03.03.2007 36 °C
I got a surprise as I arrived at Chennai Central a full half hour early and though I succeeded in my fight for black coffee, rice and dhal was astoundingly too much to ask for even though they plainly had it, it was all they ever had. The incomprehensible menu was merely a list of different breads with different sauces, eaten with the fingers of course, not my idea of breakfast fare anyhow. Even at 6am in the twilight, the heat was noticeably more inflated here and it was already obviously going to be one hot sticky sweaty sweltery day. I prepared myself in an air-con net cafe, unsure of my next move. Finally I made the conviction to make an overnight trip of it out of Chennai, but after enduring hours of waiting in the heat for buses which either didnt stop or failed to be, I finally had to admit defeat in my bid for the UNESCO stonecutters temple complex at Mamallapuram. The guidebook recommended 2 strategies to get there and I ended up trying them both, in the end it was just a sweaty squashed run around the city for nothing, I was dischuffed.
Chennai's meagre urban attractions didnt warrant any further torture in the heat so I grabbed myself a room in a notably muslim part of town where uniquely, Broadlands was a den devoted to travellers where Indians werent even welcome. After a siesta I thought Chennai's one redemption would be its beachside promenade en route to the fort, and though a glimpse of the wide expanse of sand looked impressive it was not readily appreciable beyond a procession of bullshit seaside memorials and foodstalls. Though it wasnt clear what they all represented I could guess that one had to be for the big 2004 tsunami, tragically it was mainly kids who were washed away from the beach here. Besides a statue of George V "Emperor of India" and a very large war memorial out of reach on a traffic roundabout, a long traipse in the dark revealed what I had already read, that the fort was not a fort at all but just a smattering of bungalows behind a low wall constituting an unremarkable military camp. Also only too evident in my wanderings was the fact that Chennai was one massive open sewer which honked to high heaven wherever you went, and more than in any other Indian city homeless people scattered the pavements and riverbanks living amongst it. The ghastly looking shanty towns had a distinctly southern appearance of woven palm fonds acting as walls and roof thatch, along railway and water arteries they penetrated right to the heart of the city centre. After almost becoming accustomed to the stereotypical pigtailed schoolgirl with satchel and immaculate uniform, it was a shock to still see bare arsed kids littering the underpasses and kerbsides, who had clearly never had a comb run through their hair in their lives. They peed where they sat and sat where they lived. After a marathon trek where I also stumbled upon a fair, I finally found a seedy drinking den where you bought your booze wholesale downstairs and then went upstairs out of sight to imbibe. You could have your dinner at the same time, but I resisted the fresh quail still chirping away in a cage right next to all the other dubious offerings. I was in Tamil Nadu state now, one of the southern states I had not even been sure I would reach, and though I didnt understand the ground rules here I knew that it was the one corner of the subcontinent which had never succumbed to Moghul dominance. The language if nothing else still stood as a counterwight to the dominance of Hindi, for better or worse. That alone imbued respect, even if beer was hard to find! Back at Broadlands I chatted briefly with a few travellers, including an English guy who was about to board a train for Calcutta, a very long 30 hour trip away. Flying there tommorrow I would overtake him and for much the same money, bizarre.