Wow, February already. Where did January go?!
Chennai it seems, after being here for a week, is just one long traffic jam. As I mentioned before it’s going through major infrastructure works so you find after 10am taxi journey times double. Everything seems to be stretched out here too, no particular area having everything for you to see and do so travelling in cabs and autos is essential.
The rest of this week was a mixture of online work, chilling at the apartment, catching bits of Chennai that we remembered from previous visits as well as seeing a couple of new sites. A few travellers that we have met since November said they weren’t too fond of Chennai, and I can see why they wouldn’t. Even though it’s situated on the coast it doesn’t have any beach resorts or patches to sunbathe on, regardless of the miles of sand available. These are very much ‘working’ beaches here, with hundreds of fishermen working and living off the ocean. Also, the Bay of Bengal is one vicious water; its currents drown many every year, mostly children. Those two reasons alone means that it lacks the charm of Mumbai’s Marine Drive, and the tropical landscape of Kerala. Perhaps tourists assume the east coast will be similar to the west? It’s totally different. I was actually surprised when Lonely Planet nominated Chennai as one of the 2015 top ten cities to visit in the world. Perhaps I’m being harsh as it does have its moments and Tamil charms I guess.
Marina, Ghandhi and Elliot’s are the main ‘beach’ attractions here, with a nice promenade to walk up and down at each one. We visited the Santhome Cathedral one afternoon. This is a grand building, inside and out, and the whiteness of the building reflecting against the blistering sun is blinding (see photos below). Christians believe the church is built on the ground where St Thomas (the disciple) was buried. From Santhome we walked down to Ghandhi and Marina Beach. Just this walk alone showed the contrast of India in all of its glory! From a shiny, rich Cathedral full of gold and jewels you walk five mins down the road and see utter poverty. The working beaches were full of tents with families living in them, if not tents then manmade structures. The cyclone in December must have ruined this community. Steve said I was so lucky that I couldn’t smell the place!
Most of the people living on the beach or near it were fisherman all trying to make a decent living, the men would go out and come back with their catches, whilst the wives would sit by the road and sell it. Some of the fish we saw were fantastic, so fresh and huge. I wish I took pictures but it wasn’t the place to do so without permission. From this section of the beach we moved onto the more ‘touristy’ part, full of statues of significant Indian politicians and activists dotted around. As there was still tension in the air from the recent protests there was a lot of police and riot squads lined up the promenade. ‘Time to move on’ we thought!
Two places that we were particular fond of and hadn’t been to before were the grounds of the Theosophical Society Adyar and Elliot’s Beach. The societies grounds are only open to the public twice daily, 8:30am-10am and 2:00pm to 4:00pm. Within the large areas of greenery, you have a number of houses where members live as well as places of worship for several religions. During our stroll we spotted a Christian church, Hindu temple, Zion church, and a Sikh temple. The societies main aims are;
- To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
- To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
- To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
It really was a lovely place to walk around and lose yourself. The grounds are home to the legendary Banyan Tree of Chennai; the tree itself covers over 40,000 sq foot, I couldn’t work out how on earth it grows and the pictures attached to this post will just confuse you even more!
From the society we took a quick rickshaw to Elliot’s. Having visited Ghandhi and Marina beaches I wasn’t expecting it to be that ‘nice’, but we were pleasantly surprised. We took a walk along the promenade without hardly a soul in sight, and in a city of 7 million people this is incredibly rare. A word of warning, and this may sound daft, but don’t bother walking on the sand and the shoreline, it wrecks the view! The promenade was nice and clean and had a nice feel about it, but if we had walked the beach itself we would have been asked for money and seen the litter etc… sometimes standing back and taking it all in gives a better feel for the place anyway. They even had a little amusement park for the kids – we joked about how it reminded us of Southend, without the boy racers of course!
Thursday was spent with family again. Grandad George’s brother Christopher flew in from Germany with his wife Ute, son and daughter in law, David and Andrea. We spent the afternoon at Jenny and Carol’s polishing off a tasty Anglo-Indian chicken stew with idiyappam. Again, so nice to spend time with Steve’s family, a great bunch of people and (I think Steve would agree with me) it’s good to speak to someone else rather than each other every now and then 🙂 .
Final bit of Chennai action(!) was another tour. This one all about food, glorious Indian food, locally known as Chaat. Basically, snack food. Lakshmi, our tour guide, was fantastic. So friendly and enthusiastic! In total there was 17 people in the group, including Uncle Christopher and family. We went to 8 places to sample various savoury and sweet foods, all within the hustle and bustle of George Town. I mentioned in my last post that George Town in the morning was the most intense place we have visited in India – well, this overpassed it! Sooooo busy, at times you were jammed into the streets so tightly that you were standing right next to a cow (and its poo), the noise from the beeping was deafening and got far too much for a tour that took well over three hours. But the food we sampled was fantastic; Pav Bhaji (a thing that will be cooked for all family and friends when we return!), an idli as big as your face, badam milk (which is basically an almond milkshake), Dahi Puri (a mix of savoury flavours topped with a large dollop of yogurt/curd). My personal fave was the Murukku Cheese Sandwich, which is a cheese, cucumber, tomato, onion and chutney mini-sandwich with murukku replacing the bread element. This added a bit of a crunch to the dish. I had three and could have had more, reminded me of being home too, no doubt because of the cheese!
Chamiers Café and Boutique Shop – this was a rather delightful find. It was said to be styled on a British afternoon tea style café, but we found it more continental, almost French. That didn’t stop me having afternoon tea with scones though, winner!
Old Madras Baking Company – you’re not going to pass an opportunity to have bagels with cream cheese if there is a place that goddamn well offers it! Fantastic bakery, apart from the unbeatable Brick Lane bagels these were one of the best I’ve tasted. I sent Steve back here on Saturday morning to pick some up for breakfast!
Big Bang Theory – Cool little bar that served up good Italian cuisine, nice little touches around the place after its namesake. They served up some rather dangerous cocktails, which meant the conversation I had with my mum and dad afterwards was slightly hazy and slurry (why do I always call them after a drink?!) oooops.
10 Downing Street – because after three visits Steve had still not been to the oldest pub in Chennai! Very smart place, we could only stay for one as they were shutting up shop before reopening for the evening. Not sure we would have passed in getting in though, the hippy look isn’t currently in with either the Indian or even UKs 10 Downing Street crew!
PS: the name of the post is taken from a rather annoying Just Eat advert which has been in my head all bloody week!