I was going to update this blog over a week ago, realising it's in a pretty sorry state with only one post. But first I got food poisoning and then I was without an internet connection for a few days, so here, finally, is the update.
We moved on to Trichy on the 3rd, a nice town with a Rock Fort and temples. There were more than 400 steps to get to the top of the Rock Fort, and you pass cave temples (but aren't allowed in) on your way up to a great view of the town, with kites circling above. The next day we visited the temples, which had lovely elephants and, most impressively, a simply massive Nandi carved out of one lump of rock. A ceremony one evening involved pouring industrial quantities of water, tumeric water and milk over the Nandi, which was quite cool (though I question why a bull needs an offering of gallons of milk).
Then we went to Thanjavur, and that night I ate bad food (chola poori, a generally nice dish of a big baloon-like fried bread and dips that I am never going to eat again). The next morning we went to the palace, which houses a large number of really brilliant statues, the best of which are from Darasuram. These were the best carvings I've ever seen, and the library also held amazing palm-leaf manuscripts, but unfortunately I started feeling faint and so we went back to the hotel. Then I spent the whole day throwing up etc. and feeling absolutely terrible. We decided to stay an extra day so I could recover. The next day I was slightly better, but still throwing up.
The next morning I felt better, and we moved on to Kumbakonam, from which we visited Darasuram and the temple there. The temple was gorgeous, with a grassy, shady garden all around it and fabulously (the best I've ever seen) pillars and carved lions. However, I felt extremely nauseous so once again we left early and I started throwing up again. That evening we got some antibiotics, and I finally started to feel a bit better. The next day I just tried to recover.
Then, on the 10th, we got a bus to Chidamburam, home of a temple to Shiva as the Dancer of the Universe. We went to see the fire puja that evening at 5 o'clock, which was quite pretty but largely uneventful. We later learned that the main event kicks off much later in the evening. The layout of the temple is the most enclosed I've seen yet, and as such it felt very different to the other temples I've been to.
On Saturday we got two autorickshaws to Pidavaram, by the mangrove swamps. The rickshaw dad was in had a far superior engine to ours, and the drivers raced the whole way, endlessly overtaking each other, which was a lot of fun. The roads we went down were very cool, with water on one side and small villages with thatched houses (as is the Tamil style) and gorgeous animals on the other. The hotel we stayed in was some 'eco' thing, still being built and generally with a weird atmosphere. However our canoe ride through the mangrove swamps was lovely and quiet, and counting the limited species that lived in the swamps (including a hermit crab the rower brought on to the boat) was nice.
Then we moved on to Pondicherry, a place I admit I was dreaming of getting to since getting ill, particularly due to a promise of wood-fired pizza as my tummy can't handle spice at the moment. It's basically like being in France in summer, but with more hippies because there's an ashram and a 'community' nearby. We started the trip by taking a local bus, and we luckily got seats because the hotel was the first stop. At the second stop, about 50 people (a wedding party) got on. At the third stop, about 20 people got on. At the fourth, 10. Etc. Etc. Etc. There must have been about 150 people on the bus by the end, with 8 hanging out of the door just in front of me and mum, and a ticket collector desperately trying to get everyone to pay before we reached the destination. It was quite fun for us, but mustn't be much fun if you do it once a week. However the atmosphere where you hand a random person your baby or bag because you can't hold it is pretty cool.
Pondicherry is lovely. I ate American pancakes with butter, home-made organic mango jam and Indian honey for breakfast both yesterday and today. I found three Science Fiction books and an Economist, which is interesting as it includes a censored map of India. The hippies are annoying and the prices are unbelievable (190 rupees for a bowl of overcooked pasta), but the view of the sea from our hotel balcony is stunning, and since today marks the half way point of the trip, this is a welcome relief from the chaos of everywhere else we've been. We're having trouble getting out of here, though, with all the trains being full until the 28th. I also saw a dead body lying on the street. It was covered and by a hospital, though. We may go to Goa early so as to go to a party being put on partly by BOOM festival.