Fresh Juice on the Street
The juice you find being squeezed everywhere is brilliant, although most people are advised against buying it, which is too bad. The main issues are the water and the cleanliness of the glasses, which are used by all comers*. But vendors are fine with making juice using bottled water if you ask (bring it or buy it there), and sports-type bottles are for sale everywhere.
"Sweet lime" is delicious.
*If you watch, though, you'll notice that no one's lips touch the glass. I end up with a face-full of liquid when I try to do it.
Classic vegetarian food, Southern style
The Vrindavan is the main restaurant at the Woodlands Hotel, and as such is strictly vegetarian (which in India means lacto-vegetarian - no eggs). It's a comfortable place with excellent food and good service (though overstaffed as usual). The walls are decorated with scenes from the life of Krishna (the restaurant is named after a holy city associated with Krishna in north India). Somehow this seems normal here, though if I came across a restaurant in Greece plastered with icons I would think it very strange indeed! You can order a la carte for specific dishes, or choose a Thali: this is a tray with several small dishes - in my experience always a good choice. Typically a thali includes three vegetable dishes, rice and/or bread, a pickle and yoghurt (here called curd) or a sweet.
Government Museum - Bronze Gallery
The Bronze Gallery is housed in a separate building to the left of the Main Building. Most of the bronze sculptures date back to the late Pallava and Chola periods - between the 9th and 12th centuries.
Open: 9.30am-5pm. Admission: Rs250 for foreigners & Rs200 for camera.
CHENNAI - Capital of TAMIL NADU
"CHENNAI - organized Chaos"
Chennai is one of the most important cities in India. Same as practically all the other cities in India (that I have seen) there is organized chaos, surely due to the population. This is city where I have had the chance to stay for during 6 years and finished my studies before leaving for Spain, the city never stops surprising me each time I have visited there. It is a booming city with constant positive changes in spite of the mentioned organized chaos which I suppose is a form of life, in Chennai.
The building in the photograph shows the town hall of the city called the Rippon building, with colonial architecture and built in 1913. A building that has been keep very well maintained. Taking into account that the first municipal corporation in Chennai exists since the year 1688, history has come a long way till the actual happenings of the city are decided from here.
Chennai is a city of about 174 Sq. in area and with a harmonious mix of different ethnic groups. A city that has many interesting attractions to offer to its visitors.
Getting around can challenge your fortitude, patience, and courage. This came out of the official 2004 Chennai city guide for tourists:
Private taxis: Available at the Chennai Airport, Central Railway Station and near star hotels. You can also call for a taxi.
Autorickshaws: A unique way to travel. It is best to ask your hotel or host the approximate auto fare to your destination and fix a flat rate with the auto driver since most don't run the meter. After 21.00 be prepared to pay extra. Hold on to the few honest drivers once you've found them! Some auto drivers now carry cell phones, may be a good idea to store their numbers.
Buses: Not for you.
That's it, "Not for you." And it looks about right. I think if you get into a bus you never get out again - no other way to explain how full-to-splitting they are. There are probably people stuck in the middle who have been riding around for months. Moreover, I've been told the routes change whenever a new politician takes over, so anything I tell you now could be different by the time you get here. I can't tell you anything anyway, because all the information is in Tamil.
"Unique way to travel" means you end up windblown, dirty, and choking on the fumes from all the vehicles taller than the auto, which is most of them, but it's really, really fun. Autos are a kind of partially-enclosed, three-wheeled scooter with an engine like a powerful lawnmower. They can go over most terrain, fit into frighteningly narrow spaces, and turn on a dime. The drivers are fearless and the vehicles themselves seem solid, I guess. In any case the drivers act as though they are indestructible. It all makes for a very exciting ride. I’ve never actually seen a meter in one of these, let alone one that was running.
You can certainly call for a taxi. One might even show up.
The biggest problem in hiring a taxi or an auto is that the price for you as a foreigner will always be at least double, and sometimes many times, what a local would pay. This is especially true of hiring transportation at the airport, or at the train or bus stations. Try to arrange in advance to be picked up, either by a private car, hotel transportation (usually free), or a cab company.
If you think you’ll get around by yourself, bravo!, but note that maps won't help you. They're all wrong. If you're lucky it's only the street names that have changed; if the map is more than six months old you're not lucky. The fun part: there are usually no dates on the maps. As a corollary, getting around by auto or cab usually involves a lengthy multi-party discussion between drivers, so plan your time accordingly.
My favorite way to get around is on the back of a motorcycle. Preferably driven by someone who has been riding a motorcycle here for a long time. With a family and a job and a solid vested personal interest in not getting killed, because everyone else riding a motorcycle or anything else is insane. Motorcycles are probably the most common vehicle, and get you right into the thick of things. Although it will put the fear of God in you to look left and find head-level crumpled metal on, say, a bus. I will buy a helmet one of these days, honest.
Chennai offers lots of options for intercity travel, including decent railway connections. By train is a good way to see the country. To see exactly how much of the country there is, too. And in Tamil Nadu, at least, exactly how much of the country looks exactly the same.
Standard sleeper cars are a little scary. The picture was taken from the lower berth of the side seats; there’s another berth above. The compartment seats three on a side (technically – I saw as many as six), and the backrest pulls down to become the third berth. There are bars on the windows, you have to clamber and brace and swing your way to the upper berths simian style, and there isn’t a soft surface anywhere. The side berths are narrow and short. The temperature went from roasting to chilly. It's not terrible, though, and it's an economical, if not always time-efficient, way to cross long distances.
(Just because I have to get this off my chest: Lord, people walk slow here, and they kind of just stop at random, look around... Note to everyone in southern India - please walk like you have a destination and one lifetime only to get there.)
(Sidebar to foreigners - there’s a lovely line from an old Tamil poem: “my lover’s elephant walk,” which describes exactly how people walk. Slow and swaying. Try to see the beauty in it, and spare yourselves the frustration I always feel at getting stuck behind the inevitable 5-abreast in a 2-lane passage exactly when I have a destination to get to in one lifetime only.)
(Further sidebar to westerners - people here laugh at the way we walk. Determined? Forceful? No one has been able to explain to me why it’s so funny, but apparently it is. I know I walk about twice as fast as anyone else on the road, and I’ve been told I bounce.)
Shortly after I got here I wrote a tip on crossing the street, the gist of which is still true: if you’re not sure, don’t start; once you start, don’t stop.