Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chennai International Airport - India's Third Busiest

Chennai International. This photo only courtesy of
Chennai International Airport services both international (Annadurai Airport Terminal) and domestic flights (Kamaraj Airport terminal). Its two terminals have been named after former chief ministers of the state of Tamil Nadu.

It's located at the fringes of the metropolis, along GST Road in the neighborhood of Tirusalam (Kanchipuram district). I've been to both terminals, but to be honest, I am a bit disoriented as to the location of both terminals because most of my transits there were hurried. In this post, we feature a few photos from out fast transit.

What's interesting is the new 5-story domestic airport: it's swanky, and can accommodate 1,000 more (every 3 hour turnover) passengers than the old terminal. The old domestic accommodates 2,300 passengers. On cursory glance, the new one employs generous space compared to the tightly squeezed check-in counters of the old. The international terminal of Annadurai, on the other hand, is more than serviceable. Check-in and check-out proceedings are fast. They have to. After all, it's being used by 13 million annual passengers and about 350 air crafts daily.

Historically, Asia's first ever flight was flown from Chennai in 1910 - a feat performed by Corsican hotelier Giacomo D'Angelis with his biplane. Eons later, Chennai has India's third busiest airport.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Check-in counters of the domestic terminal.

International Terminal's front lobby.

Annadurai's Pre-departure Area

Baggage Belt at the airport. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's nikkul.

Chennai International Airport. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wet Wet Wet in Chennai - A.K. Ramanujan's A River

This is a favorite photo, unexpected and unplanned while roaming the streets of Triplicane. I wanted to highlight it here. What better way to do that than with a fitting poem.

Here are excerpts of a delightful poem from a Tamil artist named A.K. Ramanujan. While it is set in Madurai, a place I am fond of, the poem reeks of an atmosphere idiosyncratic of the region.


He was there for a day
When they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
Of the precise number of cobbled steps
Run over by the water, rising
On the bathing places
And the way it carried off three village houses,
One pregnant woman
And a couple of cows
Named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

For the complete text of Ramanujan's poem, please visit this site -  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Walking Around Triplicane - Everyday Chennai

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.

Tandoori Chicken

Mushroom Fried Rice at 65 rupees, but where's the mushroom?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chennai's Marina Beach - World's Second Longest Natural Beach

Marina Beach carries a record of sorts. This Madrasi stretch is a daunting, albeit inviting 13 kilometers making it India’s longest natural urban beach. It faces the Bay of Bengal and drains further into the immense Indian Ocean. But I didn't know all these before I went there. The beach is the single most important itinerary for tourists in this area. Who doesn't like the wind against his face? Or the seductive dipping of your feet on a cascading ripple of water on powdery sand? This natural beauty is stuff that inspires poetry. And the wind that blows continuously on the coast dissipate all your cares in the world.

From my hotel (Anitha Towers), I leisurely walked several blocks before finally reaching the beach. The roads were punctuated by uneven ground, and 50 meters before the promenade, I saw a machine siphoning sewage by the roadside, the hose was spewing grimed excreta all over the road. I froze when I saw the brownish puddle occupying a good part of the road.

What is with Chennai (Madras) and her utter disregard to keeping feces contained in places where people couldn't see, touch or smell them? I am just baffled. I was barely two hours in the city and I've already encountered fecal displacement in a very public manner. First, at the rail tracks then here.


I proceeded to walk, trying hard to ignore the unhygienic and gut-churning display. The beach will be a better scene, I was sure. The sand at the Marina was fine, unlike Mumbai’s rocky formations. Its beige color would glisten like gold in the bright sun, but for now, it was just a wind-swept seaside locality with few people. It had been drizzling all day. Had it been sunny, this place would have been filled with daytime revelers. This after all is India’s most crowded, with throngs reaching 50,000 during summer weekends.

Marina, it turns out, has always been popular. In fact, a picture (shown in this page) taken in long forgotten 1913 showed a musical parade trooping the ground. The waves here are supposedly cantankerous so swimming was discouraged, but what I witnessed wasn't so. Water was shallow and there were boats parked from a distance. 

A band parades at the Marina Beach in 1913. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia from the negatives of Messr. Nicolas and company.

A guy on a motorbike bumps against a CNG.

Later that day, I visited a restaurant for a bit of a snack. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I needed to check-out the local gastronomic fare; nothing fancy. Just the usual everyday stuff that people order. I got Oman Uthappam (35 rupees), chicken omelet (45 rupees), and a pot of coffee (25 rupees). I liked the Uthappam (spelled differently in various places: uttapam, ooththappam, etc.) This dish isn't crisp nor crepe-like, but thick like a pancake, with toppings cooked right into the batter.

The chicken omelet was like any omelet with strips of chicken on it (which I ordered just in case the uttapam didn't agree with my gastronomical requirement). The smell of coffee was heady. Just when I thought I’d have a single cup, I was served a whole pot! But what caught my eyes were the little platters filled with different condiments (if you call them that). There’s jam, butter, dhal, etc. Beautifully arranged, like culinary toys. I couldn't take my eyes off them. There were 4 pieces of toast. I took note of the other items on the menu: idly, vada, pongal, sada dosai, etc. Each one sounded as exotic to my ears. Meanwhile I had a whole plate of uttapam to consume.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Utthappam (left), toast, chicken omelet and a pot of delicious coffee.


Chicken omelet

Like culinary toys