Before we arrived in Chennai, we dotted all around Tamil Nadu, the Southeastern state of India. I had traveled here with my father as a teenager, and the place stuck with me. Five years ago, right after we were married, Dave and I spent about 6 months all over the Southwest states of Karnataka, Goa, Kerala and Maharastra -- so this was new for us. It was a jam packed 10 days, a different city, temple and train ride almost every day. Exhilarating and Exhausting.

The first stop was Madurai -- which sadly I didn't get to shoot because the main temple didn't allow cameras and I had a bad cold. I love Madurai though, it should not be missed if you're near by! Second up was Trichy. . . This was a pretty typical dusty South Indian town, with 2 great temples: one on the top of a rock, painted in red and white and another at ground level, the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple. The architecture of the latter is one of the greats in terms of Dravidian style of architecture (colorful figurines all intertwined on the top of a pyramid shaped structure).
We took 4-7 hour train journeys to get everywhere. Having lived in India, we have a certain comfort level with this last-minute style of transport, where you buy a ticket for "passenger class" moments before the train departs and you just do your best to wiggle in with the crowd. There's no ac, no creature comforts, but there's almost always great conversation and the sharing of cookies, samosas, whatever snacks are available are passed out to neighboring seat mates. It's an incredible experience, riding the trains with regular folks -- I highly recommend it in India!

Here's a 30 year-old phd student, S. Sasikumar, we chatted with on the way to Trichy -- he is researching the effects of cadmium on heart function. Fascinating guy who loved listening to Dave's headphones. The farmland views of the countryside, as seen by the train are just heart-breaking. So beautiful and peaceful -- a welcome reprieve from the chaos of the cities.
Next  stop, Tanjavur. Another Temple town with friendly locals and a mesmerizing temple, full of incense, candles and flowers.
Something I love about the temples in South India is that they are the hot bed of activity for the community -- there's food sold here to munch on after you pray or to put at the altar of the God celebrated at that particular place, there are flowers and garlands to buy all around the outer layer, live music is often played by priests and locals and there's just a lot of conviviality and community. It's full of action -- a feast for the senses and the soul.
Tiruvanamalai at night was superb -- a lot of street vendors selling fruits, beautiful cotton lungees (mens wrap they wear), jewelry and flowers. We wandered for a while with all the hub bub of the city, it was beautiful and refreshing after a long journey (by train of course) to get here.
We ate dinner at veg restaurant (ALL OVER South India -- vegetarian's paradise) and I got to check out the kitchen while our food was being prepped. There were pots as old as me and big wood-buring fires. It was an inferno of dosas, idly and padapums. Everything is served on a banana leaf and eaten with the right hand, a lovely custom that just makes so much sense! Instead of doing dishes, the banana leaves just go back into the earth. No waste, no washing up and plenty of great flavors.

We had an incredible journey -- full of laughs, a little bit of a stomach bug and lots of eye-opening experiences. We will be back in late November en route to home. Is India worth visiting? Absolutely! You have to be up for an adventure and a whole lot of letting go of expectations, but once you're in the rhythm of this fascinating, colorful country, it will pull at your heart strings and forever change you.

For us, we love the South. We haven't traveled much in the North, just the basic heavy hitters (Taj Mahal, Jaipur, etc), but we cannot recommend Southern India enough. There's no major tourist attractions, just a whole lot of beautiful moments doing everyday stuff: shopping for produce, cooking with a granny, visiting the town's temple, photographing and walking down small roads just to see where they lead . . . . Incredible India!


  1. Oh, how my heart skitters. Thank you, Leela!

  2. What a scrumptious visual feast Leela! I love the stories you tell through color and close up imagery! Those 2 little girls are just too darn cute :) Look forward to walking another mile in your shoes on whatever journey awaits you next!

  3. fantastic pics - - you can almost smell the sweet, spicy, and funky odor of these places.


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