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  • Day16

    Pondicherry to Madurai

    December 20, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    We left Pondicherry and drove several hours to the nearest train station where we caught a four hour train to the ancient city of Madurai. Madurai is India's second oldest city behind Varanasi and home to the 14 colorful gateway towers of the Meenakshi Amaan temple. The temple is a central pilgrimage site. It is dedicated to Meenakshi, a form of the goddess Parvati, goddess of creative power, fertility, love, beauty, marriage, children, and devotion; as well as of divine strength and power.

    We walked from our hotel to the temple and met our guide Charles. Throughout our tour of the temple. we noticed a lot of new babies. Charles explained that this is one of the places that one goes to seek blessings for a good life for newborns. Parents break a coconut and use the milk to make a cake to share with friends and family. Unfortunately they don't allow cameras inside, but suffice it to say that the inside is just as chaotically decorated as the tower facades.

    A strange, and perhaps miraculous happenstance ocuurred when I was inside of the temple complex. The complex was pretty full of people. Thousands of people. Lots of pilgrims, families, and mendicants. In the center of the complex is the sanctum santorum and location of the statue of Meenakshi. There was a long cue of pilgrims waiting to enter. Suddenly I heard someone from the cue yelling my name, I turned and there was Jevesh, the pilgrim Augie and I had met on the beach in Kochi some 10 days and many miles ago. There are some 60 million people living in the south of India and we had crossed paths once again. Go figure...
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  • Day2

    A Cultural Engagement

    December 8, 2018 in India ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Following my spring spent in Vietnam I wasn't expecting to really 'travel' again this year, yet here I was/am/are embarking on a fresh mini adventure determining the appropriate tense with which to transcribe my experiences.

    I'd usually dedicat some space to describe my means of arrival, however so much has happened over the past thirty-six hours since touchdown it would seem a shame to waste word-count reviewing my in-flight entertainment (Mission Impossible 6 : 8 out of 10, Antman & the Wasp : 7 out of 10, Tag : 6 out of 10, various episodes of Family Guy, American Dad and Rick & Morty : 7, 6, 8, 7, 5, 6, 9, 8) or pass comment on the planes themselves (ranging from nigh-luxury aboard our first upgraded flight between Birmingham and Dubai to our patch-job, refurbished, lucky-it-landed internal transfer to Madurai) or mention our observations within the airports themselves (Dubai is fancy though not as fancy as you'd expect, Chennai has KFC but with a heavier emphasis on spice and rice), so I won't.

    Upon landing we collected our baggage, kindly advised the Thomas Cook currency rep offering us only 70 rupees to the pound to sod-off and took a taxi to our first hotel, which as far as Madurai goes we'd expected to be our only hotel, but I'll get to that. Nam greeted us at reception and it was wonderful and emotional to see her so close to her big-day, albeit expression of this emotion was suitably reserved in adherence with what we're informed are the more conservative attitudes of Madurai.

    By this point it was Saturday afternoon and David and I, who had travelled here together, hadn't slept since Thursday night (aside from a brief ten minutes I'd managed during the second-half of the 5-rated Family Guy), so we resolved to kip for a couple of hours ahead of the engagement ceremony in the evening.

    This we did, then threw on our glad-rags for the sundown shindig. Nam's brother sorted the transport and we clambered into a mini-bus with a gaggle of other guests whose names I briefly learned then promptly forgot. This was to become a pattern over the following day which in no way infers those I met weren't memorable, I thoroughly recall my fleeting association with each of them, but is instead symptomatic of my personal memory issues which in fact necessitate my keeping of blogs such as this. Names are my particular Thingy's heel.

    Upon arrival at the hotel venue we were handed a mildy-minty slightly-limey very-greeny fruit drink and asked to dunk our forefingers into a small pot of yellowy-paste and pop a dot on our foreheads. I know this has a proper name and is imbued with symbolism/context that my basic description likely undermines, but I don't have a mobile data connection in India so my standard-but-silent co-authorship partner, Wikipedia, is sadly unavailable. We met up with Charlotte at the ceremony who one-upped our dots-on-the-forehead with beautifully sketched patterns all over her hands and wrists which I'm fairly confident in calling 'henna'.

    The room was arranged in an unsurprising layout, rows of chairs adorned with pretty seat-covers with an aisle down the centre leading to an elevated space where the 'main event' was to occur, but something that did surprise was that when the ceremony began their was no ask or expectation that the guests be quiet or remain in their seats. Indeed, conversations continued and folk generally wandered around the room, as did I so as to get a better view of what was happening. From what I could tell there was some symbolic exchange of foods between the two families, the putting-on of elaborate flowery garlands and, as finalé, the exchange of rings between the betrothed. I'd have instinctively asked Nam what exactly was going on, but she was somewhat busy being the focal part of the thing I didn't understand.

    Following the ceremony several bowls of sweets handed around to the audience before we headed across the car park to a reception room where a buffet was being served. The selection was incredible and the plates fortunately vast enough to put a bit of everything on. As the serving staff dolloped on the helpings of rice, meat, veg, sauces and breads we looked around the room with mild alarm, noticing that the guests were eating all this lovely nosh with their hands. Fortunately we didn't need to display our trepidation for long ; we were soon spotted as the incapable Westerners that we are and metal cutlery was brought swiftly to us. Noting further that our ability to use cutlery to eat whilst standing was also lacking, they then quickly delivered to us some chairs so we could incospicuously sit in the dead centre of the room amongst the standing crowd and fork-feed ourselves. There was ice-cream for dessert served with a delicious gooey, syrupy dough-ball thing, of which I had seconds.

    A number of the guests asked us the typical questions I'd no-doubt be asking them if they'd flown across the world to a foreign wedding; where are you from(?), which football club do you support(?), is this your first time here(?), what are your plans(?) etc. As we shared our travel plans we noticed a particular reaction as regards the news we would be travelling to Kerala via night train in a 'sleeper' carriage. It was one of surprise, mild horror and an impetus to gently advise us we might want to rethink our plans fairly pronto. Concern was mainly being expressed in relation to the restroom facilities ; insomuch as they apparently technically existed, but it was highly discouraged to actually use them. There was also to be no air-conditioning, only a small window for ventilation, little room for luggage and quite compact bunking arrangements that might render sleep difficult to achieve. As keen advocates of sleeping, air, taking our luggage with us and using the toilet, we decided to look into other options.

    Our plans briefly, became the 'hot topic' for the room, with multiple people with data connections scouring the net for alternative options. In a period of fifteen-or-so minutes our schedule shifted six-or-seven times back and forth. We were briefly finding a carriage with A/C, then there weren't any, then we were flying, then we weren't, then we were going to grin & bear the sleeper carriage, then we were taking a cab until, finally, we were booked on a sleeper bus, with A/C, at half-past midnight the following night.

    In celebration of a job well-done, entirely by other people, and also partly in respect of the successful engagement of Nam and Sid, we went back to the ceremony room for a bit of dance. Charlotte was commended for here dancing prowess, effectively taking part in the Indian manouveres and movements to the extent of full assimilation, whilst I was there too.

    We headed back to the hotel in an OLA, India's better-named Uber equivalent, by way of another hotel to pick-up Charlotte's humongous bag, which was more problematic than it should have been. But the journey was necessary in order to pick up the 'outfits', a term I'm using loosely, David and I would be wearing the next day.
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  • Day34

    Madurai street food

    November 5, 2019 in India ⋅ 🌙 28 °C

    An evening walking tour to sample some local street food. 1st is an egg paratha, bread, egg masala gravy and more, chopped together. 2nd are breaded and fried veggies. 3rd is a milk drink where they boil cow's milk with almonds. This is the seller cooling the concoction. 4th are rolls of rice (white) and millet (black). That have been steamed. They are usually served with sugar (like almost everything here). Coconut is added to the millet. 5th is a dosa shop. Dosas are similar to crepes, but larger and a but crunchy. They are served with various condiments for dipping. Last is sweet or savory fried dough with sugar or chillies and spices, respectively.Read more

  • Day3

    2: The Wedding! (Cultural Disengagement)

    December 9, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 29 °C

    A 'mundu' or 'dhooti', both/either of which I reserve the right to edit the spelling of post-publication, is what the garment David and I had been purchased to wear for the wedding was called.

    Now, in fairness, it's not like a pair of trousers comes with instructions. There's no manual included when you buy a cuff-link shirt nor a step-by-step guide provided for knotting your tie.

    But these comparators, I feel at least, possess a form factor which at least implies their correct usage. You'd be hard-pressed to fit trousers over another part of your anatomy, shirts are patently torso-shaped and ties, quite clearly, should be wrapped tightly round the forehead so you look like a ninja.

    A mundu/dhooti is a big sheet. Rectangular with imprinted golden lines around three sides, it bears more resemblance to a tablecloth than an item of clothing. Harnessing our resources, David and I scoured the web for tutorials, finding that it needed to be wrapped round the waist like a long beach towel, however the outcomes of our attempts were insufficiently tightly wrapped to remain in place. Wearing only boxers underneath, I wasn't keen on this risk as I'd hate to detract from the formality and spiritual reverence of the occasion by inadvertently flashing my Calvins.

    In a momentary flash of genius I realised we could wrap our belts, objects where their usage is clearly apparent from design, inside the sheets and use these to keep the mundus/dhootis secured affixed. We did this and they looked fine. We went down to the lobby and the receptionist decided mine didn't look fine, so he re-did it for me. Throughout the day, Charlotte would be complimented on her stunning attire which she purchased from India, got tailored in the UK and was perfectly suited to the occasion. David and I received a few raised eyebrows and a polite 'well, they tried' expression.

    All sorted, we were off to the wedding. The mini-bus took us to the venue ; a lovely building with an entrance adorned with flowers within beautiful grounds of vivid greenery. We were given another albeit different fruit drink on our way in and took seats within the vast hall. Bigger than the engagement ceremony room it was set-up similarly, but with the elevated stage far more elaborate; four huge golden pillars holding aloft flower-laden beams framing the centre-stage. Somewhat like an Emporer's four-poster bed, only without a mattress. Or an Emporer.

    After a while people stood and exited the room, so we followed. They, and therefore consequently we, were headed to receive the bride and groom. The groom arrived first, surrounded by his family, with Nam following closely behind. Sid was very smart and Nam looked beautiful. They genuinely did, but it's their wedding so I would have said so regardless.

    And so the ceremony began, which I'm going to attempt to capture here in an overall sense rather than a play-by-play ; I will miss things out and get things in the wrong order because I was present and observing and not taking notes. Fortunately we sat alongside some people who were happy to explain some of the intricacies, however they didn't grasp all of it either. I was informed that the wedding was a blend of multiple styles and traditions, with influences from Nam's family merged with individual traditions from both of Sid's parents, who themselves were from different regions. By way of foreword I felt truly honoured to be present on such a special day for my amazing friend Nam and her new husband Sid and hope my dry, occasionally wry tone does not infer any retraction from the utmost respect and reverence I had and have for the occasion.

    Similarly to the engagement ceremony, the room doesn't actually go quiet when the wedding starts ; the marriage just sort-of 'happens' whilst everybody else is present.

    There was musical accompaniment at times provided by two distinct instruments, a nadaswaram and thavil. One is a long-ish, trumpet-y clarinet-y sort of thing and the other was like a horizontal big bongo-drum device, though I can't for the life of me (nor without data, Google and check) which was which. There were a lengthy series of pre-wedding chants delivered in Sanskrit by some shirtless priest-equivalents to thank/bless the gods which I obviously didn't understand and I'm told many present probably didn't understand, but presumably the priests did.

    One notable distinction from christian weddings is that the bride first positioned herself on the stage and the groom walked down to her, which I felt was both a rather modern statement on gender neutrality but also probably an ancient tradition. Sid was flanked by his father and Nam's brother, with this apparently being a measure of symbolic permission on the part of Nam's family granting Sid blessing to wed Nam. Again, I'm doing my best here to join the dots of what I saw and what I was told with a perplexion-leaded pencil.

    With both Nam and Sid and various family members and religious officials on the stage, the wedding ceremony got underway. At least I think it did ; one of the first things that happened was that Nam and Sid washed the feet of their parents to express their thanks and respect, which I'm not sure whether was a pre-wedding ritual or a mid-wedding ritual, or if the wedding even can be split into distinct pre/during/post sections.

    At a few points before and during, which per what I just said mightn't truly be categorised as such, there was occasional interspercement of a sort-of 'woooh' sound being made by a few of the guests. I'd initially misinterpreted this as an oddly-muted and inemphatic celebratory cheer, however I was later told that this practice was intended to ward-off evil spirits. That this sound was so similar to the sound ghosts/spirits typically make themselves in western cartoons, (see Scooby-doo), I felt to be an interesting association. (Post-publication edit : actually there weren't really spirits/ghosts in Scooby-doo, it always turned out to be the janitor/owner/businessman the gang met at the start with only a tangential connection to the haunted premises who would have gotten away with it were it not for those meddling stoners and their munchies-craving canine).

    There's no rings involved in the wedding ceremony, they were exchanged at the engagement ceremony yesterday, so the marriage was accordingly finalised with the tying of a thread around Nam and Sid. There were three knots tied with each knot symbolizing something different but, try to contain your shock, I don't know what. Does this custom have anything to do with the phrase 'tying the knot'? The answer may surprise you. It may not. I personally don't know what the answer is.

    Rice was then chucked about a bit, more incredibly-intricate flower garlands exchanged and valuables/jewellery passed between them all. At some point I think Nam suddenly acquired one of those forehead-pendant things, though I just might not have been paying full attention earlier. Bells were rung, a stick was tied to a pillar and the still-bound bride and groom, which I think by now were husband and wife, went for a wander round the pillars a few times. Incense was burned, or something else was burned and there was a coincidentally concurrent release of incense-like fragrance. We were then told we should go up with other guests to give our well-wishes, but when we reached the stage were told otherwise so retreated. I'm certain by now they were definitely married and so therefore no-longer engaged, thusly 'disengagement' was complete (lolz, wordplay innit).

    Then came food, which I'm 99% positive is a post-wedding thing, but not the full official proper 'reception', which isn't until later in the week. It was another buffet, which was somewhat fortunate as we were told we might be getting a 'leaf meal' (food served on large leaves) which, though it would have been cool to see, our proven inability to eat with our hands would have rendered consumption troublesome. In general, I enjoy a fair balance between novelty and practicality ; there's little point in something looking incredible and delicious if it's inedible. Like wax fruit. Or Papa John's Pizza.

    After shovelling in another delicious mixture of various Indian dishes, rice, breads and ice-cream (this time with a delectable sweetened carrot accompaniment) we went to do what we thought we were supposed to be doing earlier and issue our well-wishes to the married couple. The queuing system left a little to be desired; we joined the back of the primary queue to the left of the stage so as to reach Nam/Sid then exit stage-right, but it appeared some people invoked a 'fast-pass' approach and started queuing up the exit. Perhaps it was our innate Britishness that rendered this rather loose queuing affair somewhat unsatisfactory. Perhaps, and more likely, it only bothered me because I have a sixth-sense for spotting anything worthy of even slight complaint. Either way, it didn't take long for us to reach the front and convey our congratulations and thanks to Nam and Sid. I was also able to off-load the card that I had brought and been holding onto all day to Nam, with apologies that clearly a card is not a traditional thing to bring to an Indian wedding and so my gesture amounted to a a paper-enclosed cardboard redundancy.

    Following this we had to head quickly back to the hotel as our check-out time was impending. As our bus wasn't until half-past-midnight, we transferred to a hotel across the road where there were some block-booked rooms for the wedding no-longer in use. Whilst considered an improvement on our original plans, we we remained sceptical as to the likelihood of actually sleeping on the sleeper bus so had some sleep for a few hours, waking early evening for dinner. We decided to try the hotel's restaurant, which turned out to be on the top-floor with open side-walls offering gorgeous views of the city. The menu and food was good ; so as to take full advantage of the culinary authenticity of actually being in India, I ordered a tikka-masala.

    After dinner we went for a walk through the surrounding area; Charlotte needing hair products and us all needing cash. Eventually locating an ATM we remarked that it would be good to have a drink, but recalled we'd been forewarned by Nam that the wedding would be dry and alcohol difficult to come by in Madurai. Fortunately my seventh sense, the one after finding things to moan about, came into play and we found an appropriate intoxicant dispensary in the form of a bar not too far from the hotel. Behind big heavy doors and fairly inconspicuous from the outside, inside it was fairly typical with soft lights, decent and low-priced beers and Indian music video channels playing on the multiple television sets. I ordered a Kingfisher Blue beer, which I was initially concerned would be a low or alcohol-free variant of the Kingfisher beer brand but in fact transpired to be a 'strong beer' version instead, so I was pleasantly buzzed by the time we headed to the bus.
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  • Day22

    Cape Comorin to Madurai

    January 27, 2019 in India ⋅ ⛅ 34 °C

    This morning we have the option to get up early to watch the sunrise from the southern tip of India with thousands of locals, which can be an incredible experience! From Kanyakumari we then start heading back north again, and drive to the holy city of Madurai. In the afternoon we will have an included visit to the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. In Madurai we will stay in a comfortable local hotel. Estimated Drive Time - 4-5 hours.

    We are hitting the tarmac again at about 08 am. Um 12:00 haben wir den truck auf einem öffentlichen Parkplatz geparkt und sind mit tuk-tuks zum Hotel in Madurai gefahren. Nach einem sehr gutem lunch für wenig Geld haben wir uns das „Ghandi“ Museum angesehen. Dort war ich vor einigen Jahren schon einmal gewesen. Am Nachmittag gehen wir (bei 35 Grad in langen Hosen) zum „ „Sri Meenakshi Temple“. Auch dort war ich schon einmal gewesen und habe das Bild innerhalb des Tempels mit einem Elefanten gemacht, was heute in Bederkesa eingerahmt an der Wand hängt. Da neuerdings im Tempel fotografieren und Filmen verboten ist, habe ich mich entschlossen nicht zum zweiten Mal in den Tempel zu gehen. Für mich ist das nur interessant, wenn ich Menschen und Atmosphäre filmen kann. Altes Gemäuer alleine bringt mir nicht viel. Heidi ist aber mit der Gruppe und einem local guide in den Tempel reingegangen. In dem Hotel mit Rooftop waren 90 Prozent westliche Touristen. Offensichtlich liegt „Madurai“ wieder im Fadenkreuz des internationalen Tourismus.

    Editiert am 03.05.2019.
    Text von Wolfgang
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  • Day25


    February 8, 2016 in India ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    מדוראי , מקדש באמצע מאגר מים

  • Day23


    October 29, 2015 in India ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Im Zug wurde ich leider 4 Stunden vor Ankunft vom Schaffner aufgeweckt und nach meinem Ticket gefragt. Natürich hatte ich das falsche. Er wollte einfach nicht kapieren, dass es das richtige sei, aufgrund der Verspätung des Zuges das Datum des Vortages drauf steht. Der Zug hätte nämlich um 23:55 abfahren sollen, erschien jedoch erst nach Mitternacht. Diesen Umstand wollte der nette Herr einfach nicht verstehen. Plötzlich kam mir wieder in den Sinn, dass ich in Indien bin, wo Korruption und Schmiergeld das alltägliche Leben bestimmt. Geldbörse gezückt, umgerechnet 10€ angeboten, und schon hat ich das richtige Ticket. So einfach kanns gehn. Leider konnte ich danach nicht mehr einschlafen und so langweilte ich mich im Zug knapp 3 Stunden mehr als nötig, da ich bis zur Ankunft hätte schlafen wollen. Endlich angekommen, das Hotel nur ums Eck und rein ins Zimmer. Der Kollege an der Rezeption wollte mir das Wlan Passwort geben, wusste es jedoch nicht. Als fragte er den Herrn neben ihm. Dieser machte ebenfalls das selbe. Der vierte Mann schrieb etwas auf einen Zettel, die anderen beiden überlieferten die Nachricht durch flüstern. Wie auch bei uns funktioniert stille Post eben nicht, also kam statt dem richtigen Passwort "taxi2015" soetwas wie "taxes2050" bei mir an. Ich ging die paar Schritte zum vierten Kollegen, nahm den Zettel und hatte ohne komplizierter stiller Post mein Passwort. Am Nachmittag besuchte ich den wirklich wunderschönen Meenakshi Tempel. Den Abend verbrachte ich ganz gemütlich beim Bummeln, da es hier nicht wirklich interessante Dinge anzusehen gibt und das Mahatma Gandhi Museum geschlossen hatte. Morgens um 5 Uhr gehts daher bereits wieder weiter mit dem Zug ans Meer um mich von den letzten Wochen in diesem chaotischen Land ein bisschen zu erholen.Read more

  • Day291


    October 19, 2017 in India ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    My first train ride in India. The night was not the best one, my room mate from south Korea was drunk and noisy. He smelled like a whole liquor store.
    Anyway, half past six I stood up and packed. I did some small yoga exercises and waited for Senthil to pay the room. But he wasn't there, so I stored the money somewhere and wrote him. I went to the station, purchased a ticket and senthil arrived to say good bye ...

    If you think trains in sri lanka are stuffed and the possibility of more people in this vehicle doesn't exist, try a train in India. Pictures of people hanging at the outside of the train are quite common. There is just one rule: survival of the fittest. It's pure chaos. None could leave the train without fighting against the storming passengers towards the train. Incredible. For six hours I stood.
    As I arrived I needed to move. So I walked to my hostel. It was 2km away, but the walk was good.
    My guesthouse, hotel, hostel what ever it is, is OK. Far outside the town and very quiet. The stuff spoke barely English so it was challenging to get what I needed.
    As in most parts of Tamil Nadu I saw less white tourists. Maybe it's because of the off-season or its a less common spot for sightseeing. I don't know...
    I went out for some temples and someone told me I'm not allowed to enter with my Sarong or lungi, how they call it here. Either I had to wear shorts or a dothi, a white kind of lungi. So I bought a dothi because I don't like shorts.
    The temple are breathtaking, massive structures raising in the sky, higher than most buildings. The biggest one is the minakshi temple. It took me a half day to walk through. In most of the parts photography was prohibited, or extremely expensive. So I did some sneaky ones.
    In the end of the day I made more than 14km by walking. In the evening I called my family. Gina was happy because she was on her way back home and hadn't to cycle alone. 😉
    Afterwards I talked to mom. I told her about my plan to do a yoga retreat in the north.
    Eventually I went to bed early. The plan was to visit the Ghandi museum which is 6km away. The staff of the hostel told me to take a taxi but I'm on budget and like to walk as well. So I walked. Always an eye on my map and I found the right way easily.
    Some guys told me I can't enter the museum with a doth I. But I tried... And no problem.
    The museum was way more than I expected. It was a huge exhibition from ghandis beginning to his dead. With an amazing background of the Indian history. Very educational and perfect for the heat of the day.
    Here in madurai I booked the retreat in rishikesh and a flight from Chennai to Delhi on monday. It was cheaper then flying from madurai.
    Next morning my train left...
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  • Day12


    March 12, 2015 in India ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Eine Stadt im Nirgendwo, ohne Touristen und ohne Angebote für Hotels oder sonstige touristische Angebote! Wir steuerten die Stadt mit dem Bus an, eine wilde Abfahrt aus der Bergregion Kumily ging los und lies uns an der Rettungsaktion eines im Abgrund liegenden LKWs teilhaben, der vermutlich noch nicht lange dort lag! Viel zu früh erreichten wir den Airport, ein modernes Gebäude, mit einigen Stühlen, einem Shop, Drogenspürhunden und zig Personal. Im auf gefühlte 10 Grad runtergekühltem Abflugbereich schlugen wir die Zeit mit Lesen tot und wunderten uns bei den diversen Kontrollen:
    1. Manus indisches Visum sollte nicht korrekt sein, welches doppelt und dreifach beäugt und geprüft wurde...dabei wollten wir Indien ja bloss verlassen!
    2. Blumenkohl in Plastiktüten, diverse Gemüsesorten im Rollkoffer und Nagelknipser sind kein Problem im Flieger!
    3. Feuerzeuge sind komplett verboten...also Memo an uns: Morgen Feuerzeuge kaufen!
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Madurai, مادوراي, মদুরাই, Мадурай, Maduraj, مادورای, મદુરાઇ, मदुरई, Maduráj, IXM, マドゥライ, მადურაი, ಮಧುರೈ, 마두라이, Madurajus, മധുര, मदुराई, मदुरै, ମଦୁରାଇ, ਮਦੁਰਈ, مادورائ, مدورای, मधुरै, Мадурај, மதுரை, మదురై, มทุไร, مدورائی, 马杜赖