In my childhood, there were frequent trips to temples in different parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In fact, my dad has taken the family mostly on temple tours rather than on sightseeing sojourns. The temples in and around Trichur were an integral part of our wonder years, starting with the nearby Thiruvambady temple which we look upon as our 'family temple’. The Vadakkunnathan, Paramekkavu were as much visited as Shankarankulangara temple, Shivankovil and Ramar temple in Ponganam, Asokeshwaram on pradosham evenings and thiruvaadirai mornings. The visits to the Thriprayaar temple used to fill me with terror because of the incessant ‘Vedi Vazhipaadu’ (offering in the form of explosive crackers?... Effect definitely lost in translation!) During my dad’s stint at Palghat, the regular visits would be to the Kalpathi and Mandakarai temples and the Noorni Sasthaa temple. But I used to love my visits to the Vadakkanthara temple and Chittoor Amman Kovil, our family’s ancestral deity’s abode. Both these temple would fill me with terror, for the devis in these temples seemed to sport roudra bhava (the angry mood). The Aithihyamala, with its collection of legends and folklore had a lot to do with moulding my mindset… And I used to be terrified, looking at the goddess at Chittoor Kaavu or the <?XML:NAMESPACE PREFIX = ST1 /><ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Amman</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY> in Vadakkantharai. In <ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Trivandrum</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY>, though we used to visit the Padmanabhaswami temple, our favourite used to be Pazhavangadi Ganapathi. Somehow He was an integral part of all our ventures. There were occasional trips to Aattukaal Bhagavathi temple and Srikhandeswaram temples. When we were in Kannoor, we used to frequent the Thalaappu Sundareshwara temple, Subramanya temple in Payyannoor and the Ramar temple in Thaliparambu. Guruvaayur used to be a treat. The long drive, the shops selling devotional knick-knacks, the sight of huge elephants, the smell of cooked rice being strained in the temple kitchen, the thulaabharams, the taste of the prasadam of sugar and bananas and of course, my fantasies in which a young Krishnan talked to me and accompanied me while I did the pradakshinams… all added to the magical aura of the temple. I revisited years later with my 4 year old twins but the teeming crowd and the rude ushers made me realize just how much things have changed. <ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Temples</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY> in Kerala are a bit different from those in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. They are more tradition- bound and stricter. I should not be saying this, but they also seem less commercialized - I don’t know…that is not the right word, but the atmosphere is somewhat different in the other states though the aura inside the temples are the same. What I used to dislike in some temples were the presence of bats… normally found in temples with tall gopurams. <ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Temples</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY> in Tamil Nadu seemed more ostentatious. I never understood who all the ‘Alwaars’ were and why they were being worshipped. Of course, when it came to the sanctum sanctorum, all doubts vanished…and my heart would be inundated with a fervent devotional feeling. I recall with fondness, the Madurai Meenakshi temple with all its additional sanctums. In fact, I have not been to any shrine of Saraswathi other than inside the <ST1LACE><ST1LACENAME>Meenakshi</ST1LACENAME><ST1LACETYPE>Temple</ST1LACETYPE></ST1LACE> at <ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Madurai</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY> ( though I do know there is one in Kerala.) My recollections of Thiruchendur, and nearby temples are very vague. The mind recalls only the elaborate paintings on the walls and the priest who turns into a tourist guide… Again there are only vague recollections of the temples in Trichy and Kumbhakonam ( visited during my vacations with my dearest Uncle and Aunt…)Kanyakumari and Srirangam. The two or three trips to Pazhani temple have etched permanently in my mind the dark green hills, never ending steps, terrifying winch- rides and the taste of delicious panchamrutham... Marriage transplanted me to Karnataka which also has its share of celebrated temples. Somehow I didn’t much care for the temples in Belur, Halebid , Hampi and Sravanabelagola -- which seem more of tourist attractions due to their architectural splendour than worshipping centres. This is strictly a personal observation, perhaps a shade too biased. But there have been magnificent experiences in Dharmasthala, Subramanya, Kollur, Udupi and my personal favourite – Horanadu! Dharmasthala exudes the devout atmosphere of the Kerala temples. Kukke Subramanya and Kollur Mookambika are both charming temples nestled among the forests in the mountains where you can’t help being moved by the atmosphere of ardent devotion. But as far as I am concerned, Horanadu Annapoorneshwari temple is a must for the faithful. Anyone who crosses over the stream and travels through the lush countryside to the beautiful temple will be mesmerized by the life- sized statue of Annapurneshwari with a bowl in one hand and a ladle in the other, truly a delight to the eyes of the devotee. Sringeri temple is home to the Sarada Peetham established by Adi Shankaracharya Located amidst the Sahyadri hills and on the banks of the Thungabhadra river, the temple combines both the Hoysala and Dravidian architecture. Another temple that is a treat to the eyes and heart is the Muradeshwar temple near Bhatkal. With the <ST1LACE>Arabian Sea</ST1LACE> on one side and the ghats on the other, this temple is situated on top of a hill…truly awesome abode of Shiva. But a real picturesque place is the Nanjangodu temple. Somehow I felt it had the Tamil Nadu touch! Chamundeshwari temple at <ST1:CITY><ST1LACE>Mysore</ST1LACE></ST1:CITY> is more of a tourist experience for me… There are two temples in Dubai... The Shiva temple and the Krishna temple... Both are essentially North Indian in the sense that the priest and practices are totally different from those in the temples I have mentioned above... But God being Omniscient and Omnipresent, we should not segregate places of worship... It is a pleasure to go to a temple in a land where your rights are somewhat curtailed. But the problems that hinder frequent visits to these temples are....Time and Parking facilities. Since one gets only the Fridays, for going to the temple on weekdays is impossible. Then, parking becomes a great problem... as 80% of the temple goers are out on Fridays... so the better half baulks at going out! As a result all liaisons with God are generally limited to the Pooja room....Room? 'Pooja niche', I mean! Since all my worship is about communication with God, I can do it at a personal level at home....Yet, I do miss those grand structures and that devotional air that are the hallmarks of South Indian temples.