What have we done!

Posted by on 1, Feb 2024 in 2024 - An Indian Winter, India, Tilly the Tandem

What have we done!
Reassembling Tilly
Suresh, owner of the best bike shop in the world!
Lost its former glory…
Kamwaadeswaa Temple
Amateurs..!!  We saw one with 5 on!
Market day
Sugar cane juicing

Our flight was almost empty, not even enough people for one per row, but pleasant and quiet and as we disembarked we asked each other “What have we done!”. Too late now though as we passed through another high security check on entering the airport – they obviously take security seriously here – the X ray guy was fast asleep!

After we collected Tilly, Customs immediately pulled us over as our big black canvas bag had a chalk mark on it and had to go through another xray. I’m sure smugglers wouldn’t have just wiped that off by now, but once the bag was in the x-ray with a wide awake customs guy, the rest came over to talk to us and explained that drug smuggling wasn’t a big thing in India, but gold smuggling was, which possibly explains our x-ray as the bag was so heavy you could hardly lift it – 30kg of gold 1.5 million. I wish!

Our Hotel taxi awaited and despite two emails confirming the size of Tilly, the driver wasn’t expecting a bike box and said, folowing standard male textbook response protocol, that won’t fit! But sure enough it did…. Again. Men!

We had been prepared for the culture shock and the driving didn’t disappoint! Horns blaring, every one cutting everyone up and racing into gaps with barely a fag papers width between all of us, welcome to India and the Capital of Tamil Nadu – Chennai!

We’d asked to stop at a cash machine along the way as the arrivals hall just plonked you straight out on to the road. And, our driver did just that, right on a 3 lane road, blocking the inside lane and ignoring the horns! It was out of order, so we repeated the process and found a working ATM. How much cash do you want it asked 25,000 I said, you can’t have that, how about 20,000? Ok, thanks. Well remove your card and start again and do it right this time, it said. So I did, and then with a smug look on its screen when I entered 20,000 it said I couldn’t have that either, how about 10,000? You get the gist. So in the end I got the 10,000. Not the programmers finest day when he did that software I think.

By the time we arrived at our rather nice hotel we were in need of a drink and would you believe it we’d arrived on one of the Indian dry days when alcohol sales are banned! Wish we’d picked up a bottle in the duty free now!

The hotel was protected by another security check which when we walked through the metal detector arch carrying Tilly’s back box full of cranks, cogs, chains etc it had a heart attack and sounded an alarm loud enough to topple the walls of Jericho! Naturally no one batted an eye lid. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m thinking this is going to be the pattern in India.

By this time we were getting a bit peckish having not eaten much on the plane. Would you believe the night before our first flight I had Macaroni Cheese as I thought, well they won’t have that in India, possibly not, but they served it to me on the flight the next day! And for our night before the 2nd flight we had arrabiata pasta and you guessed it, got that on the plane the next day.

Before we landed we had talked about food and had made a plan to avoid Indian food whenever an alternative was available. So, obviously I ordered a paneer curry. No will power me. It was bloomin delicious! It may sound odd why we would avoid Indian, but when we are more remote we are likely to be eating Indian 3 times a day so eat something different when available!

After a nights sleep in a very comfy room with our 1980’s bedside central lighting control panel deciding for no apparent reason that one light couldn’t be turned off at all and that all the lights should come on at 4am we were actually more refreshed than we thought and had a nice brekky and reassembled and test rode Tilly (only around the car park) whilst being watched by half the hotel staff and guests who, judging by their reaction, thought we were mad to even think about cycling here, let alone cycling to Mumbai. They may have a point.

We needed some lube for the chain, so popped into a bicycle shop – the best bicycle shop in the world, according to the award on the wall – and they wanted £15 for a small bottle of wet lube, not what we wanted, so I declined and we started to leave but got accosted by the owner who is apparently famous throughout India – he showed us a picture of him selling a bike to MS Doni the Indian Keeper, who I obviously didn’t recognise – much to the entire bike shops horror. Now if it had been Kohli I’d have got that!

Anyway, we had a fab time chatting to Suresh and his friends and by the time we left we had been given lemon drink, coffee and stocked up with 2 small bottles of dry lube plus a cycle shirt all for free. What a kind and generous man! Perhaps it was in sympathy for the current England cricket team score against the Indians…

That evening we headed out for dinner and couldn’t find how to get into the 3rd floor restaurant. A passerby happily then led us up some stairs, through a different bar, then through that bars kitchen and up some more stairs until we arrived at our destination. Health and Safety wouldn’t like that much in the UK! But the Pizza and beer plus chilli Chips was worth the detour.. Yummy stuff!

Our 2nd night had all the room lights coming on twice during the night for no reason, but having asked about the light that never went off at reception they had sent the maintenance man to fix it (remove the bulb!) We’d also told them the safe didn’t work and they removed that too. Good job the bed wasn’t an issue…

Despite being a bit knackered we ventured into Chennai for a day, taking numerous Tuk Tuks from one place to another coming to the conclusion that the city has some extraordinary lovely old colonial era buildings that mesh the grand British Museum style with traditional Indian Architecture in a fabulous way.

Unfortunately, like much of what we’ve seen so far, it appears things get built then left without maintenance and start to crumble. Many of the colonial buildings are still in use, but look a shadow of their former selves. Some are being renovated now, which is nice to see. The old Library which is closed to the public allowed us in to wander through it’s renovation work, which seemed to be wholly inadequate – a lady with some sellotape, sticking the pages in old dusty falling to bits books back together. There were bits and pieces of pages lying on the floor all around her. The library is gorgeous, a proper Victorian Hogwarts Library, with stained glass windows, alcoves, carved animals holding a mezzanine up and smelling badly of damp books. Many of the books were over 100 years old and it’s such a shame the money isn’t available to restore the place properly for future generations, it really was gorgeous. No photos allowed though..

Chennai is the birthplace of the British Empire. It’s where the East India Company built a fort and began the slow process of ignoring their moto “War is bad for business” and conquering India. So we headed down to Fort St George to the location of the first isolated fort set on the edge of the water. This single building grew into an impressive European style fort over the years in order to stop the French / Dutch / Portuguese etc etc settling here.

The fort remains in place and a few of the old street layout names – Gloucester Street, Chruch street still exist today. When built the fort was an extremely grand place with wide streets and imposing Victorian style buildings. Judging by the photos you’d not know you weren’t in Bath walking around much of it.

But today all we could find without being turned about by military checkpoints was the Church – the oldest in India, closed – and the fort museum. The parade ground remains but is a car park for military vehicles and there are numerous ugly government buildings either replacing the original ones or hiding them. We didn’t like it much, but of course, given the lack of access we may have missed some bits too.

The fort museum was very interesting though, with some great info about the origin of the city, the East India Company and the British Empire, which really should have been called the Indian Empire as it seemed that all the conquering was done by the Indians themselves under British Officers..

Our final stop of the day was at the Kamwaadeswaar Temple, which we found disappointing. This is entirely our own fault we think as were expecting temples as bright and colourful as in Taiwan having seen women everywhere here dressed in such bright and gorgeous sarees, but, although the carvings were amazing and completely over the top, the colours all looked faded. Were they? It is that their proper colour? That’s something we will have to find out.

By the time we exited we were worn out so got a tuk tuk who took us in completely the wrong direction despite me explaing numerous times were we needed to go. As we dodged all over the road I kept saying wrong way, wrong way, but the driver kept saying road closed, new metro work – which is true, theres loads of roads closed for the new line all near our hotel, so at first I gave him the benefit of the doubt. But in the end shouted STOP! He did and we had gone about 3 km the wrong way. I got him to phone the hotel and he then understood where to go – he clearly couldn’t map read Google maps – and then wanted more money to take us to the hotel. You’re having a laugh mate we said and he gave in and took us home.

Being Brits we’re not overly comfortable with negotiating a price for a ride and much prefer a meter. All the tuk tuks have them, none of them use them. So we have Uber tell us how much a ride should be and then are happy to get ripped off by a few rupees over this figure. If not, you get charged 400 rupees for a 100 ride. I know that’s £4 to £1 but I don’t like being ripped off like that. So, if a ride should be 100 rupees on Uber we know when a driver says 400 we start low and will give in at about 150. He’s happy as he’s getting far more than a local would pay and we’re happy we’re not paying the full tourist rate.

So, sightseeing done and Tilly assembled, tomorrow the cycling and the real fun starts…

One Comment

  1. Superb build up to the main event !!!!

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