29th – 31st January – Madras Walkers Association

So, our penultimate stop before leaving India arrives. We’re in sunny, hot, stifling Chennai, often referred to by its colonial name Madras. Steve has visited the city three times now, so surely an expert? Nope! Chennai has changed so much in both the four years I’ve been here and two years since he was last here. It is currently going through massive infrastructure upgrades, there’s a Metro being built and they appear to be creating ‘proper’ roads. I’m sure it will look functional and great in 5 years time but it’s a bit of a mess to be honest and has provided traffic jams galore!

We are staying in the T. Nagar district, a few KMs outside the main city centre. Not as commercialised as Bangalore but still has a nice feel about it, i.e. no tourists! A few minutes walk from our hotel is Natesan Park which many head to in the morning to get their sweat on. We used it a few times to stretch our legs. Quite funny to see 100+ people of all ages and sizes walk around in one massive circle, round and round again. Along with the walkers/joggers we saw some teenage boys practicing their Bollywood dance moves, wanting to be the next big thing no doubt.

Sunday was spent with some extended family of Steve’s, Jenny and Carol, who are also cousins of Grandad George. We had a wonderful time talking about modern India, world politics (you can’t really avoid it at the moment) and religion. Jenny and Carol are active Christians, and listening to them talk passionately about the Bible was intimidating at first, but really interesting in the end. I strongly believe that if more people understood and accepted different religions and their teachings (other than their own) there would be less finger-pointing and hatred amongst believers and non-believers alike.

As we’re in the state of Tamil Nadu it’s worth pointing out that there has been a bit of tension in the area since the beginning of the year. The Indian Government put a ban on the traditional Tamil ‘sport’ called Jallikattu, which is essentially men winding up and chasing a poor bull to get their kicks. It’s a vile tradition that should be banned for sure. Regardless of my view, the Tamil community haven’t taking so kindly in being told that they can no longer do it so there have been a few riots and protests around Chennai, some of them purposely stopping buses and trains from leaving the main depots. We were a little bit concerned before we came just in case it erupted again, but everything ok so far. After speaking to family about it they told us that the protests are mainly a reaction to North India (Delhi and central government) slowly trying to wash out the Southern culture, undermining them and taking away Tamil traditions so India becomes a ‘one size fits all’ country – they want every state to speak Hindi, follow Hinduism, dress the same, eat the same etc etc. The riots clearly worked (for now) because government soon overturned their decision (in some areas anyway). The Tamils are proud people; I would even go to say that they call themselves Tamil before Indian. They have their own classical language and customs (most don’t understand Hindi) so want to hold on to this and ensure the North doesn’t take it away.

Another 6am start on Monday morning to explore an area called George Town. We started off in front of the High Court of Tamil Nadu, a pretty amazing building, built by the East India Company in 1860s and said to be the second largest High Court in the world. The guide lead us through some of the crazy streets and markets… and when I say they were crazy they were bloody mental. After 10 weeks in India this was the most intense. All the traders were selling produce on the ground and buyers were huddling around, whilst this is all going on you had trucks, motorbikes, rickshaws, and the odd bull and cart running through the middle of it. It was a constant dodge of vehicle and people. All good fun though, got to see different types of veg being sold, saw the largest mound of tomatoes ever seen to man! The most interesting part of this tour was that we were driven around by a female rickshaw driver! Even in England getting a female cabbie is a rare thing, but here it’s VERY rare. Our guide told us it was down to a non-governmental organisation that pays the training fees for women to learn how to drive, getting them out of the gutter and into work. After reading more about it seems that it’s increasing due to women passengers feeling more comfortable in using them too. Obviously, some men are getting on their high horse about it and many of the new drivers face daily harassment, but it’s great to see. All a bit Carry on Cabby really!

Apologies for the lack of pictures, will make up for it in the next post 🙂

Places

US 101 Sportsbar – a few beers after a nice Sunday lunch to wind down with and watch some T20 cricket. Total rip off, we paid almost £60 for four cans of Heineken (imported) and a pizza! Also, they didn’t have a woman’s toilet so I had to trudge off to another building to go. Booooooo!

Skyline – nice little rooftop restaurant/bar a few minutes away from our apartment. At first I was a little worried it wasn’t going to be a great way to unwind (as the outside looked a little dated), but luckily I was wrong. Good Indian food, clean and comfortable.

Murugan Idli Shop –famous for its idli (well done Sherlock), I opted for the masala dosa obviously. Good but still not a patch on MTR in Bangalore. Nice for it to be served on a banana leaf too. Four years ago, it seemed everything was served on these, now it’s all just plastic trays which just isn’t the same, bit of a school dinner vibe in the restaurants at times.

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