Monday, December 19, 2005

Holy Cow, we have arrived in India!!

Yesterday late morning we left from Bangkok international airport on a Thai airways flight heading for Chennai (Madras) in south India. We arrived mid-afternoon at the Chennai airport, with about 3.5 hours in flight time. Chennai is apparently only second to Bangalore in software engineering in India. We spent at least an hour trying to figure out how to get some cash, we tried an ATM but it didn't take our foreign cards, and eventually found a money-changing desk operated by the state bank of India where we could obtain some cash.

We had decided on the airplane to head right for Mamallapuram which is a city a little ways south of Chennai on the coast. According to our lonely planet guidebook to South India, it was reputed to be a small laid back village on the coast. Our first task was to get a bus to the central bus station in Chennai, which is the largest bus station in Asia (!!) We thought that we could then get a bus from there down to Mammalapuram. As soon as we got out onto the main boulevard in front of the airport, we saw a different world from Bangkok, let alone the US. The streets are very busy in Chennai with so many motorcycles, autorickshaws, and buses it is hard to imagine without seeing for yourself. In any case, there are no lanes whatsoever and the use of the horn is very popular. We asked a gentleman in a white uniform which bus went to the central bus station and he told us to get on anything with a '70'. This brings up a good point, there are fewer travellers in India than in bangkok, but it is much easier to find English speakers. Most bus-riders in Chennai, for example, we found had at least basic English skills, some even fluent.

So, when a 70 came by, we hopped on, and the bus was packed. we were the only westerners on this bus, but everyone was friendly and helpful. Also, while the men wear basically western style clothes (simple button shirts and simple slacks, often dark), the vast majority of women wear beautiful saris in such vibrant colors! Their clothing is a treat to see on a full dirty old bus! With our 36lb large backpacks we were certainly out of the ordinary. When we arrived at the vast central bus station, we found that it did seem more like an airport (albeit a third world one) than a bus station. we asked for directions a few times and found our way to a platform with a bus numbered 188 waiting. this matched what our guidebook said and a fellow we asked said it was going to Mamallapuram as well. We got on the bus and stuffed our big backpacks into the overhead shelves, a tight fit. The bus ride was about 2 hours from Chennai, and we again asked others on the bus to let us know when to get off, since stops are not announced and it is hard to see road signs in the rain.

Once we arrived in Mammalapuram, we were quite tired and decided to just enlist the services of an autorickshaw (a covered tuk-tuk) to get us to the siva guest house, where we wanted to stay. We had not had a chance to figure out how to call from Chennai, so we were arriving unannounced and hoped they had a room. We squeezed into the back seat, just a touch bigger than the back seat of a porsche 911, with our backpacks for a trip just a half mile or so to our guest house. We were pleased that they had a room, which is quite basic (two small beds pushed together, sink, bathroom with open shower and toilet, no hot water), but priced accordingly and very clean. It costs the equivalent of $5.51 a night. We have subsequently found (from reading the guidebook) that the optimal accommodation seems to vary buy town, for instance here in Mamallapuram we could spend 4 or 5 times as much and not get much more in the way of a room, or we could spend 20 times as much (really) and get a very nice room with veranda, swing and beautiful garden areas, but it would be hard to justify. In our next town we plan to spend 2 or 3 times as much as we spent here.

We went out for a quick bite at a nearby restaurant, then crashed out in our new room. Most restaurants here are geared toward tourists, though there are not too many tourists here by percentage of people it is still a very big part of the local economy. we have seen a smattering of western tourists, but they do not seem to be primarily American by any means. This morning we decided to have a very late breakfast at a thatched roof restaurant right on the beach. It was a treat to see big waves breaking along the shoreline and look out onto the Bay of Bengal.

We had some great ginger tea with milk, a nice tomato and prawn omelette, and a couple of coconut pancakes. We then took a nice walk along the ocean. The beach is nice, and the waves are very irregular in a way that I don't think either of us are familiar with. water can come shooting an extra 20 feet up the shore easily and get your legs all wet! This lends credence to the guidebook's warning that there are many riptides in the area, so we don't plan to go in the water. We should have plenty of chances to do that on the western coast. It is incredibly humid here, though (knock on wood) it has not been to hot yet. An early afternoon rain turned us around and pushed us back to our guest house, where we retired to read the guidebooks and rest. we then had a snack at another nearby restaurant, walked around town and found some TP. The town is very famous for its stone sculptures, so we were able to see several sculptors working and many statues, including a beautiful big 7'x4'x2' hindu elephantlike god, Ganesh, who is a popular image around here. Then we headed back to our guesthouse and started posting messages here for you all to read! we plan to stay here for another day or two, then move on to Pondicherry, which is another couple of hours south and is an area the French only released control of 40 or 50 years ago, if I recall correctly. It should have a very different feel, and since it has more of a european influence we decided to spend christmas there.

We hope you enjoy hearing about our travels! Things are a bit unpredictable here, so don't worry at all if you don't hear from us for a few days or a week, or whatever, but we will try to keep in touch.


Blogger Myers said...

You said Holy Cow . . .

7:32 AM  

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