Monday, September 1, 2014

Around Chennai: Weekend trip to Kanchipuram

Chennai isn't really known for its weekend getaways. In fact, we rarely hear about anything other than Pondicherry (Puducherry). Well... in an effort to break the mold, we took advantage of our long weekend to leisurely see the nearby town of Kanchipuram. 

Kanchipuram is about 100 minutes away by car (at light traffic times). It's a pretty big deal among Indian tourists, because there are a lot of Hindu temples there. It's sometimes nicknamed "City of a Thousand Temples." While this may be technically true... Chennai probably also technically has 1000 temples. There are mini-temple shrines all over the place. Anyway, the temples are only open from 6-12 and 4-8, so we decided a day trip was not ideal.  

View from our hotel, the GRT Regency.
We strategically planned our drive during my son's nap. Consequentially, we arrived at a perfect time to hit the "afternoon opening times" for the temples. We started with the Varadharaja Perumal Temple.

The entrance Gopuram
Since the inner sanctum of the temple is restricted to Hindus, this temple provided a 'tourist area' where you could see the "marriage hall." The temple had a hundred pillars, each ornately carved from one stone, many with quite erotic depictions (not shown).

At the recommendation of a random fellow temple goer, we took a walk around the temple tank to see the horses.

They did not appear to be doing well.
There was a nice photo op though.
Look at that "moush" (mustache)!

We decided to walk home to take in some of the street life (rather than taking an auto). 

Brick carrying, just the way we saw it in Amazing Race!
It's great seeing construction here, because concrete and such don't come bags, rather in piles.
The guy in the yellow shirt was hauling some from the pile to the mixer.
We couldn't tell if this place sold wood, or turned it into charcoal first.
Either way, it sure looks cool!
The festival to Ganesh was in full swing, here is one of the many statues we've seen.
Car wash water
As we neared our hotel, we stumbled upon something that made the entire walk worth it. MONKEYS! This was our first monkey sighting in India, and it was just as glorious as we'd anticipated.

If you look closely, you can see the baby clinging on.
I don't know what they were advertising, but I hope it's top hats.
City of a Thousand Temples. Some are bigger than others.
Home sweet home.
The next morning, we started by hitting up the local Saravana Bhavan for breakfast (an excellent South Indian chain). After breakfast, we headed to Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple, reported to have beautiful gardens. This was the furthest temple from town. We hired an auto driver to take us round trip, but ended up hiring him by the hour for the rest of the day.

The temple dates back to the 7th century. It was originally colored using vegetable based paints. Most of the paint has worn away by now, but the small remaining sections show that it was quite intricately painted. The bright white sections are where they recently re-plastered to protect the soft sandstone of the main structure.

I should clarify... when you're told a place in India has lush gardens, what they mean is... grass... Pretty nice grass, but... just grass.

As the temples closed for their daily siesta, we checked out a couple of the local museums. The first one, Kanchi Kudil, displayed a typical farmer's housing from a hundred years ago. 
Water-catching atrium

We continued on to the Sakunthala Jagannatham Museum of Folk Art, which was a little more extensive, though still nowhere near what we'd call a museum in the US. 

I apparently didn't take many pictures, but they had a nice collection of silks, musical instruments, paintings, sculptures, and antique tools.

It also had a good view of  a nearby Gopuram.

Both museums were also people's houses, so it was a little weird walking around. The museum sections were mostly marked off, but it was still awkward.

A note about museums here: they don't have much info in their exhibits. We expected to need hours to explore each museum, but in reality, we spent half an hour or less at each.

After our temple closing and insanely hot weather prompted siesta, we headed back out, starting with Vaikunda Perumal Temple.

Being a temple to Vishnu... pretty much every carving was of Vishnu in some situation.

Every temple you visit in Kanchipuram has "tour guides" that start showing you around pretty much immediately after you show up. This is whether you want them to... or ask them not to... or don't have money... Rs 200 is the going rate for tip (at least for Americans). It is nice to have someone to take family photos...

Elephant battle

Empty temple tank

Mohanraj was pretty much on autopilot at this point, taking us to the "must see" temples. Next up: Kamakshi Amman Temple. This temple had an elephant that would bless you for a coin. 

Gopuram - the tall pyramid on top of the entrance to Hindu temples.

I don't know why, but I love panoramics.

Last but not least, we headed to Ekambareswara Temple. This is the largest temple in Kanchipuram and also the most commercial. Having made a tactical error in forgetting to restock my wallet with money back at the hotel, we had some problems dodging tour guides and "blessing givers." (We failed, but joke was on them, I wasn't lying when I showed them my empty wallet.)


Possibly the "main event" for the temple, this is a 3500 year old mango tree. We later learned that it had actually died 9 years prior, making this a 9 year old mango tree. Since 9 is way less impressive than 3500, they still go with the latter. They do have piece of the old truck on display (of course I'm skeptical of the claim, mostly because of the internet).


We picked up a 'parcel' (read: to go) dinner on the way back to the hotel, only to find our room was being serviced. So we took a walk up to the roof garden, where we saw yet more monkeys (and hurriedly departed when one got a little too close for comfort)! 

Dinner before...

and after.

By Sunday evening, we had visited pretty much all the temples we'd planned to see. So the next morning we decided to revisit the luscious "gardens" at Kailasantha for some play time for my son, before driving home at nap time.

Nearby houses, I love the tin OVER the thatch.

We ended the trip with another 100ish minutes drive home. If I had the trip to do again (and especially without a 2 year old in tow), I'd suggest doing it with only 1 overnight. I think arriving one morning, siesta-ing during the closing time, sight seeing again in the evening, and following morning would more than cover all of the major sights - unless you wanted to take advantage of Kanchipuram's other big draw: SILKS! 

1 comment:

  1. Kanchipuram is the city of Gods and many historic temples resides in this town. It's also famous for the quality of silk produced here and hotels in Kanchipuram are known for their warm hospitality.