After a fair continental breakfast in a Puducherry bread store we scoot to the less busy Villupuram to catch the train to Madurai. Once again we set off the alarms in the station bag scanners, to zero interest from the station staff. In the waiting room we get chatting to a team of Kabaddi players who then give us a demonstration of the contact sport. We’ve a five-hour journey in a sleeper carriage ahead, half full with dozers in bunks, their feet reaching out into the corridors.
The train passes over dry river beds before lusher landscapes rise up in the shadow of the Western Ghats and we pull in to Madurai, the home of our guide, Charles. He is particularly keen for his home city to make a good impression. After Puducherry, it feels much friendlier and manageable. A rickshaw ‘safari’ around the temple city and its markets gives us a glimpse but makes us more of a curiosity for the locals as our convoy blocks the road. We pay a conspicuous visit to a fruit market. Ten historic pillars that gave the city the nickname ‘Athens of India’ are now hidden down a side street, squashed against apartment balconies. Two huge chariots used for parading sacred statues are encased in glass on a main street (we will see the relics tomorrow). A whole street is dedicated to the red onion market. The air is full of dragonflies.
Dinner is cooked by Charles’ doting mum at their home, a simple but tasty traditional meal with a lovely rosewater-infused spongecake. Then, it’s back to the hotel to take in the view from the roof restaurant (Madurai’s highest).