Decided to join my parents on their annual pilgrimage to Samayapuram. Since we were anyway going towards Tiruchirapalli (Trichy), we included visits to Thanjavur and Kumbakonam in our plans – we wanted to see a few temples in that area, to soak in all of their history and architecture.
The Indian railways online booking facility is convenient and makes booking tickets rather hassle free. The railways site is probably the first site that got my parents to perform an online transaction on the web, rather confidently. Well, they could make the user experience a tad better – maybe something like the Cleartrip site, which is my favorite well-designed travel site.
Booked tickets: Onward to Trichy, 16th Dec, and return from Kumbakonam, 19th Dec. 3 full days of travel, and we were looking forward to this trip.
Day1: Around Trichy
Took the night train from Bangalore to Trichy – rather convenient train, reaches Trichy early morning, by 4:30am or so. An auto ride deposited us in Hotel Femina. The hotel has definitely seen better days, but the rooms and bathrooms are clean, decent restaurant and food, and its central location makes it an ideal place for travelers. We slept for a couple of hours, arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 9am, so that we could head to Samayapuram, which happens to be 20km from Trichy.
A light drizzle accompanied us all the way to Samayapuram – it had been raining there the past week, and there were reports of heavy rain in Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, and other places down south. We were hoping the rains would let up by the time we landed in Kumbakonam.
The darshanam, abhishekams, and related activities at the temple lasted for a couple of hours. We were very happy with the proceedings, and the way the day had turned out so far. Returned to the hotel for lunch, and a nap.
The plan was to visit Bhikashandar Kovil, and Thiruvanakaval in the evening. The former is a small village, associated with my father’s ancestors. We wanted to pay our respects at the small deity at the village.
We stopped at Thiruvanaikaval first, because we had some time on our hands.
This is a beautiful temple: the sharp and well-formed sculptures, the multi-hued and tastefully coloured idols on the tall gopurams, and the cool weather added to the experience. The sanctum sancatorium was closed, and was scheduled to open an hour following our visit. We didn’t wait for that, because we had to head to Bhikshandar Kovil. On the way out, all of us stopped to admire the magnificent temple elephant – it was in its prime, and reminded me of the single rock Mahabalipuram Shore temple’s elephant sculpture.
Arrived at Bhikshandar kovil. This was Indu and my first visit to this place, and I was filled with thoughts of my grandfather, and his ancestors, and trying to imagine their life in this place. I was emotionally overcome by the fact that I was in the same space as they had, if not at the same time.
It was dark by the time we decided to return to Trichy. We debated the option of moving onto Thanjavur and staying there for the night. Finally, we decided to head to Kumbakonam instead. Everyone we spoke to had a different view of how long it would take us to go there, by bus and compounded by the possibility of rain, and the fact that route to Kumbakonam is under renovation of sorts (four-laning in progress); the time ranged from 3 hours to 4 plus hours. After a quick dinner, we took the bus out of Trichy to Kumbakonam, around 9pm The bus conductor was confident of reaching Kumbakonam well before midnight. The cool night air, and discussions about the things we saw during the day kept us occupied and we didn’t seem to notice the 2.5 hours that went by. We were dropped off close to Hotel Rayas, where my parents had made room reservations for the Kumbakonam stay.
The hotel has rather compact rooms, but is very well maintained – clean hotel, clean rooms, beds, and bathrooms. The plan was to visit Thanjavur the next day. We retired to our rooms, and slept like logs.
Day 2: Around Thanjavur
Started off at half-past nine in the morning. The first stop was at the Garbarakshambikai temple. The goddess idol was beautifully decorated, and the lack of crowds, and the nice bridge crossing across the Kaveri, and the wonderful weather post-rains was a good start to the day.
From here, we headed to the “Big Temple” at Thanjavur. We were at the temple complex by 12:15pm. The sight of the temple, and walking through its earthen-brown coloured squat massive gopurams is always a overwhelming experience. Indu went berserk with the camera. We headed into the sanctum sanctorum. The sight of the massive 13foot lingam, associated statistics, the spirituality, and the myths surrounding it combine into a memorable experience.
Once we stepped out into the temple courtyard, we got a guide to take us through the details of the temple complex, and its history. This temple monument and its complex is an overwhelming experience, every time. The massive scale at which it is built, the beautiful symmetry of its structure, and the intricate sculptures on this structure require a lot more time than just 2 hours to take in and appreciate. More details of this temple here – wikipedia to the rescue.
Headed for lunch, to Gnanam. Decent lunch later, we decided to check out the Sarasvati Mahal. It turned out to be a major disappointment, not because of its lack of history, but the rather abject condition the palace is in, and the rather poorly displayed exhibits. Its not an interesting place for a tourist or an amateur history buff, rather it is supposed to be a valuable mueseum and reference library for academics, and history researchers.
On the drive back from to Kumbakonam, we decided to stop by at the Thygarajar samadhi site, in Thiruvaiyaru. For composer who has influenced a good part of Karnataka music, this site is devoid of any sign of the greatness of the man, or any historical details.
Back in Kumbakonam, a simple-delicious dinner at Hotel Archana, and we slept like logs.
Day 3: Around Kumbakonam
Indu and I woke up late the next day, and by the time we got ready, my parents had already returned from breakfast, and also brought back a breakfast-parcel from Archana’s. Great way to start the day!
The cab ride to Gangaikondacholapuram was a very pleasant and memorable one; the weather was fantastic, cool breeze and slightly overcast day, listening to some pleasant Ilayaraaja music (SPB‘s voice makes songs sound better than they are), and driving on practically empty well maintained roads, which passes through green countryside. Couldn’t ask for more.
The temple there is a replica of the one at Thanjavur, but slightly smaller and incomplete in certain places, but no less magnificent. At the entrance to the temple complex we were greeted by pairs of parakeets shrieking loudly.It was a beautiful sight, to see these bright green birds, perched against the dull gray of the granite temple structure. The temple complex is set in beautifully manicured gardens, and the temple exterior is maintained really well. The ASI has done a good job here. The interior of the temple apparently is not under the ASI (am sure its some sort of religious-bureaucracy nonsense at work here). The interior is dark and dingy, and maintained poorly. Again the size of the lingam, and the stories and myth surrounding it are overwhelming.
We spent an hour or so at this place, and then decided to head to the Darasuram temple. This temple is a smaller structure than the other two Chola temples that we had seen so far. But it is an exquisite site for rich sculptures, and attention to detail in temple construction. The sculptures and architecture of this beautifully intricate temple is awe-inspiring, and we just walked through the temple in a jaw-dropped-stupor. The guide we hired there provided a useful and informative walk-through of the temple complex. This temple reminded me of the richly sculptured temples at Beluru and Halebidu.
At the end of a couple of hours, we decided to get some lunch at the Sterling resort at Swamimalai. The lunch was not up to the mark. From there we headed back to the hotel to get some rest. The return train to Bangalore was a little after 6pm. We took a nap, picked up some yummy food for dinner, from Archana’s, en-route to the train station. We couldn’t stop talking about our wonderful experiences during this trip, on the train journey back, atleast, that is, till we decided to get some sleep.
A truly memorable trip, and one which made me appreciate the history of the places that we visited, and one which has gotten me hooked onto learning about Chola history and architecture.