Mamamammamamaalllapuram - it's a bit of a mouthful

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January 10th 2009
Published: February 27th 2009
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Instead of taking a rip-off rickshaw we opted to walk to the bus station for our 2 hour local bus journey to Mamallapuram. After asking at 6 buses and kept getting pointed to the next one along we finally found the right bus and proceeded to settle into some seats. As it was a local bus there wasn’t any room for bags so Donna put her big rucksack on the seat next to her...big mistake! The conductor on a power trip (aren’t they all?) came up, gestured at the bag and said ‘what’s this?’ Controlling the urge to be sarcastic the long and short of it is that Donna ended up with 2 dead legs as she had to balance the rucksack on her knees for the journey. The conductor then decided he didn’t know where we were going (although Neil pronounced Mamallapuram correctly as Donna kept getting it wrong!) and tried to humilate us in front of the local passengers.

We arrived into Mamallapuram and instead of being dropped at the bus station we were dropped by the side of some random road and the conductor didn’t even want to keep the bus waiting while we were getting off and started whistling his whistle in our ears. Gggrrrrr, give some people a little bit of ‘authority’ and they take the piss! So after getting off the bus at Donna’s leisurely pace (that'll teach the conductor to hurry us!) we found the main street, Othavadi Cross street, to go and find a place to stay and we were immediately in a bit of a kerfuffle! Mamallapuram is really a tiny place, and again we had read reports and blogs that it was nice and laid back with not many tourists. What we discovered was the complete opposite...the place was rammed full of tourists, mostly SAGA package tour types and we really struggled to find a room and at one point some (more) nasty guys who owned the Siesta restaurant said to Neil that we may as well piss off to Chennai as the whole town was full in response to Neil’s enquiry about a room! Now guys, a lesson in tourism...just because business happened to be good on those couple of days doesn’t mean it will last and you really shouldn’t annoy tourists by telling them to piss off somewhere else!

After a bit of a slog looking, we found a room for 700 rupees (£10) which had cold water and a bad mosquito problem. Again we could see where the hot water heaters had been taken out of the bathrooms but the owner kindly informed us it was too hot for a hot shower anyway...erm, for him maybe but to us it really wasn’t that hot! Now to the mosquitoes - Mamallapuram seems to have a HUGE mosquito problem. Wherever you go there are literally hundreds of restaurants, guesthouses, cafes, everywhere so if you are thinking of visiting make sure you take your extra strength insect repellent with you otherwise you will end up like us...bitten to death. We were wearing repellent too and after our first night in the room we were dosed up on anti-histamines too as the itching was driving us crazy!

Our first night for food was disastrous...why is it wherever there are large numbers of foreign tourists the food quality proportionately drops? Has anyone ever studied this as it’s definitely true! We went to Moonrakers restaurant which unfortunately, even though it was bad food it was the best of a bad bunch and they never had milk for tea! We felt like reminding them that This Is India, milk for tea?! The country would grind to a halt without tea drinking! The biggest thing that annoyed us wasn’t the poor quality Indian food but the fact that you had to go up to a desk and pay and when you did the ‘tips box’ was shoved in front of you and a point was made that you were expected to tip. Neil had to drag Donna away before she gave the staff her opinion on their food and service. The worst restaurant by far in Mamallapuram was Seagulls restaurant...we waited for 45 minutes for Neil’s cheese and tomato sandwich and by that point we were wondering if Donna’s food was ever going to arrive. After making (polite!) enquiries we discovered the rest of our order hadn’t been started and decided to cancel it altogether, so Donna opted for some chocolate éclair sweets instead for lunch!

We spent some of our time in Mamallapuram wandering around the rock carvings and temples the town is famous for. The mandapams (little temples carved in the rocks) behind the bus station, to our surprise, were free to enter as were the surrounding grounds. Now that’s what we like! Look at the funny pictures of us holding up Krishna’s butter ball. Most of the mandapams are shrines to the Gods Ganesh, Krishna and the Goddess Durga. So after we had a nice wander around these temples we decided to go in search of the famous Shore Temple. This temple faces the Bay of Bengal, it’s a World Heritage site and when we got there discovered that the entrance fee was 550 rupees (£8) each - it had more than doubled compared to the price listed in the ever-useless Lonely Planet. Take a look at the picture we took from behind the fence of the Shore Temple, it certainly isn’t worth an entrance fee as high as that and as you can guess we didn't pay it!

What really puzzled us about Mamallapuram was the frequent power cuts the town least 1.5 hours a day we would be without power...there is a huge nuclear power station a couple of kilometres away from the town, so why so many power cuts? It was for this reason we decided swimming in the sea would not be a good idea here - we didn’t want to end up glowing in the dark - so apart from a couple of strolls we gave the beach a miss. The beach was nice and clean and wide but was very much a working beach with lots of fishermen and local men hoping to get a glimpse of a part-naked Western woman!

We had decided to stay in Mamallapuram and make our way straight to Chennai airport as accommodation in Chennai didn’t seem too good...although one of us almost didn’t make it that far. While we were walking down the tiny main street, a guy in a Land Rover type car came whizzing past us at about 50mph and if Donna hadn’t jumped out of the way as fast as she did, well we don’t want to think about that. So we followed the car which pulled into a hotel a little up the way so Donna could give the driver a piece of her mind. She literally dragged the guy out of his car and gave him such a dressing down we doubt he’ll be doing that again in the near future (Donna’s dad...does she remind you of anyone?!). Not only that the guy who was driving stunk
Especially for Donna's nan...Especially for Donna's nan...Especially for Donna's nan...

it's just like your house on a Sunday!!
of alcohol, what an idiot. Neil was going to step in a defend Donna but decided not to as getting a mouthful in front of his mates from a mere woman seemed to have a very humbling effect on the drunk man who was almost crying by the time Donna had finshed with him!

Our time in India had come to an end and it was time to get our flight to Singapore via a 2 hour bus journey to Chennai airport. Again the conductor was a grumpy old git who shouted at us for sitting in ‘his’ seat (his name wasn’t on it!) and again we got dropped off at the side of the road. Although this time the road was a busy dual carriageway slip road...great! As the bus sped away from us and we were looking around trying to see the airport a friendly guy on the bus yelled which way we should go. A 300m walk and we arrived at the airport, very sad to be leaving such a wonderful country and not looking forward to a horrendous 24 hour journey ahead of us - ok it wasn’t 24 hours of solid travelling, we had a 5 hour shopping trip in Singapore in between flights!

Our round up of India

Our highlights:

1. Taj Mahal - amazing building that at first we thought wasn’t that spectacular...until we got up close and then it’s beauty really hit us!
2. Udaipur - a lovely peaceful place to relax with gorgeous views from the rooftop restaurants
3. Goa - really not what we expected and one of our best Christmas’ away
4. Pondicherry - a lovely city which surprised us with it’s unique French flavour

Our lowlights:

1. Kerala - Cochi, Alleppey and Varkala were just tourist traps out to rip people off. The company was great though!
2. Donna getting the dreaded Delhi belly just before our bus journey to Mumbai and the bus only stopping twice in 16 hours so women could go the toilet.
3. Although trying to be friendly some of the Indian men came across as just a little bit weird and creepy
4. Sitting in Agra train station for 6 hours waiting for our train to arrive.

Our observations about India:

1. Women’s equality has a long, long way to go in this country, we never thought that women would have so little respect
2. Neil got felt up more than Donna
3. Indian people are friendly and very curious and India is a very colourful place
4. Indian food is one of the best we have had...we have had withdrawal symptoms from the fantastic masalas, aloo gobis and chapattis!
5. The trains were surprisingly efficient and were mostly on time, such a great system of e-tickets that the UK could learn a thing or two about booking rail tickets!
6. Masala chai is addictive, even for Donna who hates sugary tea.
7. Chocolate éclairs are truly the best sweets ever...the Indian’s have such a sweet tooth and we see why there is such a problem with diabetes!
8. Bamboozlement is the name of the game for some unscrupulous touts...luckily we only got lost in Delhi and not scammed.
9. The tales of Indian bureaucracy were not exaggerated...everything is done in a certain way which we learnt very quickly indeed.
10. Lastly, we were surprised to love India so much and decided while we were still there that we would be back to see more of what this wonderful country has to offer!

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27th February 2009

Seems like you'll choose to remember the nicer parts of the trip however being Indian, I do feel disappointed when I read that people were rude and arrogant. I know much cant be done about poor infrastructure and train delays but I'd expect people to be nice, warm and more friendly. Btw, nice blog - enjoyed reading about your journey here and hope the next time you'll are here, you'll have a great experience with people too!

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