Judi Stewart and Guy Cowley

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An interesting building in the city centre - but past its best!
More detail of the same building

We arrived in Chennai at 8.30 at night. We had booked the first four night’s accommodation with our flight.  One website said ‘3 star’ and another half a star!!! It turned out more than OK.  No frills but everything we needed.

Jetlag was a bit evident as we didn’t even blink until 8.45.  Breakfast was part of the deal so there was no missing out on a freeby. We were offered a list of things we could order in what looked like a ‘soup kitchen’ but was a basic Indian coffee shop attached to the hotel. It was our first introduction to dosai and iddli.  They are really quite good.  Iddli is a rice cake which is served with curd and dahl and dosai a very thin either wheat or rice crepe.  The fillings vary but are often potato based. 

Our accommodation was a bit out of town, so the first adventure was to get ourselves into the city.  Guy was keen on the bus but I declined after seeing people hanging out the doors, and we had no idea which bus to catch.  We did a lot of walking until we found the railway station.  An absolutely huge building with one line in either direction and virtually no people!!! We did though get to where we wanted to go.

The centre of Chennai is bland, unexciting and the only the real adventure of day one was getting to and from our accommodation. We were hot, very dirty and rather weary when we got back to the hotel later that night.

We decided to eat dinner locally. We’d seen a couple of restaurants that looked possible very nearby. Once we’d walked more than a couple of metres from the hotel it was pitch black, as there were only intermittent street lighting.  I’m just so glad the pavements are horrendous, which forces you to look carefully where you are treading, as within 50 metres of leaving the hotel we managed to miss stepping on two stray dogs, several people asleep on the pavement and one poor man who was very close to death. The realities of India strike home. 

The key aim for our time in Chennai was to decide if this was the place we wanted to settle for two months.  We had decided to spend the first month of our time in India ‘just looking about’ and the final two months settled in one spot so we could ’feel life’ a little bit more like a local.

A friend of Laura (Guy’s sister) had worked for a company called Global Adjustments in Chennai. She had given us numerous little tips plus an introduction to Global Adjustments.  We headed by auto rickshaw to a house in one of the nicer suburbs, where Global Adjustments was located. Warmly welcomed, they were very helpful.  There was only one viable option and that was a serviced apartment. We talked over some options but didn’t view as Chennai hadn’t really struck us as a place one would opt to live. We took only two photos of the same building (see left) the whole time we were there, which rather says it all!! Chennai was also more expensive than other places we might choose to live.  

We did the usual Cowley walking tour of places of interest including things we might find useful if we did live there (not knowing what we might find in the other destinations we had chosen to visit).  Many things about India reminded us of Brazil.  In Brazil, except for the Shopping Malls, shops of interest were rarely sited together.  A house would be used as a shop and could be found in the better housing areas. Using this theory we found a house housing a book shop, coffee shop and dress shop.   The dress shop and coffee shop was full of expats and we could see that it would be easy to fit back into the sort of life we had had in Brazil. Albeit a little poorer without all the trimmings you get with being associated with a big company.

Our next stop was to be Mamallapuram and we had worked hard to find out how to get ourselves there .  Our hotel had been helpful in this process and it seemed cheap and easy to get a taxi.  Piled up with our luggage we waited in the heat for the taxi to arrive. Life here is very much in two categories - a/c (air conditioning) and non a/c.    A/c offers cool air and better surroundings. We were trying to keep costs down so had booked non a/c.

Our car arrived and the driver, easily spotting the two ‘white guys’, quickly grabbed hold of our luggage and heaved it into the boot.    Past experience had taught us to check the price and of course it had nearly doubled!!! Once we started to negotiate our driver's English dwindled to only a few words. He was only concerned with getting us into the car and on our way as that would seal the price.

 We hauled all the luggage back out and went through an hour of negotiations with the driver, and his company by phone.  Finally, a price was agreed. Hot and bothered we clamoured into the back seat for what turned out to be a ride of our life!!

The most hairy moment was when our driver, while having two separate conversations on handheld mobiles, heads towards a Police road narrowing at about 60mph!!!  We skidded around the metal drums on two wheels nearly throwing Guy and I out of the open windows (non a/c!!!).
Passing other vehicles, and tooting at everything, is the norm.  Drives seem fearless and passing the car that is passing the truck on a narrow road with cars coming towards you is not unusual.