Two and a half months worth of travelling and we were now rolling into Chennai Junction to say hello to some family we said goodbye to not so long ago. Sarah’s brother and sister-in-law, Jamie and Siva, had flown out to visit her family and to meet up with us. We met Jamie, Senthil and Appa at the train station and headed back to Injambakkam on the E.C.R, where would call home for the next week. First though, we stopped off for a South Indian Breakfast of Dosai, Vadai, Iddly and a new one, Pongal – a sweetened rice dish that makes you sleepy we hear.
We were greeted at the gate by Siva and Am’ma who blessed us with some colourful dots and warm smiles. We settled into our new pad around the corner before piling into the car for a road trip down the ECR to Mahabalipuram. We stopped off for a traditional South Indian meal before spending the afternoon walking through villages and rice fields complete with cows, shiny beetles, bright red dragon flies while the obligatory game of cricket was played as someone walked past with an enormous pile of hay on his head.
Our destination was a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising of a group of monuments, but as we would come to know, time is not on your side in Tamil Nadu, so as the sun set we pulled into an alternate spot, a shell museum. We wandered around looking at all the shells from the world, while trying to spot the different modes of transport created from the star of this attraction. The aquarium was a highlight, but for the girls with us, the gift shop proved the top pick as they would pile the counter with ornaments to buy, while their mum was distracted. We made it home, ordered our first Indian takeaway – pizza – and headed to bed as we had to be up at 4am for our ceremony the following morning.
Sarah, Jaime and myself, naively woke to get ready, only to discover no one else did the same. A few hours later, we were dressed in our finest Indian Silk as the Hindu priest prepared for prayer on the floor of their new house. For the next couple of hours, we were lucky enough to be involved in a traditional Indian ceremony as friends and family flowed in and out while the chanting priest directed us in throwing items of various descriptions to the gods as a fire was lit in front us, fuelled by grass, cow pats and coins. Only when we had to feed each other sips of milk, it was stated this was a wedding. It was so kind of the people we hardly knew and just met, that they would do that for us. With big smiles, we finished our meal off our banana leaves before a bit of posing with everyone who attended.
Within walking distance was a beach, so late that afternoon, we headed down where to spend the afternoon digging in the sand catching pippys and wiggly things that Am’ma cooked up for dinner, along with a side of our second Indian takeaway – paratha and curry.
The next day was a long day. Traipsing across chennai in search of wifi to finalise a bit of work turned out to be a drawn out affair, finding only one highlight when, fulfilling a dream created when first setting foot in India, I technically got to drive a rickshaw. We found what seemed to be the only wifi zone in Madras before heading to Phoenix Shopping Mall. Still needing to work, I was left behind as the rest enjoyed the entertainment of a spitting dinosaur in a 5D cinema, while I sat on hold for 45 minutes in probably the only dry Hard Rock Café on earth with a Mocktail! Daydreaming of the incredible moment of when I beeped the horn of a rickshaw.
Still enjoying the local traditions, we spent the morning in the 5 story high jewellers in C.T. Nagar trying to purchase a gift for the ear piercing ceremony we were to attend later in the week. After some lunch including a massive ghee dosai cone before wandering through the first, of what would be many cooking pot shops, it was time to head home via Gatsbys where, just as importantly as earring for an ear piercing ceremony we purchased a bbq for Jamie’s birthday. The bbq agonisingly sat in its box looking at us as we walked out the door for a nice meal at the Grand Chola, for a belated birthday dinner for Sarah. It was a fancy hotel with the biggest buffet meal we had seen. Unfortunately, not all elements were tasted as one of us spotted salami and cheese and a couple of others spotted the dessert section.
We were driving back down the ECR to Mamallapuram again today as recently we had watched Rick Stein travelling through India in search of his favourite curry, discovering it was on a beachside restaurant not far from where we were living. But this was priority number two, as after reviewing the photos of our recent Indian wedding, it was decided I should get a haircut rather than look like a movie star from a certain 60s movie genre. We walked around the corner to Lifestyle Barbers, where after 10 minutes of snipping, 2 minutes of shaving and 120 rupees, I was beautiful again. We stopped off at Dakshina Chitra that was a type of open-air museum showing the different styles of Southern Indian houses and culture. With anticipation we made it to the sandy beach of Mamallapuram where we passed the cows, boats and fishing nets towards Seashore Restaurant, sat at the end of the beach before Shore Temple. I wish I could say it was incredible, but the taste was soured by the most arrogant douche we had met to date. Clearly, since the show, the accreditation of the best curry went to his stupid shiny head so now he spends his day being rude to customers, providing crap service and when given the chance, try to rip off the patrons. We knew we were going to pay more on the basis of his newfound fame but you do expect a level of service. In the end we did like the curry – good but personally not our favourite – so as we paid, we made sure he understood how much of an idiot he was while we made him find our exact change, so we could walk in the kitchen and tip the chefs. You know if he collected the tips he would have pocketed it himself. Such a shame.
We were annoyed, but moved on to the Herpetology Centre on the highway that was home to all types of crocodiles as well as hundreds of the venomous snakes found in Tamil Nadu. Here, the men casually grab the russell vipers, cobras and kraits and one by one milk the venom. As this would go on they would show the warning signs the snakes would make including the hissing from the russells viper and the cobras dance. The cobras were beautiful and we were surprised that when sat up and flared they are only focused on the thing in front of them, not caring about the rangers poking their bodies and stroking their necks. The would explain how the anti venom worked, while the cobras would casually slide away amongst the pots to hide amongst the guys working to collect the rest of the snakes for milking.
Back in Injambakkam we prepared for a bbq. Thankfully, everything you need is on the ECR so we picked up our fresh ingredients while our chickens were being “prepared”. Minus one mishap where someone idiotically stood on a piece of burning coal, it was a pretty tasty bbq. We got to try the aubergine and chaat masala dish from Lucknow and tried our version of pepper chicken from kerala on the BBQ all polished of by a couple of beers. Just enough to send us to bed before our road trip to Karaikudi, in preparation of the ear piercing ceremony.