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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Madurai to Kumuli

INDIA | Thursday, 19 August 2010 | Views [1915]

Tuesday 10th August - Moving on south to Madurai today. Made use of the leisure facilities and swimming pool before we packed up. Made the mistake of jumping on the scales in the fitness room....too any curries and Gulab Jamun...oops! Time to reconsider our diet?
Have the option of a train leaving at about 1:30pm or the regular bus. Both take 3 hours, but the buses leave every 30 minutes or less. We got the 11:30am bus, and doesn't need booking a ticket or waiting around. Within 5 minutes of getting on the bus it departed. Rs40 each...good value eh! Tamil-Nadu has been busy building some great new roads, some of which will become toll roads when they have finished installing the booths. For now, the road to Madurai was smooth, and almost absent of the normal honking from the buses. Meant a relatively peaceful passage through the state.
Arriving in Madurai at around 2:30pm a little way from where the accommodation is, we had to get either a local bus or rickshaw. After a little negotiatin we took an auto for 80 Rupees. Looked around a few places and ended up at the West Tower hotel on Town Hall road, literally a hundred metres from the Meenakshi Amman temple, for 990 Rs per night. Some places include breakfast, and charge tax and the rooms are dire. Some squat, some western toilet. With or without aircon, Personal choice.
No hanging around...straight out to the temple. No shoes or socks, they have to be deposited. Constant approach by guys pretending to be guides, or offering a view from the roof of one of the buildings, for which they hope to get you to buy something on the way in or out. Almost every shop has built platforms on their roofs to raise their view. Doesn't cost anything and easy to throw off any attempts to lure you in if you don't want it.
In the evening we went to the Madurai residency hotel Megam rooftop restaurant for the most awesome dinner, and a welome Kingfisher beer. This hotel also offers the highest viewpoint of the Meenakshi temple. At night you really only see a rising column of lights from the Gopurams, so ot that exiting. 
Wednesday 11th August - There are a few other sights to see in Madurai other than the Meenakshi temple. With a few hours spare before checking out, we walked to the Palace, but didn't go in when we got there. A cycle ricksaw on the return to the hotel. On the way to the palace we saw an interesting ritual. Baby girls were having their heads clean shaven. All brightly dressed in pretty miniature costume, and bawling their heads off as a guy shaved them with a cut-throat razor. Scary for the poor little things. I guess that it is part of some initiation ceremony. Their first hair cut and begining a new phase. Clean shaven they were then taken into the temple.
The roads in some parts of town and the drains, are under renovation, making it a mess to get around. Last night we had some heavy rain. First since we arrived in India, and that just adds to the mud and dirt under foot. 
Another day, another destination. Periyar National Park, and its access town of Kumili, on the border with Tamil-Nadu and Kerala states. The hotels said one thing, the guidebook another. The hotel were wrong surprisingly. We walked to the central bus station and got a city bus to the arappalayam bus terminal, a few kilometers away, where we only had to wait a few minutes before our bus to Kumili departed. Rs55 including a fee for luggage. Should take around 4 hours. A steaming day and another cramped local bus. Occasionally you see a shiny new looking bus pass by. They are the tour buses, and only available for those taking the comfortable aircon approach to travel in India. Sometimes it would be nice. I bet they dont use the horn much. Our driver was almost leaning on the horn for the whole time out of the city. We had to use earplugs to cut down the headache. Once out into the countryside, the roads were ok, and good tarmac in parts. Vast areas were devoted to rice paddies, and other areas of agriculture. One sign was for the Cardamon growers association, so we must be in spice territory.
Interesting when we arrived at the very dusty Cumbum, about 22km from Kumili (also spelled Kumuli and Kumali). They changed conductor and filled up with gasoline, and then charged us another Rs12 each for the final section to Kumili. I thought we had paid for the whole journey, but looks as though it is the way they do it. Everyone else on the bus paid too.
from Cumbum the road climbs up the steep slope of the Western Ghats until we reached Kumuli. This is the border between Tamil-Nadu and Kerala, so there is a barrier across the road with a police check-point. Our bus stopped on the Tamil-Nadu side and we walked across. Almost as soon as we walked into Kumuli a rickshaw arrived and a guy appeared out of the tourism office and launched into a routine about offering tour services. Flashing a brochure and his ID under our noses. Got them to take us to the Coffee Inn where we got a room easily. Turned out the guy had a multi-purpose shop across the road, offering travel services, spices and various merchandise. On the way we stopped so i could buy two tickets for the KathaKali show run by Mudra for tonight. More on that later...
The Coffee Inn is excellent. A quiet hangout with lovely quiet rooms. Ours came with wood decor and solid furniture for Rs590. Others are all individually designed. No need for aircon as the temperature was cooler than in the lowlands. We were hungry so went straight for a meal in the Coffee Inn's restaurant. The first time in India that we have been able to find eggs on the menu and cereals and muesli...proves that this place sees plenty of tourists. A welcome sign as some things are missed.
After dinner we booked some activities for tomorrow including a boat trip and an elephant ride. After a bit of a freshen up we ambled our way to the Mudra centre for the show. The Thekaddi road is lovely. Monkeys playing in the trees. Arts and crafts aplenty. Restaurants, and hotels. Laid back with the jungle feel about it. Buying spices here is about as cheap as it gets, as this part of the state has many large spice plantations.
The KathaKali (which means Show-Play) show begins at 7pm, but one of the highlights is to watch them applying their make-up beforehand, and getting dressed, which they do on stage. This style is only seen in Kerala and dates from the 17th century, and involves a combination of facial expressions, eye movements, and accompanying music with narration in Sanskrit using traditional instruments. Mudra is the style using hand gestures as the means of conveying the story. It has to be seen to be appreciated, but basically it is an all male cast and told the tale of lust between a man and woman. The two ain characters stayed on stage after the show for photos and were drenched with sweat. It looked to be tiring work for them. Especially night after night.
Following the show we had the most awesome meal at the Spice Chimney multi-cuisine restaurant on Thekkady road. Now we are into a new state, the food changes with it. Kerala has a distinct food and fish is superb, albeit that some meals are totally unpronouncable. The khozni Verathagathu was a tasty fish curry. We noticed that the Kingfisher beer appeared on the bill as 'Fruit Punch'. Maybe some licencing thing?
Thursday 12th August - We had the best night's sleep since arriving in India. Sooo quiet and peaceful. Awoke refreshed and ready for the day's events. Breakfast in the Coffee Inn's restaurant. A little expensive i have to say, for what is served, but nice. 
The rain started and got heavier. We had booked an elephant ride and bathing session, but made a change with them to have an extended ride instead. 
We were collected by rickshaw and taken to the Elephant camp on Anavachal road (www.elephantcamp.in and run by Jins George). They were superb and provided rain ponchos and umbrellas. We had a 30yr old female elephant called Lakshmi, which means money in India. The mahout took our camera and did some excellent photos for us. His experience of over 10yrs showed, and he spoke really good English. The Elephant camp is beautifully located on the edge of the Periyar Tiger reserve, and set amidst spice plantation. Cardamon, Vanilla, pepper, Ginger etc are everywhere. Almost like a weed. As a result, spices are extremely cheap to buy here. And many shops exist dedicated purely to selling spices, and mixed spices for certain local speciality dishes. Prices range from Rs40 per 100gm upwards depending on quality, spice type and quantity bought. It seems strange that some shops segregate what they class as 'Organically grown' spices. It surprizes me as i would think that most here are organic.  
An action packed day today, and with little time to spare we organised a rickshaw down to the Periyar park boat landing, about 4km down the road. It was throwing it down, but that wasn't going to matter. Entrance to the park is Rs300 each. 
on the way down the driver told us that timings had changed. Some time ago there was an accident and a boat sank, drowing 25 people, all tourists. There are two operators, the forest commision, and the KTDC. Both charge the same: Rs40 for lower deck, and Rs175 upper deck. We got lower deck and it didn't matter at all as the view is the near enough the same. The duration of the trip has changed too. Apparently, the first and last sailings of the day are 2hrs duration, and those in between only 1hr. The price is the same, and have no idea why the duration is different. The people in the shops tell a different story to the rickshaw drivers, so not sure.
We saw plenty of Sambar deer, Bison, Cormorants, Snake birds, Kingfishers.
Hungry after only a small breakfast, we had something western to eat for a change before getting ready to go out for the evening.
At 6pm we went to the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre to see the Kalaripayattu performance...the oldest of martial arts with a history as far back as 3000yrs, and referred to as the 'Mother of all martial arts'. Rs200 and lasted about an hour. There is uch religious preparation to the demonstrations. It takes place in a pit with standard dimensions at all venues, and the audience raised above for viewing. The floor is bare ground or concrete and dust/sand. Various stages such as with knives, poles, fire, and bare knuckles and wrestling. It is strenuous for the contestants and dirty and dusty too. By the end of it they are all filthy. Lots of shouting and energetic moves.
After the show we were off to buy some spices. It is essential to shop around here. It became evident that many vendors don't tell the full truth, and haggling is a must. Most offered 10% off the arked price, and some ore if you buy large enough quantity. Thekkady road seemed to come out dearer than the main road through town. We also gathered that there is a double tier tourist / local price. For example, we were interested in some lanterns, which one shop jokingly quoted Rs750 for. We expected the real price to be more like Rs250. The actual price for locals is more like Rs100 or so! Smaller ones cost Rs35 to locals...Rs200 to us! India is full of this type of rip-off stories. Just beware, and ask a local the real price first.
Another great meal at the 'Lord's restaurant' on the main road. We really have to cut down what we are eating. It is awesome, but far too much and we are feeling bloated after dinner. Very rich food and too much...but deeellliiiccioussss....


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