We have been in Chennai for three weeks now and feel we know our way around this area quite well. We are house sitting in Besant Nagar, right in the heart of Chennai, Southern India. We arrived at the awful hour of midnight, but still, our awesome home owner was there waiting for us. We are so grateful for this as we feel the worst part of the travel is getting to your first nights accommodation, where ever you land in the world.
It is always so exciting to meet new people and this is no exception. We ended up spending a couple of hours chatting, we met the two lovely cats and finally crashed.
We had he whole day with Shoba as she showed us around the neighbourhood and introduced us to Southern Indian cuisine with a fabulous breakfast at the end of the road. She educated us in some of the protocols of dining, ie eating with your fingers – right hand only, straight off the banana leaf. She showed us where to get groceries, and where to get beer. She introduced us to a few of her friends who speak English well, just in case we need a bit of help. It was a great introduction and we felt ready to tackle this completely foreign place ourselves.
Its not easy to walk down the road. There is so much stuff on the pavement. You have to constantly zig zag around piles of cement, motorbikes, ladies tying flowers, rubbish, dogs, cows, tree roots, dislodged man hole covers and, of course, other people, standing OR sleeping. You don’t only have to watch where you put your feet but you must keep an eye upward to dodge the tree limbs and all manner of wiring hanging down. We are getting good at the “Chennai shuffle” where its a little dance over the rubble and the broken concrete, dodging things you would rather not get on the bottom of your shoes, off the road, on the road, listening with both ears to determine whether the horns you are hearing are meant for you, telling you “I’m coming through- watch out!” There is one corner right by us which we have named “suicide corner” you really do take you life into your own hands when trying to cross, but we are getting better at it.
Besant Nagar Beach and Elliot’s Beach are a 10 – 15 minute walk. There is always a breeze so its nice to get down there most days. It is not like a beach we are used to though. It is not really safe to swim. There is a steep drop off and the waves can be really dumpy and there always looks to be a rip. It is also not very clean, so you can imaging how Chris is feeling with an ocean at his finger tips and unable to get wet. Its funny watching the locals, there is always a crowd around and they love taking selfies in front of the sea. They often go in with their shoes on and their jeans and dresses, and even Sarees, get wet up to their knees. Lots of laughing and fun, its great to watch.
There are communities living right on the beach. Lots of fishing boats are sitting on the sand outside tiny, makeshift houses, some still with thatched rooves and sometimes just tarpaulins.
Oh the food is amazing!! I always thought Thai cuisine was my favourite but I am tending toward Indian now. Every bite explodes in your mouth. From the Idly and Dosa for breakfast and the Biryani for lunch to the deep, rich curries for dinner – we are loving it all. And eating with your fingers adds a new dimension. It is also very very cheap to eat out. There is no point in trying to cook at home. The street we are living on has so many restaurants and eating places, little coffee houses but no bars. We are always the only western people but we are now getting recognised and we have our own regular table at one place. A lot of the curries are not recognisable to us by name, so we just take pot luck and are never disappointed. 2 coffees and 4 pastries with curried chicken or veg inside, $2 NZD! And the pastry! WOW, who knew that Indians could bake that well, any Frenchman would be delighted to have one!
I mentioned no bars. Well, hardly any bars, and the few that are around are fairly well hidden. It has taken a bit of work but with much determination, we have found a couple. They are usually up stairs, away from the public eye, very dark and secretive. You have to give names and phone number and show identification to get in. OK cool, we have got a handle on that, what about a bottle store or off licence? Now that has been a challenge. The only place you can get alcohol in the state of Tamil Nadu is at a TASMAC (government owned alcohol shop) Shoba took us to one on the first day and we have since located another two.
The first one we found on our own took three passes up the street, even with referring to google maps. In the end we asked a guy and he pointed up a narrow corrugated iron alley way leading to the back of the shops. In there, there was a window to order from, there were a few leaners where a few guys must have been standing there all day, no women except for the beggar. We got a six pack and high-tailed it out of there, very cloak and daggers! Just by chance we found another one, a bit better than the other one, not too far up our street. Chris has been a couple of times now and every time the price is different – So funny, but it does mean we can have a beer here in the apartment on the balcony, just perfect!
A day at the Government Museum was fantastic. The buildings themselves were museum pieces. Great exhibits and a fun day out.
Taking an Auto around the place is a total adventure in itself. It is not unlike a theme park ride. The drivers are amazing. Where they can put these little yellow, three wheeled machines is nothing short of miraculous. Zipping here and there, in and out of the traffic, toot toot, we are coming through, left side of the road, no, right side of the road, see a gap go for it, toot toot, jam on the breaks. And when the traffic is less, on a two lane road, lets just drive on the white line, right down the middle and cover all bases! Lets take the extreme outside, no no, lets cut the corner, take the inside – Crazy!!
We had another nice day at the Fort Saint George and looked at the modern stone memorial and tomb for the former Tamil Nadu chief minister MG Ramachandran (1977-1987)
We are having a blast here in Chennai. It has opened our eyes to many things and we are so thankful to be able to be here to experience this very special part of the world.