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Published: January 30th 2014
Actually it wasn’t a bad night. The carriages are air-conditioned – evaporative systems one of the germans later explained, and pretty sound-proof, so little clackety clack. The biggest problem was the jerking starts and stops. Let’s not mention the washrooms. By the time we got ourselves awake, lightly fed and packed we had arrived at Chennai station. This is the end of the line so DJ was not so concerned.
Catherine and I shouldered our backpacks and followed the group out to the carpark and to the next minibus. Chennai station had more of the hallmarks of Indian stations as we have seen them elsewhere in the country. Dirty and smelly, with plenty of street people milling around to beg or whatever. Chennai is a major military post and so beggars and dozens of fit young soldiers mixed. A tall, ornately dressed transsexual begged at the windows of our bus. We quickly moved out of Chennai and headed south. The streets were wide and well layed out. Apparently a British officer created the esplanade in order to enjoy a morning constitutional walk. The beach was wide and dotted with small fishing boats. Further south the slums sprawled directly onto it.
There again was the unforgettable aroma of sun-dried and fermented fish.
We were heading south along wide boulevards and toll ways to the beach resort of Mamllapuram which is part of a playground for rich Chennai-ans. Obviously a lot of development has been happening in these areas. Major chains like Raddisson are already there. Mamllapuram stands out however because of the historical sites rather than just the beaches. Nice enough hotel with a pool and reliable Wifi. All of our gear was loaded into a single room and we all hired old push bikes for a town tour. A local guide gave us some pointers on avoiding the traffic but the bigger challenge was the old-style and low mounted handle bars that work to restrict your knees, particularly when trying to get off quickly – as tends to happen at all intersections. I chose the helmet as well. We rode down to a beachside historical site where temples and statues had been carved out of the granite, from the top to the bottom. This was no soup-stone but good old hard granite. Local tourists swarmed over the place. Turning back from there I witnessed a near head-on collision between
two motorcycles, each with a pinion passenger. More noise than damage and a whole lot of head waggling seemed to convey blame and contrition at the same time.
Anne, DJ, Cath and I went down to the beach for a swim at about 1530. The beach was lined with fishing skiffs - half and full sized. The full sized boats had obviously been popped out of a mold. The half boats were a buoyant wood and only used in very calm weather. There was a reasonable surf running with a moderate undertow. The water was clean and a refreshing temperature. We Aussies swam while DJ took short dips, not being a strong swimmer. There was a pleasant cool breeze blowing off the ocean. Groups of young men were swimming and sky-larking near us. We took turns to watch our gear. Bluebottles without long tentacles, unlike the Australian form were scattered just above high water. I was impressed by the simple mount that attaches the engine-shaft-propellar assembly directly to the transom of the long boats. Also the improvised anchors. A groups of boys questioned Catherine who was walking ahead of me and until I showed up.
The strip of
Right on the beach front. The 2006 tsunami went up to the first storey
shops running back to our hotel had many gift and curio shops the type of one sees hundreds of across India. The touts were hassling for business. One tried to take us to his mate's workshop two minutes down the road by foot. I called in quits after about 100m - too many horror stories about ambushed tourist I guess.
We also visited an open air traditional dance show. While this sounds pretty touristy it was actually great. The show was presented to live music and clearly they had some dancers they were all proud of. Even the younger dance troops performed brilliantly. Lots of clashing cymbals, flashing eyes and unusual body postures.
It was a wonderful evening with a warm breeze blowing off the sea and a three quarter moon lighting up the beach.
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