Karaikudi to Madurai, Meenakshi Temple
Madurai Meenakshi Amman and Sundereshwarar Shivan Temples, museum of 1000 pillars
The Journey: Chennai to Pondy, Kumbakonam, Tanjavur, Karaikudi, Madurai, Periyar, Gavi, Vagaman, Vembanad, Kochi, Wayanad, Coorg, Mysore, Yelagiri, and back to Chennai
We decided to check out ‘Chettinad Palace’ but made it instead to ‘The Bangala’ Hotel, the google maps location! The ‘Palace’ is in another town. Then we headed off to Madurai. Earlier a quick breakfast at the Annalakshmi vegetarian restaurant around the corner, and opposite the Friends Restaurant. On the way to Madurai, we spotted a sign to the village which has the most famous Ganesh Temple and a large Ganesh statue, Puliarpatti. That was a 4 Km detour to the village and another 1 Km to the temple. We visited and did Darshan of the Ganesh, the trunk is golden and a very beautiful idol. Then we set the GPS and continued on to Madurai. We had started at 9:00 AM and reached Madurai about 1:30 PM, and headed into one of the parking lots of the Meenakshi Temple, on an extremely narrow one way street. There the attendant suggested MR International Hotel with parking included and nearby. So we drove there and got a good room for Rs.1,880/-, no mosquitos, marble flooring, underground parking and 25 yards walk to the temple. It was good for the visit to the temple. We had lunch at 2:30 PM at Chettinad Mess which gave us good Mutton Sukka and mutton fry, fried Surmai (King Fish) with meals. It was marginally more expensive (@Rs.150 x 4 for the dishes and Rs.90 x 2 for the thalis), concept of fish, mutton and chicken curry (gravy) was the same as in Karaikudi and the taste was similarly good traditional Chettinad fare.
After lunch we did one external round of the Meenakshi temple, it has 4 majestic gates and then an outer wall in which are housed two temples, Madurai Meenakshi Amman and Sundereshwarar Shivan Temples. There is a museum of 1000 pillars within. The temple opens for Darshan 4:00 to 8:30 PM after the afternoon break from 12:00 till 4:00 PM. So we went back to the hotel and slept till about 5:00 PM and then refreshed returned for the Darshan. Later, we went around the temple, many stone carvings on the pillars and many stone statues to see, until about 9:00 PM and then after a quick wash went for dinner. This was at ‘Student House Coffee Shop’ which served us excellent Dosas. Later we returned and were up until 1:00 AM researching where to stay at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and Forest, or the nearby town of Kumily in Thekkady District. In the end we decided not to pre-book at Periyar House Forest Lodge, which was our first choice, but to take our chances as it was available, even though there was a 10% online booking discount. This is a KTDC (Kerala Tourism) Rest House, the cheapest among the 3 KTDC lodges inside the Reserve Forest, all private hotels being outside, in or around Kumily. The next up is Aranya Niwas and the most upmarket being ‘The Palace’ on an Island in the middle of the Periyar Lake. The last has only 6 rooms and is reached by boat from the KTDC boat house, and you get to use the regular boat ride, every two hours, for free (including getting there and back).