HISTORIC INDIA-WILDISH INDIA                                                                                                                              

The historic town of Madurai retains its ancient charm as like weaves around the magnificent Meenakshi Temple, says Deepesh Das--Jungle Rules – Set a date with some of the most threatened creatures on Earth as you plan your next vacation ---

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Travel

                              A TEMPLE ODYSSEY

Looking up a suitable place to stay in Madurai on the internet,I was intrigued by how every hotel I zeroed in on made a big play about its rooftop restaurant.You can book a hotel with a rooftop restaurant to get a great view of all the gopurams(the towering gateways) of the Madurai Meenakshi Temple,you need to be on a rooftop.The temple is being renovated for the Maha Kumbabhishekham,you will get a good view after this April.

THE GOLDEN LOTUS TANK IN THE MEENAKSHI TEMPLE

The event is performed every 12 years –

The temple as well as the city get a fresh coat of paint.It is part of a larger heritage revival plan,where a special corridor is being created between the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace and the temple to facilitate easy movement between the two tourist spots.

Thirumalai Nayak,a 17th century king,added most of the luster to the two millennia old Meenakshi Temple,hence the historical link between the two.

All of Madurai seems to be built in concentric circles around the Meenakshi Temple.The temple,one of the frontrunners for the new Seven Wonders of the World List,is a big revenue spinner for the town,attracting thousands of visitors daily including foreign tourists.

Madurai is the oldest city in south India,and the bgateway to Tamilnadu’s majestic temple trail,competes with Varanasi for getting foreign tourists.It suits all budgets,is easy to move around in (despite heavy congestion),is safe,has restaurants catering to every palate,boasts of all modern amenities,and at the same time has kept its ancient appeal intact.Though of course,the effect is a bit kitschy with British style colonial structures and churches interspersed with Dravidian temple architecture.

Like any temple town ,Madurai hardly ever sleeps – the action begins on the streets from 4.00am and is alive till 2.00am.Brushing aside the richshaw pullers jostling to offer a ride,feel the sound of the music (Carnatic classical music blared over loudspeakers,emanating from the temple).It is just a 10-minute walk to the temple’s west gate,but it take you time getting there as the shops along the way are a distraction.Madurai is known for its textiles and the trademark Sungadi sarees.

                        THE CARVINGS ON A TEMPLE WALL

Once through the queue,you enter the temple’s outer perimeter,and ignoring the stares of the brightly painted demonic figures high up on the wall.reach to the Temple Art Museum,housed in the famous 1000-pillar hall.Inside ,arrows pointed towards the Sundareshwar shrine,the Meenakshi shrine and many other smaller shrines,which must have made sense to the purposeful pilgrim.The complex is a labyrinth of pillared corridors and halls,with paintings,murals and stone carvings.There are over 33 million carvings in the temple-all kinds of deities,demons and strange beasts,many of them in psychedelic hues,leapt at every run.Satiated by this visual feast,you eventually can land at the Golden Lotus Tank.This is adjacent to the main shrine ,where a gargantuan line have formed to enter the sanctum sanctorum(only hindus allowed in after this point).

Madurai magic

The Meenakshi Temple might dominate Madurai,but there are plenty of other attractions –within the town are the Gandhi museum( Madurai was where the Mahatma Gandhi discarded his regular clothes for the loin cloth),the Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam,a lovely tank in the middle of which is a temple,and the Thirumalai Nayakar Palace.

Madurai is also a foodie’s delight with the ultra-soft idlis,vadas,varieties of dosas,the abundantly available Gujarati and Marwari fare.A local street delicacy worth trying is kothu parathas also known as Indian pasta-parathas torn into strips and mixed with either keema or scrambled eggs in a tomato,onion paste.

READY RECKONER

Getting there : Madurai is connected by train and air to several Indian cities.

Staying there : Accommodation is available to suit all budgets

Webwatch : www.madurai.com

Travel Trivia :

Madurai or the ‘city of nectar’ is the second largets city of Tamilnadu .Located on the banks of the river Vaigai ,it has been a centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries.According to legend,it’s the divine nectar falling from Lord Shiva’s locks that gave the city its original name,,Madhurapuri,though it’s now known as Madurai.

               THE CALL OF THE WILD

A vacation is not just a whirlwind tour of museums,restaurants and nightclubs in a cool city.It’s not just a beer-on-the-beach routine.There’s more.Go on a wildlife watching tour across India.And make sure you pay homage to these creatures that human callousness has endangered gravely.So chart out your route as I give you the best and in some cases the last natural habitats of these endangered animals.

 

CAT CALLS –

A wildlife enthusiast’s dream trip is to get successful on a tracking tour of the Cats.And you can make a veritable India tour on their trail.

Tiger safaris are all the rage in India ,but few remember that this is the last home of the Asiatic lion.Head to Gir National Park in Gujarat covering 1,412sq km,where 300 of these majestic and gravely endangered creatures still rule.It is the only place in the world where you can see the Asiatic lion in the wild.You also get to see panthers,sambhars,nilgai,chinkara and chousingha here.

 

Trip Planner :

Asian Adventures has a weeklong tour at Rs.66,400 for two,on double occupancy basis.It includes accommodation in eco-friendly lodges,meals as per itinerary,guided tour ,surface transport and two jeep safaris in Gir.Mail to wildindiatours@vsnl.com

 

THE HEAVY-WEIGHTS –

Matching menace step for step are the behemoths of the wild.The Big Cats usually give them a wide berth and their fury,once ignited,can cause mammoth destruction.Welcome to the world of elephants and rhinos.They look bulky and slow and you might just be tempted to go for a poke-and-run thing –do it if you have seen enough of the world.

It might surprise you to know that the Indian elephant,believed to be so common,is already an endangered species,according to the WWF.The Periyar National Park in Kerala is one of the most fascinating wildlife reserves in the world.

It’s a treat to watch them move about in herds and frolic in the waters of the beautiful Periyar Lake,where they are sighted most often and in great numbers.The lush green forest covering 777sq km is also one of the country’s tiger reserves.You can also expect to see gaurs,sambhar,barking deer,wild dog and the rare lion-tailed macaque.

 

Trip Planner :

Tours has an eight-day package at Rs.23,590 per person on a double occupancy basis.It includes3-star accommodation,breakfast and surface transport in A/c car.The tour also throws in a visit to Silent Valley National Park,150km from Munnar.Mail to namaste1@vsnl.com

  

The great One-horned Rhino is as ancient as it looks,what with its armoured look and wallowing habits.The Kaziranga National Park in Assam –a UNESCO World Heritage Site –is one of the last homes of these solitary beasts.The park stretches over 430sq km of grassland,marshes and dense forest with the Bramhaputra flowing through it.Apart from the rhinos(still poached for their horns),the forets protects tigers,elephants,wild buffaloes and swamp deer.It’s also a birding paradise.The world’s largest population of one-horned rhinos is found here.

 

Trip Planner :

Compass India Inc.has a 5-day Rhino Land Tour at about Rs.19,025 per personon a double occupancy basis.It includes 4-star accommodation,all meals,surface transport,permits and guided elephant safari.Mail to luxury-tours@highpointdesigns.com

Or call 011-41602115

 

THE WATER BABIES –

This rugged terrain with steep ravines and a deceptively still river running through has been  the setting for many villainous activities.Yes,I am talking about Chambal.And no,I do not mean daku-watching in the wild –tone your imagination down.

The National Chambal Sanctuary is one of the last living habitats of the Gangetic River Dolphins.Covering an area of about 1,235sq km on both sides of the Chambal River,the sanctuary is also home to gharialsmarsh crocodiles,Sarus cranes,wolves,hyenas,black bucks,Nilgais and more.

 

Trip Planner :

Chambal Safari arranges for a River Safari.The tariff at Chambal Safari Lodge is Rs.5,000 per couple per night with 10% tax and includes all meals.The River Safari costs Rs.1,350 per person plus taxes.This includes entry permits,the services of a trained naturalist,three-hours on a motorboat on the river,and a nature walk through the ravines.Mail to anudhillon@chambalsafari.com

 

The Olive Ridley turtles are another species that are facing a major threat.Catch a glimpse of these amphibians with their heart-shaped olive shells as they return the beaches of Orissa.These are the last safe nesting grounds in India for this species,and Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary in Kendrapara,Orissa is the perfect spot.A partnership between the state government and NGOs has resulted in a safe habitat for the turtles.It is said that the Olive Ridley turtles always return to the same beach for nesting.

 

Trip Planner :

 

Hiddeen Treasures India Destination Management has a three-nights and four-days package ex-Bhubaneswar.Priced at Rs.40,000 per couple,the guided tour includes accommodation with all meals,boat charges ,permits and all transfers.This also includes a trip to Bhitarkanika Sanctuary.Mail to admin@htoindia.com

 

 

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