Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Bangalore was great, nay, it was awesome. A fantastic city of hospitality, culture and good times. But it was time to press on to the next destination. Chennai (formally Madras) is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, and according to the most recent census, is officially the fourth largest city in India behind Mumbai, New Delhi, and Kolkata (although Bangalore is so close in size and growing so fast, that it could very well be bigger than Chennai).
The announcement at the beginning of the Kingfisher flight to Chennai went something like this:
“Good afternoon and welcome aboard flight 2907 with service to Chennai. All of your luggage should be now safely stowed under the seats in front of you or in the overhead compartments. If we could now direct your attention to the front of the plane, we will demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft. To use your seat belt… Uh… never mind, we are now making our descent into Chennai international airport, we hope you enjoyed your flight.”
Chennai lies on the lower eastern coast of India, and is a gateway to many other destinations. Two major train stations and two airports service travelers that want to see Tamil Nadu, and Chennai is one of only two cities with service to Port Blair and the Anadman Islands. I’m planning some stops in Tamil Nadu, so Chennai is my way in.
Getting off of the plane, I was hit with a wave of humidity and heat that was very pleasant. This time of year, Chennai and the surrounding areas hover around a respectable 30°C. That is temperatures for the cool post monsoon season. Temperatures of 40°C and higher occur in the hot season of June and July.
I grabbed my luggage and bartered for a prepaid taxi to take me to Hotel Central Tower, which is right across the street from the Chennai Central Train station and close to the Egmore Train Station. All of the prepaid taxis at the airport are old Hindustan Motors Ambassador with bald tires and no suspension. The taxi entered the streets of Chennai with a honk and a wave out the window, and we were off.
The streets here are not as chaotic as Kathmandu, but they are definitely noisier. Instead of a lot of honk honk and beep beep, there is one constant drone of horns… 24/7 on Poonamaliee road, and just like Bangalore, there is construction everywhere. In fact, a new metro rail is being built right across from the hotel.
Central Tower is in a rather seedy part of town and is mainly used as a transit hotel, (groups of businessmen heading out to conventions are always in the lobby) so the rooms were small, but adequate, with A/C, TV, and an Indian wet bathroom. I was expecting the attached restaurant to be less than stellar since my disappointment with the hotel food at The Grand McGrath, but I was delightfully surprised how good the food was. The vegetable curry was hot, in temperature and spice, and the chai was outstanding, and both together was less than 200 Irp ($4). I guess you need to have good food to service the “In Transit” businessman.
The next day I get to see Chennai by day. The area I’m in is still a little seedy… And now smelly as they have most of the sewers open, cleaning them out and renovating them with the new construction.
So I hop in an autorickshaw and tell the driver to take me to the shopping district. He takes me to, what I can only describe as a large Polo Park or Market Mall. In fact a lot of the same stores are in it that are at home including a western style cheese shop. The only good thing I can say is that I found an Apple retailer and FINALLY found a camera adapter kit for the iPad, so expect a couple of big photo dumps soon.
I walk out of the mall, and the same autorickshaw driver sees me.
“Hey boss, you don’t like this one?”
“No, it’s the same as in Canada”
“Ahhh…. Ok, I take you to a better place. No charge”
My BS radar instantly went into overdrive at that point, because every driver, porter, tout, waiter, and even the children walk around with their hand out when they see a westerner, but I decided to take the chance that he wasn’t trying to fleece me too much.
It was refreshing to have an honest driver, he didn’t charge me and took me to the open market. Fruit stands, carpets, fabric, carvings, and many other stalls. It was awesome. I wandered for a couple of hours and came across this stand that sold spices, and ground stuff in front of you and then sealed it in vacuum bags. The smell was so intoxicating that I almost took out a granola bar (my current emergency food) and said “can you put some of that stuff on this?”
Instead, I got them to grind a garam masala for me (custom made with extra garam in it). I also found a T-shirt place and picked up a Chennai shirt, and got a snack of deep fried chilies and some other fresh chaat (snacks).
After I recovered from the Yum coma, I went to the autorickshaw stand, and low and behold, the same guy was there…
Ahhh… Now I get it.
“Hey boss, this one is better.”
“Ya. That was good. Which beach do all of the tourists go to?”
“Where do you go?”
“Take me there”
The beaches are huge. I mean they are enormous. Not only does the white sand stretch down the entire coastline of Chennai, but it took almost half an hour walk to get to the ocean.
Besides two Japanese guys on horseback, I think I was the only westerner there.
Vendors and chai wallahs were at the street side of the beach, and at the ocean’s side there were make shift huts made of bamboo and thatch with people just lounging. In the middle were children playing and a couple of cricket and volleyball games.
I walked up and down for a bit, then headed back to the street side of the beach…
“Hey boss, where would you like to go now?”
“Take me to my hotel… But take the scenic route…”