A New Tourist in a Familiar Town

Here in this ordinarily-quiet, unassuming part of the world we are in the midst of a wild and wide-ranging festival – Karthigai Deepam. I’m not going to go into details about the festival in this post (for that kind of information, see the links at the end). Rather, I wanted to share the small experience I had yesterday afternoon when I went into town with Mr D to for some of the festivities.

We had already agreed it would be fun to explore aspects of the Deepam festival together at some stage, but we had not yet made any specific plans (making specific plans is not one of our strengths, but that’s another story). So yesterday, around 3:30pm, Mr D spontaneously suggested and I immediately accepted that we go into town and see what was happening.

First off (by way of a minor digression and information dump) here’s the ear-catching beauty we rode to town on.


Mr D’s marvellous machine

This Royal Enfield Thunderbird bike has a custom paint job chosen by Mr D himself – the colour inspired by one of Royal Enfield’s own models a couple of years back. I mention the bike because, unlike the more popular style of bikes and scooters used by nearly every other family here abouts, the Thunderbird is bulky and grunts even at low speeds. The pleasure of riding pillion on Mr D’s Thunderbird is that I get to sit pretty on a wide seat with a comfy and securing backrest. Needless to say we tend to draw attention for two reasons – the stark combination of non-Indian woman and Tamil man and also the bike, sometimes one more than the other.

On a second note – the Deepam activities centre around the big temple at the heart of the town


Arunachaleswarar Temple – Tiruvannamalai

See, it is big. Also central to the festivities is the holy, sacred hill known as Arunachala.


One view of Arunachala – a holy hill of Tamil Nadu

My first experience of Deepam was back in 2008 when, as a much fitter woman and along with hundreds of other people, I climbed to the top of the mountain to see and receive darshan from the mighty flame that gets lit at 6pm on the full-moon night of Deepam.

Sara Laksimi - 2008

Happy to have survived a bare-foot descent of the holy hill Arunachala during Deepam 2008

Okay, digressions over and back to the point I want to make:

What I enjoyed about our short visit to town yesterday was the sense of being a tourist

Last night was when I realised I’ve not given myself the treat of being a tourist in this town for a while. And being a tourist is just that, a treat, because whether you indulge yourself in a new place or a familiar one, the time spent behaving like a tourist can definitely be a fresh pleasure. And here are some whys, simple whys, but ones that can so easily be forgotten in the day-to-day mêlée of regular life:

  • Seeing people and the world immediately around you in fresh ways
  • Freeing up yourself to be more inquisitive than normal
  • Stepping away from one kind of fray and into another less regular one
  • Immersion into something unexpected, possibly even thrilling
  • Shifting a staid perspective
  • Questioning assumptions
  • Opening your heart and mind away from the banal and mundane
  • Momentarily but purposefully slowing down the pace
  • Not curbing your enthusiasm

And more besides of course.

Even Mr D, who has known the town all his life, agreed that he’d felt like a tourist for a short while. Though the crowd increased the pollution he detests, together we happily wandered and wondered, moseyed and meandered, jostled and jiggled our way through the throngs gathered along the streets or flocked around the temple.

The whole thing was a lovely afternoon. My only gripe was that with the equivalent of a paltry few pounds in my pocket (the demonetisation debacle continues – despite the overly positive spin the media are now playing) I was not in a position to buy any goodies. After a while, we noted the crowds getting thicker and decided to depart the scene. With the memory of possible purchases still uppermost in my mind I got Mr D to drop me off at one of our main shops, bought a mango ice-lolly and, more crucially, received some much-needed ₹100 notes in exchange for the almost-unusable ₹2,000 that had been lurking in my wallet for over a week. By choice I walked home to savour the warmth of the evening as the sun began its descent through the sky, the air soft, and watched with anxiety and trepidation as the less frequently seen black-faced monkeys galloped across the busy road, thankfully safely.

I relayed all of this to Mr D and said how much fun it was to be a tourist in our own town. Back in London I would occasionally take myself off down some unfamiliar track, or just stop and have a coffee in a new place, or at a regular tourist spot or museum and enjoy being a tourist. Sadly, I’ve not taken the time to do that for a while. Yesterday reminded me how much fun wearing the tourist persona can be. There was a subtle recall of previously entrancing and energising moments. In fact, yesterday’s jaunt got me all fuzzed up with pleasure.

With that in mind, I thought I would write to encourage everyone to occasionally take time to be a tourist. You could do that at home, in your garden, down your street and around your neighbourhood. After all, as tourists we wander around the rooms of others, the gardens of stately homes, the neighbourhoods of never-before-visited towns and cities, so why not where we are, the places we inhabit daily, and give ourselves that fuzz of pleasure?

For me, today or tomorrow, I intend another visit, again as a tourist of course, but this time with a few easy readies in my wallet and, more importantly, an even stronger sense of curiosity and wonder.

Likewise, I’d love to know about your experiences of being a tourist in your own town or neighbourhood. Let’s share the love ❤︎

❃     ❃     ❃

As promised, here are some links for anyone interested in this wonderful festival:

What is Karthigai Deepam?
Some of the key events of the 10-day festival
Arunachaleswarar Temple website
A snippet about arrangements for the festival from The Hindu newspaper
A sweet word about darshan – a form of spiritual blessing