Southern India’s curries are hot and so is its weather. I had been on a rapid tour in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and in Sri Lanka in 2002 but there were places I wanted to see again. Since I wasn’t about to brave the heat and redo the tour, I settled on revisiting the city of Madurai and ending this trip to India with a short stay in the famous hill station, Ooty.

I was most struck, on my previous visit, by the Meenakshi Amman temple, the largest and most significant temple in southern India, with its magnificent towers, its vast halls of sculptures and sculptured columns, and its unending religious activity, and the temple dedicated to Murugan, Thiripparankundram, with its rear sanctum carved out of the hillside.

Meenakshi temple no longer allows cameras inside so I actually had to focus with my eyes for a change. I wandered from hall to hall for several hours, impressed with the amazing sculptures and the size of the columns, a long and noisy procession of the god’s image on a palanquin borne by sweating priests, the devotees, and the tourists, almost all of whom were Indian. Unfortunately, the inner sanctums, of which there are many, were inaccessible to me, so I was not able to view some of the more renowned deity statues.

The Thiripparankudram Murugan temple is in town but a 20 minute tuk-tuk ride from my hotel. I had received darshan when I visited there in 2002. The day had been a special festival and the pressure and smell of the bodies, the thick incense cloud, the heat, the laughing priests, one after another, all painting my forehead, had made that occasion a memorable one. I recall exiting the chute, feeling like I had in the '60s after inhaling the herb.

This day, my guide, Swami Naadin, met me at the entrance and showed me around, describing the history and religious significance of the place and the statues and the ceremonies, just as if this meeting of ours had actually been arranged by an agency rather than by “chance". The experience was not the same as the first time but I did get to see a lot more of the temple.

Madurai is not made for foreign tourists. The few that I heard mostly spoke French. The tuk-tuk drivers don’t know street names (I’m not sure most street names exist except on Google maps). The way to get around is to know an important park, hospital, monument, school, or “tank” near where you’re going, and work your way from there. After a few long lost rides I got the hang of it. And it isn’t as if you’re getting scalped (although I did accuse one driver of “taking me for a ride” and I made my point with furious gestures) - most rides were 50 to 100 rupees (at 62 Rs a dollar).

After eight very warm and activity-filled days in Madurai, I escaped to the Nilgiri hills and Ooty. The sites in Ooty are impressive, especially the Botanical Garden and the Rose Garden. There are also some great mountain views (I hear) but they were obscured for the most part by thick fog. The most prominent feature of the city is the preponderance of “home-made” chocolate vendors - all kinds, with all kinds of nuts. You can even place a mail order for them, but beware - they don’t have preservatives, which is good if you consume them really fast. My (more or less) real time email journal entries from Madurai and Ooty are here.