My most visited country is India. One of the best reason is, it is the cheapest place to travel apart from Malaysia and the one and only place trigger me for inner search is India.
India is the dirtiest place I ever known so far. The highest polluted country I guess. (Maybe there are some other places in earth). Air, Water, Sound and everything you knew are massively polluted here.
a. Drink only mineral water. Don’t drink water even provided in restaurant.
b. Don’t eat any kind of meat in small or budget restaurant.
But I’m immune to everything 🙂
It is the best place to get lost. Even though many cities chasing to develop the country to meet the excitement provided by other developed country, it is still hold the soul of the ancient culture and philosophy (however many Indians are no more believe in it due to globalisation).
Here are few places I visited, mostly temples. Some which I going to tell may sound ridiculous but its personal. The experiences which I cannot forget in my life.
Chennai is the cosmopolitan city in Tamil Nadu, South India. My favourite place is Satyam group’s cinema theatre. Their sound system are excellent compare to Malaysian cinema theatres. Especially the Atmos sound system.
There are many must visit places listed in the Trip Advisory. However the place I loved most is Mylapore. Every morning I visit Mylapore Sai Baba temple and had a walk till Saravana Bavan restaurant to have Mini breakfast with sweets, mini “idlis”, masala tosai and strong milk coffee. Must try and must try in Saravana Bavan. There after I will visit Kabaleeshwar temple. It is an ancient temple however as per wikipedia and some Tamil scriptures it was formerly based near seashore where the current St Thomas church is. The current temple was rebuild in this new place after Portuguese demolished the earlier Kabaleeshwar temple.
Interesting information about the St. Thomas church is, it’s having the relics and tomb of St. Thomas. Believed that only three churches in the world have the tombs of the apostles of Jesus and one of it is St. Thomas church in Chennai.
December is the music session in Chennai where you can experience Carnatic Music concert. There are many concert halls in Chennai.
There are many ancient temples in Chennai and nearby Chennai. I visited almost 6 of 108 holy Vishnu temples. http://www.divyadesam.com/divya-desams/temples-01.shtml. The only temples having prayers and mantras in Tamil ( the official language of Tamil Nadu) are Vaishna temples. Others are in Sankrits.
And visited 3 of the ancient Shiva temples in Chennai. http://greenmesg.org/temples_chennai/paadal_petra_shiva_sthalams_chennai.php
As all these temples are ancient holy temples, you will get feeling of loneliness (if course not a pathetic feeling), peace and feel close to some kind of force.. hmm maybe.. I don’t know how to describe it. However you may lost the feeling if you go on festival or special prayers time where it crowded with people and many temples allowed you go near to prayer hall or deity with payment or have to bribe the guards. Some temple sell official entrance fee. The poor have to pray from far distance. Yes, you may lost your spiritual experience by noticing all these nonsense. Many temples not allowed foreigner to the temple.
I once buy a flower from street and offered in temple. But they refuse take it by saying it is “muslim’ flower and cannot offer to Shiva in Kabaleeshwar temple. The name of flower is called “muslim flower”. I was shocked and questioned them how they can simple give religious identity for flower. A priest noticed it and explained to me that this type of flower have no smell so it is forbidden to offer to God. Only flowers with smells or scents are allowed to offer to God. And the flower I bought is mostly used in Muslims funeral so thats why it got that kind of name.
So there are some strange customs followed in many temples in India. Some not allow Muslims and Temples in Kerala not allow wear shirt, t-shirt or any kind above hips. Don’t excited and book your trip, the rules only for guys. 🙂
You won’t be allowed to take any photos inside temples. You have to hand over your cameras and mobile phones at the entrance of the temple in most of the temples. If anyone notice you take photos, they will take your camera and phones. Some temples allow you to take camera inside but you cannot photograph the deities.
But in North India you allow to take photos in most of the temples. Only few temples restricted to do so.
Mahabalipuram is must visit landmark place near Chennai. You can even stay there in beach resort. as per wikipedia it is an ancient historic town and was a bustling seaport during the time of Periplus (1st century CE) and Ptolemy (140 CE), from where ancient Indian traders sailed to countries of South East Asia. The above photo in this post is from Mahabalipuram.
Mostly are very friendly people. Car driver and auto driver are very friendly to foreigners because we are the customer who not negotiate on the fares. Indian culture trained to treat worker as slave. Drivers and guards are ordered to do all kind of jobs at driver and guards salaries. So they love us because we treat them with dignity.
However we need to be careful with some drivers as they try to rob us with their sad stories and extremely high fare. I have a good auto driver. His name is Baba Shyam. You can pay him base on meter fare. Baba Shyam Mobile number is +9193823 32469.
There is no taxi except in airport. There is call taxi service. Their charging are base on the KM. Fast Track call taxi service is best https://www.justdial.com/Chennai/Fast-Track-Call-Taxi-Pvt-Ltd-Near-Ram-Theatre-Kodambakkam/044PXX44-XX44-111104114433-Z9Y7_BZDET?xid=Q2hlbm5haSBDYWxsIFRheGkgU2VydmljZXM=
Things Can Buy
Sarees, antiques, books and gold jewellery. Strictly not anything else.
My Favorite Restaurants
There are many restaurants listed in https://www.tripadvisor.com.my/Restaurants-g304556-Chennai_Madras_Chennai_District_Tamil_Nadu.html
However the most visited by me is Karaikudi Restaurant, Amma Restaurant (not the one with cheapest meal by government), Barbeque Nation (You can have great buffet with a cheapest price), Virudhu Nagar, Thalapakatti and Buhari. There are few seafood stalls in Marina beach. Looks like its not hygienic but I enjoyed it. Bryani is must try food in any non vegetarian restaurants.
Vegetarian is the best food in all over India. Hygienic and delicious with not heavy spices. Saravana Bhavan is my favourite. Those listed in Trip Advisory mostly expensive than what I listed here. There are also some other vegetarian restaurants cheaper than Saravana Bhavan. Auto driver is the best people to advice on places and restaurants. Keep in mind; they call restaurant as hotel.
If you are looking for decent hotel go for those with stars. Again you can check those in Trip Advisory. Budget hotels are expensive compare to those in Malaysia and worst in quality and service. I usually stay in Afsan Palace in T. Nagar. There are many clean budget hotels in T. Nagar, Chennai especially in Sarojini Street.
Almost all the budget hotel have no internet booking and credit card facilities.
I never visited museums, art galleries and few other places. Must visit those in my next visit.
In October 2004, without any preparation I was instructed to visit Ramanasharam at Thiruvannamalai for an official visit related to my music business. I never heard anything before about Bhagavan Ramanar and Thiruvannamalai. (The photos below show that the photos took on 2009 but its not. It is some kind of error in my camera. I remember that my first visit to Thiruvannamalai is on Oct, 24, 2010.
It was the hottest place in Tamil Nadu; I guess. But Ramanashram is the place I always dreaming to live in my old age. Surrounded with nature, wild animals like peacocks, monkeys, birds. Huge trees, garden and mountain fold with calm weather.
I saw many Westerner meditating at Ramanar’s Tomb and in the room where Ramanar lived. I never knew how to meditate but just for a fun of experience I just sit in the room where Ramanar lived and closed my eyes and focus in my breathing. Actually a guy called Ezhumalai in Ramanashram told that this is the place where Ramanar rested and blessed everyone for 24 hours when he was alive; almost anything visited him including dog, cow or crow, he blessed them. Ezhumalai advised me to sit and meditate for few minutes.
I almost never belief in Gurus or Sadhu’s. And at the point of time I was more in to Vaishnavism beliefs and I totally not believed in Advaitha or Saivist beliefs or philosophy. However just to be polite with him I sit and try to meditate. It was amazing experience in my life. I never believe in it until I confronted with my doctor about my experience there. Still I feel strange and I search for scientific explanation for that and I don’t get it till now.
Before I left the place to Chennai, again Ezhumalai forced me to visit Thiruvannamalai temple. This time I refused as I have to reach Chennai by that night. He forced me very hard and I have no choice and visited the temple. I never knew much about ‘Sivalingam’ worship and greatness about that ancient temple. But I still cannot explain to anyone what I felt there. I never disclosed this to anyone. This is my first recorded experience about the Thiruvannamalai.
I was rushed just to visit the Deity (Sivalingam) and planned to leave Chennai. But once I entered the prayer hall and sat infront of Shivalingam. I felt strange, shaking and tear drops from my eyes. It is just a stone; a huge black stone but I felt that there is a love which I searched for all my life. I felt its asking me why I took so long to reach there as it was waited there for me for so long. Ha ha sound crazy !!!! Ya, I too felt the same. But I cried for about 2 days I guessed. I don’t know why? I didn’t consumed or took anything before visited this place, believe me. 🙂
Thats the point where I started to believe that God is one and he is formless, nameless and not belong to any religion. Otherwise I won’t experienced such a thing in that unknown place and unbeliever of those customs, religion and philosophy.
There after I visited Thiruvannamalai many times, Mount “trekking”, meditated in the cave, visited many ashrams surrounded that area.
It is about 300 KM from Chennai. Can go by bus or hire a car. There are many hotels but you also can stay in the accommodation provided by the ashram and you can give any amount as your wish and also can eat for free at Ramanashram.
Will write about other places in India in my next post.