Traveling to Chennai
Many travelers in India are traveling to Chennai and from there further into India. With an international airport it makes all sense to start your India journey here. And Tamil Nadu, of which Chennai is the capital, is worth the visit too.
If Kolkata is the City of Joy, to me Chennai was the City of Angels. Chennai, or Madras as it is still known to many, is located in the south east of India and it's the gateway to Tamil Nadu with many magnificent places to visit.
In my section about traveling to Chennai I will only focus on the places I visited myself. One can easily write a whole website about Tamil Nadu itself.
I arrived in Chennai by boat from the Andaman Islands. After being a few weeks there, I was fully refreshed for the next leg of my year journey and my 9 months stay in India. Chennai was certainly different from any other city I had visited. Like Kolkata it was still British, with the High Council dominating the city.
Even though poverty in all Indian cities is enormous. When I was traveling to Chennai I didn't expect the city would be better then, say Delhi or Kolkata but in Chennai it seemed different, it seemed closer, more direct right under my very noose.
I had a guesthouse in Georgetown where at night all along the roads people were sleeping under plastic and in cardboard boxes. At sunset, everyone moved out for their daily activities.
I can tell you much about the tourist sights in Chennai, instead I prefer to tell few little tales. Experiences with local Indians in Chennai, which I think are more interesting then repeating what you can read elsewhere.
The Flower Ladies of Chennai
Here a story about a few women I met near Chennai's High Court. These ladies, dressed in bright colored saris gave me one flower when I asked them if I could make a photo. We started talking a little bit.
It took a while, and some chai (white milk tea, I bought for them) to tell me how they made a life.
In the morning the ladies went to borrow some money. With this money they buy some flowers at the market and weave them into a chain. They sell these to people on the street. When all is sold, they go back to return the borrowed money and buy themselves a breakfast, usually dhal bat or plain tosai.
These people have no education, no possible education for their children too. They live and die on the streets (remember, India is has nuclear facilities, there IS money to help people! but defense against the "aggressor Pakistan" is more important then feed their own people).
Some of the men were rickshaw drivers, but the financial burden of a rickshaw was for some even too much. A monthly income of around $100 for a whole family, you can't really do much.
And in that sense it was amazing to see the clothes, although poor, was neatly clean and the faces were friendly. The little these people had, they wanted to share with me, a rich white man.
In India there's a lot of excellent fruit. I still cherish the mangoes and pineapples in Agartala, which, up to date are still the very best I ever ate.
When I walked in Chennai, I came across a little back street which was truly banana street. In all my journeys, I have never seen that many bananas in one place.
I walked in and saw bananas in all sizes and all colors, yellow, green, even red! Men were carrying huge loads of bananas out of trucks. And many ladies were carrying huge baskets on their heads towards the many local markets in the area. Looking at them gave me an instant headache. The loads people carry on their heads is enormous!
But after a couple of days I found Chennai a little too much for my taste, never been a real city man anyway, so I moved south to Mahabalipuram.
Stay in Chennai
Chennai has many cheap hostels and guesthouses. The Teams Guest House is one of the better of the cheap hostels. More hotels and guesthouse here:
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Mysore, city of palaces
Indeed, a city of palaces. Mysore has the beauty of many palaces and many are open to public, either as museums, art galleries or hotels.
If you want to get away from everything that is India, you have to visit the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. It's not much visited as it is a bit out of the way but it's worth the effort. I really loved it. And from the Andaman Islands it's easy traveling to Chennai or Kolkata
I have fond memories of Mahabalipuram, not in the last place because of my time spending with Gwen (whom I would meet years later in Paris) and with some local fishermen on the beach.