B****r Chennai!

India

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

Snapshot Sunday: Adverts repurposed as breakfast

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s WordPress photo challenge is ‘Repurpose’.  We’re to submit an image of something of our own that we’ve put to a new use. I couldn’t come up with anything worth a snapshot, even though I’m rather keen on ‘repurposing’.

Instead, I want you to come with me to Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.  I was there almost ten years ago as part of my Indian Adventure.  I loved this town.  It’s not quite on the tourist trail, as its glorious and extravagantly carved temples remain unpainted.  They are not vibrantly painted like those in nearby Madurai, so Madurai gets the foreign visitors.

I stayed* with a young American academic, Gwen, who for seven years had made Thanjavur her home.  She whisked me about on her motor bike, introduced me to her Indian friends and neighbours, asked me to run errands for her in the market where nobody spoke English or saw tourists much, and took me to tiny back street shops to buy freshly prepared and sizzling-hot evening meals.

I was by myself though, when early one morning I came upon these goats. They’d found a new use for the adverts pasted on the walls of a house. Look.

goats-in-thanjavur

And here’s the cow that was tethered outside Gwen’s window.  It’s found an unfortunate use for the pile of rubbish tumbled into a pile on the corner.

View from Gwen's window

View from Gwen’s window

Finally, here’s a different use for a pavement.  It’s become a canvas for traditional drawings in fine sand.  These designs frame the lights which lit our path homewards every evening during Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light.

diwali

And here are three picture postcards – temple views.

* via ‘Couchsurfing’, a scheme which matches travellers with locals, who offer beds, local knowledge and friendship.