It is quite usual for us to ignore the treasures around us and look for the distant contentments. Often our faraway fantasies remain unfulfilled and we may feel so negative about our life. We rarely try to notice the beauty of our surroundings, rarely observe the uniqueness and hidden charm of our neighbourhood. Connecting more deeply with the place we live brings a different perspective on life. More than the distance we travel, it is understanding the people and nature that matters the most.
I am living in Chennai for a while and till now apart from the beaches and nearby few places, the city is still unknown to me.
I knew about Kanchipuram, the “silk city” of India, an old Tamil town having the history of thousands of years, the numerous temples that spread over the city and the culture it beholds. Though very nearby to Chennai, only very recently I was able to visit this place.
On a fine Sunday morning, I caught the first local train to Kanchipuram. One of the longest routes of Chennai local train, the journey took me to the unknown city outskirts. Our train eventually passed the city limits. Small villages scattered among the paddy fields welcomed from both sides. Little after, a side became much exciting with thousands of birds floating over a vast lake. Few people on the banks, fishing rods in hands, were waiting patiently for a catch.
Gopurams appeared on far distance while the train was nearing Kanchipuram. Only a few passengers were left, Kanchipuram is the last stop.
In the station, I was immediately spotted by the autorickshaw drivers (also local tour guides). Without giving time to think again, one person took me inside his ride and very soon I was moving through the streets of Kanchipuram.
Streets were busy, narrow roads with more vehicles and people it can handle. Both sides occupied small shops selling Kanchipuram silk sarees. Temple priests, easily recognised by their attire and shaved head, were speeding through the traffic, their barefoot struggling with the break pedals. Ladies were busy picking up jasmine garlands from shops on their way to the temples. The smell of dosas made from the restaurants filled the streets. From the hyperactive streets, suddenly the roads diverged and entered to old and rustic Agraharams. The broken roof tiles, faded wall paints and the elder generation sitting on the verandah is another story of this city.
Kanchi Amman temple is the most popular here. The temple was under renovation. The new addition of glass roof and air conditioning was uninteresting for me, a contrast to what I expected. I couldn’t stay longer there.
At a distance of about a kilometre, our rickshaw again stopped at Ekambareswar temple. The view of the gopuram itself was a relief for my little disappointment from the Kanchi Amman temple. The gopuram is huge and beautiful gopuram, one of the tallest in the country. The architecture inside is enticing. The temple has a long corridor around and in the middle a 3500-year-old mango tree.
My guide was keeping a track of time since most of the temples will be closed at 12.30 PM after morning pujas. Whenever I took some more time at a place, he reminded to be quick. Anyway it helped, reached Varadharaja temple just before the closing time. There was a little last minute rush. Inside the temple, I was completely taken away by the wall paintings. These old paintings are not preserved well, the modern Indian “scribbling” culture ruined these old treasures. The pond outside the temple is large.
Actually, I had a reason for going Kanchipuram this time. Somewhere in the newspaper, I read about the special Kola idlis which are only available here. Only a few restaurants prepare Kola idlis nowadays. Our guide helped this time also and took to a really good restaurant. The idlis are totally different from the normal one and they are delicious, even have cashew and pepper in it. The people who run the restaurant were really good.
Of all the temples in Kanchipuram I visited, the Kailasanathar temple was my best pick. It was the oldest temple and a great display of Pallava architecture. The carvings on sandstone are very intricate. I sat inside the temple compound for a quite long time, absorbed in the tranquillity of the place. The daylight was slowly withdrawing, the temples were silhouetted against the sky.
Few things to know while visiting Kanchipuram
- It is always good to start as early as possible since all temples will close by 12.30 PM.
- The first local train will start from beach station by 7.00 AM in the morning. The number of trains are very less during weekends. Check the train timings and plan accordingly. (Two-way travel will cost you less than INR 100).
- There are also buses connecting Kanchipuram with major cities in Tamil Nadu.
- The best way to travel in the city is by auto-rickshaws. Finalise the fare before starting itself. It will be around INR 300 to visit 4-5 temples.
- The days are comparatively hot, so be prepared.
- It will be good to choose your dress wisely, few temples will not allow entering if not dressed properly
- Ask the local people about the best hotels to try “Kola Idli”.
- Ekambareswar temple, Kailasnathar temple, Vaikunta Perumal temple and Varadharaja temple are the temples I recommend to visit if you have limited time.
- We can visit Kailasnathar temple any time of the day, it is maintained by the Archaeological survey of India.
- Kanchipuram sarees are available in many shops. Think twice before buying sarees if someone is approaching you to sell them at a very cheap price because Kanchipuram sarees are not that cheap. Do some research and find the right sellers.
- Kanchipuram is about temples, temples and more temples, so if you are not interested in the temples and architecture, going there will be a bad decision. After all, you should not be disappointed at the end of the day.
So, that’s how I spent a day in Kanchipuram.
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