The International Writers
Life in Trichy
voice comes from the crowd.
Madam, I have very good Sari for you.
A Sari not for me thank you. I laugh.
Do not be worried, I have jumbo size!
Now it is my husbands turn to laugh.
The thought of me in a sari is ridiculous and jumbo size
what an insult!
Wearing polyester trousers, he is your typical Indian salesman
small and dark with sticky out ears and an old-fashioned
I have absolutely no intention of buying a sari. I
retort. Ever the salesman, he suggests, Maybe you want
a suiting for your good husband?
For generations of travellers India has evoked an exotic mix of history
and adventure. Founded around 2500 BC in the Indus Valley - it is
a land of Rajahs, Hindus, and pompous colonisation that bequeathed bureaucracy
and a legendary railway infrastructure. It has ancient fortresses,
temples, and a merciless caste system that created a billion people and
supposedly keeps society from disintegrating into chaos. Romantic
India fuels our dreams and we disregard tales of dysentery, dodgy food
and filthy toilets.
Experts tell us, You will either love it with a passion or hate
it with a vengeance. And yes we agree, it would be madness
to cycle there. We arrange our Visas and go anyway!
A blazing mid day sun beats down and I dismount, tired and sore. Day old
sweat soaks my clothes and salt encrusts my lips. The heat is suffocating.
Perspiration seeps from my pores, runs down my legs and into my shoes.
Slumped over my handlebars in the Tamil Nadu city of Trichy, I am mesmerised
as the melee at the crossroads unfolds.
Bus drivers brazenly use intimidating tactics to overtake. Kings
of the Road, they understand the pecking order where size rules!
Along with pedestrians, bicycles remain on the bottom rung.
Magical countryside exposes a simple rural life. People live in
mud walled huts; pancakes of dung dry in the sun and women chat as they
fetch water from the village well. Egrets ride the backs of wallowing
buffaloes, young boys herd goats, emerald green rice is harvested and
old men sit in contemplation.
Avenues of Banyan trees provide shade and families of Monkeys groom one
another. Flocks of green Parakeets fly overhead and Kingfishers peer from
power lines into a field of blue peacocks, the national bird of India.
Road-gangs spread black tar and smoke drifts skywards. Female labourers
carry heavy baskets of rocks on their heads and smile shyly and waive.
Men sit drinking Chai and playing cards.
The dhobi wallah parks
his mobile laundry and shrieks for customers. Outside the Bank of India
two uniformed officers clutch ancient 303 rifles and in the Chai stalls,
leathery old men sit talking and smoking bidis. The dashboards of Tata
trucks house a collection of plastic gods and garlands of Marigolds swing
from rear vision mirrors.
ancient bridge crosses the Cauvery River and we witness a disturbing
scene. The occupants of the bridge are beggars crippled and
deformed dwellers of the streets with outstretched arms.
The air is pregnant with spicy aromas and incense. We find ourselves
amongst gaily painted shops and signs in Hindi where graceful women
in colourful saris glide by, their dark skin enhanced by gold nose
studs and earrings. Chickens en route to market balance precariously
on the crossbars of old bicycles.
Our hotel is a grey concrete affair and I endeavour not to gaze too intensely
at the rubbish outside the front steps I am reminded of recycling
day at home cans, plastic bottles, and paper everywhere. Noisy
pigeons make nests and skinny cats wander through the squalor picking
at left over morsels whilst mangy dogs with huge bald patches sleep in
the middle of the road.
Shocked I ask, Is this really what we have come to see?
My husband shrugs and we enter our hotel. The bathroom plumbing
can only be described as primitive. The hand basin leaks
water all over the floor, the shower soaks everything but the intended
bather and exposed electrical wires swing dangerously.
This place is an absolute death trap. Brian remarks.
The shared toilet at best is functional and reeks of
stale urine. Despite our initial delight to find a sit-down loo, we both
hesitate to put buttocks to porcelain!
God, this place is awful. I say, as I grab our
packet of sterile wipes.
That night there is a huge thunderstorm the heavens open, streets
flood and turn to mud. Somewhere in the building we hear the throaty cough
of a heavy smoker and the sound of phlegm. Sleep proves elusive
our sheets feel dirty and the pillows are like rocks.
Here solitude is unknown. Men constantly stare and crowds appear whenever
we stop. Pimply youths initiate conversations and we are never alone.
Noise bombards us - shrill speakers blare from every corner and we fear
permanent deafness from air horns that literally make our ears ache.
Are all Indians deaf? We ask.
Indian men have no concept of personal space. Morning ablutions reveal
squatting men emptying their bowels as they clean their teeth with a stick.
On any street you see them, fingers up nostrils as they adjust their private
parts and saunter along, arms slung around their best friend! It
is acceptable for men to spit tobacco and blow their noses directly onto
the pavement for them there are no taboos. Women, of course, live
under a completely different set of rules!
stops as the Mother of India makes an appearance. This is
a girl with attitude; stealing fruit from a stall she then sits herself
down in the middle of the road and chews her bounty. Traffic is forced
to take evasive action. After all, the cow is sacred in India, and thought
to be a gift from the gods to the human race.
are delighted to find our hotel balcony overlooks a roundabout that
flows with life. Bewitched, we observe overloaded buses with stuffed
suspension, and passengers clinging on for grim death. Rickshaw
drivers toot, a drunk sleeps in the gutter and little girls with
long plaits stroll from school. Lorries fart diesel, a man pushes
a cart of watermelons, sweaty backpackers consult travel guides
and the air resonates with the latest music of Bollywood.
To our right is a small temple, its steps worn smooth by the feet of the
faithful. Incense burns and effigies of gods are draped in marigolds.
Pilgrims bow their heads, hands locked in prayer. At the entrance, shops
sell deep fried Samosas, chai, souvenirs and offerings for puja. Begging
saffron-clad Sadhus extend a hand and amputees propel themselves along
saliva stained streets.
Mimicking the biblical sea, the traffic parts and four beggars cross,
hands on shoulders. The man in front has a white stick. Its
the blind leading the blind. I whisper.
We take a rickshaw through the hectic streets of Trichy where the massive
83-meter Rock Fort temple guards the city. A large procession of chanting,
drum-playing men passes en route to the temple. Clouds of smoke and fireworks
choke the air. The rock is one of the oldest in the World. The Pallavas
cut the first temples but it was the Nayaks of Madurai who took advantage
of the fortified position. 18th century Trichy witnessed the British and
French struggle for supremacy.
The rock has 437 steps and at halfway a 100-pillar hall. Finally, a dark
tunnel leads us to the top and the Temple of Ganesh, the Elephant
God. We pass resting pilgrims and tired schoolboys who all want to shake
our sweaty hands and say hullo.
One brave little boy asks the question we have come to expect, Sir,
Where do you come from?
Yes, New Zealand I know - a very green country with many sheeps'.
Do you know Stephen Fleming? another asks.
I am telling you Sir, Stephen Fleming is the very best cricketer
in the World, the boy with a wonky eye offers.
No, another declares, Our Sachin Tendulkar is
We agree and leave as friends.
Trichy will also be remembered for the incredible Masala Dosas we sampled
every night at the open air Sangeetha Restaurant. They are delicious -
huge, wafer thin and packed with spicy turmeric coated vegetables. We
wash them down with a cold Kingfisher beer.
Leaving our hotel we read an amusing notice pinned to the bedroom door.
Stealing or damaging the WC will cost you Rupees 2,500!
Who do you think steals a toilet? I query.
On the outskirts of town a Mobile temple is parked a three-wheeled
cart painted red with gold tinsel. It has gaudy paintings of gods, birds,
flowers and trees and loud speakers shriek. The rotund owner has a beaming
smile. He is delighted to show us the temple and persuades Brian to make
Notwithstanding the frustrations and unpredictability yes,
we loved India and its people with a passion.
© BRIAN ANDREA Feb 2007
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