India, Tamil Nadu

India, what a place! Landed in Chennai at 7am and quickly left. Completely different to what I imagined it to be and didn’t want to spend another minute there. We headed south to a town just outside of Chennai that neither Abby or I could pronounce correctly. Google maps calls it Mahabalipuram.

After an initial battle with the Taxi man to take us to our hotel without forking out more money for the ‘town toll’ (which I was adamant I wasn’t paying as it was just a scam) we eventually found the place.

After only 2 hours in India Abby wanted to go home. She couldn’t handle the amount of people everywhere, walking in front of traffic without looking (even though living in Oswestry you’d have thought she’d be used to that by now). The constant horn blowing of tuk tuks, cars, buses and motorbikes was driving her crazy. The cattle and goats just trotting down the street willy-nilly and let’s not even start on the mounds of rubbish which was everywhere, and that is not an exaggeration. It all got a bit too much. I on the other hand was loving it again as it was exactly how I remembered except on a much smaller scale. Hopefully she will have gotten used to it before we hit Delhi otherwise I may be in trouble, again!

After a cold drink she started to relax. Unbeknown to us, we had arrived at the start of a public holiday for this region of India and the place was heaving with Indians from all over the county. We were constantly stopped and asked to pose with families for pictures which were funny at first, but after appearing in 12 different pictures in only about 20 yards, it made trying to get anywhere to see things painfully slow. We explored the town and visited the major attractions, Krishna's Butter Ball, Shore Temple, Five Rathas.

The butterball was very strange but my favourite of the attractions (a massive rock in the middle of nowhere just perched on a hill). We both did give it a good old shove to see if we could move it but it was remaining stationary.

This part of India is famous for its stone carvings and there were hundreds of them. They were all fantastic and I would have loved to take home something for the garden. There was a 6 foot (lifelike) crocodile that I took a fancy to and I reckoned I could have got the bloke down from the £9k he wanted to something more reasonable. It did apparently weigh around a tonne though!

The only other thing to mention was Abby went and had a pair of trousers tailor made for her which she is well impressed by and hasn’t taken them off.

We left Mahabalipuram and got the train down to Madruai where we were going to spend a few days. The Indian railway system is much more developed that that of Sri Lanka and they have around 10,000 trains a day. As you can imagine, the reservation process is somewhat complicated to say the least. In fact, it’s more complicated to understand than some of the more difficult mathematical equations I used to have to do as part of my degree. There are also 8 different classes of travel on Indian trains and none of which now allow me to sit on the roofs! (Well maybe in the north they will as it’s busier but for now I can still hang out the doors!)

We opted for the AC 2 class as most of the non-long distance trains don’t have AC 1 or AC Chair (which are the first classes). Our carriage consisted of berths of 4 separated by 2 solid walls and a curtain with 2 upper and lower bunks.

Sleeper class (which is how most of the Indian population travel) is similar to this but with 6 to a berth, no AC and is pretty grim.

Unreserved class is the cheapest and you can travel some real long distances for not a lot of money, but is not for the faint hearted! This is where everyone is just packed in together along with the local chickens and goats, with not much change or being able to turn your head, let alone move.

As it was nearing dinner time, every station we pulled into I jumped off and went and bought something different from the guys selling food on the platform. It was a bit like Russian Roulette for me with my peanut allergy as I didn’t have a clue what it was or what was in it. Also, my chief food tester had reserved her right to not have to test anything for peanuts if it looked too hot to eat!

We arrived in Madurai around 1am with no accommodation booked but quickly and easily found a hotel with 24hr reception and checked in for 3 nights.

The only major thing we wanted to do in Madurai was visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple which was located right in the centre of the city. Again as it was a public holiday there were thousands of extra people there and it was manic. The temple was really nicely decorated with the colours etc but non Hindu’s were not allowed in certain parts of it so we didn’t get to see everything. Loads of people keep asking Abby and I to be in their photos with them outside the temple. People also kept stopping us and asking us to take pictures of them, with our camera. It’s funny as they don’t generally smile in photos, so it just looks like I have stopped some random strangers and asked them to stand there while I take photos of them.

Every day India so far has been a constant battle to fend off beggars and stopping people trying to sell you things and dragging you in their shops. We have given change to some poor people but where do you stop? Also, people normally leave you alone if you just say, ‘No Thanks’ but we found people here to be quite rude if you said no and just kept harassing us.

One bloke (who must have been mid 40s) came up to me just outside the temple and grabbed my arm and started screaming at me for some reason. At first I thought he wanted me to take a picture of his daughter who couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. But then I realised he was getting aggressive and either mistaken me for someone he had an issue with, or just wanted to fight me.  Anyway, he gave me a slap on my shoulder and stormed off with 2 others. Well I stood there for a few seconds in disbelief looking at Abby and looking at the other Indian people around me who were by now staring at me.

I don’t have the longest fuse in the world as it is, so I decided to follow him at a pretty quick pace. He turned around and saw some fuming white bloke charging after them at which point he said something to the others and they all dived into a crowded shop. I stood outside for a few seconds looking at them, looking back at me and when Abby caught up we just left and headed back to the hotel.

The next day we were due to leave on the 16:35 train towards Kochi but due to the complexity of the train reservation system we ended up as positions 1 and 2 in the waiting list for cancellations so we not allowed to board.  I did get on and tried to bribe the ticket inspector but he was having none of it! So we wandered back into town and stupidly got a taxi to take us there and then to Kochi instead of checking in for another night and waiting until the morning. Who knew 270km was going to take 8 hours!

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