Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thanjavur Weekends

While I'm here in the town of Thanjavur I'm keen to use my weekends to explore this geography for hidden places of interest. A few weeks ago my colleagues and I drove towards the coastal town of Nagapattinam. While driving on a road parallel to the coast we took an arbitrary turn on a whim and drove till we ran out of road, parked our car, hiked through the woods in the direction of the sea and came out to this completely untouched beach. I can't tell you the name of this place because, I suspect, it doesn't have one. We could see long stretches of beach on either side, but in the three hours we spent there we didn't spot a single person apart from the ones in our group.

Our next trip was on bicycles. There is a curious dam in this region, built by Karikalan Chola, called Kallanai, which is said to be the oldest such structure still in use. One of the canals from the reservoir, Pudhu aaru, passes our town. At the point where it crosses national highway 67, there's a road that starts to run right next to the river for nearly 30-40 kms. One on side is the canal and some really old bridges and sluice gates and on the other is unbroken stretches of maddeningly green paddy fields. It will take a lot more visits before I get bored of this one.

The weekend after that one was spent in conventional tourism, a regrettable visit to the Thanjavur palace. Almost everything is wrong with that place. The ground floor has a collection of arbitrarily arranged chola artifacts all mounted on grotesque pedestals. In the frontyard there are eyesores of all kinds, concrete dalmations, plastic elephants, etc. One of the main halls houses several bronze statues from thousands of years ago, but among them are PoP models of the Vailankanni church that makes you wonder what substance the curator was abusing. The upper floor surprises you with a whale skeleton and a tortoise shell mounted on a lamp post. In that way, the museum keeps getting weirder. All along the walls hundreds of couples have professed their love for each other, but amidst all the absurdist drama dished out by the archaeological department, the graffiti is the least of the travesties. Avoid this one!
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