Saturday, December 30, 2006

Mother India

The view from the window of my third floor room at the Radha Park Inn in Chennai is a typical cityscape in this capital of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India, the country's fourth largest city. Yellow and black three-wheeled autorickshaws, many buses full of travelers, motor-driven and pedaled two-wheeled vehicles, often with three or four people onboard, or a large load of cargo, a few cars and many trucks. And most of all, people. The sides of the street are crowded with walkers and those waiting or talking. India is an overwhelming collage of people.

I arrived from London via Mumbai yesterday. The flight on Jet Airways, India's newest air carrier, was smooth. The in-flight entertainment system, now tailored to each passage, is state of the art. We were given eye shades, socks to wear during the flight, and a small tooth-brushing set, as well as a comfy blanket and pillow. The food was great, and included wine and after dinner mints. When we touched down in Mumbai it was 89 degrees and sunny, a welcome change from London. In Mumbai I needed to pass through customs and take a bus to the domestic terminal. We passed a city of shacks where hundreds, perhaps thousands, lived under the path of landing airplanes. While waiting three hours for my plane to Chennai, I managed to talk my way into a private club and spoke there with an English woman and her Aussie friend who upon discovering that their plane to Varanasi had been cancelled, booked another for Jaipur in Rajasthan. They were flexible travelers, after my own heart.

In Chennai I was met by Mr. Ganesh (an auspicious name!) from Marvel Tours who took me to the modern luxury hotel on the ring road some six kilometers from downtown Chennai. We discussed arrangements for the upcoming tour and later I explored the delicious dinner buffet in the hotel restaurant, sampling a wide range of Indian foods. This morning I met Kay for breakfast. She had arrived the night before on a flight from San Francisco via Hong Kong and Singapore, but was wide awake. She has kindly offered to help me plan the tipping which, given the number of bus drivers and their assistants, hotel and restaurant managers, and guides who will serve us, is no small feat. This afternoon we are going to the central train station to get tickets for Kay's return to Shantivanam after our tour. Last year I learned that western tourists get special treatment and I know where to find the ticket office.

Returning to India is a joyous event. I feel somewhat at home, all of the sights and sounds and smells seem familiar. I say this while realizing that I have not yet stepped foot outside. In the car from the airport and in this remote hotel (the windows are sealed in my room and the air conditioning is artifically cool) I was cocooned from reality. Now it's time to go out and test the waters.

1 comment:

tpraja said...

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