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India

Chapter twenty nine - Chennai

sunny 26 °C

Day 121: Chennai, Tamil Nadu 29/01/12

Out for breakfast at the same nice café we ate in yesterday. We try to find a hotel in Chennai and also sort out the best way to get to the airport in the morning. After lunch we grab a tuk-tuk to the train station and catch the very cheap service to Chennai. Only a couple of hours until our last dinner/evening in India…

The train is very hot, very crowded and very full of cockroaches, which all make the journey highly enjoyable. Lucky the journey is only a couple of hours long. Oh, hang on it is over eight hours until we finally arrive in Chennai.

We arrive tired, frustrated and pissed off. I am so bored when we arrive I make up and recite an epic poem about the journey to Chennai Egmore. I get some credit for the phone (easier said than done) and Gemma checks us into a room, which is disgraceful. I get there to find Gemma demanding a refund. India wasn’t meant to end like this!

Eventually find a decent hotel room and have our last night before our early morning departure to Colombo! Despite the frustrating last couple of days in India, we have loved it – we have seen, done, tasted and heard so much and will take lots and lots of great memories from here. Gemma I think is delighted to be having some new food to get her teeth into!

Posted by tevs 04:28 Archived in India Tagged trains india chennai tamil_nadu Comments (0)

Chapter twenty eight - Pondicherry

sunny 28 °C

Day 119: Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu 27/01/12

Another early morning as we get up to catch the 8 am train to Pondicherry. We are in the process of catching a rickshaw to the station when Raj turns up on his bike to accompany us. Say our goodbyes and reflect on the good time we have had with such a selfless man. A fairly easy journey to Pondicherry – we have to change trains, where we meet a lovely family on the platform, who we share our Milkybar éclairs with.

Arrive in Pondi about half past one and find a decent hotel fairly easily before, shaking with hunger, we head for lunch. Do a spot of housekeeping – banking, online stuff, printing – and ring Sri Lankan Airlines to confirm our flights. A bit of confusion has me fuming and I am ready for some very stern words with the people at STA, ready to unleash hell in fact. Turns out I am overreacting as we are actually booked in!

We head to the seafront and have a mooch around. A beautiful city, a remnant of the poor French attempt at India, with some Gallic arrogance remaining with some rather rude individuals at large in the area. Head back to the hotel and see some cheeky, beefy, threatening monkeys prowling around and smuggle some beer into the ‘non-liquor’ hotel.

Day 120: Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu 28/01/12

Have a nice brunch at a nice, clean, modern café on the corner by the hotel and have some good sandwiches and pastries. Discussing the logistics of our flight, the items we need to pick up from the post office in Chennai. Realise it is Sunday tomorrow and worry about the availability of the post office.

Have a brainwave – with Gemma still poorly, I will go to Chennai this afternoon on my own, pick the stuff up and come back with it. ‘It’s only a couple of hours away, it’ll be easier this way…’

Catch the bus to Chennai, which takes 4 and a half hours. I arrive alone in a big, strange city and catch a tuk-tuk to the post office, which is miles away, arriving just before closing time. They have no record of the parcel having being sent there and the postmaster seems to think that they have been returned to sender. I could scream in the tuk-tuk on the way back, as the traffic means I spend over an hour sat almost stationary on the way back to the bus station. Catch a bus, return to Pondi 11 hours later empty handed and having being preached to on the way home by a guy called Samson. And he had short hair.

Gemma meanwhile has had an equally shitty day, flu is still in her system and she has a nosebleed. We realize that being a few hundred miles apart with no way to contact each other should not be attempted again. Unless I am being extremely annoying.

Posted by tevs 04:25 Archived in India Tagged india pondicherry tamil_nadu Comments (0)

Chapter twenty seven - Trichy

sunny 30 °C

Day 107: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 14/01/12

Up earlyish to catch the bus, first to Metapallayam, then to Erode, then on to Trichy. Encounter some of the most horrendous travel conditions known to man. At one town (I forget which) there are literally hundreds of people fighting to get onto the bus before anybody has yet got off. We physically barge our way off the bus using the backpacks as battering rams. The next bus is little better and we do not manage to get a seat for the three hour journey. The final leg sees us at least able to claim a seat and somewhere to put the bags. Some of the sights on the bus are unbelievable, unforgettable and downright bizarre – at one point we see a man dragging a huge sack onto the roof of the bus using his teeth. Naturally, the sack is full of live chickens.

On the final bus we sit next to an old man with a huge handlebar moustache, who sits barking orders at everybody. Finally arrive in Trichy and there are lots of hotels around the bus station. Find a huge room at a good price and tuck into a superb dinner – fried chicken and wedges. Best ever. Meet a family in there with a young, hyper boy who thinks he is a wrestler.

Day 108: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 15/01/12

Lazy morning, Gemma organises getting the laundry done and then we go for lunch. I have a ‘meals’, which results in every imaginable dish on the menu being heaped on the banana leaf repeatedly. This costs 50 rupees and a ruptured stomach. Gemma has a soup from next door and afterwards we try to find the bazaar district. With it being Sunday it seems that nowhere is open and we find ourselves wandering around a bit of a ghost town.

We head back to the hotel in a tuk-tuk, watch some of the footy and go for a very good dinner. We see the same family in the restaurant as last night, but this time, with the father present, the little boy is far, far quieter and a little less hyper. He tells me he is getting a motorbike – a Kawasaki Ninja to be exact – not bad for a four year old.

Buy some beers then back to watch some more football. The little man (Gemma towers over him) delivers our laundry back and despite repeatedly saying thank you and telling him that is all, he continues to stand there smiling until he gets a small tip! The little man with big balls it seems. Legend.

Day 109: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 16/01/12

We have a lazy morning in the very noisy hotel and head to get some lunch. Lunch is a bit of an ordeal as nowhere wants to serve anything on their menus. Eventually eat at the nearby train station where we enquire about tickets to Thanjavur for tomorrow. I almost slip on the wet floor and my Bambi-jelly-legs-on-ice routine predictably entertains Gemma. We then have a chance encounter with a guy at the station who recognises our British accents, telling us he worked in Britain for a year and now runs a charitable trust for children and the elderly here in Trichy. A possible lead for some voluntary work we think…

Head towards the Rock Fort and bazaar area we had such trouble finding yesterday. Gemma finds a I  Trichy t-shirt and we both discover the ‘big bazaar’ is not that big. We do however find some bookstalls, where a man kindly gives us a book on spiritual enlightenment. Gemma is captivated! We check online for some volunteering opportunities and then visit the tourist board office. Find ourselves roped into another public speech tomorrow morning!

Day 110: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 17/01/12

Up early (7.30) for a trip to a local village for their Pongal celebrations (religious harvest festival) organised by the Tamil Nadu Tourist Board (free, hence participation!). We catch a bus from outside the tourist board office (with some extremely strange Europeans) and arrive at the village to a huge reception. There are piles of police, paparazzi and priests awaiting our entrance and garlands of flowers and painted foreheads seem to be order of the day.

From the entrance to the village we ‘catch’ a bullock drawn cart up the lane to the village proper. Invited to ride at the front we are the closest guests to the huge bovines pulling the cart. Of course the one closest to me seems to have developed a chronic bout of Delhi belly and my face is literally inches from its gaping, quivering rectum as it involuntarily seeps down the cattle’s hind legs. Gemma’s bullock at least seems to be having some slightly solider movements and it appears the risk of a spraying lies solely with me…

Luckily, I avoid a dousing and we are welcomed into the village by hundreds of very excited and intrigued local villagers of all ages. We are taken for a tour of the local temple and some local houses, an opportunity local newspaper photographers do not miss. Then comes public address number two of the trip so far and both Gemma and myself are invited to say a few words to the waiting masses. We both talk of the friendliness and hospitality of the local people, the beauty of the state, how Tamil Nadu is our favourite state in India, etc., etc. Textbook stuff really and to be fair most of it is true. Of course we receive the obligatory silk shawls we seem to be given for each appearance as visiting dignitaries. Gemma pulls off the look superb. We have lots of children keen to have their photos taken with us, which we are more than happy to pose for. The curse of fame we guess…I also seem to have a habit of making the local toddlers cry with my appearance.

After a quick interview by the national papers we are back on the bus and back at the hotel we make a quick call to Raj, the guy we met yesterday at the station and arrange to meet him tomorrow to discuss the possibility of some voluntary work with him. Then we head for lunch at a posh hotel to use the free wi-fi. Leave our camera there and after a manhunt around the area it is nowhere to be found. Luckily we have taken the photos from today already so we have the important bits. Shop around the camera shops for a suitable replacement. Get some ideas and tea takes the form of a roadside chicken kebab. Delicious. Tiring day.

Day 111: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 18/01/12

We head to meet Raj at ten to discuss the possible avenues with the voluntary work. One of his colleagues comes to meet us at our hotel and we are walked to the office, where we learn some more about the Marutha Muthu Trust and its work. Mainly focusing on villagers at a nearby quarry village and also the city’s community of cremators, it helps provide educational support (one project is to provide school books and bags), women’s rights and training/skills support (there is a seamstress school in the nearby village), as well as much more. We agree to help with some English teaching, an activities day for the children and online support (look into building a website). One of Raj’s colleagues takes us for a tour of the local village and we are shown the seamstress academy and a local school, where we meet the headteacher, who asks us to buy a shedload of geometry sets. We leave a little unsure on what is expected of us and postpone the visit to the quarry area.

Head to the city centre to search for a new camera and after narrowing down the list of possibilities, do some internet research to decide on the best one for us. The Fujifilm S2950 could open the door to so many new opportunities…

Day 112: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 19/01/12

Back to see Raj at the Trust and take a plan of how we think we can be of most use. We agree to helping with the English teaching, looking into the potential of getting some material online and also some admin work. Raj then takes us to the quarry area (in a shared auto – basically a tiny, three wheeled bus), which is situated at the end of a wealthy neighbourhood and the contrast could not be greater. This is a village of basic huts, no running water or sewage system, goats, dogs, chickens, a quarry and little else, which is a slightly humbling experience.

Raj asks us to help him with some policy documents and the way in which they are written, which we are more than happy to do. Some of the existing English and exact wording is very to the point and perhaps a little clumsy.

Head into town on the bus to buy the new camera and the bus is of course quite busy. I am invited to sit at the very front, next to the driver, by an old man. In getting to the seat I forget I am slightly taller than the average Indian and end up headbutting the metal shelf/cupboard/cabinet/radio at the very front of the bus. Twenty minutes, a trip to a dentist(?), a spot at the hospital, a tetanus shot in my arse and two stitches later we find ourselves in town. Traipse around for ages, buy a camera, some grief regarding a battery charger and their price and we are back for fried chicken and bed (healthy).

Day 113: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 20/01/12

Happy birthday Max! Gemma calls the birthday boy at 6.30 am UK time, slightly miscalculating the difference. After birthday wishes we still have a little work to do on Raj’s policy document and agree to meet a little later than originally planned. Head to the office, he is not there, go back later, still not there – a bit of confusion but we put the new documents on his PC and agree to come back much later in the day.

Head to the internet centre and look into the possibility of a website – clearly well beyond our capabilities and would also cost so back to the drawing board on this one. Gemma has a brainwave and suggests a Facebook page (Marutha Muthu Trust to those reading…please like) and Raj is thrilled by the idea when run past him.

Visit the quarry area to teach some English and arrive again by shared-auto. I make sure to mind my head…The children at the village are very bright, funny and excited and some of their English is much better than we were expecting. The younger ones and the girls gravitate towards Gemma and the older ones towards me (end up talking WWE and John Cena). The mosquito situation here is outrageous!

Day 114: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 21/01/12

An itchy night and an itchier morning due to the huge number of bites received last night. The welts and bites all up our legs and feet are horrendous and I feel like crying. Not a patch on Gemma’s Christmas Eve efforts but still enough to feel like a baby with chickenpox.

Bit of a lazy day in all honesty, we are in the process of setting up the Facebook page for Raj and the Trust, but much like university, procrastination gets in the way of production. Not a lot else to say but we watch the footy and realise how close Sri Lanka is creeping…

Day 115: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 22/01/12

Nice lazy Sunday morning before Raj comes to pick us up from the hotel to take us to his home for lunch. We arrive at his house in a fairly nice neighbourhood – their home is a first floor flat above the in-laws, but a place they pay rent on he tells us proudly. Their home is very basic – kitchen, one bedroom with a double bed, a toilet/shower room. We meet his wife and son who are very nice and very pleased to see and be hosting us. Raj’s wife is a lecturer at a college in the city, his son is 8 and with his friends round to play, we are the subject of more intrigued Indian children.

They go to lots of trouble to be great hosts and the food is great. The even boil us some potatoes to remind us of British food! We have a lovely afternoon before we are given a lift back to the hotel on the back of their bikes. As with any trip on an Indian road, a hair raising experience, especially when Raj tells me his wife is an awful driver. Does not make me feel better as my darling Gemma is on the back of her scooter. Visit an internet café up some dark stairs. We see a small rat on the way out and Gemma is piggy backed down the stairs. Wimp!

Day 116: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 23/01/12

A breakfast of cereal bars and fruit before we head to the internet place to crack on with the Facebook page. No rats today but Gemma begins to feel unwell and goes for a lie down. At the scheduled 2 pm power cut I head back to the room to find it padlocked. Go and sit in the lobby, walk around for a bit, head back to the lobby and am told we have moved rooms.

With Gemma really quite unwell, I head to the village alone for the English lesson and it is much harder on my own. The kids are a bit harder to control but it is still lots of fun and very rewarding. Teach the youngsters Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, which they like a lot and soon get the hang of!

Day 117: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 24/01/12

Another lazy morning and we head out to pick up the remainder of the things we need for our activity day. After a quick detour to the hospital to have my stitches taken out, we find the supermarket and buy an industrial amount of pens and pencils, balls, activity packs, etc. for the children. We get the very last of the things we need from a stationery shop and pick up a few more notebooks for Raj's book/bag drive.

Visit the office and do some admin work for Raj before we go for our evening session with the kids. Another long wait for the perfect shared auto with Sharmila. We recap some of the stuff we have done previously with them (Heads, Shoulders, Knees, Toes of course) and as usual the kids run the session into the usual manic ninety minutes or so. Good fun of course...

Day 118: Trichy, Tamil Nadu 25/01/12

Up very early (6am) after some more interesting time telling from yours truly. Must remember in future I need a digital watch...

We head for the Republic Day raising of the flag ceremony we were invited to by Raj at a local school. Some local politicians and big wigs arrive very late with their combination of ego and arrogance. This understandably annoys some members of the congregation there. The event is predicatbly haphazard and we are invited to numerous local homes afterwards, which unfortunately, we cannot take them up on due to the time.

Back to the hotel, finish our preparations for the festivities ahead and wrap the pass-the-parcels. We get to the village around 11ish and are mobbed by the children and it soon becomes apparent that the day could prove to be very difficult to get and keep control of. Eventually we do and the activities are underway - races, pass-the-parcel, pin the tail on the donkey and a painting competition. The day gets a whole lot easier when Raj arrives and the day is ended with us handing out prizes and gifts - pens, pencils, sweets, drinks and most of the kids are over the moon with their prizes and the day they have had (though some are a bit bratty!).

We go back for a 'debrief' at the office of our time with the Trust and I go for a drink with Raj and his friend at a local hotel. Get back to the room and we are both knackered! Good day.

Posted by tevs 03:24 Archived in India Tagged india volunteering trichy tamil_nadu Comments (0)

Chapter twenty six - Coonoor

Day 106: Coonoor, Tamil Nadu 13/01/12

Well, Friday the 13th saw us really struggle. Was horrible to realise this morning that we would be leaving our brief lap of luxury and return to normality. After a breakfast of pancakes and a lie in the huge, comfortable bed, with the log fire roaring (learnt that throwing awful Indian hot chocolate powder on the fire produces Potteresque green flames) and the light, airy room teasing us, we checked out and caught a tuk-tuk to the station. After agreeing a fare of 80 rupees, the driver announces he has now change for my 100 rupee note. As Gemma goes to get some change, small talk with me bores the driver into miraculously producing the required change…

The train to Coonoor is a steam train and the one hour journey costs us 3 rupees each. The carriage is full of people that seem to think that shouting and screaming every time we pass through a tunnel is amusing. It is not. It is annoying.

Find a cold, depressing hotel room back within the budget and have soup in the restaurant downstairs. Mine is so spicy it makes my lips quiver involuntarily. We trundle round the cold, scruffy town and settle down in the sleeping bags for room service dinner.

Posted by tevs 03:23 Archived in India Tagged hills india tamil_nadu coonoor Comments (0)

Chapter twenty five - Ooty

sunny 6 °C

Day 104: Ooty, Tamil Nadu 11/01/12

Up and out from the room where the bed has three legs and a plastic beer crate holding it up. Bit of a wild goose chase to try to find how we get to Ooty, sent from one bus station to another, before trying the train station and being told to catch the bus! A tuk-tuk to the rescue, which takes us to the right bus stand, which is a fair distance from the other bus stations. Similar bus ride to the others, busy, hair raising and beautiful scenery in the Nilgiri mountains.

Off the bus and grab a very average lunch in Ooty, before a tuk-tuk to the hotel, with me a bit apprehensive at Gemma’s birthday surprise…Apprehension dissipates as soon as we pull in to the hotel, a grand old colonial house, with lovely grounds, geese and real grass. Bedroom is magnificent with a huge bed (with a proper mattress – luxury), huge bay window with table and chairs and the log fire is a very welcome warmer in the cold evening.

I head out to grab some great presents for the birthday girl.

Easily the nicest place we have stayed in yet but tea is a slight disappointment, but the comfort of the room and the bed makes for a rather pleasant evening.

Day 105: Ooty, Tamil Nadu 12/01/12

Happy birthday Gemma! We wake up early on this most special of days. When I ask Gemma the time she tells me it is quarter to eight. Turns out it is quarter to seven…

Cards and some presents for a very excited birthday girl in the enormous bed and a reasonable breakfast arrives as well. We arrange to go horse riding – three trekking ponies turn up and away we go. Agree to two hours and with this being my first time on a horse I am a little unsure. Gemma is a pro in comparison, looking a natural and perfectly in proportion with the pony. I seem a little too big for the pony and look a bit like I am riding a Shetland…

We ride in the local mountains, meet a local village tribe and see the incredible traditional buildings. A great day in the fresh air involves some lunch, a mooch around town and some very steep hills. Tea is tandoori chicken and is a bit spicier than anticipated. Laid here writing this with a very sore bum.

Posted by tevs 03:22 Archived in India Tagged hills horses india cold ooty tamil_nadu Comments (0)

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