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Embedded Photos: 1.Reclining Parvati, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu India2.Holy Cow, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu India3-7.Brihadishwara, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu India
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November 23. TRICHY "Day Trip to Thanjavur" Continuing our tour of temples in Tamil Nadu we planned a day trip from Trichy to the town of Thanjavur (Tanjore), 55km away.  Going there we just hopped a bus at the station across the street from our hotel, with a bag of banana chips in hand.  It took some asking around to locate the right bus but it wasn't very far to go.  We were able to grab a seat and before long we were off.  This was our first public bus ride in India and it was predictably exhilarating.  Our tour bus for the backwater trip had done a fair amount of dodging and weaving but on the open road we were flying.  Consequently the trip went fast and within an hour and a half we pulled into the Thanjavur bus station.  It was a new station, although you wouldn't know from the look of it except maybe for its size.  The station stood about 2.5km outside of town and it was starting to rain so we grabbed a tuk-tuk.  We had the driver take us to the train station so we could look into taking the train back later in the evening.  There weren't any reserve seats on the local train between Thanjavur and Trichy so we bought regular tickets and hoped for the best.  

The city of Thanjavur was your typical hodge-podge of cement blocks but the city was home to the Brihadishwara Temple, one of the few monuments on India's World Heritage list.  There was also an old royal palace with a notable bronze collection.  We had a tuk tuk drop us at the palace to start with so we could peruse the bronze statues.  It was a large Holy Cow, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu India collection but many of the the statues were sadly exposed to the elements while other were in plastic cases that reflected the light so bad it was hard to see them well.  A tower in the palace gave us some nice views across the city and we could see the powerful tower of Brihadishwara rising up above the modern junk. From the palace we decided to walk so we could possibly grab something to eat.  We stopped for a couple of sodas to re-hydrate and then continued on to search for a restaurant marked in the guidebook.  It was longer than we had hoped but the weather was fine so we enjoyed the exercise.  We never did find the restaurant but began to worry that the afternoon was getting away from us and we should get over to the temple.  The streets in Thanjavur were a bit chaotic, as most streets in India tended to be, with cows obstructing traffic in awkward places.  Apparently it was even bad karma to honk at the beasts.  

Heading towards the temple we picked up the pace and arrived just in time to see the late afternoon glow of theBrihadishwara, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu India setting sun begin to light up the ochre colored temple.  The temple was accessed from the east, through two very large and ornately carved gopuras.  The whole feeling of the temple was one of scale, as opposed to the more compact and intimate temples in Trichy and Madurai.  It was built much earlier and stands as the height of Chola architecture, from about 800AD.  The temples is a tribute to Shiva and the then current King Rajaraja I.  This was the empire in southern India that was responsible for spreading Hinduism to other parts of Asia and why the city of Angkor Wat (980-1220) bares some similarity in style to that of South India.  Having never been to Angkor Wat I can't make a personal comparison but my first impression of Brihadishwara made me think of photos I have seen of Cambodia's old royal city.  

A long pathway separated the two gopura gateways and opened up into a massive courtyard.  In the middle of the courtyard stood the main temple, on an elevated platform with its thirteen story tower rising powerfully above everything else in the complex.  The apex of the tower stood 66m high and was crowned with an 80 ton dome of solid Brihadishwara, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu Indiagranite.  How the granite cap got put into place is still a bit of a mystery but many think it was placed using the technique of the pyramids, a 4km long ramp.  The rest of the tower was constructed from stones that were assembled into a monolith and then carved into delicate works of art.  Each of the successive stories becomes smaller with the top only one third the size of the base.  

At the front of the courtyard, on the pedestal in front of the main temple, stood a behemoth 25 ton statue of Nandi, the bull that serves as Shiva's vehicle.  With its enormous head facing the entrance to the inner sanctum, it rump rather unceremoniously greeted the pilgrims.  I quickly shot some photos before the sun got any lower and then we proceeded up the stairs to look into the main temple.  We assumed that non-Hindus wouldn't be allowed all of the way into the inner sanctum but, in this case, we were wrong.  They asked us to pay a small fee and then directed us inside.  We took some flowers with us as an offering and walked down the a long pillared hall, modernized with a rail to control traffic, and then were squeezed down to a short narrower hall until we came to a perpendicular hall in front the inner sanctum.  It was getting crowded and hot at this point but we waited patiently to view the four foot high lingam with golden laden deities standing behind it.  With a diameter of 7m it was one large phallus and it had a name, "Adavallan", which meant the one who has danced well.  It was in reference to Shiva's avatar Nataraja, the king of dance.  The Nataraja was most common in the south and we'd seen many bronze examples at the museum earlier.  We staid back to allow the true worshipper their space but the priest gave us white tilak for our foreheaBrihadishwara, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu Indiads and we left our flowers.  Wiggling back to the hall we exited out a sid doorway and down the side of the temple. 

The massive tower stood directly over the inner sanctum.  Smaller towers adorned the tops of other structures in the courtyards but more memorable was a colonnaded walkway that stretched around the sides of the courtyard and housed some 250 lingam.  We sat along the edge of the elevated walkway and gazed at the glowing image of the massive tower.  The late afternoon sun was turning the west face of the tower into an vibrant orange-red color and seemed to bring the posed images to life.  Along the bottom of the tower was a series of inscriptions that told about the temple.  Sitting in our little place of solitude we were soon engulfed by a French-speaking tour group.  They too decided the place we were sitting must be THE ONLY place to sit in the entire courtyard.  They didn't acknowledge us but totally ruined our sublime moment.  We eventually left to recover some of the ancient ambience of Brihadishawara. Following the trail of phallus around the colonnaded walkway we came back around to the front of the main temple.  There was some drumming and clanging going on at the entrance so we hiked back up to find some mechanized instruments to the left of the door probably announcing the final setting of the sun.  

We were good and hungry at this point and found another restaurant on our map that wasn't too far from the temple.  By tBrihadishwara, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu Indiahe time we reached the river that ran alongside the temple it was almost totally dark. The restaurant was supposed to be just a bit farther but proved to be more difficult to find that we expected.   A bit confused by our map we tried to ask some people at some road-side kiosks for directions but several didn't speak English.  Finally someone pointed the building out to us, across the street and about a block down.  The hard part was that is was right at the point where the road lifted to go up and over the river so we had to get on the opposite side of the road quickly and walk behind the wall of the overpass.  Dodging traffic lights we hopped across to find that the pathway along that side of the overpass was flooded.  We could have taken a longer pathway back down the other side and under the bridge but it was dark and felt dodgy so I hoisted my leg over the wall and dropped about ten feet down onto the path, past the flooded area.  But after all of that effort the restaurant wasn't worth it.  They didn't have much available and the place was pretty dirty but at least we were able to use the bathroom.  The lights were out so we had to feel our way to the correct door on the second floor and then wade through a slopping floor that I am glad I couldn't see.  At that point we would have gladly just hopped a tuk-tuk back to the station but there were none to be found so we started walking.  The road was dark but had a fair amount of foot and car traffic.  It started to feel like an eternity before we reached a commBrihadishwara, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu Indiaercial area again and by then we weren't far from the station.  

The train was already filling up, since it was first-come-first-serve seating.  This was the most basic class we had traveled so far and we soon wished that we had opted for the bus.  Fortunately we found seats across from each other and then just waited for the train to leave.   The benches were made of wood and it was pretty full but it could have been far worse.  We chugged along with the door at the end of the compartment open.  It took a bit longer than the bus but it was certainly safer than flying across the highway at night.  Totally famished we didn't even have to discuss that we were going straight to the Hotel Sangam for dinner.    

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