Sri Balaji Hospital, Chennai

Heavy rain in Mamallapuram. My last view of the town, and this calf trying to shelter, just before I caught the bus to Chennai.

I quite forgot that I had already written in July about how my journey from Mamallapuram, via Chennai, to the airport then home to England was severely curtailed by my Indian Adventure ending up in a hospital stay.

My rickshaw driver in Chennai: after that – a train ride … and an ambulance ride.

But you might like to hear a little about it.

What picture have you got of an Indian Hospital? I bet it’s wrong. My ward at Sri Balaji Hospital resembled pretty much any ward in an older-style British hospital that you may have come across – only cleaner. It sparkled with clean paint, fresh blue and white candy-striped sheets and general good order.

View from my bed in Sri Balaji Hospital, Chennai.

There were four beds in my  unit, and it really surprised me that there were both male and female patients.  This is a country where I had quickly learnt that it was not OK for me to sit next to a man on a bus, yet here I was in the much more intimate setting of a hospital ward, right next to one man and opposite another.  We were looked after by two nurses at night and two by day, all in smart white jacket-and-trousers uniform. The nurses, being Tamil, are of quite astonishing physical beauty: I really couldn’t take my eyes of ‘my’ night nurse, Jhoti, whose loveliness extended to her personality.

They appeared equally taken with me, and would pat and stroke me, or chuck me under the chin at the least provocation. As I started to get better, they amused themselves teaching me Tamil. With one exception, they didn’t speak much English, but what they did know, they’d learnt at Nursing School. Phrases like ‘Go to the toilet’/’Use the bathroom’ etc. were not understood, until light dawned. ‘Ah! You want pass urine?’

Besides nurses there were:
– Nice ladies in saris who appeared to fulfil some kind of auxiliary role.
– Doctors – lots.
– Men in blue jackets and trousers who seemed to be gophers, called Ward Boys.
– Men in brown, ditto – porters.

Dili and friends, the Ward Boys at Sri Balaji Hospital

The night nurses did twelve hour shifts, just like many of their counterparts in British hospitals. Before you feel too sorry for them, they told me that when doing night shift, they work just 10 nights a month.

Medication and tests of all kinds flowed freely – they make the pill-popping French look amateurs.

No TV, no radio, no nice ladies from the WRVS dispensing sweets, newspapers and library books. No getting up either. You lie in bed until you’re good and better, and meanwhile you do nothing. I was caught attempting to wash in the bathroom on my last day, and was chivvied back to bed and given a bed bath.

At visiting time, those of us without visitors did not go without attention. Dozens of noses were pressed against the glass wall of the ward as curious onlookers gave us all the once-over. I felt a bit like an inmate of Bedlam in the 18th century.

When I was discharged, I had a bill to pay of course: one which, together with my altered journey arrangements, would eventually be settled in full by my travel insurance (there’s a moral there.  Though they made a big fuss that I hadn’t got in touch with them from the hospital.  I told them that on a busy ward, I’d been able to make just one call – and that wasn’t even to my husband).  I was utterly terrified of what horrendous sum might be taken from our bank account for my three day stay.  I can’t remember exactly what it was.  But it was in the region of £30.

So that was it.  Feeling still pretty ropey, I had secured an internal flight back to Bangalore, and after an interminable wait through the middle of the night in a draughty luggage hall, an onward flight to London, and later, back home.  Where, apparently, I barely spoke for three days.  But I made up for it later.

Mamallapuram: on the coast of Coromandel

Picture a perfect tropical beach.  The palm trees.  The white sand.  The sun in a cloudless sky above a calm blue sea.  That’s Mamallapuram.  Now look just behind the beach.  Are those statues, monuments?

Beach at Mamallapuram with the Shore Temple in the background.

Yes, they are. This town was once a thriving international port.  The Chinese came here.  The Romans came here.  Sailors and traders from around the known world came here.  An 8th century text describes how ‘the ships rode at anchor bent to the point of breaking, laden as they were with wealth, big-trunked elephants and gems of nine varieties in heaps‘.

Shore Temple, Mamallapuram

And so it was that just before this time, King Navasimharavan and his successor Rajasimharavan built a series of magnificent temples portraying the events of a great Hindu epic Mahabharata.  There are pavilions.  There are shrines shaped as temple chariots.  There are imposing carved elephants.  Here: you can wander round as I did, together with many Indian Sunday trippers.  I simply enjoyed these monumental carvings, without going deeply into their history.  I was quite simply too exhausted by then.

Later I ambled round town.  I bought soap and a toothbrush – remember, I hadn’t planned to spend the night here when I left The Hotel from Hell in Chennai.  I got a few more souvenirs to take home. I ate on the open terrace of a sheltered restaurant, finding easy company in fellow-travellers.  It was a perfect day.  My last day.  I’d be getting up in the morning to go back to Chennai, pack, get to the airport and … fly home.

An entry for Six Word Saturday.

 

 

B****r Chennai!

I was off to Chennai because I’d found a CouchSurfing host – an Indian woman and her husband, not much younger than me. That would be interesting. What an opportunity!  To stay in a real Indian household!

I had no idea what a confusing city Chennai is. It makes Bangalore look like a market town. Busybusybusy with chaotic housing and business districts jumbled together with shanty towns and piles of uncollected rubbish. I thought I’d got used to all that, but this was in a different league, especially after Pondicherry. 

When I arrived chez my prospective host, she told me she didn’t plan to put me up, but had booked me into a local hotel, the only one in the area. I hated it.  The traffic screamed and hooted all night. The shower didn’t work. I had to get up at 2 a.m to ask the manager to turn down his Bollywood DVD he was whiling away the night with, and the traffic and hotel clamour began well before 5.00 a.m., mainly men loudly clearing their throats, spitting and coughing. I stomped round the area looking for another hotel, but there wasn’t one, good, bad or indifferent (indifferent would do).

Some of Chennai’s endless traffic.

Later,  I quite enjoyed being whisked round the city by my CouchSurfing host – highlights were the ancient banyan tree in the Theosophical Society Gardens …

… and sundry Catholic churches pretending to be wedding cakes. Lads on the beach playing cricket.  Though I wasn’t allowed to pick my own photo opportunities. ‘ Here! Take photo here!’

But at the back of my mind all the time, when I wasn’t fighting sleep, was the dread of spending another night at that awful, awful hotel. I was dropped off after our day out at 4.30 and fully intended to take a nap, but clamour prevented it. I gave up and went and rang dozens of hotels – no vacancies. My CouchSurfing host’s plans for the next day included a taxi to Mamallipuram, with, or apparently without her. 

Night came and endless hours of listening to traffic and my fellow guests throat-clearing and spitting. So at 6.30 I got up, wrote and delivered a note to my host, and got a rickshaw to the Bus Stand. Let me tell you it’s not easy when three different people give you three different bus numbers, and three different stops, and the bus destinations are only in Tamil script, but I was determined to get to Mamallapuram good and early, so I coped. Chaotic Chennai traffic eventually gave way to palm trees, lagoons, and views of the sea, Finally I was happy.

Advice for my fellow hotel guests,but seen in Mammallapuram.

Mamallapuram struck me as a more congenial place to be. It’s a small seaside town, albeit touristy, With Added Culture. It’s a World Heritage Site with fantastic temple architecture and sculpture which I’ll share images of in my next post.

Walking down the street, I suddenly thought ‘I don’t HAVE to go back to Chennai tonight’. The first hotel I called at had a room, monastically simple, but clean. Outside my room was a shady courtyard, and as I started to talk about Chennai to the American tourist relaxing there, I just burst into tears. I didn’t know just how badly the noise and exhaustion had been affecting me, but I DID know that a night at the seaside was just what I needed.

View of Mamallipuram from the Shore Temple

The Post I Prepared to Post……

… before giving you a Bonus Post.

Now it’s Six Word Saturday Two.

Rainy Ripon’s Festival of Fallen Leaves

Start in the dripping, glistening garden …

… then go to Ripon – still raining …

Lustrous leaves shine on the pavement.

 

These are for two challenges: Six Word Saturday and A Festival of Leaves

 

Tree House at the Berlin Wall

Today commemorates the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  You’ll find plenty of posts celebrating this in different ways:  here’s one.

I thought instead I would share a tale I heard when we were in Berlin two years ago.  It’s an optimistic, positive story for unoptimistic times.

September 17th, 2017

The tale of a tree house

I love this story.  I hope you do too.

Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, one night in 1961, Berlin became a divided city. At first there was merely barbed wire fencing, then a wall. It was all done in such a hurry that mistakes were made. One tiny part of Kreuzberg that belonged to the Eastern sector got isolated in the West. The Americans – for it was in their zone – could do nothing about this unremarkable patch. It became an unloved and unlovely rubbish dump.

Then along came Osman Kalin, an immigrant Turk. He wanted a vegetable patch. He cleared the land and started to plant seeds.  As his patch became productive, he gave vegetables to schools, to the local church, to anyone in need. He cobbled together a rather ramshackle tree house.  He became something of a local hero.

Initially, the East didn’t mind. But when East Berliners successfully started to tunnel under his patch and escape he came under suspicion. The authorities came to interrogate him, and he welcomed them in his usual hospitable way. They gave up and left him alone.

In 1989, the Wall fell. A newly united Berlin City Council began to see Osman’s ramshackle domain as an embarrassment. They gave him notice to quit. The local and wider community was horrified. 25,000 people signed a petition demanding he be allowed to go on growing his vegetables.

He stayed. He’s 95 now, and doesn’t work so much on his vegetable patch, though his son does. He lives in a flat nearby rather than in the tree house. He’s still a much-loved local hero.

I heard this story on a walking tour offered by Alternative Berlin Tours, led by the remarkable and endlessly interesting Dave. Very highly recommended.

 An entry for Six Word Saturday. In her post, Debbie too has chosen to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall

A little bit of France in India: Pondicherry

Pondicherry.  Until 1954, a French Colonial settlement.  I wanted to stay in this most French bit of India, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Only its historic old town built, French style, in a grid pattern retains a Gallic flavour these days, but what fun I had there.

Sacred Heart Church, near where I was staying. A Catholic church in glorious technicolour.

I think Pondicherry remains in my memory as  a haven of peace because -well, it was.  My solo Indian journey was stimulating, exciting, eye -opening: but exhausting.  A solo female traveller had few options for daytime relaxation.  I wasn’t spending my days in tourist Meccas, so there were no coffee shops for me to enjoy simple down-time. Men had their tea shops.  Women – not so much.  Pondicherry provided these, and the shores of the Bay of Bengal. And French patisseries where I discovered the joy of an Indian croissant and a strong shot of coffee as an antidote to spicy fare.  I truly loved my spit-and-sawdust all-you-can-eat-piled-on-a-banana-leaf cafes, but they weren’t places to linger after you’d downed your food.  In Pondicherry I went up-market, without the up-market bills.

I stayed in a hotel called Le Rêve Bleu, and was immediately transported back to the town’s colonial days.  Older staff spoke French, because they would have been taught in French at school.  Sadly, this no longer applies to anyone younger than 55 or so: it’s English now.

Rooms were large and elegantly proportioned, and there was a leafy courtyard.  Christelle, the young and cheerful French owner whizzed me about on her motor bike on shopping sprees to make sure I wasn’t ripped off when choosing the textiles I wanted to take home.  She found me a young local woman who gave me a couple of wonderfully relaxing and rejuvenating massages.  And her male staff cooked up beautifully spicy breakfasts that I ate in that courtyard.  Yet this was a budget hotel.

All the same, I didn’t sleep much there.  My room overlooked a quiet road where from midnight, the female street cleaners would get busy.  They spread themselves over several streets, and shouted conversations to each other.  They’d sit down cross legged on the pavement near my window and chatter during their breaks.  I was charmed by them.  Night birds called.  Dogs fought. At 5.30 there was the Call to Prayer.  At 6.30, the (often female) builders showed up at the building site opposite.  Hopeless really.

A fuzzy night photo of the street cleaners sit in the road and have a nice loud chat in the middle of the road outside le Rêve Bleu at midnight.

So I’d get up early and go for a walk along the seafront.  I’d look as the schoolchildren piled into rickshaws or onto the backs of bikes arriving  at school.  I’d smile at the policemen in their fine French kepis, and enjoy passing public buildings still signed in French.

To be continued….

New readers:  This is Chapter Something-or-Other of an occasional series of memories of my month long trip to India in 2007.

November: Depressing? Or with Hidden Gems?

I really don’t like November.  It’s dank, dismal, dreary and depressing, despite being my elder daughter’s birthday month (my Bonfire Night baby).  I need a project to cheer me up.

I’ve found one.  I’ll take at least one photo in the walled garden, every single day throughout the month, come rain, come shine.

Then on Thursday I read Amy’s blog post in which she celebrates the changing season in Yosemite with a glorious gallery of photos.  She’s joined Sue’s blogging challenge called, of course, Changing Seasons.  That seems to be a perfect peg to hang my photos on.

My shots today show the garden on a thoroughly Novemberish sort of Friday: raining, of course.  Later on this month, I’ll post again.  Whatever the weather, I hope it’ll show that even in November, beginning with the final vestiges of summer, and winter setting in towards the end of the month, that the walled garden is a fine place to be.

 

This is also an entry for Six Word Saturday.