My 2nd Tamil Nadu inning was neither pleasant nor easy as the 1st solo trip. What had started as an ambitious tour encompassing India’s great southern states, unfortunately got waylaid due to an overwhelming deluge of experiences and my travel odyssey got limited to only Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Thankfully the friendly state of Kerala had given me a great start and I had lingered there longer than planned. After slowly lazing through the lush ups and down of God’s Own Country (Kerala), I finally decided to make an entrance into the great Dravidian state of Tamil Nadu. Home of the dusky, stocky and distinctly different (from fairer, taller North Indians) Tamil people, Tamil Nadu is the hub of Hinduism in India. Because of its geographical location, the region had remained mostly untouched by Islamic invasions (except for a few and far between skirmishes) and is the base of one of world’s most ancient civilizations, the Dravidian culture.

Highly controversial, much debated and still unclear of its origin, Dravidians are referred as the speakers of Dravidian language in South Asia. A school of language as ancient as time (and completely unrelated with rest of Indian languages), Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam and Kannada are principal Dravidian languages, out of which Tamil is the richest. The state language of Tamil Nadu, Tamil is considered to have had divine origin and it is believed that the great Hindu God, Shiva himself taught it to Sage Agasthya, the father of Tamil literature. Today, even though the scriptures of the great sage no longer exists, Tamil is considered as a classical language which has been in uninterrupted use since last 2500 years.

Genetically too, Dravidians continue to puzzle historians and most anthropologists consider the culture to have been widespread over the entire Indian subcontinent before the series of Aryan migrations began. Even the ancient Indus Valley civilization at Harappa and Mohenjodaro are said to be of Dravidian roots and needless to say, Tamil Nadu is considered to be the hotbed of the 2 millennium old Dravidian culture. This is reflected in the state’s dance, art, literature and rigidity of religious discipline. Brahmins/people belonging to the priestly class are still considered sacred in Tamil Nadu and practice of the caste system/untouchability is widespread. Being orthodox is a way of life there and most Tamil people by choice faithfully cling to their thousands of years old culture. While this rigidity has helped in preservation of the vibrancy and richness of the state’s exquisite art, language and culture, it has also lead to thriving practice of a lot of questionable (officially banned and redundant in other states) social taboos.

The priestly caste of Tamil Nadu strictly adheres to their profession and they are fiercely divided over their choice of idol of worship. Shiva and Vishnu are the 2 main gods of Tamil Nadu and their followers, usually do not even inter marry. The Tamil Brahmin men can be identified by the differences of their tilaks (sandalwood paste patterns smeared across the forehead) and usually the Shiva followers would not patronize a Vaishnav (Vishnu) temple (and vice versa). My ancestral town of Srirangam, incidentally is famous for the grand Sri Ranganathan Temple and the big, old house where I had happened, had still remained intact, untouched by redevelopment. The temple too held many precious childhood memories for me and it was no wonder that I had chosen Srirangam as my 1st Tamil Nadu destination. Revisiting my ancestral house (although sold off long back) and retracing my childhood steps had been high on my mind and I had spent a sleepless night before boarding the train to Trichy.

Although, more of a suburb rather than a temple town, Srirangam is located on the bank of the river Cauvery and is accessible from Trichy/Tiruchirapalli. It is just 10 kilometers away from dusty, busy Trichy and lies on the other side of the river. On clear early mornings the magnificent gopurams/monumental towers of the pyramidal Ranganathaswamy Temple can be seen from Trichy and the ancient city makes a perfect base for exploring the surrounding religious institutions at Tanjore, Karur, Pudukottai etc. Swamy Ranganathan Temple is an important point on Tamil Nadu temple circuit (Navgraha temple tour) and is considered to be one of the most illustrious Vaishnav temples of South India. Exquisitely beautiful, it hosts the magnificent Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival (Paradise Festival) and is a must for every temple/culture/heritage lover.

Memories of Srirangam had been plaguing me for some time and finally dawned the morning when I had to start with my journey into childhood. While the idea had seemed absolutely romantic and beautiful in theory, in reality the experience had turned out to something quite different. Out of sheer excitement, I had made a disastrous decision of hopping on the 1st available train to Trichy from Palghat and it had been a long hot nearly 8 hours journey. The train had been a slow local, intercity one with dirty, peanut shells covered floor, hard bench like seats, no toilets and it had stopped at each and every station all the way to Trichy.

Add to that discomfort, an overwhelming crowd, “dangerously near bursting” bladder condition and lack of anything edible and you have an experience what can be best described as pure, hellish travel torture. I had sat immobile for what had seemed like eternity and the small stations had passed by in endless stream of grubby food vendors, quaint linesmen sheds and neem trees swaying in hot breeze. Kohl lined chubby babies had cried nonstop, flowers of all sizes, colours and garlands had shed petals from their positions on soot black grizzly coiffures and their sweet smell had mingled thickly with the rancid odour of sweat. Young college girls and boys in dazzling, bright clothes had giggled flirtatiously and some one had played raucous film music loudly on portable radio. I had tried to meditate, fiercely fought to love the exotic charm of the experience and had even tried fooling myself into believing that it was just a bad dream. Finally, when nothing had worked, I had fought hard not to cry or pass out in hunger, fatigue and discomfort and had kept my eyes, nose and ears as close to the open, barred window as possible.

This had resulted in a sooty, grimy face as the engine had chugged thick smoke towards me all the way to Trichy and I had nearly whooped out in joy when the train finally pulled into the Tiruchirapalli station. Bone tired, uncomfortable and hot, I had found Trichy station to be surprisingly tourist friendly and it had come with an array of hygienic restaurants, clean washrooms and organized public transport facility. I had rushed helter skelter to the restroom immediately upon arriving and after a quick relieving break, had feasted on an awesome south Indian thali like a glutton. Spicy, filling and purely vegetarian, I had loved the fresh green of the plantain leaf on which the meal had been served, had relished the fiery tangy flavours of its accompanying curries and had crunched on crispy poppadums for long, sweet moments.

Finally sated, I had bought myself strings of creamy, sweet smelling jasmine, bargained for an auto rickshaw ride and made my way towards the Rockfort View Hotel. The hotel had been a clean, spacious modern building with friendly, chatty staff and an amazing view of the Rockfort from the window. Cauvery had gurgled right beside it and evening sun had dropped setting colours into my room. Hot, noisy Tamil traffic had blared outside, but in the hushed, cool interiors of my room, it had felt wonderful to be back in Trichy. I remember, smiling fondly at the looming Rockfort because the official 1st step into childhood had already begun and I was loving my Trichy trail.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

Cool Palghat had disappeared

Cool Palghat had disappeared

In a heady dream

In a heady dream

When the hills had slowly

When the hills had slowly

To the hot plains

Given way to the hot plains

Of Tamil Nadu

Of Tamil Nadu

I had been exhausted

I had been exhausted

Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

And had been on the

And had been on the

Verge of passing out

Verge of passing out

When home arrived

When home had arrived

Bringing with it

In full glory

Bringing with it

Bringing with it

Beautiful surge

Beautiful surge

Of memories

Of memories

I gave into

I gave into

To the beauty

To the beauty

And power of the culture

And power of the culture

And loved my trip back to childhood

And loved my trip back to childhood