Highlights of Trichy and Thanjavur

Trichy, as Tiruchirappalli is known, (pop 847,000) has 2 main temples to visit.

The first one, Rock Fort Temple, is built on top of an 83m rock outcropping – it takes 437 rock-carved steps to get to the top!
There are actually two temples at this site – one big one half way up, and one little one dedicated to Ganesh at the very summit (non-Hindus can’t go into the first one, nor into the sanctum of the second one). However, you do get a great 360° view of the city from up top!
My heart rate was 168 when I made it to the top, almost non-stop. Oh, and you have to do it barefoot, since the whole thing is a temple site.
The entrance is through another temple at street level on the main bazaar street in the area.

Rock Fort Temple

The second one, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, is actually a ridiculously large temple complex consisting of 7 concentric circular walls, with a total of 21 gopurams (pyramid-like tower on an entrance archway) – the tallest one, which you hit first at the south end, is a whopping 72m high! Granted, the area within the outermost walls are city (dwellings, stalls, etc.), and only the innermost parts are temple per se, and a huge pillared temple at that.

Thanjavur is a smaller town (pop 215,000) 50km east of Trichy; I visited it as a day trip (1¼ – 1¾ hours by train, Rs10/$0.25 in unreserved second class).
It has one World Heritage listed temple and a palace to visit.
I rented a single-speed bicycle for Rs3/$0.08 per hour.

Jan on rented bicycle

The first one, Brihadishwara Temple, is a large sand-coloured complex in Chola architecture, built in 1010 by Raja Raja. It is different than most temples here in that the vimana (the pyramid tower over the inner sanctum) is taller than the gopuram (over the entry way). In fact this vimana is 66m tall! There is a huge Nandi (bull) statue carved from one 25 tonne rock (it’s 6m long and 3m high). Just inside the outer wall is a covered arched walkway containing hundreds of linga (phallic statues representing Shiva). And in the centre, a huge carved pillared temple; the air is cool inside. The inner sanctum contains a huge lingam.
See http://jantrabandt.blip.tv for a video.

The second one, Thanjavur Royal Palace & Museum, is an old palace seemingly surrounded by schools. There are a number of buildings to visit, including:

  • Durbar Hall, where the king once held audiences, with a large dais

    Durbar Hall
  • the Saraswati Mahal library containing interesting artefacts, inc. palm leaf manuscripts with tiny script, and a 1785 World Atlas (with the latest discoveries of Capt Cook!) in which Australia is called New Holland, and Hawaii is the Sandwich Islands
  • an art gallery with detailed Chola bronze statues from the 9th-18th Century.
  • a slog up the narrow circular stone staircase of the ~8 story bell tower for a great view (though on the way down I saw a sign that said tourists shouldn’t go past the 3rd floor for their safety)
  • the Royal Palace Museum, which was small and the only case that grabbed me contained royal embroidered shoes & hats
  • and the uninteresting Raja Serfoji Memorial Hall

A lesser highlight of Thanjavur was that school kids kept wanting to talk to me and, gasp, I talked to them!
At one point I was surrounded by school boys (age 10?) in uniform on their break, near the palace, and they wanted their picture taken (and see it on my LCD) and they didn’t even pickpocket me (if you’ve been to Rome, you know what I’m talking about :-)

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