Taking the express bus to Madurai

Not a very good day today, although there are positive things to report. I got up with a severe stomach ache, yesterday’s fish is probably the cause. The bus ride to Madurai runs smoothly. This time I took an express bus; the difference with standard buses is that these do not stop at bus stations en route, so no breaks in between.

Meenakshi temple decoration

Some bargaining for a put-put to the city center

After two and a half hours, we arrive in Madurai. However, I thought I would come into the city itself, but it turns out not to be. We stop at the edge of town. Of course, it is no problem to continue in a put-put. After some bargaining, the boy who wants to drive me into town, asks 50 rupees. That still seems too much, but I agree.

Buzzing activity in the guesthouse

In Madras, Mr. Shiva Kumar had given me a tip to stay at the New College House. However, my driver wants to take me to another hotel, which is much more modern, according to him. I ask him first to drive to New College. Upon arrival there, I inspect a room, which appears desolate and apparently is located near a corridor with buzzing activity. There is no way you will be able to catch some sleep here.

A balcony overlooking the Meenakshi temple

Meenakshi temple in Madurai

So I decided to have a look at the hotel suggested by my driver. The price is slightly higher (400 rupees per night), but when I get to see the room, my decision is immediately made. This is the most beautiful and cleanest room I have seen so far, with a balcony overlooking the Meenakshi temple. There is also a completely renovated bathroom, with a combined Western Asian toilet, and not to mention air conditioning and television. I immediately book three nights, the time I think I need in Madurai. The servant boy carries my large backpack upstairs – he is the first one to do this during my trip in South India.

The rooftops of Madurai serve many purposes

I am only 5 minutes in my room when the kitchen manager comes to ask me what I want to eat. Typical for Madurai is the rooftop restaurant at the hotels. I have a light lunch because my stomach keeps troubling me (the rest of the day as a matter of fact). I start talking to Allan, the boy who serves me. He appears to be studying to become a computer programmer.

Exploring the temple from the outside

richly detailed temple sculptures

After a well-needed siesta, and a brief thunderstorm, I really have to admonish myself to move into the city. I do not want to overdo things today and just explore the Meenakshi temple from the outside on one of the rooftops of Madurai. Naturally, someone approaches me in the vicinity of the temple. The man tells me his father makes clothes for 25 rupees (I suspect per hour) and asks if I want to go and have a look. Madurai is known for its tailors, all kinds of canvases and art objects.

Many rooftops of Madurai house a handicraft center beneath

rooftop view of Meenakshi templesculpture detail Madurai

First, I have to take the stairs in a handicraft center to end up at one of the rooftops of Madurai. From here, I can make some beautiful overview photos of the temple towers. The Madurai rooftops are free of charge in itself. The person running the center inevitably invites me to come and see the exhibited objects.  According to him, this is an officially recognized place: so with fixed prices, and without any purchase obligations. There are dancing Shivas and pretty beautiful stone Ganesh statues in the store. I doubt for a moment, but actually, I do not want to have to carry souvenirs for another twenty days. I thank him kindly and continue my exploration of the temple surroundings.

All stores state to be official

rooftops of Madurai: Meenakshi temple

The same scenario happens in the next street, first taking photos on another one of the rooftops of Madurai – with a different, better perspective – and then entering the (again) official store. I really do not feel well, so I accepted the offer of the patron to drink a cup of tea. In the meantime, the carpets are passing, but I quickly get rid of them trying to sell me one of those. Silk scarves follow with a second cup of tea. I have some of them kept separate. The prices are fixed and are considerably higher than those of the – so to speak – silk scarf that I let myself be moored in Madras.

A hand-woven cloth to be delivered in Chennai

Meenekshi temple rooftop view

With the third cup of tea, we stroll down one more floor to view blankets and towels. There are really nice ones, though somewhat pricey. Such a sheet seems suitable to place behind my Budha statues at home. In short, I buy a green, hand-woven cloth with mirrors incorporated, but make a deal to have it delivered to Chennai. We exchange data, but I pay only half the amount, to have some certainty on the actual delivery. I also put my initials on the canvas on the back. The deal happens somewhat professionally and correctly. The patron still tries to make me pay the complete sum and starts talking about trust, but I stand firm.

Ending up in a tailor shop

Madurai temple sculptures

Back outside, my tailor is still waiting for me. A street further, we reach the workshop. First, he shows me several models of pants and shirts. Later I have to choose the fabrics to use, and then my dimensions are taken. After that, the inevitable price tag follows. I had announced in advance that I have a look, but would not necessarily buy. The total amount of 1300 rupees – for a cotton shirt and tailor-made pants, I think that is too expensive. Against my will, I still compete for 1000 rupees.

Need to be stronger against the sellers

The sellers – already four of them are standing around me – want an advance payment of 600 rupees, and the remaining amount will be collected tomorrow. I keep doubting; for that amount, I can also buy some quality pants and a shirt at home. I get rid of it by saying that I do not like the deal. So I grab my backpack and rush outside. To my surprise, they do not follow me. This was on the verge, I suspect. I must put up a little stronger from now on against these guides, sellers, and the like.  Back at the hotel, I first take a shower and then have a light meal again. My stomach keeps protesting. Hopefully, things will go better tomorrow because I actually like Madurai.