Arriving in India from Thailand, we were not expecting too much of a difference, I mean Asia is Asia after all… right?
WRONG! India is truly in a world of its own but let’s take it slow and slowly alleviate you into a world of car horns, curries and crazy people. So, arriving in the country after the best part of four months in Asia, we were confident in our ability to barter a price on a cab to our hostel. But again, we were wrong. The Indian people can drive a hard bargain when they want to so we succumbed to our first mental defeat when overpaying for a cab to our hostel, but it was late, we were tired, we had our excuses and remained optimistic.
Red Lollipop Hostel was the only hostel we could find in Chennai with reasonable reviews, and it lived up to expectations. The staff were fantastic, very informative and friendly and also offered us a free wash of our clothes which is always handy when living out of a backpack. Basic but comfortable, we spent five nights in Chennai, which was probably too many but we had three months in India so we were in no rush!
The next morning we set off on our Indian adventure, the staff instructed us that the best thing to do in the city was to visit the mall and to only use public transport as the taxis/rikshaws would be a rip off. We duly obliged and headed off to a local restaurant for breakfast. Walking past various chai stalls selling samosas, we found our way into a very busy dosa restaurant. With the menu offering a million and one types of dosa, the waiter came to take our order almost immediately and looked to be annoyed that we didn’t know what we wanted before entering the open-fronted diner.
The dosa was incredible at first, a real burst of flavours and we became regulars for our five days. The waiters became accustomed to us and seemed to enjoy having foreign diners in an otherwise traditional Indian eatery. There will be more about food to come but it was time to move onto our first bus journey.
Walking to the bus station, we were confronted by tens of busses, with information all written in Hindi and just bus numbers to go on. After asking for the right bus number, we sat next to a wild goat amidst the extreme fumes of pollution and litter. The bus soon arrived and we said goodbye to our goat friend and sat on board, being the first stop the bus was fairly empty at this point.
There are various hidden terms of service when using an Indian bus that many tourists may be unaware of. Firstly, if you die it is your fault, driving in India is mental and it is your choice to be here. Secondly, there is always room for more people, those of you that complain about the Central Line in London have clearly never been to India. Thirdly, there is clear gender segregation on the busses, women at the front and men at the back. We saw similar rules in the Philippines and were disappointed to see that in the 21st century we still cannot trust the modern man to not act like an animal and have a sheer lack of respect for women. (chai day info insert?)
We rode the bus and arrived at the mall, walked past a number of homeless people, various market stalls selling everything from watches to live chickens and entered a different world. Shops that would not look out of place in London’s richest quarters, we made our way round the mall and felt like we were back in Europe. We spent the day in the mall, visiting the cinema and eating something other than curry before making our way back to the hostel.
As we arrived back at the bus station and reacquainted ourselves with the wild goat, we came to a simple but vital conclusion that ensured we enjoyed our time in Hindustan. India is completely different to any country we visited and probably the most different to England in terms of people traits and what is considered the norm in each country. We spent our first week in Chennai settling in to a new culture, eating LOTS of food, visiting immensely busy markets such as T Nagar ( You will get lost!) and also local temples. The conclusion was to enjoy India, you have to accept your surroundings and immerse yourself in the culture head first. Yes things are different, but we were here for three months and to enjoy our time we had to change our way of thinking. We still had many ups and downs but that night, thinking about our new goat friend and crazy driving, we knew we were in for an adventure.