When you read about Chennai, you'd be more than interested to make a visit. It seems to have a multi-hypenated veneer: it's the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu; it sits on the Coromandel Coast off Bay of Bengal; it's an agglomeration of close to 9 million people; the Cultural Capital of South India; and hailed as the country's most livable city. Among its industry is Information Technology, and it has a sizable population of Catholics. Pitch this to me and I am there.
Unfortunately, all these "feathers in the cap" don't translate to much for a tourist. The sites in the city seemed limited and navigating around with transportation other than your feet is complex. Tuktuk drivers charge 250 to 300 rupees for a point-to-point travel within the city center (where locals are charged a fraction), and if I were to move from one site to the next, this accumulates to a hefty sum. It was one of the most frustrating places for me. In short, while people were more relaxed, the system was not too tourist-friendly. Unfortunately, when you're traveling the south, you're most likely to spend a few transits in Chennai, a new name for what was once called Madras. Frankly, I'd rather stay in less popular Trichy
What fascinates me more than its unsophisticated tourist system is its people. On cursory observation, Tamil people have characteristic features: dark skinned, plump to heavy, and the men wear skirts, like Myanmar's longyis or the Malay's sarongs. Unlike the aforementioned, these masculine drapes are shorter, above-the-knee types, mostly white or off-white (a good number are multi-colored). Their anatomical features are more punctuated in Tamil movies which are becoming more popular these days. In these flicks, their most popular stars aren't half-Caucasians (like many Bollywood actors, right Ms. Katrina Kaif?), nor do they have Greek physiques and gym-buff bods; aquiline noses and parlor-coiffed tresses. Their actors are dark-skinned and heavy framed. Now that's what diversity is all about. Yet when these Tamil actors shake their booty, they can still dance up a storm. How fun.
In 1639, the British built Fort Saint George. The activity around this development eventually created a bustle where a community grew.This new town was called Chennapattanam, and shortened to Chennai. Where did they get that term? This was allegedly culled from a Telugu ruler named Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu who was owner of the lands. The British came to buy it, thus the homage. Originally named Madras, this was later changed to Chennai to rid the city of its colonial past. I kinda like Madras.
So one morning, I decided not to punish myself with autorickshaw rides. I decided to just walk around Triplicane and Egmore. I checked my mail at an internet shop (25 rupees/hour), then went to a post office, hoping I could buy a Chennai postcard which is not available anywhere nearby. It turns out, a Chennai postcard is almost non-existent which underlines the state of tourism here. Instead, what the Post Office had were blank note pads which, in lieu of a picture postcard, might as well be the replacement. What's more surprising was the unbelievably inexpensive postal rates: 0.50 rupees for a postcard stamp sent anywhere in the world - and 15 rupees for a snail mail letter. Which part of the world can you find such bottom-scraping postage fees?
I checked out some shirts from Komala Xclusif and got one at 175 rupees. I saw Paradise Guesthouse and Broadlands Lodge, both popular with backpackers. Passed by All-Saints' Catholic Church, a middle school, a Boys Hostel, and the Masjide Hafiz Ahmed Khan. I bought a fruit juice at 17 rupees and contemplated on getting a haircut - they only charge 35 rupees for a barber's.
Later that morning, I went to Hotel Sealord Restaurant where I ventured on a tandoori chicken, a popular chicken dish in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan where roasted chicken is prepared with yogurt and a coterie of spices. I wanted to checkout a tandoor, the cylindrical clay oven where this dish is cooked, but the kitchen looked busy. It would have been the perfect place to see authentic tandoori preparation. Cheap at 85 rupees, coupled with mushroom fried rice at 50 rupees, it was the first time I enjoyed a tandoori. Most times, whenever I see one elsewhere (tandoori chicken is quite popular even in Manila), I pass it up because I don't like the orangey colored food. But this wasn't bad at all. For a day predicated on poor first impressions, this was turning out pleasant.
This is the Eye in the Sky!
|Men wearing skirts. They are, I think, officially called dhoti, aka pancha. It is considered formal wear too. But these dhotis are particularly short, above-the-knee garments in Chennai.|
|Gentleman wears a dhoti.|
|No post cards, but notes at 15 rupees sent to any international address.|
|Of you just need stamps for a postcard, this will cost you 0.50 rupees. Imagine that.|
|At 35 rupee per haircut, Chennai has one of the world's cheapest.|
|All Saints Church|
|Masjide Hafiz Ahmed Khan (above and below)|
|Broadlands Lodging House is popular with the backpack crowd. Paradise Guesthouse (below) is nearby.|
|A fruit shake or a juice? Yummy at a measly 15 rupees.|
|Mushroom Fried Rice at 65 rupees, but where's the mushroom?|