Bangalore

“I was in Bangalore, India, the Silicon Valley of India, when I realized that the world was flat.” – Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer Prize winner

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#day3

Landed at 7:05am. Feeling a slight lethargy in my body due to the early morning flight, I slowly traipsed out of the futuristic-looking airport building with my light blue backpack in tow. Stepping into cool air, I was surprised to see not a single tuk-tuk “Abang” driver coming to harass me.

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Working professionals getting out of the airport in a hurry

Maybe it was the early morning.

Or maybe it was my don’t-come-close-to-me-because-I-just-had-an-early-morning-flight face.

Or maybe it was just…

Bangalore.

The mecca of startup enthusiasts. Several sources have written that Bangalore houses one of the fastest growing technology startup communities in the world (Ghosh, 2015), even earning the sobriquet, “Silicon Valley of India” (Vaidyanathan, 2012). Established giants such as Wipro and Infosys have already called Bangalore their home decades ago but the ecosystem only thrived in recent years when young and rapidly growing tech upstarts like Flipkart, Myntra, redBus and Karbonn Mobiles came on board. This innovation spine seemed to have transformed the city dramatically as Bangalore felt different from the other cities I’ve been in India (and I guessed inhabitants here have higher propensity to use new technologies, i.e., Ola cab app, and thus, would be less inclined to flag down a tuk-tuk taxi).

Walking to the bus ticket counter, my nose picked up on an aromatic caffeinated scent wafting lyrically though the air and like the children of Hamelin dancing ignorantly to Pied Piper’s alluring music, I made a beeline to its source, a nearby coffee stand, oblivious to the need of getting out of the airport and into the city. By then, a batch of newly arrived working professionals, with their smart-looking tailored suits, had already formed up a queue, so I had to wait patiently before getting my freshly brewed filtered coffee. Nothing like a good cup of coffee to keep out the “zzz” zombie in me. Feeling a little more refreshed than when I stepped out of the plane, I boarded the bus in growing excitement of meeting my first Couchsurfing (CS) host in India.

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A cup of coffee a day keeps the “Zzz” zombie away

While I wasn’t new to the CS scene, it had been long since I last surfed. The most recent one was in Taichung near the start of 2015. The more sustained ones, in which I surfed continuously, were during my student exchange days in Europe circa 2011. Those were the days when I strived to travel to as much countries using as little money as possible. CS was and is still arguably the best platform to fulfill both objectives. Since my first CS experience in Salzburg, I had surfed on the kindness and generosity of hosts from all walks of life around the world. Each time seems different – the home, neighbourhood, discussions, personality and even the culinary skills of my hosts.

But, it’s not always a bed of roses, as the thorny issue of making the first contact, i.e., finding the host’s residence or the host herself in populous meeting places, has always bedeviled me. This time, it was no exception, as I was walking in circles around the area for a good half an hour. With ferocious-looking dogs in the vicinity, it made the already arduous task all the more difficult. After a few cul-de-sacs, I was pretty sure I found the place as the words on the gate matched to the appellation sent in a message earlier to me. Yet, with no noticeable human activities in the house, the last thing I want to be mistaken for in my sojourn here is committing daylight burglary.

Splattering of water droplets and shuffling sounds could be heard in the adjacent bungalow. I walked through its unlocked gate and called out. A well coiffured silver-haired lady looking to be in her sixties peeked out from the second floor. I instinctively blurted out my host’s name, in hopes of replacing my unfamiliar face with hopefully, a familiar name. Her eyes lit up and she cried out to the next house, alerting the well concealed occupants to my plight. A voice echoed back. Taking the cue, I hurried back and was welcomed warmly by my first CS host in India, the Bhatt family.

Contact made.

Was treated to a quintessential Indian breakfast and much needed home-made coffee before rushing out of the house to get the data SIM card. The latter was of utmost importance. Not getting one would only prolong my misery at not being able to navigate smoothly to my destinations. My next city, Hampi, is a remote archeological town (Nearest major town, Hospet, is around 13 km far and 30 mins by bus), and travelling around in such hinterlands can be problematic without the use of any navigation tools. Time would be wasted in experimenting with alternative routes, inquiring with random passersby or worse, getting into unnecessary lengthy conversations with loquacious ones.

The day was breezy and slightly cold, unlike that of hot and wet Chennai. I started out at Brigade Road, a shopping precinct teeming with recognizable Western labels, i.e., KFC and Starbucks. The latter provided free WiFi, useful for anyone wanting to save on limited data allowances or for travellers lacking a local SIM card (yours truly). Perhaps, a Chinese guy lounging around on a working day was an unwonted sight, as two youthful-looking baristas approached me like a bolt out of the blue for a free coffee tasting session. A detailed introduction on the coffee beans was soon followed by free chocolates and a cup of brewed coffee. The latter was strikingly bitter, as if to portend the laborious activities lying ahead of me for the rest of the day.

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Free coffee tasting session, why not?

Heading back to the Airtel shop, a customer service staff with conspicuous tattoos on his arm spelled out the requirements to register a data SIM card (costing 399 rupees and came with 1GB of data free).

“Passport”

“Sure”

“Passport picture”

“What? I don’t bring passport picture when I travel”

“You will also need to pass me a letter from your hotel or a physical verification from your host. Also, your host has to provide a form of identification.” Perhaps, as proof of either being a resident or of age to embark on a liberal activity of housing a foreign stranger or both.

“What the…”

“And, the card can only be activated after two hours”

I tried pleading with him, by complaining about the system and saying that in all my travels so far, I had never encountered such a cumbersome process to get a SIM card (which was true), in hopes of avoiding the need to get the passport photo (which would incur extra money) and my host to come down to the shop to bail me out. But to no avail.

Another instance of the numerous superfluous procedural turnstiles I had encountered in India that caused my travelling to be more inefficient and slower. One other example was the necessity to fill up a hosting form (“Form C”) each time a foreigner were to stay at an Indian home, failing which, a hefty fine could be imposed on the host (First heard of this compulsory requirement during my homestay in Jaipur). That said, unless my host insisted, I usually desisted from filling it.

Whether these procedural constructs served to hamper or pamper is a moot point. Proponents would argue on the grounds of security through the reduction of nefarious activities. On the other hand, opponents would lament that these speed bumps stifle everyday’s life. Taken both the marginal benefit of security with the marginal cost of speed into consideration, do you feel that the present system is efficient?

From my perspective as a traveller, I would say some of the existing bureaucratic processes are needless and avertible (Not too sure why I need to get a passport photo when it’s already on the first page of my passport and there’s the latest invention called photocopier). In fact, when I was in Shenzhen (Jan’16), it took me less than one minute to obtain a SIM card (from China Unicom). All I needed to give were RMB 69 and my choice of a local number. That’s it. No passport, two hour activation or addresses needed (Well, maybe because I wasn’t looking like I was going to piece together an “explosive” clock bomb).

Commencing “The Amazing Race, Bangalore Edition”, I went to the nearest photography shop, which was one street away in an obscured back alley. A bespectacled man greeted me as I entered into a capacious room decorated with framed portraits on ashen white walls.

“How much for a passport size photo?”

“150 rupees for 15 pieces”

“I don’t need 15 pieces. Can I buy only one piece and you charge me a lower price instead?” 

Frowning his eyebrows, he seemed perplexed as to why I didn’t understand him.

“Sorry, it’s a package price. 150 rupees for 15 pieces.”

 “No. Sorry. I don’t need 15 pieces. I only need one piece. Can I get a price for that piece?”

Sensing an impending verbal carousel, I made a hasty exit, with my ears picking up on a slight grumble as I walked down the steps. I was still determined to get my data SIM card, but now with a stronger dose of urgency coursing through my veins. Two streets and a traffic junction later, I was at another photography shop that charged me 100 rupees for eight pictures.

“No. I don’t need eight photos, I only need one photo,” I replied exasperatedly.

After much bargaining, the package became four photos for 70 rupees. I agreed reluctantly. A protracted negotiation would only incur more opportunity cost given that only three daylight hours were remaining. True to his words, the staff fastidiously put his own mug shots into the other four slots in order to complete the eight piece print template. With four passport photos in hand, I went back to Starbucks to send a Whatapps message to Simran. Thankfully, she was working nearby, else, this saga might be heading towards a nasty ending.

She arrived and appeared amused when asked to provide a form of identification. Finally, after nearly three hours, the Indian data SIM card was in my phone, and I further added another 2 GB of data (455 rupees)  just in case of unforeseeable substantial data consumption down the road. Hastily biding my farewell to Simran, I walked briskly along MG road to see the local sights. Bloated overcast clouds hanged precariously above me as the architecturally awe-inspiring Vidhana Soudha, seat of the state legislature of Karnataka, came into view.

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Vidhana Soudha

Then, the mayhem began as the heavens opened their flood gates. I quickly took a few more shots before dashing back to Brigade Street. Too late. The dam above seemed to be breached as torrential rain came heavy and swift. I quickly took shelter at a nearby jewelry shop, which had a covered storefront to accommodate a few of us miserable individuals. Big water puddles had already formed by then, as the existing drainage system seemed inadequate to contain the heavenly tsunami.

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Interestingly, this was the heaviest rainfall in Bangalore for the whole year and it was coincidental with my arrival (I had encountered heavy rain in my previous city of Chennai but no, it didn’t rain when I was at Hampi). To further illustrate how bad the flooding was, my host couldn’t even drive out of her house to fetch me. She suggested  Ola cabbing, but looking at the map, the distance to her place was pretty near (1.3 km and 16 mins by foot). So I ran back, stepping into several unavoidable ankle-deep water puddles along the way.

Arriving to concerned faces, I quickly took a hot shower as Uncle Bhatt pointed out that these murky water pools were poisonous due to the overflowed sewage system. Further, he remarked that I was fortuitous not to have dropped into any of the uncovered manholes. Perhaps, there were watchful guardian angels ricocheting me away from these pitfalls.

I tucked into a cozy and traditional dinner with the Bhatt family. Aunty Bhatt’s cooking was amazing! The briyani and chicken were delicious and I even requested to pack the Papadum for my overnight ride to Hampi. We were having some light-hearted conversations when the lights in the house suddenly went off. Due to the intense rain, the power supply was disrupted. Throughout the evening, a few more blackouts occurred intermittently in between mirthful laughter and animated no-holds-barred storytelling (Was sharing about my travel stories in Indonesia, in which I twice had a close brush with death).

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Dinner with the Bhatt family

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It was a good evening indeed and even though I was miles away from Singapore, it almost felt like I was back home. But, the end of the night beckoned. Aunty Bhatt kindly drove me to the bus station, which I then took an overnight bus to Hospet, and after which, another bus to Hampi.

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Inside of Greenline Express overnight bus

Stay tuned for the adventures in Hampi.

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Sneak preview – Early morning in Hampi

Travel hacks:

  • If you are an entrepreneur, do visit Bangalore. You can start off by joining the “Bangalore Startup Connect” Facebook group.
  • If you are sightseeing tourist, there isn’t much to see in Bangalore unfortunately.
  • Bring a passport picture, proof of hotel stay and passport when applying for a SIM card
  • If you couchsurf in India, there is a need to fill up “Form C”. Do inquire with your host on it.

Any interesting travel experiences in Bangalore, do share them in the comments!

Source:

Ghosh, Anirvan. 2015. “Bangalore Is World’s 2nd Fastest Growing Startup Ecosystem, Has Youngest Entrepreneurs, Says Study”. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/07/29/bangalore-global-startup-_n_7893924.html on the 4.1.16

Chennai

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

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#day2

Only one day left in Chennai to explore all the attractions…

Time was running short.

First objective of the day was to take a bus to San Thome Basilica, a majestic eponymous white church said to house the remains of St. Thomas (Some would better know him by his moniker, “Doubting Thomas”), an apostle of Jesus Christ.

The thought of venturing out alone, only on the second day, with no knowledge of the lingua franca or the local bus system (bus stops in Chennai did not have any tourist-friendly information guides) rattled a few nerves in me. The task became more challenging, when I had to return the data SIM card back to Vinod, which means I can’t use Google Map to navigate around for the day.

The importance of having a data SIM card cannot be overemphasized. In fact, for solo backpackers/travellers, please do yourself a favour and get a pre-paid data SIM card once you land in the foreign country (I did not get the card in Chennai because I “cheapskate-ly” wanted to compare between Airtel and Vodafone price plans and see which one offered me a better deal. In the end, I decided on Airtel data SIM card but instead, got that in my next city, Bangalore). With the data SIM card, you can get access to a dizzying array of useful apps such as Google Maps (to navigate), Whatapps/Facebook Messenger (to communicate with your hosts/friends), Airbnb (to book your homestays),  TripAdvisor (to get a sense of what and where are the local attractions and cheap hostels), Uber/Ola Cabs (to book your taxis, but truth be told, I don’t usually use cabs when backpacking, and no, there is no Grabtaxi in India in case you are wondering) and just general web surfing.

Having saved offline a map of the city from Google Map and using it to plot my directions to San Thome beforehand, I knew I had to wait at this inconspicuous-looking bus stand 10 mins away from Vinod’s house. However, after observing several badly refurbished buses whizzing past me, I sensed something was amiss. As time was not on my side, I quickly accosted a friendly-looking passerby to ask for directions and he duly brought me to the right bus stand. The entire bus journey (S$0.30) to San Thome took around 40 mins.

More often than not, whenever my instincts tell me something is wrong or things that look out of place, I would grab any random nearby stranger. During my trip in Indonesia, when I got into a car accident and was confronted with a group of menacing-looking Indonesians (with one of them even holding a sickle) for payment, I literally stopped every single vehicle that drove past, by jumping in front of them or doing whatever that necessitated them to stop, to ask for assistance. 

Sam Thome Basilica stood strikingly imposing, with its tapering conical spires rising up to the heavens. The white exterior exuded a sense of purity and evoked a feeling of calm beneath the dark ominous-looking overcast clouds. Coincidentally, it was a Sunday so I was at the right place and time to fulfill my religious obligations as well.

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San Thome Basilica

While it’s free to enter into the hall that houses the apostolic remains, visitors are not allowed to take any pictures as a mark of respect. A rectangular tomb with transparent sides could be seen at the end of the chapel, under a sign “The Tomb of St. Thomas”. Luckily, a reclining life-sized figurine, painted to the likeness of St. Thomas, is displayed in place of any macabre remains. Devotees coming into the sanctuary would first say a quiet prayer on one of the light mahogany wooden pews attached with kneelers, before moving forward to touch the tomb for good luck or prostrate themselves on the floor as an act of reverence for the martyred saint.

I took part in the Sunday mass for a while, before a growling stomach screamed out that the time for lunch has arrived. Exiting the church, I wandered around aimlessly in search for clean and tasty local eats, before ending up in a bookshop randomly and asking the store owner purposefully, “Hi uncle, where is the best place to eat around here?”

When in doubt, just grab anyone randomly and trust in statistics that the person will give you the answer. Grab more people to verify the accuracy of your collected answers (In statistics speak, this is random sampling and increasing your sample size can reduce the standard errors). Questions I normally ask to discover local tasty eats would be, “if there is only one place to eat, where would that place be?” or one with a morbid twist, “if this is your last meal, what would you want to eat?”

He recommended Saravana Bhavan, a well-known chain of vegetarian restaurants in India. In fact, there is a branch in Singapore! Ordered the “Special Limited Meals”, which cost 110 rupees for a regular size and 120 rupees for a large size. It came with a myriad of fourteen tasty treats – Rice, Poriyal, Koottu, Pachadi, Sambar, Rasam, Special rice, Special Kuzhambu, Curd, Appalam, Thukaiyal, Butter milk, Fried Curd Chilly and Pickles (kudos to you if you are able to match the dishes to their name).

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Special Limited Meals

Unfortunately, it rained heavily halfway into my meal. On hindsight, it seemed like a precursor of tragic events to come: the 2015 South Indian flooding. For those who are not aware, Chennai suffered massive flooding towards the end of November. CNBC reported an official death toll of least 280 dead and many more being displaced (CNBC, 2015). While many blamed nature (due to the El Nino phenomenon), some felt better urban development such as building more canals and proper drainage systems would have mitigated most of the disastrous outcomes.

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Rain rain, go away, come again another day please.

I was struck at the restaurant for a good 30 mins before anxiety started to crept in (as I only have three more hours to explore Chennai and it’s inconceivable to spend them all at Saravana Bhavan). Braving the rain, I waded through ankle-deep water puddles to a nearby street, in search of an umbrella. After obtaining one, I skipped over more water puddles en route to the next location on my itinerary: Sri Ramakrishna Math.

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“Ponding”

Sri Ramakrishna Math, which on Google looks to be a real stunner, did not disappoint me upon arrival. “A monastic organisation for men brought into existence by Ramakrishna (1836–1886), a 19th-century saint of Bengal,” the anachronistic Universal Temple was flanked by lush greenery in an idyllic setting. By then, the rain had reduced to a light drizzle. Coupled with lingering dark clouds in the background, it only seemed to accentuate the beauty of the edifice further.

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Sri Ramakrishna Math

The drizzle gradually came to a stop and clear skies took over, but sensing that daylight was weakening and sunset was approaching, I hastened my pace toward my next attraction.

Ideally, it’s good to take note of sunrise and sunset timings because firstly, you can plan your whereabouts accordingly to catch the sunrise/sunset, and secondly, it gives you an urgency to quickly explore your attractions knowing that daylight, which is essential to take beautiful pictures, will eventually come to an end. For that particular day, sunset was at 5.40pm.

I retraced my steps back to San Thome Basilica quickly to get to possibly the last destination of the day, Marina Beach. Walking behind San Thome Cathedral, down some muddy steps and past a group of lively kids, I came to Foreshore Estate Beach.

Strolling along the beach, I heard gunshot sounds coming from what seemed like a row of dilapidated apartments 100m away in my 10 o’clock direction. Surrounded by empty shacks and unimpassioned stares from passing Indians,  I started to think that I just intruded into a “drug mafia” territory. Tensing up and saying a quick prayer, I walked briskly, readying myself to run if need be (Told this incident to one of my hosts and she said the “gunshots” were fireworks as Deepavali was approaching. Yeah, of course I knew that).

Makeshift stalls selling a eclectic mix of seafood caught my interest, yet with the lack of icing facilities and at that time of the day (4pm), the level of freshness was a suspect (plus the stallholders were relaxing and chatting with each other with nary a care to fend off persistent flies).

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Foreshore Estate Beach

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Seafood left out to dry

Chennai Marina Lighthouse came into sight, signifying the start of Gandhi Beach. According to a local, there were several memorials of famous Indian individuals, i.e. Gandhi, Anna Salai, etc. With the louring clouds looming in the distance, there was no time to waste.

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Chennai Marina Lighthouse

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Guess who?

After giving paparazzi shots to a few statues, the one which I really wanted to take, the Anna Salai memorial – a magnificent-looking rider and horse statue that graces Chennai Wikitravel web page – remained elusive. Feeling exasperated, I asked a random group of teenage Indian girls at a nearby bus stand for much-needed directional guidance, which was quickly given with curious looks and shy smiles.

Thank you girls.

I was shown the way to Anna memorial alright, but it was NOT the Anna I wanted. Instead of Anna Salai, I was taken to the memorial of C. N. Annadurai, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu and also popularly known as “Anna” (And throughout the whole time at the memorial, I was searching high and low for the rider and horse statue). Notwithstanding, I was rewarded with some awe-inspiring and architecturally-imposing monumental shots of the nearby M.G.R. Memorial.

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M.G.R. Memorial

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M.G.R. Memorial

In the end, even though I didn’t manage to catch Anna Salai “rider and horse” statue, nor buy my postcard for the city, it was still a memorable trip in Chennai.

I would buy a postcard for each city that I visit, as I plan to one day, have a world map on my wall and stick pins with the postcards collected on it. I missed out on Chennai, Bangalore, Ajmer and Visakhapatnam this time round, but collected on the other 13 cities.

To put an icing on the cake, Vinod and his family took me out for dinner, since it was my last night in Chennai. Thanks Uncle and Auntie for the treat! We went to Eden Vegetarian, an air-conditioned restaurant serving delicious vegetarian cuisine. As it had notched up pretty good reviews on Tripadvisor, our expectations were high before we began feasting on vegetarian delicacies.

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After dinner, just when I was still savouring whatever that remained of the Eden Vegetarian’s gastronomic feast, Uncle bought some local Indian delicacy called Pann from a nearby stall for us. For those uninitiated, Pann consists of ingredients as shown in the picture below. Since I tasted betel nut before, and the experience wasn’t pleasant to say the least, I knew roughly what I was getting myself into.

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Caveat Emptor

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Pann making in progress

Vinod handed me one Pann and told me to put the entire monster into my mouth. I was very very apprehensive about even having a bite of it much less putting the entire thing into my mouth.

Whatever. Let’s do it.

Inserting the entire Pann into my mouth and having one big bite on it immediately caused a nauseating sensation to rise up my throat. In an instant, I regurgitated some of my dinner and vomited the entire “stew” out onto my hands. Bad virgin experience of Pann, which caused me to avoid any Pann stall thereafter like a plague (before Punit, my host in Bikaner, redeemed it slightly when he bought a Bikaner Pann and told me to try it bit by bit). My personal sense is that Pann requires an acquired taste, so I would suggest trying it first in really small portions to see whether the taste is palatable enough to continue munching further (and to avoid being mistaken for having food poisoning by concerned passerbys).

Woke up at 4am to take a cab to Chennai International Airport for an early morning flight to Bangalore.

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Curd

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Coffee Box at the Airport

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Landed safely in Bangalore

Stay tuned for the next adventure in Bangalore.

Travel hacks for Chennai

  • Chennai is hot all year round and especially wet during the monsoon season (Oct – Dec). Avoid these months if you want to avoid the hassle of walking around with umbrellas/raincoats.
  • Get a data SIM card.
  • Have small change when boarding the creaky old city buses.
  • Eat some South Indian vegetarian cuisine.
  • Try the Pann. 😉

Do you have any interesting incidents to recall or travelling tips in Chennai to share? Please do write them in the comments below.

Source:

http://wikitravel.org/en/Chennai

http://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/05/chennai-floods-death-toll-rises-to-280.html

Mahabalipuram

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

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#Day 1

I didn’t sleep well and it has been like this in recent weeks.

Whatever.

I had to accomplish my to-do items in India and the adrenalin had already started to kick in. Objective of day was to visit Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO world heritage site around 60km south of Chennai. Getting there was the tricky part, as I am pretty new to the local transportation system, which apparently does not have any English wordings or tourist-friendly directional guides.

However, before that, my first task of the day was to undergo the rite of passage of eating a local Indian home-cooked meal like a local Indian. As the adage goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

As much as I can and the digestive system would allow, I would hunt for cheap local treats by roadside stalls or indulge in simple home-cooked fare rather than munch on gastronomic entrees in opulent restaurants.

I was always fascinated with the bare hand eating style and wanted to try it somehow for this trip. Mingling with the Indian diaspora in Singapore has piqued some of that curiosity. By then, the wafting aromatic smell had already  gotten to me and I’m not sure whether my defences can hold on much longer.

Binding my four fingers together, with the thumb being parallel to the index finger (in a “you want to eat?” or the more infamous “Wtf” hand symbol as seen in the satirical Russell Peters show), I dexterously scooped into my mouth a lump of curry laden rice, and further helped myself to a generous portion of fried Aloo.

The latter was simply divine. Simple yet tasteful – an epitome of home-cooked food. I even suggested, with a dash of humour, to Vinod’s Mum that she could set up a restaurant selling just this dish and would, in no time, made enough to retire comfortably.

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Fried Aloo

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Typical home-cooked Indian meal

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Indian Curry

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Me, Vinod and the Mummy Chef (Up-and-coming)

After the hearty meal, Vinod accompanied me to the bus stand, which looked like a non-descript shelter for buses that would swing by occasionally and erratically. He also kindly lent me his data SIM card (powerful little brat because with it, I could access Google Map and navigate anywhere and everywhere with consummate ease).

City buses in India are generally non air-conditioned, have ripped-off doors (some don’t even have doors, or have doors but are left open throughout the journey), and are governed by stern-looking bus conductors (A matter of specialization as this allows the bus driver to concentrate on driving instead of collecting the fare. Obviously, high-tech travel cards are still out of their league now for the innovation stage they are in).

More excitingly, the driver does not have a stipulated time for commuters to board or to get off at each stop, resulting in them needing to run faster than the accelerating bus in order to hop on, or to hop off awkwardly when alighting. This may increase the risk of injury or in some cases, death.

However, these city buses are super economical, i.e., fare ranges from 5 rupees (S$0.10) to 20 rupees (S$0.40) for most distances.  I don’t think I sat on a city bus that cost me more than 20 rupees.

My bus did not arrive at the exact destination that I wanted and to further dampen the ardour, it started to drizzle. Nonetheless, I took a tuk-tuk with some candour travellers, who paid for my fare of 30 rupees (and I only got to know of this when I alighted). நன்றி!

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Inaugural tuk-tuk ride

Finally, I have arrived at Mahabalipuram, “an ancient historic town and a bustling seaport during the time of Periplus (1st century CE) and Ptolemy (140 CE)” (Wikipedia, 2015). The monuments listed as the UNESCO world heritage site can be found around the town. All in all, I took about four hours to explore a few prominent ones, as shown in the pictures below, on foot.*

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Descent of the Ganges (7th century)

“The legend depicted in the bas-relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone. The relief was created to celebrate the victory of Hinduism over Buddhism.”

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Krisna’s Butter Ball

“In Hindu mythology Lord Krishna had an insatiable appetite for butter, and as a child, would often sneak a handful from his mother’s butter jar. Situated on a hill slope near the Ganesh Ratha this massive natural rock boulder is attributed to a bolus of butter the young Krishna would steal” (Amusing Planet, 2015).

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Shore Temple (700-723 AD)

“The main credit for the architectural elegance of the Shore Temple complex in the category of structural temples goes to the King Rajasimha (700–28 AD), also known as Narasimhavarman II, of the Pallava Dynasty. It is now inferred that this temple complex was the last in a series of temples that seemed to exist in the submerged coastline”

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Pancha Rathas (Late 7th century)

“An example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture dating from the late 7th century, it is attributed to the reign of King Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I (630–680 AD; also called Mamalla, or “great warrior”) of the Pallava Kingdom. An innovation of Narasimhavarman, the structures are without any precedent in Indian architecture.”

*To ease inconvenience, unless otherwise stated, I will copy-paste ad verbatim from Wikipedia snippets that give an introductory flavour about monuments and geographical locations. For more information on them, please visit Wikipedia.

Sources:

http://www.Wikipedia.com

http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/11/krishna-butter-ball-balancing-rock-at.html

Inception

“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aesop

#day0

I almost couldn’t make it into the land of the Taj Mahal…

After four hours of fitful sleep on the plane heading towards Chennai International Airport, I finally landed on Indian soil on the 30th of October at around 11:00pm.

Queuing dreamily at the custom counter, what happened next snapped me out of my slumber – the officer told me to rebook my return ticket (I was given a one month visa in India, and my return flight was on the 29 Nov. Technically, to a fault, I would be in India for 31 days). Looking aghast, I argued that it was only one day extra which, at this time of the day, would suffice to fit within the 30 day visa (there was no way I was going to rebook my return ticket, which would cost me around S$200 or more). Much to my chagrin, the officer refused to budge and we got into a slight altercation.

Exasperated, he led me into a holding room, with scores of bewildered Indians looking from the outside, to escalate the matter to his superior. I continued to state my case and was adamant not to purchase a return ticket back to Singapore. At one point during the heated discussion, I even offered to give some money to extend my visa, a.k.a bribery, for good measure, but was rejected.

Close Gilbert, but no cigar.

Then, out of nowhere, the senior officer, having received some form of divine epiphany, suggested that I wait in the holding area for 20 minutes so that the day would pass and thereafter, I could be allowed to pass (because it would have been 30 days between my entry and exit dates inclusive). “Yeah sure. I could do that,” I exclaimed loudly, putting a slight smile on his face. He must have had a pretty long day and a prolonged debate with a recalcitrant asian kid would definitely worn him out further.

I waited in the empty holding area and re-queued after the clock struck 12 midnight. After receiving the immigration stamp from the impassive looking custom officer, I was on my way to meet Vinod, my first host. Stepping past the arrival gate into the warm humid Chennaite air, little did I know that I was about to embark on the most interesting adventure of my life.

This incident left an indelible first impression on me of the work culture in India. While  I marvelled at their professionalism by observing even the slightest of details, I lamented at their strict protocols and bureaucracies that allow for little room to manoeuvre and fester inefficiencies. Yet these themes would continue to appear throughout my travels in India (I spent three hours to obtain my pre-paid data SIM card in Bangalore, but this would be a story for another posting).

Travel hacks:

  • Do not forget your visa dates when booking the return flight.
  • Be patient in your dealings with the innkeeper, telecommunication providers and train ticket counter officers, among others. If you are travelling on a tight schedule, it is best to have some buffer time when dealing with them.

Genesis

I have been wanting to do this for the longest time but kept procrastinating due to the lack of time, lack of commitment and lack of inspiration. However, after regaling my travel exploits in India recently to a multitude of wide-eyed loved ones ad nauseam, I started to see this endeavour in a different light. Three motivations guide the writings henceforth. First, the use of a platform is more efficient to share my stories to the masses and vice-versa – I am a sucker for sui generis travel adventures so impress me. Second, as elucidated by Saint Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” Throughout my travels, I have experienced both the good and bad sides of the world (On a single day, I could marvel at the wondrous Taj Mahal and be pissed off by the obsequious tuk-tuk touts) so I want to open the mind and eyes of would-be travellers to this dichotomy. Lastly, it serves as a trove to store my most treasured travel memories so that when I become an old grouchy grandfather in the near future, I can have some stories to keep my grandchildren from climbing over me.