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Elaine and Peter’s Travel Diary

Monday, 13 Mar 2017

Location: Thanjavur, India

MapWe have had a very long day but a fascinating one. We set off south early this morning and spent an interesting couple of hours mesmerised by the daily life of the locals.

There are very few rules of the road or at least few that are adhered to so it was better to focus on what was outside the window rather than what was coming towards us.

The south seems to be much poorer than the north with industries staying within families. We stopped at a rope makers and were shown how simply yet ingeniously strong rope was entwined from the fibre inside the coconut shell. The rope is a lifeline to many people being used for making ladies, scaffolding, harnesses and even to act like a fuse to light a rope which will burn for six hours making two cigarettes go a very long way. Finer thread is used in the marriage ceremony where a thread is wound round a bride's neck and tied with three knots, fastened by different members of the bridal party.

Marriages are still mostly arranged but with the young going away to be educated, more are choosing their own partner. Traditionally. It is the parents who decide who is best. Men marry at 25 or 26 whilst women marry at 20 or 21. The parents ask amongst their friends if there is anyone eligible. Once a match is found, the horoscopes are checked before permission is asked of the priest. Then the two people themselves are asked. In some rural,areas there are still some very young girls being married off.

Much of the area we passed through was full of paddy fields but we did find other crops such as sugar beet and peanuts.
The farming of peanuts was ingenious. Officially the law says that the roads are for transportation but in country areas the farmers can be a law unto themselves. And indeed they are. Along the equivalent of the M 1, there were stretches of road covered with peanuts. Vehicles drive over them thus separating the shell from the nut and the next morning, the farmer collects the separated parts of the nut for various uses. If the police come, he is given a bag of peanuts and he goes quietly away.

Vegetables are also grown, organically, but there isn't little water in the rivers. We did see some crocodiles sunning themselves very close to where families were fishing or bathing.

We did a slight detour before lunch to go to KumbakonM where we found one of the most sacred sites in Tamil Nadu. The temple Airavatehvar built in the twelfth century, is devoted to Shiva who with his wife gets rid of the bad for the good. There is a legend which says that after the white elephant, the god of heaven regaimed his lost colour, he worshipped Shiva at this spot. The temple was very impressive even and richly covered in detailed carvings. Here we took part in a Hindu ceremony wher we were each named and we then named members of the family or friends who we would like to receive prayers. We found this quite emotional.

Soon after lunch, we arrived at Thanjavur, a very squalid and poor town. Yet in the middle of it is a fabulous Unesco World Heritage Site, the Brihadishvara temple which is a thousand years old. It is magnificent monumental granite temple built round a rectangular courtyard. It is dedicated to Shiva and built by King Rajaraja Chola to symbolise his unrivalled power. It certainly is impressive and covered with fine carvings and inscriptions. Many festivals are regularly held here. One of the most spectacular is early in the year. The bull guards Shiva, so each year is the festival of the bull. Over a hundred bulls come and standing in marked and numbered squares facing the main temple. The bulls are decorated and fires and huge celebrations take place for this revered animal.

It was actually quite a relief to get to,our hotel and away from the bustle of the town's. We are staying for one night at a lovely garden hotel down by the River called the Ideal River View Hotel. It is a haven of calm and peace. We have just eaten dinner on the terrace overlooking the dried up river listening to traditional music played on the beautifully hand crafted Veena which resembles the sitar.

We willsleep well tonight.