5 Days in Madurai…
Within the streets of India’s ‘City that doesn’t sleep’ I found the peace of self-retreat I had been searching for.
Leaving Madurai’s single terminal airport I had only an address to guide me, people curiously glancing my way as I passed through their streets, while carrying on with the business that pulls together to conjure up the grand chaos of Madurai. After several unresponsive ATM’s and a hotel owner telling me his premises is under refurbishment I walk onto a street and look in both directions, letting out an ironic smile at my predicament, seeing nothing but tuk-tuk traffic and sprawling shop fronts for miles. Night began to set over Madurai, when a man pointed out an ATM tucked away at a junction to me. I march over with my fingers crossed praying for the machine to miraculously work. Astonishingly, the prayer is answered and I return to the hotel like a child running down the stairs on Christmas morning. The owner gives the address of another hotel to my driver and without extra charge I am whisked away, all worries setting with the South Indian sun. The turn of events reminds me of a major lesson learnt from travelling alone in such a foreign place; that stepping back and letting events play out is what the journey you set yourself is fundamentally about, letting randomness defeat organisation and freedom to run the day.
Sat on my paper mattress, below a flickering light I thought of what lay ahead for me, alone in Madurai, away from the usual Lonely Planet rated sights, conversations with fellow travellers and of course, the internet. Left with nothing to do but wander the streets I became a simple spectator of Madurai’s madness. In a situation like this I found that you become almost detracted from where you are, left only with the sights of temples, overflowing streets and the casual salesman to occupy your thoughts. My days were structured around simply eating (which proved to be strange as restaurants are so busy you are sat on tables with complete strangers whether you like it or not), meaning you are left with hours each day to be totally alone. It is however, not the negative aspect with which I associate this type of loneliness, but instead allows for a detraction into yourself away from the time and space of anything you know, allowing for pure freedom from worry or anxiety.
Before you are placed in positions of language and cultural differences it such it seems odd in how you would handle yourself, but another lesson I learned was that people are intrinsically similar wherever you are and throughout my time in Madurai the majority of people simply ignored my presence, despite the distinct lack of travellers present there (I did not see one during my stay). As I left it made me think that living in such a way could easily become habit, it was unique, authentic and gave me an experience I had been searching for throughout my travels, showing me a different side of India separated from the tourist trails of the North. Places like Madurai will come in all manner of shapes and sizes and will most notably be completely unexpected, the only thing that needs to happen is that they are grasped with open arms.