Trichy is easy. Snappy in fact. But it’s been renamed as so many Indian towns and cities have been. The trouble is it’s now Tiruchirappalli, which neither trips off the tongue nor can be written without frequent Internet visits to ensure you’ve got it right. So Trichy it is, though that was short for Trichinopoly which was just as absurd, hence the abbreviation. Tiruchi at a push maybe. It’s a medium sized town, notable for a couple of things, firstly the Rock Fort, used periodically as a defensive redoubt, but now possesses a temple at the summit. It dominates the northern half of the town, climbing 273 feet above the ground. For the visitor, the temple at the top is nothing special, but the views on offer are worth the climb.
More impressive is Srirangam Island, home to the Ranganathaswamy temple, one of the largest in the worlds with a two and a half mile perimeter and encompassing 156 acres.
It’s more like a small town than a temple, with its own streets and even shops within the grounds. The 21 towers within are striking, both for their size and the ornate decorations from ground to tip on each of them. It’s possible to head out on to the roof to gain a better perspective on the scale of the place, but it’s still hard to truly grasp it’s all one entity.
Madurai is the next town on the route and it too possesses a notable temple in the form of the Meenakshi Amman one. It is also large and although most of the construction has been over the last four hundred years, it is claimed to have been there since the sixth century BC in some form.
It’s not the only site worth visiting though, Tirumalai Nayak Palace appears unassuming from the outside but the interior is genuinely spectacular. The style is a fusion of Dravidian and Rajput with supposedly Italian architectural input. Only a third of the palace remains, demolished by the grandson of King Thirumalai Nayek for his own palace in Trichy. Lord Napier, governor of Madras ordered the preservation and restoration of what remained, and the Entrance Gate, Main Hall and Dance Hall give a pretty good feeling for how it would have been at the time it was built.
Yet the Madurai experience isn’t based on seeing the landmarks, but the cultural and social life of the city. It is an ancient place and the markets and street life has developed into niches and sectors, while experiencing the street food is a must do, particularly that specific to South India and the Tamils in particular. It’s a lively place, best appreciated walking around, despite the usual chaotic traffic common to many Indian cities. And do try the dosas, because they come in many flavours and they’re all delicious.