After taking in the three seas to our heart’s content we were off for Madurai on way to Kodaikanal. About four hours’ bus trip brought us to Madurai, the city of the famed Minakshi temple. On the way we passed Nagarcoil, a town which is practically enclosed in the folds of the Western Ghats – very green and picturesque. Madurai too is a temple town. In the South there are famous temples like in Thanjavur or Trinchinapally or Kanchipuram but along with them there are also numerous other temples revered if not as much as the ones that are famous but are given their due attention and devotion. Apparently, the southern part of the country has Hinduism thriving even today with a large number of ancient temples with living deities, extraordinary temple architecture and beautiful temple sculptures.
Madurai is also a temple-town but Meenakshi Temple is the one that dominates the town. It is also the most ancient, built around a couple of thousand years ago dedicated to Parvati, also known as Meenakshi – the fish-eyed consort of Lord Shiva. The temple is the heart of the city and life in Madurai revolves round it. It is a massive and a very imposing temple and several other religious spaces are widely dispersed in its complex. The top of the main temple over the sanctum attains the height of more than 160 ft. The temple has as many as 14 what are known as gopurams which, in fact are towered gateways. The one in the South is reported to be the tallest – around 170 ft, taller than even the one on the main temple by a few feet. The exterior walls are heavily worked on with sculpted human figures, which I found rather garishly painted. These occupy the walls on all sides and are reckoned to be 33000 or so in number. They have not left on inch of vacant plain wall.
Somewhere around the temple or inside it I remember to have seen the Hall of Thousand Pillars, each pillar having beautifully sculpted sculptures. Instead of a thousand there are in fact 985 pillars. If one were to stand near any one of them one would find some in line with it and others in orderly rows.
The temple must have had a lot of gold as it attracted the Muslim raiders from up North. It was sacked in the 14th Century by Malik Kafur an eunuch and also a general with Allauddin Khiljee. The temple was thereafter rebuilt in the 16th Century. Subsequent years and centuries seem to have passed off peacefully as no further damage apparently was done either to the town or to the temple.
While coming away from the temple I found my pocket had been picked. I didn’t even get a whiff of it until I looked for my wallet in my hip pocket. It was a strange irony that in a holy place such instances of thievery could take place. People must be chanting holy mantras all through the 24 hours and yet indulge in such evil activities. I eventually took it as a minor aberration. I didn’t have too much of money in it, anyway. So we moved on without bothering to get involved in a police case.
We had heard of Kodaikanal as one of the finest hill stations of the country. We had already been to Ooty which was, indeed, very beautiful with hills and meadows as also a lake. However, on a subsequent visit to it with a friend in 2003 we were devastated to find it ruined with crowds, buses and dieselized vehicles emitting pungent smoke from their exhausts. My wife and I could not bear to spend even five minutes on once-beautiful Charing Cross as we were racked by fits of coughing. We instantly decided to turn back to Coimbatore.
It was around a four hour’s bus journey to Kodaikanal. On the way there was that post office which had got the award of being the best in the country sometime in the 1970s. It was located in Shenbaganur, up on the hills where the post master used to be a English priest from the local church. If I recall it was located at a turn from where the climb on to Western Ghats for Kodaikanal became very steep.
Kodaikanal turned out to be more than 6000 ft. in elevation. It is located on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats in the District of Dindigul and has what is known as the sub tropical highland climate. The temperature seldom climbs above 20 degrees during the day or dips below 8 degrees Centigrade at night. It has, therefore a very agreeable climate. Its very name suggests that the place is a “gift of the forests” and probably therefore has exquisite flora in the shape of forest cover with various exotic species and a range of flowering and fruiting trees. The pears grown here are supposed to be of finest variety. Likewise the huge dahlias in Bryant’s Park are a sight to be seen.
Established in the middle of the 19th Century, Kodaikanal was, again, a discovery by the British who colonized it to get away from the hot and sweaty climate down below in the then Madras Presidency which was mostly infested with mosquitoes. It has lovely walks all around. What is more, there is a lake which, again, is man-made and is a charming place to hang around – quiet and serene as it was. And so was the small township.
But now, I understand, it is one of the most visited places in Tamil Nadu. The crowds during the tourist season are so thick that the local administration has to call for additional strength of policemen to control traffic and orderly parking. It seems all the good and decent places are being ruined by overload of tourists. This has also happened with the hill stations up North and it is now happening in the South. Tourism of all kinds seems to be proving to be bane for the tourist sites.