More Urban Indian Craziness in Chennai
After three weeks in Goa, it’s time to leave our nice little routine of swimming, cooking, and actually getting work done. Today we flew to Chennai, a huge city on the east coast that we chose only because it was cheaper to first fly to here then to Sri Lanka instead of directly from Goa to Sri Lanka. Flight hacking saved us about $250 on this leg of the journey.
Our hour-long taxi ride from the airport feels just like Mumbai – narrow, dirty roads, full of crowds of people jumping out of the way of crazy rickshaws and buses. We eventually arrive at Broad Lands Lodging House, which has gushingly positive Trip Advisor reviews, but feels dingy and neglected. We find out we don’t have sheets or towels because the laundry guy hasn’t returned with them yet, and as it turns out, doesn’t return for the full three nights we booked. Who ever said hotels are required to give you towels or sheets? The good news is that even with this weird of a room, the hotel actually has some charm, a fun group of international guests, and a really beautiful courtyard.
The room itself is also very bizarre you won’t see towel warmers or other typically luxury hotel items in this place! It is an old, cement building, and in all fairness it would be nearly impossible to make cozy or hip. The room uses a padlock instead of a door handle, and all the windows have wooden shutters, no screens, and bars. The balcony of the past has been converted into our bathroom slants towards the road as if ready to fall at any minute.
Our attempts to explore the city are completely draining. Even the three-block walk to the restaurant recommended by the guest house feels death-defying; between the ditches, dirt piles, and sewer construction project to constant honking and swerving of vehicles large and small, I can’t believe we arrive in one piece. At least the food is good, and cheap. Very cheap. In fact, this is the cheapest meal we’ve had in India. The restaurant is named Anandha Bhavan, and we each order a full plate of rice, curries, and bread for a grand total of $1.60! The meal even includes a free glass of fresh pineapple juice. The same fresh juice that would cost me $4.75 at a Jamba Juice. In the category of price for quality, this might actually be the most efficient meal we’ve had on the trip.
The next morning we decide to push our luck and take an auto rickshaw taxi ride to Fort St. George, a historic fort built by the East India Company in 1644, and a complex that the Indian government still uses today. Unfortunately, Friday is a holiday, and the museum is closed. The area around the fort is still pretty interesting to see. Many of the buildings are still the originals, and there are various historical signs placed on buildings and structures that played a role in the politics of those days.
After a self-guided walking tour around the fort, twice being told we can’t enter a secured area, we decide to walk north to check out George Town, an area described on Wikitravel as “the heart of Chennai” and “under-appreciated by tourists”. The walk there is uneventful, other than the constant smell of human urine as we pass sidewalk after sidewalk that are simply used as bathrooms for anyone walking by.
Once we get to George Town, the pace of the city again blows us away. This area is even more dense than the part of town we’re staying in. The people lining the roads and alleys are all involved some sort of business or errand. No one seems to be just hanging around. Although it’s fascinating to watch, the heat, dust, garbage, and constant smell of piss is too much for us to handle after an hour.
We eventually hail down a rickshaw and take another dusty, 30-minute ride back to our hotel where we again head to Anandha Bhavan for dinner.
Chennai did have some interesting old colonial buildings and streets to look at. One of my favorite sites we saw was an old movie theater. I am not sure if it is still in use (I doubt it), but I knew the theater was old because the sign said it was a “Talkies” theater. What a cool historic sign! I hope they never change it, as it has to be one of the last few talkie theater signs in the world.