Posted by: glenswatman | March 11, 2011

20110301-10 INDIA Tamil Nadu

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TUESDAY 1 MARCH – At 7.15am we meet Carol at the ashram. Behind the buildings is a track that leads 2km up the mountain to the house where Ramana lived for 7-years. En route you get good views over the city and right into the temple complex. At the cottage there are lots of monkeys and one of them tries to climb girl’s trousers to bite the beads on the end of the drawstring waist cord. Normally a sadhu (holy person) sings at 8am but today no one shows so the people just meditate. Back in town we have breakfast before taking a rickshaw ride around the mountain, Rs 150 (£2.25) for 1 hour. Along the ring road are numerous shrines and ashrams and tomorrow on the night of new moon thousands of pilgrims will make the walk all around. Heading through a village side street we see young girls playing a version of hop scotch. Outside one of the shrines are lots of squashed lemons, this is the shrine where drivers come to pray for safe travels and put a fruit under the tyres before driving off. Returning through the city we travel on a new stretch of road that has all too obviously gone through the middle of a cemetery. On both sides of the road we see smashed and half chopped up tombs with other headstones just flung to one side – very undignified. We meet Carol & Richard at Pumpernickel for a tasty pasta evening meal.
No 295 R.O.A. Nagar. Ramana Nagar. Tel Shyam Raj 04175 236342 Cell 09442812661

WEDNESDAY 2 MARCH – Today is a holiday because of the new moon so people make a special effort with the kollams outside their homes. These are elaborate patterns made with rice flour to bring good karma. As well as meeting Carol and Richard at 6.30am we are joined by Elkiepetra. She’s a German lady now living in USA and over here on a spiritual trip. It started badly and she phoned Richard who sent a car to bring her here so she could calm down. Today Richard is guiding us on a walk around the mountain. There has always been an inner track but Richard and Carol paid someone to carve a more interesting route within this giving fine views. It is about 6 miles and takes 4-hours. Early on we pass the visitor centre where numerous slabs of rocks have excellent pictures of animals painted on them to signify what we might see in the area. We see 2 types of monkeys, glimpse a deer, get great views of the mountain and city and pass many impromptu mini shrines. A group of ladies are working by the track gathering the dried grass into bundles. Carol points out the “ringing rock”; if you tap a stone on it you get a kind of hollow ringing sound. The last part of the walk is the back of a village where they dump all their rubbish and human waste. Cow pats are thrown against a wall to dry and later be used as fuel. Finally we reach a wonderful temple with huge statues of warriors. Call in to a nearby restaurant for breakfast before taking a rickshaw back. Elkiepetra comes to see our accommodation as she is staying at Hotel Lakshmi and paying Rs1600. She is offered a single room for Rs300 and decides to relocate. In the evening we go to a restaurant with wi-fi then Richard and Carol join us for our last supper. People are beginning their walk around the mountain but we have no intention of joining them.

THURSDAY 3 MARCH – Rs60 (90p) rickshaw to the bus station where we arrive around 7am. There doesn’t seem to be a direct but to our destination but we are advised to head towards Chennai then change. Luckily it is another A/C deluxe bus, Rs 144 (£2.15). Our journey is through farming country with lots of paddy fields. After 3-hours the bus makes an unscheduled stop at Chengapattu by driving off the motorway and dropping us at the bottom of the ramp. Within seconds a rickshaw has pulled up and Rs 50 (75p) gets us 2km into town to the bus stand. After ½ hour we board a local bus to Mamallapuram, 22km away for Rs9 (13p). This short journey takes over 1-hour as we are on the country bus making numerous stops. Arriving in Mamallapuram we are approached by a man who says he is from Lakshmi Bungalows with rooms from Rs500 to Rs800 and wants to show us around. Lakshmi has 2 sections and he works his way from grotty up to the beachside A/C room which is acceptable. We then find out the price is Rs 1500 (£22.50) as the rooms has A/C and supposedly this is the only one available. By mentioning we may stay for 2 weeks and only want fan we get the price down to Rs 800 (£12) then realise the rickshaw driver was just a tout and not from the hotel at all so he will have had commission. They give us a room key but it is not the room we were shown with a back window overlooking the pool but a back window onto a brick wall, strange when there was only 1 room available! We object and they say they will move us to the other room this afternoon when the occupants leave. Set out to explore the small town. We are one building back from a pleasant beach which is also used by foreigners sunbathing and bikinis seem to be tolerated. The beach front guest houses have wonderful views but no swimming pool or satellite TV which is essential for Steve to follow the cricket. GRT Temple Bay Hotel at the north end of the beach has everything we need but at Rs 12000 (£180) – Rs17000 (£250) a night. We enjoy lunch at a roof top restaurant with a nice breeze. It’s too hot to walk further so we return to use the pool but with no shade we cannot sit poolside. It’s a strange rectangular pool built above ground so when you are lying on the wooden loungers your only view is of a 3’ high brick wall. Outside our room is a hanging wicker chair plus normal table and chairs so we play cards. Move into the other room which is much more airy and light. In the evening we check out a few other hotels and find the nearby Sea Breeze more luxurious than our backpacker accommodation and negotiate for a fan room for Rs 1200 (£18) including buffet breakfast and will move in 2 days time. The streets are full of small sculpture shops, clothing stalls and restaurants and it has a really nice atmosphere. We eat in the upstairs terrace at Moonrakers where I enjoy a Chinese style beef peppers and tomatoes with chips for Rs150 (£2.25).

FRIDAY 4 MARCH – To avoid the heat we set out early and venture beyond the “Kingdom of Backpakistan”. The small shore temple on a headland looks attractive but at Rs10 for locals and Rs250 (£3.75) for tourists we are not keen to take a closer look. We find another posh hotel, Indico, advertising big screen cricket in the Clive Bar (this area is where Clive of India came from). The hotel is a museum in itself with lots of old relics including the prison gates from Chennai (Madras). At the back of the village is a hill strewn with boulders and many have been carved with sculptures making for giant story telling scenes. Other have temples either carved into them or built on top. It makes for an excellent walk. At the top of the hill near the lighthouse is a temple on top of the highest rock from which we get splendid 360 degree views. It’s 9am and already getting very hot so we will leave the rest of the walk for another day. Back at the hotel we use the pool before it gets too hot to stay there as well. Afternoon is spent in the room with both fans going and the windows open but it is still pretty hot but not as bad as at night. Call in to Sea Breeze where they say they will have a downstairs room for us tomorrow then upstairs in 2 night’s time.

SATURDAY 5 MARCH – Scheduled power cuts are common in India and this area is out from 8am – 10am. No problem as our hotel has a generator, yes problem as the generator is very near our window and makes a heck of a noise meaning a lie in is impossible. We walk south to the shore temple then around the back of it between the rocks and the fence. There’s a large rock in the ocean and looking back we can see it has been carved into a shrine. The southern beach is barren, windswept, full of rubbish and uninviting. Return to the main beach to sunbathe, away from the far corner where amongst the many dead blow fish is a dead dog. The Bay of Bengal is very rough so not safe for swimming but OK for a cooling paddle. At the Sea Breeze Hotel we check and find our room is ready but the receptionist takes us to a different one at the back with no view or air. He says the one he showed us the other day is booked and we must stay in this one for 2 or 3 days before moving upstairs, typical. Not happy at all so we will stay where we are and see if the upstairs one does become available. Fit in a bit of swimming then readying in the afternoon. We try to take in the sunset at the rocks but the park closes at 6.30pm.

SUNDAY 6 MARCH – We make an early walk north along the beach. Walking between the recently returned fishing boats and the sea we notice lots of piles of poo and it is not of the animal variety. Further along fishermen are pulling in the nets and it takes about 20 people to haul each one. We walk for over 30 minutes but after the posh resort just see another run down one that looks to be used by Indians. Back at Sea Breeze Hotel they are still not sure if anyone is checking out today so we take their buffet breakfast whilst waiting. It is really good and we even get baked beans on toast. No one in the fan rooms check out so we resign ourselves to another night at Lakshmi and fall into our usual routine. Again we get noise in the middle of the night with guests talking very loudly.

TUESDAY 7 MARCH – Take an early morning walk to the beach. There are lots of stray puppies here and a French lady comes along, feed them then in turn gives them all a bath a pick bugs off their skin. We notice many of the Indian men taking photos of the women in bikini’s, sometimes done surreptitiously but other times quite brazenly. The funny thing is they have no idea how ridiculous they look themselves as they swim in their knickers and I am talking transparent white Y fronts or even worse (they looks like Oz out of Auf Wiedersehen Pet). Local lads enjoy the surfing at our end of the beach and make some spectacular falls. Hotel Sea Breeze have an upstairs fan room for us today, available after 2.30pm but in the meantime we can sit by the pool which suits us fine as they have padded mattresses on the sun loungers and provide beach towels. We take lunch on the beach at Luna Magica where the delicious vegetable sizzler (Rs100, £1.50) makes a good accompaniment to our shared fish and chips. It’s 4pm when we get into our room. A large double bed with deep mattress, nice clean white sheets but as usual a bit of a letdown in the bathroom department which shows serious signs of age. Our neighbours are 3 English men who are over for the cricket so Steve has good company. Early evening someone with a “Ghostbusters” style set up sprays the grounds for mosquitoes. Take an evening snack at Nautilus where the peanut masala (Rs40, 60p) is delicious. Fresh peanuts are mixed with finely cut chilli, onions and masala sauce and we eat it with chapatti. The temporary filling repair has come out of Steve’s tooth so we visit the dentist who charges Rs100 (£1.50) for the consultation and books him in to have the tooth drilled and completely refilled tomorrow. Wandering in a different direction we come upon a better supermarket which will serve us well. Unfortunately we have a bad night in the room, there are no fly screens and we still get mosquitoes and Steve finds the low speed of the fan is still too fast but I can’t get cool without it.

TUESDAY 8 MARCH – We wake at 8am when the fan dies just before the generator kicks in. Out on our balcony the free morning paper has been delivered. We’ve a nice seating area with a sofa, 2 plastic chairs and a coffee table. I sit out typing my diary but notice the crows going mad and the trees swaying at lot. Suddenly a monkey drops out onto our balcony not 3 feet from me, not sure who it the most surprised. In the evening Steve returns to the dentist who takes 1-hour to carefully drill out and replace the filling (Rs 1000, £15). Spend the rest of the evening watching movies on TV.

WEDNESDAY 9 MARCH – We’ve both had a good sleep so feel ready for the beach cleanup day. One of the beach book stalls has organised it and has a marquee where volunteers can pick up bags and plastic gloves. We opt to do the section in front of our hotel where most of the rubbish is plastic bags, plastic water pouches or small pieces of string. It’s hard work under the blazing sun but by the time both our bags are full there is quite a large area that looks considerably better. They are planning to repeat the clean up each month as there has been a good response. Late afternoon we walk out to the “Five Rathas” a world heritage site of 5 chariot style temples. Unless you want to walk right up to the carvings you can view them from the roadside fence and save the Rs 250 (£3.75) tourist admission fee. Walking home we pick up cheese, tomatoes, French bread a crackers for supper plus a 25 litre water container for Rs25 (37p) plus Rs100 bottle deposit.

THURSDAY 10 MARCH – Next Thursday we are going into Chennai for the World Cup cricket match so today set out to do the trip as a dry run. Catch the first bus to Tambaram on the outskirts of the city (Bus 515 Rs19, 28p taking 1 hour 50 mins). From there we connect onto a bus towards the airport (18A Rs 3, 5p 10 minutes) and get dropped off at the slip road towards the terminal. A 10 minute walk gets us to the terminal which is confusing due to renovations. We find the left luggage office next to the Police Station, outside the terminal in the car park. Rs70 (£1) stores a bag for 24-hours and we will drop our luggage here when we come in next week. Nearby is the train station where we catch the MRTS train to Chepauk station (Rs8, 12p any journey until midnight in one direction), a filthy overcrowded train that looks like it has not been cleaned or painted for years. After changing at the Fort and crossing the tracks local style (on foot rather than taking the bridge) we take another train to Chepauk. Chepauk station is appalling and stinks so badly of urine and other unsavoury things that even locals are covering their noses. The good thing is that there is an exit directly to the Madras cricket ground. The bad news is that we cannot collect our E-tickets until 2 days before the match. A friendly steward tries but cannot sort it out. In the meantime he lets us through the gates and onto the pitch to take photos. We could come in the day before to pick up the tickets so check out the nearby hotels. They are either full, very expensive and without luggage storage or grotty. Having only been here a few hours we do not have a good feel for the city. As well as being dirty and noisy the people seem less friendly. Whilst checking out hotels down a side street a man stood directly in front of Steve and stared him up and down. At the tourist office we book the half day trip leaving at 1.30pm. Our tour bus heads to St George’s fort and en route we see some impressive statues including Triumph of labour statue and MGR memorial. Admission to the fort museum is included for locals but Rs100 for tourists. It’s only a 15 minute stop so we wait in the grounds and apparently miss seeing a few stuffed animals. The Government Museum (Rs250 for tourists) includes many exhibitions in the complex and should be good but our tour only stops for 30 minutes. We just look at the buildings in the complex and love the magnificent Victoria Hall, built in Muslim / Moorish style. Valluvarkottam is a magnificent 35m 3 level chariot style memorial to the poet Thiruvalluvar (whose statue we saw at Kanyakumari). The snake park visit is included in the tour but we are dismayed to see that along with the snakes in glass cubicles they have small pits with crocodiles, one contains 22 of them. A man does a venomous snake display but spends most of the time messing with his mobile phone making us think it is either sedated or has had the venom removed. For Kapaleeswarar Temple we are told to leave the shoes on the bus but not told it is about 500 metres walk along a hot, rough road to reach the temple. This is Dravidian style, very colourful and impressive. Pass St Thomas cathedral names after “doubting Thomas” who is buried there. At 6pm our last stop is the famous 2nd longest in the world Marina Beach. The lighthouse is triangular and the flat back half is painted differently and contains accommodation. In prime position directly behind the beach we are amazed to see the most disgusting run down derelict buildings ever surrounded by stinky rubbish. We see a crowd of people near the fountain and find a group of young Tibetans holding a rally to highlight the countries problems. The beach is full of stalls selling food and very small kiddies rides, often hand wound. We leave the tour here and take a bus to Tiruvanmilyur (Rs 8, 12p). There we wait half an hour to connect and in this time notice almost all the buses picking up are already packed with new passengers somehow squeezing on or hanging on the sides from the window bars. Not an option for us so we are pleased that we manage to get onto our bus (588, or 599 Rs 17, 25p) even if we are stood and packed like sardines. The conductor tells me the 2 ladies in front of me are getting off at the next stop and I should take a seat, others have the same idea and although Steve tries to block them getting on one girl flings her bag on a seat and tries to push past. We have seen this happen before and are ready so that I can push past her and take the window seat and drop her bag onto the other seat. She is not pleased as she had planned to bag both seats for her friend as well. About 1 hour into the journey Steve also gets a seat. The first thing we do when we get back is hop into the shower to wash our hair, bodies and soap as we both feel filthy after our visit to Chennai.


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