Our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary. This morning we managed to leave for Rameswaram fairly early despite the total failure of our well planned efforts to have a problem free breakfast. We had ordered the simplest possible meal through room service the previous night, hoping that this would save us a precious hour. We really should have known better as the fact that we had ordered breakfast had been totally overlooked.
We had our laundry taken care of with little or no hassle. It was sorted into three piles; quick dry, medium dry and long time dry. A few minutes before we left three men appeared at the door and, "Could we be walking through the room for a moment, please?” They were electricians, there to gain easy access to the Christmas lights decorating the outside of the hotel. One man climbed out the window on to the narrow ledge and began disconnecting lights and plugs which he then passed back through the window to his companions. We couldn't believe our eyes and hardly dared watch proceedings. We were on the seventh floor, there was no railing and the intrepid "electrician" was working, no hands, on a very narrow ledge. We left them to their labours and after one more confrontation with the front desk, packed ourselves and our belongings into the car for the drive down to Rameswaram.
On the way out of the city, we noticed a very ingenious use of vegetation in the fences bordering the fields. Dried plants and banana leaves were woven together into sections measuring about 12 feet by three feet. Some were made using dried fan shaped leaves which I think came from the pineapple plants.
These sections were then connected in a row or in some places made into a square shape to form a makeshift enclosure. It was a very clever use of otherwise waste materials. We ordered lunch and left a deposit at a small tea rooms situated off the main road, before carrying on across a three kilometre long 'shaking' bridge. This was not one of our driver's favourite places but he stopped halfway across to allow us to take photos. We soon understood why Thulasi was so nervous as we could feel the whole structure shake as the traffic trundled by. Fishing boats anchored off a curving, palm fringed beach gently nodded as they faced into the current. In the distance we could see the faint outline of Sri Lanka. From here the boats sailed out into Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar. The local postman was clearing the letter box hanging on the wall of the border control building. Thulasi asked him to please wait as we had some cards to post. As we continued bumping along the road, Anne and I spent a few hilarious moments entertaining ourselves making up Clive James type headlines. Thulasi had to concentrate a little harder on his driving as he too, dissolved into fits of the giggles. "Foreign tourists sustain head injuries when car seat slides forward at sudden stop. Two women tourists fossicking in many zippered bags were not aware of the impending halt."
The temple of Sri Ramanathaswamy at Rameswaram is huge and one of the very holy places in India. Varanasi in the north and Rameswaram in the south are the two great religious centres of India, and we were told that Hindu pilgrims have a sacred mission to visit Rameswaram after they visit Varanasi. A prince of Ceylon is said to have been the main instigator for the building of this temple which dates back to the seventeenth century. Outside the temple gates, the shoe safety boys had the usual problem with no change! Many stalls laden with trinkets, postcards, beads and bangles, lined the entrance halls to the main temple. I found a tiny purse for my spare coins which are of little value to us, but are good to give to beggars who don't pester too much. Wherever you go in India there are beggars. Some beggars are very persistent and follow along whining and trying to grab your arm. We have found it is best to ignore them entirely and to avoid making any eye contact at all. We explored the temple complex and passed by the temple elephant dressed in his finery. Most people who come here are pilgrims who stay for days, visiting the shrines and making pujas to the various deities. After having bathed in the temple tank they circle the whole temple complex on foot, with everyone going in the same direction. A group of men in black dhotis were jogging around. The entire corridor surrounding the central courtyard, is a total length of 1220 metres and is lined with hundreds of elaborately carved columns. The temple was crammed with so many people that in some places we found it easier to climb up and around the crowds than to try and find a way through them. Everyone was dressed in beautiful bright colours and wherever we walked we saw only happy, laughing people having a meal with their families, watching a holy man at prayer, or merely sitting watching other pilgrims pass by. They were all very friendly and greeted us with their lovely smiles. The temple was adorned with hundreds and hundreds of garlands of flowers and the smell of incense burning, filled the air wherever we walked.
Later we went to look through a little temple out in the countryside, perched on a hill with monkeys jumping all around and a view across the misty sea to Sri Lanka. Inside there was a stone on which we were told was the impression of "Rama's feets". “No photos, to take, please!" The temple priest informed us that Rama had stepped off India and across to Sri Lanka from this very spot.
We stopped for a moment at a beach at Dhanushkodi, where the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet. Pilgrims complete their visit here, bathing in the sea, a rich spiritual experience for pious Hindus, we were informed. I’m afraid that we found the visit far from enlightening or uplifting and spent only thirty seconds out of the car. Local fishermen use the same place to clean and gut their fish. Rubbish and fish scraps are left lying in the heat. It was such an absolutely dreadful smell that Thulasi would not let us open the car windows. We wondered if there was any law banning the fishermen from such a sacred place. Most of the trees growing along the side of the road, are numbered and have black and white bands painted on them. The government lease them out to people who make money from the fruit that the trees bear. We travelled back across the shaking bridge and enjoyed our ordered lunch even though we still had to wait ages for it to be served. The sky had grown very dark and rain began to fall quite heavily. I can't imagine what it must be like in the monsoon season. We picked some frangipani flowers freshly washed in the downpour, from a tree in the driveway. Their fragrance filled the car on the drive back.
The return journey to Madurai was a lot quieter than on the way down as 'Clive James' had dried up somewhat and we were all feeling quite tired. We had a quick snack and a rest before walking round to the Mahal Restaurant which we had been told, was worth a visit. Len made a quick trip back to the hotel to mix gin and lime and bring it back in Ann's flask as there is “No Licence" here. What a brew! It certainly helped to celebrate our anniversary. The food was another marvel of Indian cuisine and we were given plenty of it. The old fellow at the door had a marvellous uniform, highly polished boots and a very gallant salute to wish us "Goodnight." Back at the hotel we tried again to come to grips with the intricacies of room service and, bearing in mind the morning's dismal failure, made what we considered to be foolproof plans to get breakfast on time and an early start to the day’s journey.