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Madurai

Madurai is one of the oldest living cities of the world. The center and the reason for the city is the complex of the Sri Meenakshi Temple. The immense and colourful Entrance doors (Gopurams) are visible even before you reach the city. To get to the temple is an experience in itself. Since the city was build in a rectangular pattern around the temple long time ago, the streets are narrow and full of people, cars and other means of transport. Its a real challenge for the driver to negotiate his car trough these alleys and lanes. Once you are there, the complex just seems to spread without end in each direction. Once you have passed the main gate you realise that there is another wall within, protecting shrines and ponds. You enter into a city, vibrant with pilgrims, here to ask for favours, fix marriages, hold ceremonies and simply come to devote some time to their inner healing. There are halls with shrines, dedicated to the planets. There are temples for Ganesha, the bringer of luck and two main shrines, one for the goddess Meenakshi and one to Shiva her consort. Their duality represents the static principle (Shiva) and the emotional or dynamic manifestation (Parvati). This duality or inseparability is repeated in Hinduism again and again, signifying each time the manifestation of a different aspect of life and the universe. There is always just not enough time inside Meenakshi, there is so much to see, learn and simply witness. Besides the wonderful temple, make sure to pass by at the Tirumal Nayak Palace, a Palace full of influence of different European cultural periods.

Thanjavur

People call it the “big temple” and the talk is of the probably grandest structure in South India, the Brihadeshwara Temple at Thanjavur. The top of the temple is adorned by a 70 ton rock and till date the speculation is on, on how this giant rock was brought up there more than 1000 years ago. The tenple is not s colorful as many other and that makes him sort of a change. Is the size that impresses and its simplicity. The temple feels like an oasis, just a wonderful place to see.

If you are in Thanjavur you have to make sure to visit one of the famous Veena makers. The Sarasvati, or Rudra Veena is a South Indian classical instrument that hasn’t changed much since the times of the vedas, almost 3000 years ago. Its a string instrument made from the wood of the jack fruit tree and it takes a craftsman several weeks to create one instrument. To visit these craftsmen is like visiting a museum, where literally thousands of years greet you in a still active environment.

Darasuram

Darasuram is not a living temple these days. Yet it is a wonderful place to see the astonishing temple architecture in a smaller form. Its nice to roam the premises in a place, where the intricacies of the workmanship are not in neck craning heights. The temple really boasts a wonderful insight into the temple art of South India including many fine and wonderful sculptures adorning walls and pillars.

The backwaters

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The Backwaters
Lounging on a deck chair, moving gently, immersed in a rippling , scented silence. Can there be better ways to explore a new world than this? Once, these houseboats were barges, transporting rice along the large and intricate network of lakes and canals that cover the central part of the state of Kerala.

Around the expanse of Lake Vembanad, the backwaters of Kerala are a unique and fragile-ecosystem unlike any other in the world. Enveloping the port towns of Alleppey and Quilon on one end, they stretch like a patchwork quilt clear across the state, up to Calicut in the North. Some are no wider than an arm span, navigable only by canoe. Others are dual carriageways, deep and rippling, sometimes broadening out into vast misty lakes, sometimes curling into twisting worm turns, hemmed by paddy fields and fed by a thousand fat streams from the high ranges of the Spice Mountains to the East.

Experience Tip
To really enjoy the backwaters we suggest at least a 2 night stay on the house boat. Not only can you really get the feel of the cruise, but you will also be able to visit temples, churches and villages on the way, or take a leisurely stroll into the lush and green paddy fields. The boatmen will stop on the way to show you the various trades of the area, like Coconut Farms, Coir spinning and other typical small enterprises.

As an added benefit you will also leave the one night trails of most of the boats, which makes the experience calmer and richer.

For an undiluted and unforgettable experience, please have a look at: http://www.cghearth.com/spice-coast-cruises

CGH Earth – Marari Beach

This is one of the activities, while in Kerala, one simply is not allowed to miss. Since ages the fisher men go out to the sea, in teams of 8 – 20 people in a traditional vessel, where no winches, or other modern equipments are used. Every morning after the sunrise dozens of boats from a long coastal stretch head for the same spot, called the fish landing.At the shore they are awaited by family, friends, workers and fish merchants. There is so much activity once the boats hit the shore. Fish is carried from the boats in baskets and right auctioned on the beach. Finally the fisher men relish their long desired cup of tea, start repairing their nets and discuss the adventures of last night.

In the backwaters

Everything in Kerala’s backwaters is in some way linked to the water. Rivers substitute roads, school buses are school boats and even super markets float from village to village. That water is life becomes increasingly apparent while gliding down one of the many waterways. Every aspect of live here is connected to the canals. In many places the ever green paddy fields lining the canals are much lower than the canals water level and have to be pumped out almost trough out the year, turning life into an endless struggle with the elements. There are even barrages to control the water flow to stop the salt water of the sea from entering the fields.  Traveling the backwaters comfortably on a boat, it seems that life is spread out like a story book.

There are the fisher men trying for their catch of the day, precariously balancing themselves on a dugout canoe. Coming closer to settlements homemaker’s are doing their laundry in the canal, occasionally raising their heads and smiling at the boats passing by. Further down a simple ferry criss crosses the larger canals, carrying shopping baskets, cycles and people on their way from one shore to the other. In the middle of a large canal, rice boats are moored to some poles. Beside one can see heads bopping in and out of the water.

Men in teams are diving for the precious clay and sand from the muddy ground that then is used for fixing leaking canals and all sorts of construction work. Close to a small village, boys and girls frolic in the water, playing games and diving for small items thrown in. A few older girls with their study books are sitting by the shore, feet dangling in the water, shy smiles lightening up their eyes as a boat floats by. Looking at this as a traveller from the outside, life here seems to be without aggression, almost a form of meditation. History tells me that here since Millennia people have diverted their minds to balanced living. Ayurveda, spices and simple greaseless food seems to have become their secret of life.

Ladies in the tea garden, South India

Ladies in the tea garden, South India