India Part 5: Madurai to Goa (aka Cheeky Monkeys and Dingy Bars)

Continuing our trip around South India, we left the green hills of Periyer National Park for Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Whilst we had been booked on a 6 hour local bus, our previous experiences on these and the threat of riding in heavy monsoon rains with no windows meant we felt this was a decent time to upgrade to air con. This was also going to be a hectic few days ahead with three overnight trains over five nights, visiting Madurai, Mysore, Hampi, and stopping for a couple of days in Goa.

We had seen quite a number of temples during our time so far in India, so seeing another probably wasn’t going to be top of our “to do” list for our remaining weeks. However, Madurai’s key attraction is the Meenakshi Amman Hindu Temple and it is stunning. A huge complex built amongst fourteen intricately carved and colourfully painted towers. After wandering around the temple, we were invited onto the rooftop of a nearby shop to watch the sunset and incoming thunder storm descend over the towers of the temple which provided some great photo opportunities.

As it did descend, the storm provided some of the heaviest monsoon rain we had seen since arriving in India, so our natural instinct was to head to the nearest bar. This happened to be a dark and very dingy place, where (we were told) men visit for secret all night drinking sessions and the lack of mobile signal means their family can’t disturb them. The only beer on offer was 8.5% loopy juice, served by kids who looked like they should be at primary school. It isn’t exactly somewhere you’d find recommended in a guidebook so we moved on pretty quickly.

After a night in Mysore, we headed to Hampi. Hampi is the most amazing place in India you’ve probably not heard of – we hadn’t before we planned for this trip. A massive rocky landscape littered with huge boulders with carved temples balancing precariously but built centuries ago. The main sites are set over a large area so we hired a tuk tuk for the day to take us around.

The Monkey Temple was one of the biggest highlights of our time in Hampi. After climbing 700 steep steps to reach the top of the hill, while monkeys jump around you and giant millipedes crawl around your feet, you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of surrounding landscape and a plateau of rocks where you can sit and watch the monkeys. They seem to steal anything you don’t keep an eye on – one stole my water bottle as I took a picture and managed to open it and take a swig.

While sitting here in Goa and looking at the past six weeks we’ve had in India, it is incredible how different each place has been from the landscapes to the food to the people. It has been quite a journey and we’ve had a great time – and still looking forward to a couple of final nights in Mumbai before flying to Vietnam to continue this year off.

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