Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Culinary delights from the streets of Madurai

                               All you high-flying metro dwellers, who routinely make a beeline to your McDonalds and KFCs, or pay through your noses for  minuscule servings of bland pasta, bamboo shoots and other exotica in the dim  ambiance of posh restaurants, heres giving you a whiff of the culinary delights waiting to be discovered on the narrow streets of Madurai. We confess to a dearth of pizzas, burgers and submarines and concede thateating outfor Maduraiites normally connotes a humdrum menu of naan and paneer butter masala, biriyani and tandoori chicken, noodles and fried rice with, of course, adosa festivalor two tossed in for extra crispness. But who needs food courts, when theres a whole world of taste-bud-tickling fare to be savored alfresco, with surprisingly acceptable standards of hygiene to boot? Welcome to Madurais Rottu Kadais (Roadside shops, for the uninitiated).

                               Keep your eyes open in the environs of South Masi Street for roadside carts, from whose sides sprout ornamental, ivory sprigs of blossom from the coconut tree. These barrows are stacked with log-sized chunks of thennang kuruthu – layers of bark are peeled away from the trunk of the coconut palm to expose the tender kernel of the stem. These wafer-thin, moist, crunchy slices, packed in newspaper, have a delicate flavor all of their own. Head for the East Marret Street area and its’ jigger thanda – one of Madurai’s best-kept secrets. This ethnic ‘milk-shake’ is every bit as soul shaking as the resonance of its name suggests! A scoop of ‘bhai ice cream’ (a light, caramel colored, utterly delicious, home-made concoction), some cold milk, a spoonful of jaggery syrup, a dollop of edible seaweed, a generous helping of clotted cream – in a jiffy, you have Heaven served up in a Rs.5/-, Rs.10/-, or Rs.15/- glass. ‘Take away’ jigger thanda is also enterprisingly on offer in little plastic pouches. By the way, all calorie - counting readers are advised to ignore this paragraph!
The sweetmeat fastidiously wrapped in plastic and packed in fancy cartons may masquerade by the name of halwa. But, for the original, melt-in-the-mouth version, try North Aavani Moola Street or West Veli Street. Piping hot, oozing ghee, and served on pieces of banana leaf – that’s the only way to eat any halwa worth its name.

                          Come evening and its time to follow the staccato rhythm of iron spatulas on sizzling tawas, that punctuates street life in several parts of our city. Youll find yourself in one of Madurais inimitableparotta kadais.Have your parotta whole assaadhaa parotta,minced askothu parotta,or thin and crisp asveechu parotta,accompanied by some form of chicken, egg or mutton. Every part of the goat [with the notable exception of the hide and hair!] is cooked and served in various combinations and permutations. Watching theparotta masterkneading dough or wielding his spatula is as fascinating as any cordon bleu chefsflipping of pancakes. A word of caution: ahalf boilin parotta kadai parlance refers to an egg in its fried avatarsunny side up, with overly generous lashings of salt and pepper - and has absolutely nothing to do with its cooking time! 

                           For thatin-betweensomething, the vadais at Karimedu just about hit the spot. Themasterspracticed hand is a blur of motion between the over sized bowl and the gargantuan wok, as he drops flattened lumps of channa dhal batter into the steadfastly simmering oil. As fast as they are fried, the vadais - crisp and redolent with the aroma of fried onionsare put into paper bags and into the waiting hands of customers. 

                        The pristine white, piping hot, soft and fragrant string hoppers [idiyappamsto South Indians!] that emanate almost around the clock from the decades-old, modest stall in East Veli Street, are teamed with sugar and grated coconut and have the elite rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi as they await their share. These hoppers are reputed to be easy on the digestive system and are the preferred diet of many patients in the Mission Hospital in the vicinity. The food handlers use plastic gloves as they pack the orders!

                       This is but a sample of what Madurais streets have on offer. WeTemple Citydwellers are absolutely spoilt for choice. So, bring on your Pizza Huts and BaristasBelieve me: our Madurais Rottu Kadais are ready to give them a run for their money!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Preferable season to visit Madurai

          Madurai usually has a hot and dry climate. In the summers the weather is quite hot. Therefore it can be a bit difficult to enjoy the place completely. Though, during the winter months the weather is pleasant. It is neither too hot nor too cold. So the best time to visit Madurai is from October to March. But still, on an average the city can be visited throughout the year as it gets uniform rainfall all the year round. Even if the weather is a bit hot in the summers, you never know when rain might cool you up. Thus, tourists flock Madurai round the year.

Visiting Madurai during the summers is a strict no-no since the temperature tends to get extremely sweltry and muggy during this time of the year. Those traveling to Madurai during this period should stall their travel plans or shun from going out on day excursion trips to avoid being scorched down by the blazing sun. During the summers, the mercury hits a high of 38 degree Celsius, making the weather hugely intolerable. March marks the onset of summer that usually ends by June. Among all the months, May undoubtedly remains the hottest month of the year.

The months of September, October and November offers a welcoming respite from the scorching summers. Being located in the central part of India, Madurai receives meager downpours. However, moderate rainfalls and occasional cloudbursts are good enough to shoot down the temperature levels to great degrees. The average rainfall received by the city is approximately 85 cm. According to the recorded statistics, the city receives an average of 316 cm of rainfall from the Northeast monsoon and 239 cm of rainfall from the Southwest monsoon.

Winters in Madurai are indisputably the best time to make a quick jaunt. During the winter months of December, January and February, the conditions are mildly pleasant with temperature hovering somewhere between 18
0 C - 300 C. The humidity level during this time is certainly low, making it the perfect time to explore the city. Unlike rest of India, the winter nights here remain warm and never get too nippy.

Final Words:
The ideal time to visit the temple city is anytime between October to March. On your visit to Madurai, don't miss out on the opportunity to witness the festivals and other cultural programs that are religiously conducted here. While in the month of April/May, the colorful 'Chitirai Festival' is solemnized for 10 long days, the much-awaited float festival is usually observed in the month of January. If you travel in the month of December, you can city streets filled with myriad artistic patterns drawn by women. Some of the temples also hold cultural programs and Carnatic music sessions. The people of Madurai are traditional and friendly in their outlook. Hence, visiting the city should be an exhilarating experience for you.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Madurai - Kodiakanal

Kodaikanal is in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu, and sits at 2,133 m above sea level.It is just 75 miles away from Madurai. Peak seasons see growing numbers of tourists visiting Kodai, though foreign tourists still visit in fairly low numbers. Visitors enjoy Kodai's spectacular mountain views, its forested vegetation of Eucalyptus and pine trees, its waterfalls, cool temperatures and many trekking possibilities.

Kodaikanal is the only Hill Station in India developed by the Americans.During 1821, Lieutenant B. S. Ward, a British surveyor was, the first European to visit Kodaikanal, who was on the lookout for a healthy place to live, for the foreign missionaries working in Madurai and the surrounding areas to escape from the summer heat and epidemics.
Kodaikanal has a history as old as time. Imprinted in the dolmens are the prehistoric stories of this ancient land. There are references to Kodaikanal in the Tamil Sangam literature of the early Christian era. In the historic times, the primitive tribes of Paliyans and Pulyans resided near the Palani Hills and their descendants still live in scattered villages.

Attractions in kodaikanal:

The Kodai lake:
This lake was created in 1863 by Sir Vere Hendry Levinge, who was the collector of Madurai, retired and settled in kodai.The 60-acre lake is near the town's center and offers visitors an abundance of activity choices, including boating and fishingthough fishing requires a permit from the local Inspector of Fisheries. If you don't feel like braving the waters, you can participate in activities along the lake's shores, which include bicycle rentals and horseback rides.

Bryant Park:
Located on Kodai Lake's eastern shore, Bryant Park is both beautiful and practical. Named after a forest officer who designed the area, Bryant Park not only showcases exotic and rare flora indigenous to the area but also serves as a botanical marketplace for the townspeople and residents of the neighboring areas. In addition to flowers and plants, Bryant Park seconds as a market, allowing shoppers to pick up their produce needs while the flowers' vibrant colors dazzle their senses.

Coaker's Walk:

It is a narrow pedestrian path, constructed by Lt. Coaker in 1872, a one kilometer mountain road which runs along the edge of steep slopes on the southern side of Kodai road which is 1/2km away from Kodai. The walk winding around mt. Nebo starts near van Allen hospital and joins the main road above St. Peter's Church provides a wide-angle spectacular view of the plains.

Kurinji Andavar Temple:
Located less than two miles from Kodai Lake, Kurinjin Andavar Temple was built in 1936 by a European woman who converted to Hinduism after coming to India. This shrine is dedicated to the Tamil Nadu patron deity Lord Muruga, who is also known as the god of war. The temple is also a celebration of the native Kurinjin flower, which blooms only once every 12 years in the town's surrounding hills.

Green Valley View:
Previously known as "Suicide Point," Kodaikanal's Green Valley View caters to all types of visitors. The Green Valley View is ideally situated above a 5,000-foot drop and gives you a wondrously complete view of the area's peaks and valleys. Located near the golf course, the view's optimal viewing time falls between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Dolphin Nose:

To reach Dolphins nose at a distance of 8 kms from the bus stand, one has to follow the route specified here.There is an old road after crossing Pambar Bridge near levinge stream. A rough curve rounds the hillside which leads to a point where a flat rock projects over an awful chesm of 6600 feet deep. This is Dolphins nose.

Silver cascade:
The overflow of Kodai lake comedown here as 180 feet high falls.8 Kms from the lake.

Physical Observatory:
This oldest world famous institution was built in 1898. It is nearly 6 kms from the bus stand and situated at the highest point in Kodai hills at 7700 ft. It has a well equipped productive laboratory doing quality research work. Its director Evershed discovered the phenomenon of radial motion in Sunspots - known as Evershed effect.

Telescope Houses:
Two telescope houses are availabe, one is near the Kurinji Andavar Temple and the other is at Coaker's Walk.

Thalaiyar Falls:
This is also called as Rat tail falls.The widest falls, ranging from 13th kilometer on the ghat road to kodai.It is one of the highest falls in India, with their 975ft sheer drop.

Bear Shola Falls:
An ideal picnic spot 1.6 km from bus stand and within 2 Kms off the lake, where once bears came to drink water. Hence the name of the falls became Bear Shola falls.