Saturday, 23 January 2010

Two days in Trichy

Trichy is very typically Indian…well Southern Indian to be precise. It is a huge centre for pilgrims who come from all over India to head to the various temples dotted around the outskirts of the town but very few Westerners make it here. It’s not a particularly attractive city and, other than the Rock Fort, there is very little to do. It is not kitted out for westerners at all: there are no little cafes or travel operators, no hostels or swanky hotels, not even many sit down restaurants. So when you arrive in Trichy, you get a real taste of India.

I was fortunate to have met an Australian yoga teacher who sat next to me on the plan and was on his way to a yoga retreat in Goa. We got chatting and it turned out he’d been to India before so he was full to the brim with helpful advice. He had an eight hour stopover in Trichy before he had to catch his next flight so he decided to come into town with me for a few hours. It was great to have someone there to show me the ropes that evening. We had a wander around the street stalls and he introduced me to chai (sweet milky tea), poori (an inflated crispy bread) and lassi (a yoghurt drink). We ate at one of the few sit down restaurants in town called Banana Leaf and spent a whopping £2 each on dinner (and that included drinks!).

I was soon left to my own devices and headed back to my rather miserable single hotel room for a decent night’s kip before a busy next day. My room looked out on to the back of a restaurant so, whilst there wasn’t any street noise, the room was constantly filled with the scent of pungent spices.Nice!

The following morning, my first stop was Trichy train station to book my train down to Fort Cochin in Kerala. I made my way through town fully expecting to be harassed and yet I was barely even noticed. Arriving at the train station I found the counter I needed to head to; however, instead of a queue there were just a few rows of chairs. I stood watching for a while and realized that, rather like a game of musical chairs, when the person sat on the seat in the furthest corner stood up to go to the counter, everyone on all the seats along from him would stand up and move one seat to their left. This continued every time someone was called to the counter and you'd get tutted if you didn't stand up and shuffle along one quick enough. Very funny!.

I joined the queue and sat there for a while before I realized that everyone had a form in their hands. I turned to the guy next to me and asked if I needed one to buy a ticket and he said yes. This was my first real encounter with locals in India and I was pleasantly surprised. The guy offered to keep my seat for me, helped to fill out the form with me and then joined me when I was struggling to make myself understood at the counter and helped to translate for me. He was a genuinely nice guy who merely wished to help.

Again, at lunch time as I sat down in a menu-less restaurant and was presented with a banana leaf, a metal cup of water and the look of expectation, I was helped out by the man sat opposite me at my table (all seating is communal here). I’d read about dhosas so I asked for one. The waiter muttered something and the guy at the table ran through the different types available. When the food arrived he explained in great detail what I had to do. He was extremely courteous and wasn’t after anything in return for his help.

After lunch I visited the Rock Fort temple. The bazaar area outside was a riot of colour with flower garlands, gold statues of gods, Hindu artifacts and souvenirs filling the stalls. Drawn in brightly coloured chalk across the Tarmac roads were vivid murals of flowers and Hindu icons, and heading to the temple were women in stunning saris; flashes of gold, yellow, royal blue, bright green or ruby red dotted in among the men. The whole area had a lively festival feel about it.

In the courtyard of the Rock Fort temple an elephant was chained. If you gave a rupee or two you’d be given a nut in return to feed the elephant, which would dutifully tap you on the head with its trunk after being fed.(The Rock Fort Temple is dedicated to Ganesh - the Hindu elephant God - which explains the presence of a live elephant)

Heading into the fort, I took my shoes off - as is the practice in Hindu temples - and made my way up the hundreds of steps to the temple perched high up on top of the fort. The temple itself was not that amazing but the view across the hazy streets of the town below was lovely.

Back down on the street and the lunch time heat was taking its toll, as was the jetlag. I made a beeline for a church I'd seen from the temple above in hope of a little cool respite. I wasn’t disappointed. The church resembled a British church other than the complete lack of pews. Instead, you knelt or sat cross-legged on stone floors, which was exactly what I needed. A few people were sat about the church praying and soaking up the peace and tranquility away from the heat and chaos of the day. I found a corner against the wall, adopted a suitable praying-esque position to satisfy the church warden who patrolled inside and out, and promptly had a little afternoon siesta.

Feeling adequately church and templed out I made my way back to the naff Guru Hotel to try and figure out what the hell I was going to do for a whole day in Trichy before the sleeper train the following evening.

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