Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Madurai, India and the first Couchsurfing experience

Madurai: 7/10/16-11/10/16

The Indian adventure ends and we explore the world of Couchsurfing...

So, after what was quite frankly a crazy month in India, getting over the culture shock of Delhi, the tiredness of the 3 day train saga, and the stomach bugs acquired in Cochin, we were nearing the end of our time in this enormous, wonderful, mad country. It was a shame really, as we were just getting used to it! 

Watching the sunset in Madurai
After spending too much money in Europe, and wanting to try to hold on to our savings as much as possible, we decided to give couchsurfing a go. Bob has had an account for a few years, but never gotten round to using it. We'd heard good things, and it sounded perfect - staying with people for free, and experiencing a new side of a country/city that we might not be able to see whilst staying in hostels. I took control of the account and sent out some messages to potential hosts in Madurai, which is in South-East India, and where our flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka was departing from. 

We got in contact with Ramchand through the app, a really nice guy living just outside of the city. He was kind enough to host us for 2 nights, and staying with him made our first Couchsurfing experience memorable and fun. Upon arriving at the bus station in Madurai, Ramchand and his friend picked us up on their motorbikes. This was fine, apart from our huge bags. However, this wasn't a problem for the bikers, and with one bag each on our backs and on each in the footwell, we headed for the house. We nearly got squished on the way, attempting to zoom through two buses that were slowly getting closer together (I was pretty much in a Bond movie), but it's all fine and I'm here to tell the tale. 

Over the 3 days we spent with Ramchand, he was so welcoming and we saw so much of the city. He took us for a short hike up Elephant Rock where we watched the sunset, introduced us to a yoga master who gave us a yoga lesson (sadly, I am still very inflexible), showed us the huge Meenakshi temple at night and for my birthday took us to see a Tollywood film (the Tamil version of Bollywood) which was a pretty intense experience. 

Here are the highlights:

Beautiful Ganesh statue
> Yoga -- we were introduced to a 'yogi' who had a pretty impressive history of yoga teaching and learning, and who taught us some basic yoga. We took a bus to his house, where he lives with his wife, and which is covered in statues of Ganesh as well as many photos of his son (now also a yoga master) in some remarkable yoga poses. The class was really fun and not something we've really tried before, but unfortunately I am pretty much the most inflexible person on this earth (I can't even touch my toes), so I had a hard time. 

> The Gandhi Museum -- We visited this museum on the first day in Madurai. Bob had been before and wanted to go again, and I was interested in Gandhi's history. The museum is beautiful, with a large statue of the man himself proudly placed outside. Lucky for us, it was free (which always helps). The inside of the museum was full with photos and items from Gandhi's past. It was really interesting, and I learnt a lot about the man who 'liberated' India from the oppressive British. I wanted to go up to the museum staff and personally apologize for the pain and suffering we bought upon India, but thought that might be a bit too much. Anyway, it's an intriguing museum that I recommend visiting, but if you can't get to Madurai just Google Gandhi's history and have a little read.

> Tollywood Cinema and ecstatic fans --  As it was quickly approaching my 24th (aaah) birthday, Bob kept asking me what I wanted. We're travelling the world - what could I possibly want? Even if I did want anything, there is no more space in my bag for anything. It was fun trying to be creative with presents though! One of the things I really wanted to do was to see an Indian film, as Bollywood is undoubtedly a massive industry and is incredibly popular. Ramchand had the perfect place - a cinema close to his home, which showed 'Tollywood' (Tamil movies) films. There was a recent Tollywood release called Remo, about a man who wants to get the girl (I mean, what else could it be about?) but to do so, cross-dresses so he can get closer to her. The cinema was huge, and quickly filled with people. Before the film had started, there was a group of adolescent boys behind us who had started to chant the main actors name. This continued throughout the film, and when the actor appeared on screen, whoops of cheers could be heard across the theater. The film was OK, I enjoyed the music, and even though we couldn't understand a word of what was being said, the storyline was easy to follow. It was quite the experience. 

Exchanging flowers
>Food and the flower markets -- I'm putting these together as I feel like this post is getting long and I can make these two things short. So food is my 1# thing to do when travelling. I love food, and India has a lot of it (as well as all the other places we have travelled so far). Ramchand knew a nice local little restaurant not far from his house, which we went to all the nights we stayed with him. We had plates of roti, parratta or dosa (3 different types of bread) with different types of dips, curry and vegetable. It was like a spice roulette for me, as I had no idea what anything was, but it was fun to try. One of the days after lunch we also visited a huge flower market with Ramchand, where sellers would have all types of flowers (with all types of smells) on offer. It was pretty mad, as markets usually are, but really cool to see.
Overall we had an amazing time with Ramchand, and are so glad to have met him and the  other couchsurfers staying with him (one guy from Taiwan was cycling from South India to the North - absolutely crazy but so awesome!). As you'll hear later, we have continued Couchsurfing and haven't had a bad experience yet!

> Meenakshi Temple (at night) --  This was another place Bob had visited on his previous trip to India, and wanted to show me it. It is a huge, brightly coloured temple, covered in statues and lights. We went at night, in the middle of a festival, so it was rammed with people. We took about an hour to walk around the stalls, taking in the colours, sounds and smells. It was beautiful, and Ramchand treated us to some tasty Indian sweet street food after.

Overall we had an amazing time with Ramchand, and are so glad to have met him and the  other couchsurfers staying with him (one guy from Taiwan was cycling from South India to the North - absolutely crazy but so awesome!). As you'll hear later, we have continued Couchsurfing and haven't had a bad experience yet!

A very blurry photo of us and our first CS host, Ramchand
Last note -- Sarah turns 24 (aaaah)

My birthday is the 10th October, so we celebrated it on our last day in India. As I said, doing presents was interesting (not that there was anything I wanted), but Bob got me the 2nd Game of Thrones book on Kindle, as well as a small bottle of perfume that we'd seen in a market in Kochi and I'd mentioned I'd liked the smell of (so sneaky!). We also stayed in a swanky hotel in Madurai, which was amazing. The bed was like a marshmallow, and I had the longest/best shower in a long time. My birthday was completed with ordering Dominoes to the room (half courtesy of Rhiannon, whose Indian friend was able to supply us with an Indian phone number to order the pizza with), and a Netflix marathon in bed. What else could I ask for really?  

Anyway, Madurai was a great way to finish our Indian adventure and begin our Couchsurfing one. We were sad to leave the beautiful country, but very excited to see what was to come in Sri Lanka!

Ciao! Sarah.

P.S: If you ever go travelling and want to save some money/meet some awesome people/see a different side of a city, I thoroughly recommend Couchsurfing! They have an easy to download app, and you get the chance to stay with so many awesome people across the world! We're hoping to host some people when we're back in the UK. 

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