it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad Madurai


I arrived in Madurai and was instantly accosted by rickshaw drivers, so much so a train station security guard told them to leave me alone.

After a 9 hour train ride, sweaty and hungry, I was not about to put up with any crap. I chose one driver and as we walked toward his rickshaw, he yakked it up with his fellow drivers along the way. More drivers started yelling, “here madam, here madam, you want ride, madam?” “That’s it,” I said as I threw down my bag. I stopped and yelled loud enough to make all the stray dogs howl within a five mile radius…”ENOUGH OF THIS BULLSHIT!”, together with a few more choice words in south-side Chicago vernacular. Not very yogic, but I had had it. Needless to say, that immediately got everyone’s attention, I never saw a gaggle of drivers shut up so quickly. The wrath of Kali! “No tension, madam, no tension, come with me….” That’s more like it, and when I got to the place I thought I was going to stay in, I paid him more than what we agreed to.

I stayed exactly 90 minutes at Sri Devi, a guesthouse close to the great temple. I took the recommendation of the Rough Guide, and all I can say is that the writer must have been hallucinating when he/she wrote the review, smoking too many chillums.

I don’t mind staying in a cheap hotel in India, but I draw the line at a “bath towel” that looked like it was just used to wash a car, and at greasy hair stains on the pillows. The place was disgusting. And this was the “deluxe AC room” as described in Rough Guide — uh, yeah, the AC that had its guts hanging out.

The room was considered “deluxe” because you could walk out of the long window to the roof of the floor below me, and sit there and have a fab view of the temple. Unfortunately, the window did not lock, so anyone on that roof could crawl into your room. There was also a frosted glass door to this room — the entire door was glass, so not very safe for a solo female traveler. When a guy tried to get into my room about a hour after I was there, I asked for another room but it was no better than the first….

So I got out of there and switched to the Hotel Supreme that has ceiling fans where you can actually control the speed! If you’ve ever stayed in an Indian hotel you know that your two choices for a ceiling fan are “off” and a 747 taking off. I stayed in their cheapest room (about 500-600 Rs) which was heaven compared to the Sri Garbage.

now off to explore…

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Day One…

I’m in a town where the touts are worse than in Mahabalipuram. Now I know why so many westerners walk around India with a glazed “dead man walking” look in their eyes, no reactions, no smiles. It’s a defense mechanism, act like your deaf, dumb, and blind and maybe you’ll be spared…but I really did not want to morph into that animal.

I walked around the temple area and if I had a rupee for every time I heard “no buy, madam, just look”, I’d be able to pay for my plane fare home. I’m tired of looking like a walking $$$$ sign. I know everyone has to make a buck, but I did not come to India to support every shop keeper in town.

I was “befriended” at least three times by nice old men who told me their life stories, how America is a great country, and oh, by the way, my brother/uncle/son/cousin/sister’s husband has this clothes/jewelery/art/silver shop that has a great roof top view of the temples, “just look, madam, no buy.” The unfortunate thing is that I am beginning to not trust anyone’s friendliness because my first thought is “what do they want from me”, and I don’t want to react that way.

There is a market across from the great temple that is filled with little stalls of all types of merchandise — a great place to see dead men walking because the calls to buy are incessant — so much so that I walked out totally drained and physically ill with my first migraine in years. However I was not THAT drained that it kept me from ordering two custom made skirts for $10, which will look fabulous! What finally got to me was that not even inside the temple is one left alone in peace…time to go before I get totally disgusted…

I finally ended up using one of these lines for shop keepers and touts: 1. I’m a poor yoga teacher, no money; 2. YOU buy ME something?; and 3. it’s against my religion. The last one usually works…..

Honestly though, I don’t consider anything I have experienced so far on this trip as a “hardship” or something that I can’t handle. I take everything and everyone I encounter with a huge grain of salt and just chalk it up, go with the flow. However, I don’t like the assumption that I am a walking bank account, pull my arm and rupees come pouring out of my mouth! And tell me why if I ask to look at one salwar kameez, I am shown 25 more in different colors?? AARGH!! I have run screaming from more than one store!

Day Two…

I highly recommend the Gandhi museum in Madurai! It’s very interesting and inspiring, but when I was there, there were about 100 school girls who were more interested in me than in reading about their own history!

A large group of school girls were sitting on the floor listening to the curator, as I walked into the museum. He immediately stopped talking and all the girls turned around to look at me, the only westerner. Silence. I smile and put my hands into “namaste” and bow. Then everyone says hello in unison to me, in English, and I respond with a loud vanakkam, which is Tamil for “hello” — this causes a huge explosion of laughter. The curator asks loudly, “what country, madam? America or UK?” “America” “Ah….America!” Big smiles all around. Their poor teachers have their hands full trying to keep order all because of me!

As I walk around the exhibits, followed by a crowd of school girls, I feel eyes on me. I turn around, and a few start giggling. “Shhhh,” I said, “read your history, don’t look at me,”, I told them with a wink. Occasionally I would feel a light touch on my back or arms and I would turn around and a hand would suddenly cover a mouth and a giggle is unsuccessfully suppressed….

The cloth that Gandhi was wearing when he was shot is there, blood-stained, in a room painted all in black. His sandals, his glasses…one is in awe…

There is also a government museum on the grounds — admission Indians, 5Rs, foreigners, 100Rs. I was “invited” in but when I saw the price I said to the guard, “hmmmm……I thought Gandhi was in favor of equality?” No comment in response……

I loved the museum and the surrounding grounds, but was disheartened, once again, to see garbage all over the place. A center for transcendental meditation is also there — tried to find my piece of quiet — but sitting outside amongst garbage did not appeal to me.

to be continued…

Satya is balanced with Ahimsa - No Trolls Allowed

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