My trusty little guidebook, wiki and the rental car driver all told us the same thing. The palace grounds holds the library and the museum and is adjacent to the Periya Kovil. So after visiting and being suitably awed by the Periya Kovil’s “periyaness”, we took a power nap in our pleasant room. Refreshed (aka cups of filter coffee later) we headed out to the Palace grounds. We managed to get the car parked in the palace compound and got our tickets. The good thing about this is, it is one common ticket to enter all the buildings in the compound, which is the palace, the bell tower, the library and the library museum. The bad thing is there is only one ticket, so you should keep the stub they hand you very safely to be produced to the guard at the entry of each building. You could of course, keep it safely in your wallet and search for it fruitlessly in your hand bag, head back to the ticket counter, stand in the long line to buy another ticket and when your turn comes, open the wallet and find the original stub. But that is usually not recommended.
Anyways, that digression aside, we managed to enter the palace grounds to be completely underwhelmed. It is not so much dilapidated as just run to ruin. There are supposed to be lawns, which are more overgrown weeds with some patches of grass interspersed between them. And all that dust and peeling paint everywhere, made it feel more like an old building waiting for its demolition order than ruined splendor of bygone days.
Nevertheless, to misquote Austen, as a fact universally acknowledged that a tall building with rickety stairs is in need of a climber, we climbed up the bell tower. Considering it was only 10 min left to closing time, it was more of a race up the top. Closing time or not one always stops for photos, so here are some
And then there was this, within the bell tower on the 3rd or 4th floor. What it is doing there all by its lonesome in the middle of all the Chola, Nayakar and Maratha splendor, I have no idea.
Anyway, after all that intense cardio, we decided to walk around the pavilion to the Chola bronze statue exhibits. Needless to say, the statues themselves were exquisite, but I couldnt help but compare it to the museum displays of statues in Rome. A statue of Bernini would have been placed in such a way as to make it almost life like. Not to mention the detailed description of each piece explaining not just its pedigree or sculptor, but what it is supposed to denote and a whole lot of history. Here, we found this:
As you can see, pathetic lighting and as you cannot see, but will have to take my word for it, no information other than “sculpture no.xyz:title” . The title part had the name of the sculpture but other than it being Manickavachakar, there was nothing else. One has to be extremely dedicated to take the time to look carefully past the poor lighting and display to see the incredible details on a deceptively simple statue like this. I truly wish, the government* spends the time and money to get a good curator to curate these pieces and upgrade the museum.
Nevertheless, I did manage, in the small time that was left before the closing of the museum, to catch the following brilliant pieces:
I thought these had an incredible sense of humor apart from the obviously stupendous technique and on coming back checked on wiki to learn that that trait was indeed a trademark of artists of that era!** How wonderful it would have been if these little tidbits of very interesting information were incorporated in the display to hook the visitor further into exploring this lost art form.
We then made our way to the Saraswati Mahal Library where we were requested to not take pictures. The Library is massive in its collection of diverse sets of manuscripts, books and maps. There was even entire books on palm leaves preserved there and some of them could be viewed under a magnifying glass of greater clarity. They did ask for donations for ongoing renovations, so I am hoping that the poor display and general mustiness of the place will soon be reinvented, if not to the National Library of Congress in Washington standards, at least to the Chicago Public Library*** standards.
In summary, I would definitely recommend a good half a day each to the Chola Sculptures and the Library to give you time to study these in depth. I definitely recommend either a good guide book or other information sites to take along with you to help you better appreciate these treasures and enhance your trip. The Royal Palace you can definitely skip.
* I could be wrong and this could be a private owned museum, but the point still remains.
** Wiki link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chola_art
*** Don’t be mislead by the name, here is what it looks like:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lobby_Harold_Washington_Library.jpg