Highlights of Mamallapuram

About 60km south of Chennai, the World Heritage village of Mamallapuram (pop 12,000) was more laid back and more touristy but definitely worth a stop.
I ended up taking an auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to here from Chennai, Rs680/$17 to avoid the (scary, unknown) hassle of taking a long distance bus (plus avoiding a ride out to the Chennai bus station in the first place, as it is inconveniently located 7km east of “downtown”).
The weather was good, mostly sunny with some clouds. It looked and felt like it would rain one late afternoon, but it didn’t come.

Highlights include (the first 3 are from the 6th & 7th Century) :
– fantastic rock carvings and mandapas (little temples) carved out of the rock, esp. Arjuna’s Pennance which is a 30x12m carving in a rock cliff face!

Arjuna's Pennance (30x12m)

– the interesting Five Rathas chariot-like rock temples
– the annual famous month-long Dance Festival (I caught 2 performances on this last weekend of the festival) see http://jantrabandt.blip.tvfor a video

Dance festival

– the nice Shore Temple in a scenic location by the shore (duh!)
– going for a “swim” at the beach (just once, not really a beach/swim town as there are dangerous rips and the locals that do go into the water a little are either the fishermen or are wearing full clothes.
– watching a wild baby monkey play in a tree-top 3m away from me as I stood on a rock cliff in a park; see http://jantrabandt.blip.tv for a video

I stayed in a small mosquito-“infested” hotel (to be fair, there was a good mosquito net over the bed, and a ceiling fan) in my Rs350/$9 room, in the tourist ghetto near the beach. The food was similar to Indian dishes served in restos in North America, i.e. different from (and more expensive than) what I ate in Chennai. Though the restos were generally on a rooftop with some breeze, or right on the beach – one of the food highlights here is fresh fish and prawns…

And since Republic Day happened on Jan 26 (India’s equivalent to Canada Day or Independance Day), I got to see how Indian tourists from other (and presumably wealthier) parts of the country behave.

Highlights of Chennai

As expected, it’s not much of a traditional tourist town. I stayed mostly to get acclimatized to India (and of course, my flight landed here, as I wanted to start in south India). Two full days (and a half morning) was more than enough, and the pollution was getting to me (sore throat); of course, walking 10km in one day didn’t help.
Chennai (pronounced “chen-neye”) is the 4th largest city in India at 6.4 million people, but doesn’t really have a “downtown” per se – lots of sprawl.
My hotel was in the Triplicane backpackers area, a 15 minute walk from the beach.
The weather was good – sunny every day, only cloudy one morning, with temps of 22-32°C

Highlights include:
– the MRTS commuter train is quite handy for popping around town, as it avoids traffic and is cheap (Rs3-6 ~ $0.12 for short trips); the doors (and windows) are always open, which made for a breeze when moving
– one interesting temple, at which a guide Hindu-fied me (the white and red marks represent something, I couldn’t understand him well)

Jan Hindu-fied by temple guide

– one of the 3 Catholic churches built on a tomb of an original apostle (the others are in the Vatican and in Spain)
– the very wide beach (nice breeze) which is floodlit at night; forget about western beach attire or swimming though
– meandering the bazaar
– I did enjoy the food, which apparently was North Indian food for the most part (huh?)
here is a photo of a masala dosai (a crispy lentil flour “pancake”) filled with some aloo/potato, which comes with 4 standard sauces (red is spicy, green is something, brown is dal/lentils, and white is coconut)

Masala dosai breakfast
this breakfast item cost Rs18/$0.45, plus that tea is Rs7/$0.18

See what I mean – not a big tourist hotspot!
Virtually all the travellers I met in and near this town were heading to Chennai for an international flight out of India – I think I was the only one who started there!

Quick update from Mamallapuram

I arrived in Mamallapuram, about 75km south of Chennai and half way to Pondi (Puducherry (Pondicherry)), which is where I’m heading tomorrow.
2 days was certainly enough in Chennai
I seem to have a sore throat, sniffles… a cold! And I went to bed at 21:00 each of the last two nights, I was soooo tired, I could barely stay awake through dinner.

The Andaman Islands are out (too much hotel hassle) so Rajasthan is back in (later in the trip). I did meet 2 couples today who are taking the ferry out there… hope I won’t regret it, as they haven’t become overly touristy yet.

Republic Day mostly means that it is very crowded here. On the plus side, it made it easier to take surreptitious photos of people.
And the rock carvings in Mamallapuram are impressive!

Anyways, more to come soon…

First day in India!

My flights via Brussels on Jet Airways were good, and thankfully not full!
Despite landing at 1am and making it to bed in my little hotel room in Triplicane (a part of Chennai) by 3am,
I woke up 6 hours later and feel pretty good.

During the flight, I finally did some more trip planning (most of the 2nd flight I was buried in my Lonely Planet guidebook) and it looks like I will have to cut the desert state of Rajasthan due to time constraints (and not wanting to be rushed everywhere).

I had a tasty late breakfast; I ordered a little too much food (2 items), with 2 teas, for all of Rs60 ~ $1.50
I will spend some time today getting more organized, e.g. a SIM chip for my phone, seeing if a trip to the Andaman Islands is feasible (i.e. hotel availability) since the inter-island ferry schedule will make me stay 1 or 2 extra nights on the main island.

So far, India doesn’t seem any tougher than other 3rd world countries…
And in many ways looks like other 3rd world countries (choked streets with no real “lanes,” half-built buildings, lots of tiny shops…)
Oh yeah, on the taxi ride in last night (it was 22°C when we landed at 1am) I had the window open for the breeze (and some exhaust fumes) when suddenly there was a nasty odour. I thought, we must be near water now, and sure enough we then crossed a river in town.

This Sat (Jan 26) is Republic Day, a big national holiday in India. Not sure yet how that will affect things like opening times and travel…

Leaving for the airport in an just over an hour

What a temperature change this will be: from a hi/lo of -7/-12°C (feels like -14 with the windchill!) in Toronto to a hi/lo of 30/22°C in Chennai, in the southeast of India. You can check out weather in Chennai, India at weather underground.
I still haven’t planned much, but now I’m considering flying to the Andaman Islands (1000km east in the Indian Ocean, south of Burma, but still part of India) and back to Chennai.

Update: here is a map of the path I ended up taking through India.

Leaving for India in just under a week!

I finally bought my ticket yesterday, and I’ll be leaving for India in less than a week, on Mon Jan 21!
I still have lots to do to get ready…


See map of my India trip (made after the fact)

Exchange rate at time of trip:
Indian Rupee (INR)
INR 1 = US$ 0.0256147
US$ 1 = INR 39.04
(update: as of mi-Dec 2011, the exchange rate is US$ 1 = INR 52.74, i.e. the rupee has gone down 25% in value vs the dollar in 3.5 years)