Pensioner’s Progress: My Visit to India 2017.
This was to be my third visit to India in as many years, but my first as an “official” old person, now aged 65 on a retirement pension!
Checking the flights, I was surprised to find that Chennai was a slightly cheaper destination than most of the other cities, this suited my plans to visit the south.
I have visited Chennai before, and was happy to book the same budget hotel.
I decided to be a bit flexible on this trip, but was sure I wanted to re-visit both Chidambaram and Tanjore, last seen in 1984. I booked my Chennai hotel, the train to Chidambaram, and the Chidambaram hotel in advance from home, the rest I would sort out as I went along.
Arrived at Chennai airport feeling rather tired, and had quite a long wait in the e-visa queue. Somehow, no matter how much India utilises the computer age, one feels that creating a long queue if at all possible is in the national interest.
Some currency notes had been withdrawn from circulation earlier in the year, so my small stash of Rupees from my last visit was useless. I needed to change some cash at the airport to get into town. Needless to say, I only changed the minimum needed at their rip off rate of exchange.
I visited the pre-pay taxi office next, and was quoted Rs450. The taxi driver did not speak much English, but he found the hotel with the aid of his smart phone. I gave a Rs50 tip. Only much later did I look at the paper given from the pre-pay office, which had the previous days date, and a different passenger’s name. I guess someone got a few Rupees they should not have from the fiddle, but I was happy with the price!
The hotel receptionist remembered me from my last visit, so that felt nice. After a short sleep I went out to a nearby shop and purchased some snacks and bottles of water, and a small bottle of Coke. Disgusting stuff, but transformed into something drinkable by adding a little of my duty free Bacardi!
Thursday 12 October 2017.
A reasonable sleep, I had a couple of Bacardi and cokes last night, which no doubt helped.
I used my travel kettle to make several cups of tea and coffee, and waited for Nick-H to arrive, as arranged. Nick is English, his wife is Indian, and they live in Chennai.
We had a nice chat when he arrived, and decided to visit a non-touristy shopping area called Parrys, for a look around. Nick was interested to buy a few tools he wanted, he phoned for an Ola/Uber cab, and I was surprised to find that an auto rickshaw turned up! Somehow I can’t get my head around the way smart phones are so much in use in India now. “Old man being out of date” syndrome I guess!
First requirement was some lunch, Nick recommended a place to try. Good value, only about £3 for the two of us. I really enjoyed walking around this very crowded shopping area. Lots of similar retailers all next to each other, then a bunch of quite different items being offered by adjacent retailers. Wedding stationary was big in this area, as were tinsmiths, jewelers, temple ornaments, fruit and veg, etc, etc... very vibrant and interesting to see.
Friday 13th- Sunday 15th
I obtained some cash from the second ATM I tried, so that was good, and also bought some medications I needed. Over the weekend I visited Express Mall, a modern shopping mall with many western stores, even a Marks and Spencer, a rather odd store to see here in Chennai. I was actually looking to buy a sim card, which I did manage. There is quite a lot of form filling and I.D. is needed too. I had to go back to the shop again after getting some passport photos for the application, and photocopies of my passport and visa. Then again on the Sunday to get the sim activated. A bit of a long winded process for me, but it all worked in the end. I now have 7 spare passport size photos too. Not bad, 8 photos for only £1.50!
I took an auto rickshaw to Chennai station to buy some train tickets. I was surprised to find the foreign tourist office was closed. I was re-directed to ticket window 22, the VIP window, which was closed for tea break time... Got served eventually, along with several other non VIP folk. I bought two newspapers while at the station, less than 10 pence for the two.
Quite a lot in the papers about the increasing number of infections and deaths from Dengue mosquito bites. I felt rather uneasy to read that, having done as much as possible to try and obtain vaccinations against other common illnesses.
I met up with Nick again, and met his wife for the first time. We went to New Woodlands hotel for a nice vegetarian meal.
I spent most of Sunday relaxing and re-packing in preparation for an early morning start on Monday, and arranged to leave my bigger case at the hotel, as I would be returning to Chennai again after visiting Tanjore.
Monday 16th October.
Up early and easy check out from the hotel.
Nice auto rickshaw driver stopped for me. The air was fresher this morning, with a slight rain shower still continuing. My train to Chidambaram departs from Egmore station, which serves destinations to the south. Having negotiated the fare when I boarded the auto, I gave the driver a small tip. He tried to tell me I had paid too much! What a nice guy, the first and only time a tip was queried!
I had a side lower berth for the short few hours ride, my ticket and I.D. were inspected. The ticket guy said I could use any seat, as the train was not busy. The train attendant wanted to keep the curtains drawn to keep out the heat of the sun, I wanted them open to admire the view. It was the first time that I had seen the sunshine since arriving in India, Chennai had been hot but cloudy, which had surprised me. We arrived at Chidambaram station about 45 minutes late.
Chidambaram feels a little more like a rural town in some places, the roads were damp and muddy after recent rains. Auto to the hotel, Rs80 only. I had pre-booked a hotel only yards from the eastern entrance to the main temple, but felt rather disappointed with the room, which stank of bug killing spray.
I visited the temple, dedicated to Shiva Nataraja, with my girlfriend in 1984, and we had met an interesting Brahmin guy called Raja. He seemed to indicate that his family was one of the senior temple guardians. He invited us to his home for a meal, and took us up to admire the view from the very top of one of the temple towers! My 2017 visit was rather disappointing in comparison, the place seemed much less vibrant, less welcoming.
I found the young Brahmin guys to be very arrogant and rude in their attitude to visitors. Many of the young Brahmin lads now ride motor scooters, have a half shaved hairstyle, with the top half of the head having longer hair, looking a bit like an ill fitting wig!
Tuesday 17th October
Had a reasonable sleep, a few loud Diwali firework bangs late at night. I asked the hotel guys not to spray the room again, which helped reduce the chemical smell inside. I had a very interesting walk around the town, which was very busy with Diwali shoppers. Almost every shop seemed to be selling fireworks, folk buying rockets and “gift packs”, children were setting off small bangers constantly! I took many photos and saw lots of small temples and shrines on almost every corner. People were friendly and returned my smiles.
After a good walk I was feeling the heat, and returned to the hotel for a rest and a read. There may be better rooms in the hotel, but the standard in mine was pretty grubby, and I was thankful to be leaving tomorrow. Lots of firework bangs and singing and chanting going on outside late into the night!
Wednesday 18th October.
Auto back to the train station. I tried to book a ticket in person for my future onward travel in a few days time from Chennai, but without success. I had looked at available seats on the internet before leaving the hotel, and seen over 100 seats available in general quota, but these guys said only “unconfirmed” were available. Not sure what the problem was, but I thought I would try instead at Tanjore station. My train was running late again, it was the same train service that I had arrived on. Quite a hot and sticky wait!
Stepping down from the train at Tanjore, after a short ride from Chidambaram, I noticed that the station ticket window had no queue waiting. Most unusual! I stepped up smartly and asked the young lady about booking my onward travel, only to be informed “Today is a holiday, everything is closed, including ticket sales”!
I had previously looked up the location of my Thanjavur hotel, so felt fairly confident that all the offers of a taxi were very inflated for the modest distance. Being the sort of idiot that never learns, and well used to cutting off my nose to spite my face, I decide to walk to the hotel...
I have never seen an Indian town so deserted! Not a chai stall, corner shop, or fruit barrow open for business, hardly any pedestrians, very well observed holiday for sure! I approached one guy to ask for directions, but he scurried off in alarm, so I walked on and found a policeman, who gave me good information. Getting a bit hot and thirsty by now, I missed my turning and asked another chap, who enthusiastically sent me on a wild goose chase all over town!
I had an interesting walk around the almost the whole deserted town centre before locating my hotel. Very happy indeed to arrive, nice hotel this time, with fridge, kettle and good air conditioning.
Diwali is the noisiest, most explosive festival, but if you arrive the next day, all is quiet... To be honest, I am not sure exactly how things worked out. I think the festival may be celebrated in different towns on different days. Given the mass of fireworks being purchased in Chidambaram, Tuesday night was relatively quiet, but arriving in Tanjore today, Wednesday, it was pretty much closed and it seemed I had missed the big event!
I opened the fridge for a cold drink, only to find it was hotter inside than out. They changed it for another one, but simply swapped the half melted chocolates to the new fridge. Best not to eat them, methinks!
Thursday 19th October.
Early start this morning, auto rickshaw to the big temple first thing. Nice to arrive before the crowds, and before the heat of the day built up.
Very impressive temple. Built by Rajaraja Chola around 1,000 AD. It is said that the huge top stone was dragged up an earth ramp four miles long to the top! I spent several happy hours here. Many of the visitors were there for religious reasons, although some were simply tourists. Lots of ancient frescos painted inside the covered perimeter walkway, which was a good place to sit to avoid the heat of the sun.
I had another walk around the town, camera clicking frequently, then back to the hotel. Hungry now, I order from room service. Rice, chapattis, mixed veg curry and dal fry. Very tasty, lots of cardamom pods in the dal fry. Fat tummy tonight!
Friday 20th October.
Sunny morning again, seems odd to mention that in India, but the weather when in Chennai was cloudy every day.
I have been trying to decide on my next move from Chennai, and decided to walk to the station, at least I know the way there and back on foot now! Having mulled over the options, I wanted to try and book the Tamil Nadu Express to Delhi for Sunday night. The news has been full of stories about the poor air quality in Delhi, after Diwali, so I was a little unsure of my choice.
A long, slow queue in front of me at the ticket windows. Between the heat and perspiration, the numbing slowness, I almost gave up, but persevered. I now have a confirmed ticket! Feel like I have won a major lottery prize rather than just purchased a train ticket! I had a walk around a slightly different area on the way back to the hotel, one or two people shook hands with me as they passed, a nice change from being asked to take photos of people.
I phoned my usual hotel in Delhi, and reserved a room for Tuesday morning arrival. Ordered dinner again, strangely the dal fry was completely different tonight, I would not have said it was even the same dish! Looking back I did not do much today, but getting that train ticket was important!
More Chennai pics here: https://www.facebook...=1&l=4bd27b7c86
More Chidambaram pics: https://www.facebook...=1&l=1f0817a455
More Backstreet pics : https://www.facebook...=1&l=9c57378816
More Chennai station : https://www.facebook...=1&l=a05841e848
More Tanjore temple : https://www.facebook...=1&l=077d34cd83
To Be Continued...
Edited by caravanman, 28 March 2018 - 07:24 AM.