Published: February 18th 2006February 14th 2006
A 4:30AM rise to welcome me back to the Indian Rail network. Loy kindly got up in order to accompany me to my taxi, a favour I returned by accidentally locking him out of his apartment. It seemed as though the driver had slept in his cab overnight outside the building.
There was another seat mix-up on the train, which I can only put down to bad luck - not sure how I got through 2.5 months with no trouble, but now I don't seem to be able to ever sit in the right place. My ticket said it was carriage C2. Normally there is a little sign on the carriage bearing the carriage number, and there's also a reservations list on the door so that you can confirm it's the right one - both were missing so, using my skill and judgement, I chose the carriage that had "Second AC Chair Car" emblazoned on the side. Of course it was the wrong one, and the guy whose seat I took only turned up at the last minute and informed me of my mistake. By this time, all the luggage space in the correct carriage had been taken, so I
Arjuna's Penance bas relief
Arjuna viewing the sun through his hands
spent the journey to Chennai with my rucksack uncomfortably occupying most of my legroom.
A guy had been caught stealing items from a lady's handbag, so he was held in custody at one end of the carriage for a large part of the journey. This was a big talking point amongst the various passengers, and most people took a walk to see the guy and gossip with the other onlookers. I got talking with the lady sitting next to me, who warned me about the dangers of leaving my baggage unattended - with my rucksack nestled in my crotch, I assured her there wasn't much danger of that on this journey.
She then asked me what my religion was and, though I'm not particularly religious, I replied Christian, as I assumed she was simply asking for information, and this seems to be the expected answer from Westerners. Unfortunately she really did want to know the depth of my belief, and when I volunteered the fact that I didn't go to church any more, she was fired with religious fervour and told me that, at the end of days, God would not be happy with her if he knew
that she had sat next to a lapsed Christian on a train and had not tried to turn him back on to the right path. So I was then subjected to a conversion attempt, which I met with increasingly terser responses until I ended up simply staring out of the window in order to avoid eye contact.
At Chennai, I took an illegal taxi (not an official one, but cheaper and probably not insured) to Mamallapuram, which is about 60km down the coast and site of a centuries-old stone-carving tradition. I quite fancied a snooze on the journey, but at one point the driver's closed eyes indicated that he had had a similar idea, so I stayed awake and made appropriate coughing/snorting/singing noises every so often just to keep him on the right side of consciousness. The road ran parallel with the sea, and glimpses of sea and sandy beaches perked me up.
Again, I'd be unable to contact any hotels in Mamallapuram, but I crossed my fingers and asked to be taken to the Greenwoods Resort, which the RG had recommended. Fortunately they had a room available, as I didn't fancy traipsing around in the heat and
humidity trying to find somewhere else. It has A/C but only bucket hot water. Though the owner breezily said that there would be no mossie trouble because of the A/C, my subsequent experience revealed that that was definitely not the case - even with A/C and mossie tablets burning, a squadron of the critters was perpetually flying around the room.
After lunching on the terrace restaurant (which doesn't have much of a view, but all the food is freshly prepared), I had a siesta and then toured the village in the evening. It's very small and seems to consist of either stone-carving shops or tourist-related enterprises. I saw a lot of foreigners also taking a promenade. Some of the main carvings are right in the middle of town so I was able to see them without straying far from the hotel. The carvings have been hewn out of solid rock and their scale is impressive though they aren't as detailed as my usual favourites Khajuraho and Konarak - they were done in the 7th Century, so are several centuries older than most of the others I've seen.
The popular restaurants here are really bustling in the evening, and
Arjuna's Penance bas relief
Ascetic cat - mimicking Arjuna
I had difficulty getting even just a seat, let alone a table. I thought I'd give the seafood a miss for my stomach's sake, so I tried a beef dish which I think actually was beef - the first time I've had that meat in this country. The rest of the clientele looked exclusively European, and I think the waiter must have thought I was a weird one when I declined his suggestion of a beer to accompany my dinner.
There are more photos below