Trip to Tiruchirappalli, Thanjavur, and Kumbakonam – Part 3
Posted on: August 3, 2018.

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This is the third and final chapter in the travelogue of our visit to the three temple districts of Tamil Nadu, in which I will be recounting to you, the unique nature of our accommodation that gave us the most memorable experiences in this revelling, four-day trip.

It was past 9:30 p.m. when we reached Swamimalai, near Kumbakonam. Even before I’d left on our trip, I’d been mentioned about a heritage hotel named INDECO Swamimalai, and how it was themed to resemble a typical South Indian village quarter designed in the Thanjavur tradition. The hotel had undergone name changes twice, first from “Sterling” to “Anandham” and thence to “INDeco”. As we breached the outer entrance of the resort campus, we were greeted by a milestone marked “RECEPTION 200 M”, and a large display board to the right, carrying the hotel name, and captioned “1896 TANJORE VILLAGE”.

The rooms in the resort were built in the form of village homes and organized into three blocks based on architectural style: Heritage Block, Zhamin Block, and Palace Block—whose President’s Suite was the resort’s most prestigious asset. Milestones and rustic signboards provided directions to the various sections and places within the resort campus serviced by brick paths. We were allotted Room No. 110 of the Heritage Block and given a list of traditional/village-life-oriented “Activities” that the resort provides to its guests. The first resort activity, late next morning, was “Feeding the Deer”.

It was much fun, enjoying the experience of the deer feeding off our hands, though only through the bars of their enclosure, and thus only occasionally getting to touch the deer. They were timid creatures easily scared of sudden noises and extremely wary of human presence, immediately retreating after their feeding. We’d missed “Milking the Cow” as it was scheduled at 6:30 in the morning and we’d have to wait till 1:30 for the next turn that day. It was nearly noon and we decided to immediately leave for the Airavateeshwara Temple at Darasuram nearby.

Thousands of tourists, from places nearby and around the world, visit this temple to revel in its architectural significance and artistic splendour. Like our guide at Brihadeeshwara Temple, “Thanjavur” Raja, our guide here was a certified field worker of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), who doubled up as our temple guide, a young man named Prabhu, same as mine. He narrated a lot of interesting stories in and about the temple. An entire level of the temple had remined buried under sand blown in by storms in antiquity—all the sand was eventually cleared by the ASI, and the temple restored to its original beauty and glory.

Each pillar, sculpture, and section of wall in the temple was a page that narrated chapters of a composite story. At one point in the tour, I told our guide Prabhu, how the temple was a கல்லில் செதுக்கிய கதைப்புத்தகம், or “storybook sculpted in stone”. The main temple was fashion like a stone chariot of four wheels pulled by a pair of horses. It was fascinating to learn that the wheels, each a perfect circle and identically sized, were made in a time when no geometrical instruments like compass, protractor, or divider were invented, to take accurate measurements. As was a constant in all Chola-era temples, most of the beautiful sculptures on the surfaces of the temple were defaced by Mughal invasion. However, soil erosion in antiquity had also played its part in eroding so the temple’s artistic features.

It was past 2.00 p.m. when we returned to our resort. Having missed “Milking the Cow” again due to a prolonged photo session at the temple, we could do it only next day, early in the morning. Meantime we were taken on a tour of the resort property and inside the Zhamin and Palace blocks. Next, we embarked on a “Bullock Cart Ride through the Village”, riding on a bullock cart pulled by two powerfully-built, six-year-old bulls that each weighed about 750 kilos! Each bull would consume 1.5 kilos of feed each day! Midway however, we stepped down from the ride and walked briefly along the green paddy fields and back. That night before dinner, the kids had a lovely time swimming in the resort’s traditional, temple-tank-style swimming pool with an extra inner step.

Early next morning the kids had a great while trying to milk a cow, though with limited success (it wasn’t as easy as we thought given the milking technique) and learning about milking schedules and the volume of milk each breed and age of cow provided. Each cow had endearing, traditional female names as did the deer. There was also a generation of geese on the campus, seen everywhere, quacking noisily. The next activity was “Bathing under the Motor Pump Set” which the kids exclusively enjoyed, for it involved water being pumped over their heads from a great height, through a metal pipe attached to a side of the canal bridge.

This was the last activity, and the last memorable moment in the resort, for it was time to check out of our accommodation. An hour later we were travelling towards Chennai, and a while later, arrived at the Gangaikonda Chozhapuram temple. There no guide here, and as we did not want to get too late getting back to Chennai, we spend just under an hour admiring the magnificent temple and relaxing in its manicured lawns, before continuing our onward journey home.

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