Chennai Times – Arrival in India

My month-long trip to India was an eye-opener… and a nose opener… and a delicious treat for the native mosquitoes. I wrote to keep from going hotel-room crazy – with not too much success. Here’s entry one; the rest will follow.

Hello from Chennai, India!

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I have just made the happy discovery that in this hotel, all my plugs go straight into the wall with no adaptors required. I suppose it’s the ‘international business hotel’ remit thingy. This turns out to be good news, as I can’t get the fiddly ‘world’ adaptor I bought at the airport to work properly. Some international business traveller I am, eh?

We arrived at what felt like 11pm last night but was in Indian time 3.30 in the morning, after a largely uneventful flight (the in flight films were too awful to describe – I watched two and can’t remember a thing about them), so I still wasn’t too tired and was feeling rather smug about having jet lag ‘this way around’. Chennai airport is large and (comparatively) well run. The first thing I noticed was a big sign on the wall saying ‘SEEK TO FULFIL YOUR DUTY. SEEK NOT TO CLAIM YOUR REWARD’, and I wondered whether that was supposed to inspire generally virtuous thoughts, or specifically to prepare passengers for queuing ages for their baggage without complaining. The second noticeable thing follows almost immediately, and in my case, unintentionally – the tiled, highly polished floors are very slidey. I wanted to take a good run at them and see how far I could get, but thought perhaps airports didn’t allow that sort of thing. You have trouble managing your suitcase on them. I had trouble managing myself, to be honest, and had to ice skate in slow motion to the money office, to change my pounds to rupees (you can’t bring rupees into OR out of the country – in India, money is a controlled substance…).

The airport as a whole seemed quite dingy but then it was 3.30 in the morning. I had to remind myself of this again when the immigration lady took five minutes looking carefully and suspiciously between my passport photo and myself. I was a little unnerved at this, especially when she frowned and passed my passport over to the next guy along. Come on, love. I only had that photo taken three weeks ago. I tried charm, and took off my glasses with a crack about looking better without them, but the guy only laughed and passed it back, saying something I’m sure was along the lines of ‘What a miserable looking photo’. The lady scrutinised me AGAIN for five minutes (starting to get a bit hot in the face, now) then handed my passport back with a sort of ‘rather you had your face than I did’ shrug. My facial features had been disparaged, but I was in!

Downstairs there was an ancient, crumbling man sitting behind a tiny booth – really a table on wheels – with a piece of A4 bearing the sign ‘HEALTH’ sellotaped onto the front. I had no idea what he was for, especially as he didn’t look like a paragon of healthy living, but thankfully we bypassed him and went straight to collect our baggage, which took a little while but wasn’t too bad. By the time we got out it was 2.30am UK time, and even later for the seventy poor souls jostling for position outside the airport waiting for arrivals, so I was feeling considerably less smug all round. We found the driver with our names on signs and followed him to a massive 4×4, which I unfortunately did not catch the name of. It was a good two-feet step up from the ground, which was fun, but once inside I discovered that the seatbelt did not have a clicker. This felt slightly ominous. I held the seatbelt round me instead.

A lot’s been said about Indian roads, and most of it seems to be true, even at 5.30 in the morning. There are very few streetlamps that work on either side of the road, so most of the shops and businesses were in pitch blackness. I spotted a couple of sets of high rise flats which looked like they’d been airlifted from the outskirts of Birmingham, but otherwise an assessment of the city itself will have to wait till we venture out again today. The road we followed generally seemed to go right through the centre, but occasionally took unexplained detours through bumpy back streets, and past large abandoned warehouses. Once we apparently forded a small stream. The busy roads are unfortunately about as chaotic as they’re usually described. Large vehicles like ours shouldered with smaller cars, there were a few open-backed trucks darting through gaps they really shouldn’t have been darting through, an innumerable swarm of motorcycles (all worn without helmets) and, of course, the auto-rickshaws: tiny little yellow and black open-sided boxes on three wheels, usually with only one headlight, seemingly powered by an electric toothbrush. The rickshaws and the motorcycles seem to have an ancient rivalry going on, as they beeped at each other more or less constantly, even without reason – just for the heck of it. I was on the side of the motorcycles, until I saw the beepee in question had his wife on the back, who was carrying a collapsible red baby walker under one arm, and – I swear I saw this – a baby under the other. It was all very exciting, although a bit unnerving for someone currently minus a seatbelt clicker.

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The hotel is large and professional looking – witness the multi plugs – and my room is huge, nicely lit and air-conditioned, with a fancy bathroom, including, bizarrely, a little pot of nail varnish remover. This is good as I’m going to be here for two whole weeks. Now all I have to do is negotiate the wireless internet (it’s not free, and I’m wondering if the typesetters pay ALL our hotel bills, or just the eat-and-sleep bit) and I’ll be laughing. The bed is too large for one person (I slept strictly on the left side of it out of habit) but perhaps two weeks will be long enough for me to get into some bad bed-hogging habits.

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This afternoon the silent driver from last night is coming back to take us to the Marina. It should be good. By the way, £150 translates to 11000 rupees. ELEVEN THOUSAND. I’ve never had eleven thousand of anything. I’m now wishing my trousers weren’t too tight to wear the money belt Tim gave me. Perhaps they’ll fit with a skirt? I’ll work that out after a shower, which will be lovely. My next challenge awaits me: how do you have a shower without getting some of the water in your mouth?!

The answer to this with other riveting tales will have to follow in due course. Tune in next time, folks…

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4 thoughts on “Chennai Times – Arrival in India

      • Bangalore. It is better than Chennai. But the traffic is still bad. But if I look from an outsider’s perspective, the experience of living here can be exhilarating. The colours, sounds and smells (the good ones of course :)).

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