the area seem even more romantic. Eventually we tear ourselves away, knowing we'll be back in the morning.

As we head back to the hotel, we see a traveling carnival has set up at the outskirts of town, illuminated in gaudy colors, but we drive by. We are in India, so we already feel like we are in a carnival illuminated in gaudy colors!

The next morning I return to the temple. C needs time off her feet, so she goes to the pool, where I will join her later. The daytime experience at the temple allows for more detailed admiration of the fine carvings, as well as shows put on by the parrots, squirrels and monkeys cavorting. Afterwards, a visit to a village finds much riverside activity. Mostly women, just a few men. A few people ask where I am from. They are surprised that I think they're interesting enough to want to photograph, but they seem pleased. A large group of women are at the river bank ghats, doing laundry and washing dishes, food, children, and themselves. I realize this is the same village I stumbled upon during my last trip. That had been on a festival day, with much fruit, flowers and festivities. This time there is still much activity, and as then, I am welcomed. This is important, because I wouldn't have photographed women bathing if they hadn't been fully OK with the idea. They were, of course still clothed. Some parents lift their suds-covered children out of the water, holding them out toward me in hopes of a photo. Smiles all around, and after leaving, a foray through town.

That night we again have dinner outside by the river at our hotel. Again, the food was pretty good. I remember happily devouring delicious huge tandoori prawns. Yum! it is mild outside, and very pleasant, so we linger, listening to the gentle murmuring of the river.

(coming up next, Darasuram.)
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Old May 11th, 2016, 06:11 PM
  #53  
rje
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loncal,
Thank you so much!
Cochin 30 years ago must have been wonderful. I wish I could have seen it then.
Parts of Cochin are still unvisited by tourists. We managed to find some wonderful areas by just wandering aimlessly. But obviously some parts of Cochin have seen a lot of tourist development over the years.

On the other hand, once you get off the main roads, I bet a lot of Tamil Nadu still looks the same as it did 30 years ago...
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Old May 12th, 2016, 09:23 AM
  #54  
rje
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Darasuram and Gangaikondacholapuram

Photos are here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157666794928486

They show more if you make them large!


A short time after leaving Tanjore, I noticed a commotion to my left, and grabbing my camera was able to get off a burst of shots as a large flock of egrets took off from a grassy field. In spite of shooting through the glass of the windshield and window, I was able to get some photos of them, which while not pin-sharp were still decent. As we drove through India, I'd keep my camera accessible, and managed to get some interesting shots in both the south and north this way.

I was looking forward to this day, as we were headed to one of my favorite temples in India, the Airavatesvara Temple in Darasuram. And I was happy to be able to share this treasure with C. While not as large as the temples we'd just been to, the artistry of the stone carving is superior and the almost complete lack of crowds lends it such an evocative atmosphere. Luckily, this gem is being well-taken care of, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage monument.

We arrived late morning, and found the temple nearly deserted, like the last time. We climbed the few stone stairs and entered the coolness of the temple. At first there is substantial daylight coming in between the columns from the outside, but as we moved further inside, it became more and more dark and mysterious. A woman was on her knees cleaning an altar with a cloth and a priest smiled at us. As our eyes adjusted, we were rewarded by the many incredible carvings and sculptures. We stayed for a couple of hours, taking in the atmosphere both inside and out. A few people came in from time to time to worship, nearly all women, I noticed. As is often the case in Tamil Nadu, we were the only westerners there. It is a joy being in a living temple, with local people using the temple as it has been used for nearly a thousand years. Make sure you get to admire the lovely carved statues inside and the amazing carved pillars, as well as the stone carved chariot at the bottom of the stairs outside. And ask the priest if you can see the inner sanctum.

Afterwards, we had lunch at the Paradise Resort, a convenient and pleasant stop near Kumbakonam. They have a garden, and ceiling fans on the covered wood porch where we chose to eat kept us cool. The food is good, although not great, but it is clean, quiet, and let's face it - one isn't exactly drowning in choices during that drive!

After that, we continued the drive to Pondicherry, and stopped at Gangaikondacholapuram - another amazing temple that I'd also been to during my last trip. As with the ones at Tanjore and Darasuram, it has been designated as a Living Temple. We could only see the outside, because the hours the inside is open doesn't mesh well with seeing the temple at Darasuram, but the outside alone is well worth stopping to see. The carvings on the outside are spectacular, and the temple sits in a park-like setting, with large grassy areas around it. Again, there were just a few other people while we were there.

And oh, the name Gangaikondacholapuram! Rolls off your tongue, doesn't it? It roughly translates to "The town of the chola who who defeated the kings of the Ganges", which is more properly named Ganga. At the time of its construction, the Chola king had amassed a huge empire, and this temple was built to commemorate the victories.

There were so many other temples in the area, and maybe we'll be able to go back and see more, but now we needed to proceed to Pondicherry.

(coming up next, Pondicherry.)
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Old May 12th, 2016, 08:39 PM
  #55  
 
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Your fantastic report is teaching me much that's brand-new, and providing me the joy of reminiscing, both about specific places (Cochin, The Backwaters) and experiences different-but-similar similar to yours. I can hardly wait to visit the regions you did in Tamil Nadu!!
Indeed, living temples are wonderful, adding an additional dimension beyond what you have in the equally beautiful, but "merely" historical monuments including Taj Mahal, or temples in archaeolgical sites. (The best of these living temples, while not Hindu, is imho the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Walking with Sikh pilgrims from around the world, 'round the huge pool, your bare feet against the cold marble on a warm night..bliss which you'll have to add to your list, RJE!)
Your driver--hmmmm. Sure fell short of the great and informative guy Dgunbug had on this trip. Oh well...good thing you were well prepared knowledge-wise, and bottom line is, as you told C--he got you safely around! No mean feat in India!!
The wildlife you describe: pix of birds, taken from the car?? Amazing. The goats! Did I miss a shot of the horses?
Thank you for taking the huge amount of time it must take to write this. as well as the time for organizing photos. And thanks for allowing me to go off on an India tangent
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Old May 13th, 2016, 05:09 AM
  #56  
 
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Your pictures are stunning and your report fantastic! So glad you enjoyed yourself so much. I love the way the Indian people are so welcoming and understand your fascination with taking pictures of the beautiful women in their colorful saris. It's hard not to get amazing pictures in India. The people and temples are a photographer's dream! Thanks for sharing.
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Old May 13th, 2016, 05:16 AM
  #57  
 
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Btw - glad you enjoyed the Riverview Hotel. We had considered it, but decided that we preferred to stay inside town - big mistake as you discovered on your first trip as the hotel's there are old and seedy.
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Old May 13th, 2016, 06:37 AM
  #58  
rje
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CaliNurse,
Thank you so much!
And I am sure you'll find Tamil Nadu wonderful!
The Golden Temple in Amritsar sounds amazing. That is one of the places I really had wanted to go on this trip, but we already had so many destinations that it had to be left for later.
The photo of the horses was in the Tanjore album. Its not technically or aesthetically anything special, just a snapshot of the kind of odd moments we all experience on our trips to India!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/129067...7666547924491/

As for the driver, overall he was fine, as mainly what we wanted was just to get where we were going in one piece! We book our own trips and rarely use guides, so we didn't feel we needed one in a driver either. Especially since some of them can impart inaccurate information. (Remember the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer is working as a tour bus guide and he just makes things up?)

dgunbug,
Thank you for your kind words.
Last trip I wanted to be really close to the temple at Tanjore, so I also stayed in town (at the Hotel Parisutham). I learned my lesson, worst hotel of that trip!

Can we get a link to your photos of India? I'd love to see them!
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Old May 13th, 2016, 07:25 AM
  #59  
 
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I'm enjoying your comments about temples, as I am rather a temple fanatic. My interest in temples is one of the things that makes Southern India a draw for me.
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Old May 13th, 2016, 09:04 AM
  #60  
rje
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Kathie,
There were so many temples in southern India we would loved to have seen - to do so would have taken weeks!
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