Travelling through Tamil Nadu is easy when you’re with the locals. For road trips, they would organise a driver so we would pile in the back of the van to fall asleep/read our camera bag before being woken to eat some dosa’s, iddly’s and fresh juice or some Pongal, just to jump back in the car to read/sleep again. Before we knew it, we were 10kms away from Karaikudi changing a blown tyre before pulling into our hotel for the next couple of nights.
Lunch was in the downstairs room with the delicious local food being served to us on banana leaves. Folding the leave in half to indicate our full bellies, we were given the opportunity to try the red paan we had seen so much of in India. We placed it in our mouth and immediately realised why it’s spat out all the time.
The lads (and Sarah) piled back in the van to go shopping for the essentials needed at the ear piercing ceremony. Unfamiliar with the process of Indian shopping; Jamie, Senthil, Sarah and I split from the group and immediately headed to the pharmacist (via the cow buying chapatti’s) for some iodine to help cure the hole in my foot, before getting our thongs (flip flops) fixed on the street from the footwear repairer. It was here when we realised our mistake. If we were to shop properly, we were to attend the pharmacy to see if they sold iodine, then leave without buying it to repair only either the flip or the flop, to return back to the pharmacy to buy the iodine before heading on back to the footwear repairer to fix the alternate thong. Clearly not used to this, we were then taught by the best as we sat in the back of the van being driven from to shop to shop to shop before heading back to the first shop again. Thankfully Karaikudi is great little village so we were able to wander the streets in and out of the cooking pot shops. We purchased a few cheap metal pots with a Velachery Discount, before a relative hustled by the local shopkeeper who sold him a chapatti maker that didn’t work.
Not to be confused with Patti Putenham, we then headed to Siva’s dad’s village Padatthanpatti. Dressed in the traditional lungi’s, we wandered amongst the villagers blending in like locals. We would have pulled it off too, if it wasn’t for the two large bullocks that saw straight through our charade and gave us a wide both as we crossed paths on a dusty track. We really enjoyed our time in the village, being showed around by the local lads amongst the chickens, calves and angry bulls. We headed back to Karaikudi, grabbed some dinner, including a dosai on steroids, before heading to bed.
The following day called for the fine silk again so we dressed to the nines, headed back to Padatthanpatti to join the convoy and to have our not-so-well-ironed silk shirts ironed properly. The ear piercing is a grand affair. To use our traditional names Coconut (Jamie) Lentil Pongal (Senthil) and myself (Ghee Masala Onion Rava Dosa or Kathi Roll for short) were sat in the middle of a crowd, presented with lungi’s, flowers and blessed with colourful dots, while Iddly Fresh Juice (Siva) and Masala Dosa (Sarah) balanced important items on their heads. Tender Coconut (Sivas Dad) looked on approvingly.
As a goat led the procession of gold, silver, pumpkins and flowers up the road, the speakers were cranked and firecrackers were set off. We were all blessed by fire before entering the house where the real ceremony took place. Uncle Senthil had the roll of holding the girls while hundreds of people looked on as, much to the girl’s disgust, their ears were pierced. Hands were clapped and flowers were thrown as the girls cried, but it was over in a few minutes and the important ritual concluded with three hours of eating.
Eventually out of the silk outfits, we wandered out the back off the house to see the makeshift kitchen in full swing preparing lunch for the 400 guests and then out onto the beautiful green fields to watch as the locals climbed the coconut trees in search of the sweet nectar. We were quite content in the fields drinking fresh coconuts, attempting to climb the trees ourselves as the confused cows looked on.
After a walk around the village we were fed some more food before Sivas brother-in-law did not usher us up to another room so we were unable to have a glass of wine….
It was late in the day so that meant one thing, head back to Padatthanpatti for more food. We sat under the stars patting chickens and talking to a bull as a storm flickered lighting in the distance. The local kids taught us Tamil words for storm, rain and lightening while I, after it was enquired as to the sore foot, told a brief story about how I had to kick an attacking cobra away. The word spread and before we knew it, boys were coming from around the village to see the man who kicked the cobra. Let’s just say, we left without correcting them. Hopefully there will be a temple built in his memory one day.
We stopped at giant dosa restaurant for breakfast before heading on to Thanjavur to visit the palace and Brihadishwara Temple. The palace was interesting to visit but was heading towards a state of disrepair. A shame, as the main area where the emperors would sit had amazing colours but overlooked an overgrown lawn complete with a pile of broken granite tiles. The highlight in Thanjavur is definitely the Temple. It is an incredible building with one gigantic cow surrounded by a huge walls decorated with more cows. There was a lot more to the temple than that and we soaked it in, as the clouds grew more menacing. I believe it was “Coconut” who dismissed the clouds as storm clouds – just prior to the lightning strike, thunder and rain.
On the homeward stretch, we stopped off at Pichavaran Mangroves for a quick boat ride past the fisherman crawling through the waters collecting prawns. It didn’t last long as it was incredibly hot so we grabbed some snacks, went to the.. umm… loveliest toilet thus far… and headed to the French influenced Pondicherry for the rare meal of Steak and Frites. We pulled up at the traditional Indian restaurant Le Club on Rue Demas and waited patiently for our meat. And it was amazing. It was probably the most basic steak we had had, slightly overlooked but being cow-meat-free for so long, it tasted like a revelation.
We stopped once more on the ECR to collect some fish and prawns from the market and headed home to cook another BBQ of spiced prawns and grilled fish on the roof top that was given the two thumbs up by “Tender Coconut”, claiming it to be as soft and delicate as a Victorian sponge. I guess we will take that as good.
The rest of our days in Chennai were spent trying to reorganise our travelling lives with slight intermissions of visiting temples, eating food and most importantly buying some copper cooking pots. Buying pots in India is easy as we were trained in Indian Shopping. We went to a shop once, went to another part of town, returned back to the first shop before being sent to another shop. Then we returned to the original shop again to buy the first pot we had seen. Sorted.
We had just enough time to visit the cutest little restaurant around the corner that had been calling our name since a delicious chai tea waiting for my haircut. We had a delicious breakfast of, well what do you know, iddly’s/vadai alongside, some green and red glooppy stuff. But it was delicious! A great meal to finish of our time in Tamil Nadu. We had just enough time to book our first nights accommodation in Sri Lanka before saying a sad goodbye, again, to our family.