Chennai

Saturday 20 January 2018

I landed in Bangalore at 5.30am, which was slightly later than anticipated.

Rather than spend the weekend in Bangalore, I decided to hop somewhere close by – Chennai.

After dropping my bags. And buying a green juice. I was back on another plane. A small propellor plane. Not my favourite.

It was only a 35 minute hop across the country to the east coast. My first time on the eastern coast of India and my first time in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Chennai is India’s fourth biggest city (behind Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata) and is now a 400-sq-km conglomerate of urban villages. It is rather randomly the health capital of India – many people from across India come here for procedures.

I got a prepaid taxi from the airport (450 Rp, about £5). I’m staying at the southern end of the city, in the old neighbourhood of Mylapore – which means ‘town of peacocks’.

The traffic was bad. It took about 40minutes. And felt a bit like being back in the horrific traffic of Bangalore. Maybe every Indian city is like this now…!

By the time I was at the hotel it was around 10am and luckily they gave me a room straight away, so I could dump my stuff and have a shower.

I wanted to head out to the large temple complex before it closed for lunch. So I got an uber! It wasn’t far and cost me only 87 rupees. The hotel wanted to charge me 890 for the same journey…!

Kapaleeshwarar Temple is the largest temple in the city and has the main architectural elements of a typical Tamil Nadu temple:

– a rainbow-coloured gopuram (gateway tower);

⁃ pillared mandapas (pillared pavilions); and

⁃ a huge water tank (like a lake) – and is dedicated to the state’s most popular deity, Shiva.

The uber dropped me off next to the markets which lined all the streets around the temple. Selling all the usual temple parapenelia – flowers, flower garlands, Clay oil burners, bindis, leaves (cow food), coconuts and bracelets. All in the usual chaotic fashion of motorbikes and tuk tuks weaving between the people, along the narrow streets.

The hotel had told me that foreigners weren’t allowed inside the temple. So I was planning on just walking around the edge. But I could see small tour groups of white people inside. So I went in. Perhaps they meant foreigners aren’t allowed inside the buildings within the temple complex. I’m not sure!

But it was cool.

Lots of small buildings. The roofs all covered in brightly coloured statues.

On opposite ends of the complex was a gate. This had a large tower on the top, of all the statues.

Lots of people were in the area, many sitting down on the floor, seemingly just people watching.

There was a continual noise playing. Not nice twinkly temple music. But a rather strange bonging noise.

In several places around, there were small tables which you could light your clay and wax burner.

There was even a shed full of cows. All with blue horns. Not sure if that has any significance. But they looked well looked after – they all had a lot of food.

After wandering around a few times. Being stopped along the way by people who wanted selfies. I headed back out into the chaos.

I wanted to walk to the beach. Roads are not made for walking in India. There might be a broken pavement for about 5 meters. Then nothing for ages. So you end up half walking on the road. On peoples front porch. Dodging parked (and moving!) vehicles. And is all a bit scary. A good tactic seems to be to follow behind someone else. Particularly for road crossing, weaving between all the moving tuk tuks and motorbikes and buses and cars.

The walk wasn’t too exciting. Just through a neighbourhood area, various shops and cafes and mechanics.

I passed by San Thome cathedral. Strikingly white. With a large golden post next to it. The cathedral was built in the 16th century, then rebuilt in 1896. It survived the 2004 tsunami.

Behind the cathedral was a pathway leading down to the beach. Through an abandoned slum. There were quite a lot of very elderly homeless people sitting along the path. Completely surrounded by so much plastic rubbish.

The path lead out onto a road, which lined the coastline.

The tsunami hit here in 2004 and wiped out the slums along the beach. The government rebuilt some of the land into tall, ugly, concrete housing blocks.

Directly opposite, some cows hanging out on the sand.

After crossing the road, I walked along the sand.

I’m not sure what I expected. But it certainly wasn’t this. Everywhere was dirty. Plastic absolutely everywhere. Almost more plastic than sand. You really had to watch every single step. There were a lot of faeces around. It was only after a few minutes that I realised they were human. Absolutely everywhere.

I was heading north, up the beach. And soon hit the fishermen’s area.

The entire beach was full of plastic. Piles of nets everywhere. Boats lining the tide line. In addition to the rotting food. Other plastic waste. And human faeces.

On the road, along this section of the beach, small huts and stalls line the length of the road. Selling so much fish. Barracuda. Tuna. Snapper. Prawns. And baby sharks. So sad.

Just north of the fishermen was a lighthouse. And up from here the more ‘recreational’ area of the beach – where people were hanging out. But it was still just as dirty. Such a shame. I just cannot believe the volume of plastic rubbish.

From here, I was going to catch an Uber back to the hotel. But rather handily a tuk tuk driver drove past. I thought I would give it a go. The man seemed nice and seemed to agree on 100rupees, but then kept telling me that I didn’t need to pay him and instead he wanted to learn English. So I started to get suspicious.

Then after about 10minutes, he stops and says that he wants to take me shopping. I say no. He insists. I say no. And we carry on. We were generally headed in the right direction, so I wasn’t getting too worried.

Then we arrive at said shop. An expensive tourist shop full of the usual – silver things, fabric things, wooden things and scarfs. I bought nothing. Because I need nothing. And the tuk tuk man wasn’t happy. But he eventually took me to the hotel.

Lesson learned. Just don’t bother with the hassle. Uber was cheaper. Faster. No deviations. And was a nice and easy to book on the app. Game changer.

I haven’t eaten since about 4pm England time yesterday. I had hoped to buy some street food whilst I was out, but didn’t spot much around. So ended up having lunch at the hotel.

I ordered what I was told was local food. Which ended up being a large platter of beige things. Idli, dosa, vada, plus some new things – batter covered chilli, and some dough balls filled with vegetables. It was nice. But far too much – and not very healthy!

After lunch, I headed up onto the roof of the hotel. Amazing views over the city. And a nice pool. Which was too cold. I sat here for a while. Enjoying the warm.

I was far too tired for anything else the rest of the afternoon and had an early night.

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