Coimbatore, Ponducherry, Chidambara

Coimbatore has nothing. It’s described by the Lonely Planet as India’s Manchester. It relates that to the textiles industry however secretly links them to the total absence of attractions. It’s also lacking in a day bus to Ponducherry which meant that I had a long twenty four hour unexpected stop there.

That said two memories spring to mind. The first was hearing my door buzzer sounding just before midnight (yes I was staying in a half decent room). I answered the door wearily to see the hotel manager and three policemen. Now that starts the heart racing! The police then proceeded to interrogate me as to my name, where I’ve come from etc. All quite straightforward but not when you were getting ready to drop off to sleep. After a quick scan of the room they decided there was nothing unterward and left. It’s quite common for the police to call on tourist rooms to check for bombs and drugs however I’ve never heard of it happeneing that late before.

Secondly it was the food. Coimbatore is the king of Indian cooking. On my full day I crammed in five full meals, in different places, just because it was so good. No more so than the small food stall whose mushroom kalaan went down an absolute treat (I ordered two plates). The Lonely Planet describes it as the best street food they’ve had in South India. Its the best street food I’ve had in the whole of India.

From there I finally made it to Ponducherry. Following in the spirit of Kerela, accommodation was an absolute nightmate. Why don’t I learn and book ahead? Just when I was seriously considering moving to another town I got a spot in an ashram dedicated to the teachings of ‘the mother’. Her face is everywhere in Ponducherry. It’s a little strange.

Anyways to keep it short I probably could have left Pondy and felt I had seen the sights after my morning search for accommodation. Personally nothing about the place really stood out. The churches were grand but would not stop you in your tracks. The French quarter wasn’t much to look at and the seaside part was more akin to Blackpool than India. I wasn’t bored, nor was I dissappointed, it kept me relatively enteretained for half a day but I don’t understand why so many people visit there.

On the second day I took a day trip and caught the bus for two hours out to Chidambara. The temple there is dedicated to Lord Shiva and from what I understood as his victory in a dance off. Quite wonderfully, I witnessed some people dancing their way in through the temple doors! The carvings and imagery were impressive as was the golden roof with 21600 tiles representing the amount of breaths we take in a day, but most breathtaking was the sheer size of the place. I don’t know why it is so big but it’s quite something exploring around whilst hearing peoples voices echo hauntingly around the complex.

The following morning I got to the bus station ready to leave but expecting problems. How to say Mamallapuram? I went up to the first conductor I saw. Drawing a deep breath I uttered the word that was causing me all sorts of problems. He pointed to the bus behind me. What luck! Two hours later I ended up in Maharajapuram. After getting off the bust to the bemusement of those around me I spoke to the next conductor. He explained how to get to Mamallapuram but his accent was so strong it was impossible to understand the place names. He volunteered to write it down for me. He didn’t write it in English but looked very pleased with himself. In one mispronunciation I turned my easiest bus ride in India of two hours, into a six hour adventure.

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