With us arriving so late and the complete unpredictability of Indian Railways I didn’t want to pre book a hotel. The idea being that around 9pm if we were on time I would make a quick call and then get one booked. The key locations in Chennai are ‘Egmore’ and ‘Triplicane’ Both are only a few km from each other but one is near the beach and one near the centre. Though Chennai is sprawling it is actually quite confined for the traveller.
We picked up a rickshaw to ‘Broadlands hotel’ in Triplicane and as we sped through the streets of Chennai it was the first time I had seen such a huge city so deserted. The odd guy was flaked out here and there but that is not out of the ordinary for India. Broadlands is famous the world over as the backpacker place to be in Chennai, cheap, welcoming and in the middle of the action. We woke the manager up and checked in (an anal thing about India is that by law you have to check in every person, passports, visas, next destination etc – It takes time) So about twenty minutes later the guy showed me the two rooms I could choose from. One was slightly more expensive than the other but both were around 400 Rupees which is about a fiver. Now, we have stayed in some right dives believe me. We have spent nights on peoples floor, in airports, train stations and in places that would be shut down anywhere else in the world – But this was shocking. Both had swarms of mosquito’s in and the toilets were holes in the floor near the bed. The walls were covered in scum and the beds looked disgusting. There was absolutely no way we were staying there, the guy pleaded he would get the room boy (all hotels in India have room boys, basically teens that are skivvies, having spoke to some they really are at the low end of society and get treated in a way that reflects that. They get paid pittance but are simply glad to have a job and so put up with it) I felt bad having had them save a room for me, then waking them up but I simply could not stay there so we left. He even offered us to stay there for half price and still I just couldn’t. So, we found ourselves roaming the deserted streets of Chennai at 1am with all our things trying to find accommodation. Some guy popped out of nowhere and showed us to a hotel – Usually this means a scam is about to ensue but it turned out he was just a genuine good Samaritan which is exceptionally common throughout India. 450 Rupees later and we were in bed watching pissed up guys in the USA doing funny stuff as we tried to wind down.
Chennai is a city in the state of Tamil Nadu and tries exceptionally hard to be cosmopolitan. It lives in the shadow of Mumbai but fares well. There is little to do except for shop, go to the beach and visit the odd museum or religious building. Mumbai on the other hand has plenty to do, but Chennai has a trump card – The climate is much better in the South Eastern city and is home to one of the best beaches in Mainland India. Having been to both Juhu Beach in Mumbai and Marina Beach in Chennai I have to say that Chennai wins hands down. It’s not even a fair comparison to be honest, the difference is so vast. Chennai has its own movie Industry and though it fails miserably in comparison to the powerhouse that is Mumbai it still bangs out substantially more movies than Hollywood each year. Not one to miss out on a bit of glory, when Mumbai changed its name from Bombay, Chennai followed suite quickly and ditched the name Madras for the more ‘hip’ Chennai.
Chennai is also home to the Biriyani and it is very proud of that fact. The dish has been altered and you can have variants of it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In many ways Biriyani is somewhat of a national dish. If you order food on a train or on a flight it will usually be Biriyani. I have also found the dish to be the best way to introduce kids to Indian food. Completely off the top of my head going on how it tastes it is basically veg, rice, a few mild spices, cloves and cinnamon. (Veg Biriyani) Having never eaten one in the UK I have no idea what it is like there – But in India that is what you will get. Since processed food is almost unheard of in India and you will struggle not to get fresh made food in restaurants you can dictate flavours easily. The three variants of an Indian dish are ‘less spicy’ ‘Medium spicy’ and then ‘spicy’ how spicy will depend on how enthusiastic you say the word.
Our final day in India was spent relaxing on the awesome Marina beach, which is basically a huge beach. It is very far out to the sea and is probably about 800m, it was about forty degrees and so the sand was too hot to do much. But to visit such a renowned place in India made the walk worth it. The heat was sapping and Charlie soon gave up his one man game of coconut football after a few minutes. We posed for photographs and walked for ages until Abi looked like a Lobster on South Beach. The sea is notoriously harsh and so as much as we wanted to jump in we weren’t able to.
We spent time visiting a bazaar and basically spent one last day absorbing India.
Chennai gets harsh press in guide books, it’s not particularly easy to get to and is really off the tourist trail and so few tourists make it this far. Though we spent only a short time in Chennai we enjoyed it, perhaps it was the sentiments we enjoyed. In any case it was a perfect way to finish up in India.