Late Post: Beach hopping at Mangalore – 2

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There wasn’t enough time to explore Surathkal Beach because we had to save some time to visit the more famous Panambur Beach which is a short drive away.

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The Panambur Beach was a picture in contrast to the Surathkal Beach. It was crowded and noisy with almost all the space on the shores taken up by visitors and businesses of all sorts.

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The ship of the desert was the cynosure of all attention. It was funny seeing him on a beach though, that too amidst the hullabaloo. His owners seemed to be lost in a conversation.

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Amidst all the noise, one dog seemed to be enjoying a sand bath.

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A man was offering rides on a horse cart and was desperately scouting for customers.

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Motor boats were a big draw with lots of adventure-seekers heading for them.

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I have for long been nursing dreams of taking pictures of the sun setting on a beach and was hoping to fulfil it that day. Alas! That was not to be. The clouds spoilt my party :( . Mercifully, I managed to take some pictures of sunny boy long before he sank into the sea.

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Once dusk fell on the shore it was time to move. Someday, I wish to return here, spend more time and take better pictures.

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Late Post: Beach hopping at Mangalore – 1

It always feels great visiting my place of birth. A sea of happiness engulfs me at a mere mention of the name. Sadly, all my visits to Mangalore have been fleeting ones. When I got an opportunity to visit the port city in early April I was overwhelmed with excitement and joy although this was going to be another short stay.

The occasion was a family function and my stay was cut short from two days to one owing to my niece’s dance exam coming in the way. I left Bangalore on a Sunday night (April 10) on a sleeper bus. It was the first time I was travelling by one and I was wondering how the journey would be. All my doubts were put to rest in the next one hour.  I thoroughly enjoyed the bumpy ride. It felt like sleeping in one big rocking cradle. It being the holiday season, the bus was not surprisingly packed with all seats (or rather sleepers) occupied.

It must have been around 5.30 in the morning when we reached our destination. We took a rickshaw to the hotel which would be our residence for part of the day.

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When we got to our room I immediately headed for the large windows. My eyes caught sight of  a beautiful Cannonball tree in a courtyard. As it was pretty dark, I  couldn’t get a good picture of it. Much later I finally got a picture. It turned out that the place was an educational institution.

The function at a nearby hall must have taken up most of the morning. Some of my cousins agreed to my idea of visiting the beach in the evening. After a quick round of shopping, I and my cousins hopped on to the van we would be using for our beach trip.

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Our first stop was the Surathkal beach. A major draw here is the Light House which allows visitors. It turned out to be quite a climb. There was a lot of machinery at the place and it was quite dark inside. Finally, when we got to the top of the tower, the aerial views we got to see of the beach and the surroundings were beautiful. The sands looked white and the beach looked spotless clean. Even as we were awestruck by the views, a gentle breeze from the sea caressed our faces and wiped off every trace of sweat caused by the climb up the flight of stairs. Nature’s Towel I would say! And there was enough time for some aerial clicks  :)  Have a look:

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A rain-soaked trip to Nuggehalli

A Sunday trip (15 Nov) to Nuggehalli organised by INTACH turned out to be a rain-soaked picnic with showers of knowledge thrown in for good measure.

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Entrance to the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple.

The rain gods showed no mercy and everyone in the group had to unfurl their umbrellas shortly after reaching Nuggehalli. For one man though, the rains hardly made a difference. It was the walk lead Prof. Raghavendrarao Kulkarni. A walking encyclopaedia on temples, he braved the rains sans an umbrella as he spoke about the history and sculptures first at the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple and then at the Sadashiva Temple both of them iconic temples built in the 13th century AD during the reign of the Hoysalas.

 

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The original structure in soapstone is in the foreground and the brick and limestone tower in the background.

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The highly ornate Lakshmi Narasimha Temple is symbolic of the excellent craftsmanship of those days. The original structure was built with soapstone procured from HD Kote around 1246 AD by Bommana Danda Nayaka, an aide of the Hoysala king Vira Someshwara. He is believed to have constructed the temple for the deities Lakshmi Narasimha, Keshava and Gopala on the behest of his guru Sri Pundarikaksha Somayaji. The temple stands at the spot were long time ago, sage Rushaba offered penance to Lord Lakshmi Narasimha who mighty pleased with his devotee is believed to have appeared in front of him in disguise. Around 1249 AD, Bommana Danda Nayaka also constructed the Sadashiva Temple in the vicinity of the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. During that period, Nuggehalli was known as Vijaya Somanathpura and was famous as an agrahara (or place of learning). The name Nuggehalli came into existence somewhere during the reign of the Vijayanagara kings. ‘Nugge’ translates to ‘enter’ and ‘halli’ translates to village in Kannada.

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The brick and mortar wall of the extended temple built using dry masonry.

Like most Hoysala-period temples, the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple is constructed on a star-like (or stellate) platform. Though the key deity is Keshava, the temple is named after Lakshmi Narasimha one of the secondary deities. The other secondary deity is Gopala.  The temple was expanded in the 17th century AD during the reign of the Vijayanagar dynasty. Unlike the Hoysalas who favoured soapstone, the Vijayanagar dynasty chose to go for lime and mortar. The extended temple in the form of a large hall is in lime and mortar and dry masonry was employed to construct the walls. In contrast to the highly ornate soapstone marvel, the extension is as plain as can be. [Oops! I just realised that I did not click a picture of the entire temple. How embarrassing! ]

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Lathed soapstone pillar.

While the original temple only had one tower, the Vijayanagar architects went on to add two more towers over the secondary shrines of Gopala and Lakshmi Narasimha. But the beauty of the original tower makes it stand out to such an extent that the other two towers go more or less unnoticed. The inside of the vimana (or main shrine housing Lord Keshava) has four lathed cylindrical soapstone pillars.

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The stunningly beautiful sculptures on the outside of the vimana were the works of Hoysala sculptors Mallitamma and Bhaichoja. Mallitamma was the chief sculptor and he decorated the north side of the temple. He started his career at the tender age of 16 and went on to work till he was 72. All his carvings at the temple bear his signature in Kannada. Signing below sculptures was a practice during the Hoysala period. Bhaichoja on the other hand decorated the south side of the temple and his signature can be found under a grand sculpture depicting Lord Vishnu in a relaxed posture.  Bhaichoja was a very young man at the time of this assignment possibly in his 30s. Many art historians find his sculptures more creative and beautiful than that of the senior sculptor. Mysteriously, Bhaichoja never worked on any other assignment in spite of his immense talent. The Lakshmi Narasimha temple project was his first and last. Was he murdered by jealous rivals? Did he commit suicide? Was he maimed? There are no records supporting these theories.  When I narrated this at home, my mother came out with another theory. Bhaichoja in all probability was Lord Lakshmi Narasimha himself in disguise. A point to ponder about!

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A little boy dressed in typical Iyengar attire watches the proceedings.

Like all Hoysala temples, the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple does not have a path for circumambulation on the inside. Circumambulation has to be done either on the platform or around the temple. It was a co-incidence that our visit was on the same day as the kalyanamahotsava (an important festival) at the temple. Many devotees had flocked to the temple dressed in traditional Iyengar attire. The temple is a principal place of worship for the Iyengar community who are all Vaishnavites. Idols of the deities were being taken around the temple by groups of worshippers.

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After a visit to the inside of the temple, Prof. Kulkarni took us through the narrative panels on the outside of the vimana. The Hoysalas believed in the concept of Bhagvatham which allowed the presence of sculptures of deities other than the presiding deity. Thus, in the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple which is a Vaishnavaite temple there are 24 forms of Vishnu including Keshava, Gopala and Lakshmi Narasimha; there is a Shiva sculpture too in the form of Harihara (half-Shiva [Hari] and half-Vishnu [Hara]); there is Ganesha; there is a sculpture of Brahma, the creator; Kama, the God of Love and his consort Rathi, the Goddess of Love to name a few. Goddesses Lakshmi and Parvati are depicted as dancers.

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The six frieze panels.

All the sculptures are carved above six frieze panels with moulded figurines. The six frieze panels are divided into two sections. The bottom-most panel consists of elephants. Prof. Kulkarni mentions that elephants are always placed on the base signifying that they are the weight-bearers. In between some of the elephants you can notice babies too! Above the elephants come the horsemen and above the horsemen is a decorative panel of foliage. Now the panels of elephants, horsemen and foliage constitute the first section. Above this section is the second section which consists of three panels. The bottom-most panel consists of scenes from the Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Above this panel is one of beasts each having a crocodile’s head and lion’s body; topmost is a panel of swans.

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Like most ornate Hoysala temples, every inch of this temple too is decorated. Even the corners are filled.

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Brahma, the Creator (by Bhaichoja).

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Kama and Rathi (on the left) and Krishna and Rukmini on a swing (on the right) both sculpted by Bhaichoja.

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Mohini sculpted by Bhaichoja.

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Krishna and Rukmini on the swing (left) and Dakshinamurthy (right) sculpted by Bhaichoja.

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Rathi’s vehicle Vasanta on the right.

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Works of Bhaichoja.

 

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Vishnu in Ardhasukhasana (or relaxed pose) by Bhaichoja. Notice the text in Kannada below the sculpture.

Notable among Bhaichoja’s sculptures are that of Brahma; Krishna and Rukmini on a swing; Kama and Rathi; Rathi’s vehicle Vasanta; the pièce de résistance being the sculpture of Vishnu in Ardhasukhasana (or relaxed pose).

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Sculpture by Mallitama.

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Shiva as HariHara (half Shiva [left] and half Vishnu [right])

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Lakshmi Narasimha.

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Notice the depiction of applique work on the apparel.

 

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Brihaspati, Mahabali and Vamana.

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Krishna surrounded by cows, gopikas and others.

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Arjuna shoots a wooden fish seeing its reflection in a bowl of oil (sculpted by Mallitamma).

Notable among Mallitamma’s sculptures are one of Arjuna shooting a suspended wooden fish seeing its reflection in the bowl of oil below.

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An unfinished sculpture.

 

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Gopala surrounded by cows, gopikas, a leopard (don’t miss the spots)

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Garuda carrying Vishnu and Lakshmi (extreme left).

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Krishna tries to kill Kaliya even as Kaliya’s wife asks for forgiveness.

The Lakshmi Narasimha temple is an ocean of sculptures each of them having a distinct anecdote behind them. Like Prof. Kulkarni said, it will take more than one visit to get a hang of all the stories behind the beautiful carvings. We couldn’t agree more!

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Before embarking to the Sadashiva Temple, we had generous servings of authentic ‘Pulliyodharai’ or tamarind rice prepared on the occasion of the kalyanotsava. As accompaniments to the ‘Pulliyodharai’ were dollops of delicious ‘Sweet Pongal’ another popular preparation made from rice and jaggery.

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Entrance to the Sadashiva Temple.

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The doors to the main shrine.

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The original structure in soapstone.

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The original structure and the extended structure (right) in lime and  mortar.

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As we walked to the Sadashiva Temple, the rain got worse. On reaching the temple premises, we realised that the temple was closed. Unlike the highly ornate Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, the Sadashiva Temple is non-ornate. When constructing this temple, the Hoysalas went for the North Indian nagara style with Bhumija structure. Like the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, the Sadashiva Temple rests on a stellate platform. Here too, the original structure was built with soapstone and latter additions were in lime and mortar using dry masonry.

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As the temple was closed we missed seeing the Linga in the main shrine, the Nandi and other deities.

Around 4pm, it was pack-up time. We said goodbye to rain-soaked Nuggehalli!

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: “Depth”

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Depth.”

The 19-step temple pond at the famous Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple in Nandi village on the foothills of Nandi hills is a very tranquil spot; one of those places were one can sit back and spend a peaceful evening and maybe finish off a book in one sitting.

The 19-step temple pond at the famous Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple in Nandi village on the foothills of Nandi hills is a very tranquil spot; one of those places were one can sit back and spend a peaceful evening and maybe finish off a book in one sitting.

An unforgettable trip to Madurai

The street outside the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple, Madurai

The street outside the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple, Madurai

I had been to Madurai years back and save for the famous Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple I didn’t quite take to the town. For one, I had to stay in a dark and dingy lodge with fluorescent green and yellow walls that had no windows at all. The surroundings of the hotel were anything but green. Houses and other buildings were constructed with no gap between each other and there were hardly any trees. I abhor concrete jungles.

The East Tower of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple

The East Tower of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple

When my family decided to make a road trip to Madurai on the long weekend last week I decided to go only because of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple. My earlier visit to the temple town was a fleeting one and I didn’t get to see the entire temple. A most notable miss was the fabulous kalyani (temple pond).

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We started early morning on Ganesh Chaturthi day which was a Friday. Our trip was along NH7 which I must say is a very green highway. The SUV was moving fast thanks to the fantastic condition of the road which made it difficult for me to take pictures. Mountains could be seen at a distance on both sides of the road. Surprisingly, in spite of it being a festive day, I hardly noticed any festive fervour. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha stared from hoardings at many points during the drive. A lot of lush green fields skirted the highway. It felt nice looking at the luscious green expanses.

The lunch thali at Aarti Hotel, Vedasandur

The lunch thali at Aarti Hotel, Vedasandur

We stopped at a place called Vedasandur for lunch. Aarti Hotel where we lunched is a very simple joint and the interiors are very quaint. Furniture is the 70s’ kind and the staff a mixture of old and young. The lunch thali was a simple Tamil Nadu spread of a bowl of rice with sambar, rasam, vatta kuzhambu, papad, butter milk, cabbage curry and Ivy gourd curry as accompaniments. I loved the vatta kuzhambu. I just couldn’t have enough of the tangy preparation so I asked for a second serving along with more rice.

An auto plies on a Madurai road

An auto plies on a Madurai road

The dining area at The Gateway Hotel, Pasumalai

The dining area at The Gateway Hotel, Pasumalai

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A sago palm

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Aerial view of Madurai as seen from above Pasumalai Hill

Aerial view of Madurai as seen from above Pasumalai Hill

Peacocks on the lawn

Peacocks on the lawn

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So near yet so far

So near yet so far

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Post-lunch was another green drive. We arrived at Madurai at 5pm. Our place of stay, The Gateway Hotel, atop the Pasumalai Hill has a green driveway. The sprawling 65 acre property which houses heritage buildings said to be owned by the Madura Coats group was once the residence of a British official. Painted in white and red, the beautiful colonial buildings perfectly complement the verdant greens they are surrounded by. Some of the trees on the property are labelled. I spotted a variety of trees of the Ficus family. Neem trees, sago palms, tamarind trees, frangipani trees, coconut trees, cork trees and many more varieties add to the tree wealth on the beautiful campus. There a lot of peacocks and peahens on the estate hopping around merrily. After a welcome drink we were ushered into our living space. The dim-lit interiors of the room had an old world charm and the period furniture glowed in the filtered light from the lampshades. There was a door which led to the backyard at the centre of which was a wrought-iron dining table and chairs painted in spotless white.

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Just as we were having a recce of the room, we heard a peacock call from a distance. My niece nudged me to move outdoors and off we went in search of the bird. It wasn’t long before we spotted the fella near the swimming pool. I have never had such a close view of our National bird. Wow! He looked so magnificent that I found it difficult to take my eyes off him. A staff member was feeding him bajra and she invited us to join in. We stretched our bajra-covered palms out to the peacock and fed him. When he was picking the grains it felt like he was plucking our fingers. We loved the experience! In a while more peacocks joined in and a couple of squirrels too and I must say we had a party 🙂 🙂 . We were lucky we reached the spot at the feeding time because later we realized the peacocks don’t respond to calls unless there is a staff member with you.

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An ornate wrought iron bench painted in white that overlooked granite mountains proved to be the perfect place for us to stretch our legs and relax even as we took in the beautiful panoramic views of the green surroundings.

Later in the evening, my niece played around in the swimming pool and I reclined on one of the deck chairs with a PG Wodehouse. As the evening wore on and night fell we had to move back to our room. The buffet dinner that night was a sumptuous multi-cuisine spread. I just loved it!

The next day

I woke up next morning around 5.30 to a peacock call. I opened the door to the backyard and spotted him perched on a tamarind tree. And there were Seven Sisters too [also called ‘Saath Bhai’ in Hindi, the jungle babblers usually move around in groups of seven].

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungle_babbler

Whoa! So many birds and the scent of mountain air made me feel I was in paradise. There was a slight drizzle and I could see a bright rainbow in the sky. Sadly my camera battery was drained so I couldn’t take a picture of the rainbow and the peacock who struck some fantastic poses (sigh!). He even danced! (sob sob why did my battery have to get drained 😦 😦 )

Like the dinner spread the last night, the breakfast spread had a lot of items. I particularly loved the Paal Kozhukattai [rice balls dipped in sweetened milk]. They tasted so much like Rosogullas. If it hadn’t been for the label on the container, I would have thought I had eaten Rosogullas (yum yum yum).

We hired a taxi to take us first to the Thiruparankundram Muruga Temple and then to the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple. We had to make it fast because the temples close doors at noon.

Entrance of the Thiruparankundram Temple

Entrance of the Thiruparankundram Temple

The 1200-year-old Thiruparankundram Temple is a rock-cut temple. The deities are carved in stone and inside a cave. The gopuras of the temple are colourful and majestic but sadly I couldn’t take a picture because of time crunch. Constructed by the Pandya dynasty in the 8th century AD, the spot is believed to be one of the six abodes of Lord Murugan. Legend has it that it was at the spot where the temple stands that he was married to Devyani, the daughter of Indra, the King of Gods. The mandapas which lead to the temple were constructed by the Nayaka dynasty during the 17 and 18th century AD. After paying our obeisance to the deities we moved on. There is another shrine atop the granite hill and to reach that we would have to climb 600 steps. We decided not to go again because of time crunch.

http://indica.co.in/thiruparankundram#.VAgnRVfvz1A
http://www.wondermondo.com/Countries/As/India/TamilNadu/ThiruparankundramMurug.htm

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Our next stop was the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple. The 12 gopuras of the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple are majestic and adorned with stucco work depicting deities, mythical animals and demons. Every 12 years, the gopuras undergo a makeover followed by a ceremony. As the name suggests, this ancient temple is dedicated to Meenakshi (fish-eyed avatar of Goddess Parvathi) and Sundareshvara (another name of Shiva which translates to ‘the handsome God’ in Tamil). Meenakshi is however the key deity of the temple. Our guide tells us that during the 7the century AD the spot where the temple stands was a field. Farmers discovered a Shiva Linga in the field and informed the ruling Pandya kings who in turn decided to construct a temple and dedicate it to Shiva. Local lore has it that Meenakshi was the daughter born to an issue-less Pandya king after he performed a yagna. When the princess who was fish-eyed was of marriageable age a swayamvar was organized by her father. She chose Shiva as her husband. The two have since ruled Madurai as deities of the temple.

Subsequent dynasties like the Nayakas added to the original structure. The gopura at the eastern side of the temple is the main entrance. The sculptures that adorn the temple are simply fascinating. It is only here that Nataraja (the dancing avatar of Shiva)  is seen performing the Tandava Nritya with his right leg raised. Our guide also pointed towards a painting of a Linga on the ceiling which turns towards a person as he or she turns. This was simply amazing! A work of a versatile artist!

The kalyani (or temple pond) is another attraction here. Also called the Potramarai Kulam (or Golden Lotus Tank), it is surrounded by pillared corridors.

At the temple, you can’t miss the Thousand Pillared Hall. It has 985 ornate pillars and doubles up as a museum.

After leaving the Meenakshi Sundareshvara Temple we headed to a handloom shop. Madurai is also famous for its handlooms. Our lunch stop was at Sree Sabareesh, a popular restaurant in this part of Madurai. Lunch done we headed towards our hotel.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent wooing peacocks. Try as I did I couldn’t get the pictures that I wanted. The peacocks refused to give me a good pose. In the evening, I headed to the wonderful seat overlooking the hills and continued reading the PG Wodehouse book. As dusk fell and I was retreating towards the room I noticed a pair of oh-so-cute curious owls. I just loved their expressions 🙂

Late in the night, I spent a good one hour trying my hand at table tennis and realized that I can hold a TT racquet and strike a ping pong ball. Yay!!

Dinner was another mouth-watering fare. Kudos to the chefs of The Gateway Hotel! The Bundhelkandi Masala Rice was my favourite and I helped myself to another serving.

The last day

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Day 2 started wonderfully well with the call of peacocks. My niece managed to feed a peacock and was on cloud nine. A couple of squirrels too joined the peacock. After a hearty breakfast it was time to leave. It was rather painful bidding goodbye to such a beautiful place.

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I spent the journey back home dreaming about the paradise that we left and the lovely peacocks. For once, I forgot about the existence of my camera. It was even sadder to think that the next day I would have to wake up to an alarm and not the call of a peacock.

And I no longer think Madurai is a concrete jungle. The temple town has a lot of green patches too.