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Feeling better. We had breakfast downstairs in the courtyard, paid up, and checked out about noon. Unfortunately, we got a crap driver on this occasion – he drove far too fast, even after I told him to slow down, and he had a lead foot so he was constantly accelerating and braking and swerving and overtaking, so much so that Carol got car sick. I didn’t have a seat belt (“don’t worry about it,” he casually said as he buckled his own) so I was in a state of tension all day. Added to that, he made us pay 200 R for his lunch, and even tried the old “this is my friend’s shop” routine, which is the first time any one has tried that old chestnut on us all trip. Of course, he got no tip at the end, and later we reported him to the Puducherry hotel and they assured us he won’t be getting work from them again.

Anyway, we did get to see some things in between playing dodgems on the highway at 90kph, and being stuck in traffic jams in obscure little South Indian towns. Our first stop was the  Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple, 35km north of Kumbakonam, one of two UNESCO-listed 11th century Chola temples we saw today. Unfortunately we missed the opening hours of the main shrine, but there was a huge Nandi bull out the front and the main tower was huge and impressive.

Next was Kumbakonam, which is packed with temples, but they’re scattered amidst the chaos of a generic Indian town and all seem to have names of twenty or more syllables, which made them hard to distinguish from one another when you have limited time to do so. On top of that our driver was obviously in a hurry and only wanted to stop once, and I didn’t have the energy to argue with him. So we ended up stopping near a very large artificial lake in the centre of town (surrounded by fences) called Mahamaham Tank (it’s said that every twelve years the waters of India’s holiest rivers flow into it, though I’m pretty willing to bet that might not be true), and poking our heads into the small Kashivishvanatha Temple nearby, which was certainly not the most impressive or visited of the Kumbakonam temples. But that’s OK because they can all start to look a bit the same after a while anyway, especially the ones in current use. Hinduism is a difficult religion for non-Hindus to get their heads around, and from the outside looking in there seems to be a big focus on worshipping half-human deity statues covered with milk and ghee and honey and dressed up in little outfits, usually locked behind grills in creepy dark niches, with some very well-fed priest there to dab a tilak on your forehead and ask you for money.

Anyway, we moved on and visited the second Chola temple, the Dharasuram Airavatesvara Temple. This was very impressive and featured some lovely elephant and chariot wheel carvings. In the shrine we both got the aforementioned tilak from a priest who didn’t seem too impressed by my ‘20 R for two’ offering – but then I wasn’t too impressed by the way he talked on his mobile phone while he blessed us either. Like many working temples we’ve visited, there was a QR code by the shrine to take instant payment through your smart phone…

Finally we made it to Thanjavur (previously Tanjore) about 7pm, and what on the surface looked like a good hotel (the Sangam), but when we got room service and received two indistinguishable bowls of what looked like baby puke, our opinion changed. I ordered a beer from the menu and was told there was only one type available (inevitably Kingfisher, India’s weak and tasteless lager), and Carol ordered a gin and tonic and from the three types of gin on the menu there was only Beefeater. We had to laugh when there was a knock at the door and a young man solemnly entered, carrying a glass with a measure of gin in it on a tray; and we then had to wait another ten minutes for the tonic.

It’s all a bit of a farce. These ‘upmarket’ Indian hotels are play-acting at being quality hotels, but no one seems to know exactly how a good hotel operates, and the staff certainly aren’t taught what to do, nor would I expect them to know. And you’re constantly being asked how you are and to please leave a TripAdvisor review, which is very irritating. Carol has been harassed by text messages asking for reviews, not to mention the barrage of messages asking all kinds of details about us when we make the reservation. There was the place that asked in a message if we wanted a smoking or a non-smoking room, and when we said non-smoking they replied they only had non-smoking rooms. There’s a cultural gap there that results in every place being just that bit disappointing; and when you get the bill with high prices – it’s definitely no longer cheap in India – and three different taxes added to every line item, the disappointment grows into frustration.

Why not stay in cheaper places then? Well, we did in Badami and that wasn’t that cheap and was a lot worse. And I stayed in cheap places in India my first time around and have no desire to repeat that experience!

Even here though, the bed was as hard as a sarcophagus and it took me ages to get to sleep.

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