Wednesday, August 21, 2019 at 14:42 (UTC+0530)

Madurai –

We took a taxi to far-away Viluppuram, on the main rail line, to catch our train south to Madurai. Our 2nd Class Air Con cabin mates were sleeping with the curtains pulled and we couldn’t see out the grimy window anyway.  Sometimes it is better just to buy the cheap seats among the hordes.  On the platform we saw soldiers possibly traveling north to the new troubles in Kashmir.

Some hours later I was tired of the cabin and was standing in the hot wind at the open door of the carriage.  The scenery reminded me of Arizona: red rock hills with sparse dark green vegetation.  Arriving in late afternoon in Madurai we felt the lively energy on the city streets and took our room near the center.  We enjoyed dosa and sauces served on banana leaves.

A main attraction of Madurai is the large Meenakshi Temple with its four great towers covered in figures from Hindu mythology.  This night we saw a procession of a golden statue on a cart accompanied by drums and the whine of long woodwinds.  A sacred cow covered in decorations came along, and an elephant stood giving blessings with its trunk right on the head of any who were bold enough to step up close.  I stayed back out of fear that it might be trained to behead a non-believer.  The carvings of lions and gods glowed in the night.  The many devotees browsed the food stands all around.

Early the next morning I rose with the sun and found streets empty and dirty.  This seems to be a town that stays up late and likes to sleep in, except for a few dozen people who were circling the temple, walking quickly, perhaps for fitness.  I got a better look at the amazing figures carved on the temple towers.  A woman was making fresh chalk decorations on the swept and washed sidewalk.  Bicycle rickshaw drivers were sleeping on their bikes: I guess they are poor and homeless.  When I got back to the hotel I got myself and Karen each a cup of the delicious chai, a spiced, milky tea.

And as quickly as we had come, we were off again, by government bus, headed for the hills…