Thursday, January 1, 2009

Varnakam!

Good morning India.
I'm finally here! After nearly 30 hours of traveling, I've arrived, safe and sound, in India. The flights here were relatively uneventful, no major turbulence or otherwise excitement. My 7 hour layover in Abu Dhabi airport went by relatively quickly, considering I spent the whole time with Reenal, a girl I met on the flight in who was heading to Bombay to visit family over the holidays.
At around 8:00 pm Tuesday night, I arrived in Chennai. Thankfully, all of my luggage arrived as well! Managed to exchange money (at a disappointingly poor rate, 42 rupees to 1 US dollar), and hop in a pre-paid taxi to my hotel. The taxi ride lasted a good 45 minutes, and cost me just under six bucks.
I felt excited the first night I got here, but also completely overwhelmed. Once I arrived at the hotel, it turned out they didn't have a copy of my reservation! I had to beg, plead, and speak with the manager before I could finally secure a room. What a relief it was to just unload all of my things in the room and wind down!
After getting a good night's sleep the first night, I was ready as ever to explore, and enjoy my first full day in India. Technically, yesterday was New Years eve, but that didn't mean a whole lot to people around here. While I did hear the occasional "happy new year" directed at me, the day certainly wasn't about champagne and Times Square.
I wandered aimlessly around the streets in Egmore yesterday, the part of the city where I'm currently staying. The city's exciting because there are people everywhere, drinking coffee out of tiny mugs on street corners, or shoveling gravel off the road, working in the hot sun. Many Indian men relieve themselves wherever they please- yesterday I learned that most people prefer to walk on the streets, rather than on the sidewalks, for this very reason! The kids here are absolutely adorable, some of the little schoolgirls have perfectly combed braids and matching outfits.
I went with my new friend Chris (an American whose parents and family is originally from Tamil Nadu) for lunch, and had my first ever (hilarious) Indian lunch experience! We went to a very popular chain restaurant right around the corner from my hotel. I forget the name now, but it's known for its South Indian vegetarian cuisine at really affordable prices. I had no idea what to order, so I just decided to go for the "limited special" which seemed to have a little of everything in it. A huge bowl of white rice came first, followed by a large silver tray containing a colorful variety of sauces. I was instructed by Chris and the waiter how exactly to go about eating it all. While I won't go into too much further detail, I'll just say it was a hilarious endeavor. Not only did Chris and I have a good laugh about it, but the rest of the restaurant did as well! I suppose there's nothing more humorous to an Indian than watching a foreigner's pathetic attempt at eating an Indian thali for the very first time...with their hands! (Everybody eats with their right hand- things get quite messy but it's fun!)
After lunch, Chris and I drove to Spencer Plaza, a popular shopping destination. The drive was exhilarating and a bit terrifying- day one in India and I already found myself on the back of a motorcycle! Spencer Plaza was basically an Indian version of an indoor shopping mall; a 4-story building selling everything from cell phones, to rugs, to salwar kameez (traditional Indian clothing). I was in the market to get some salwar, as I've been told it's the most appropriate and respectable way to dress. After a couple hours and some somewhat successful bargaining, I left Spencer's with two new tops. Total price: $8.
Chris dropped me back off at my hotel and I rested up before doing some afternoon exploring. Around 4:00, I met up with Arun, whom I've chosen to nickname "the smartest, most street savvy, aspiring engineer around." Arun has been very helpful to me thus far; he knows the city backwards and forwards and has mapped the whole place out! We visited the flea market, where he sold some of his "junk" for 60 rupees. You know what they say: one man's trash is another man's treasure.
We traveled by food, train, and bus, all over the city. I photographed some historical buildings and monuments, while Arun told me about the British colonial legacy in Chennai. I, rather hesitantly, tried some fresh sugarcane juice from a vendor on the side of the road. While it didn't appear to be the most sanitary of juice stops, I took my chances and went for it, as Arun swears by the stuff. Turns out it was delicious, and I haven't gotten sick from it yet! (Knock on wood.) Our final stop of the day was at the Marina Beach, supposedly the longest beach in the world! It's a pretty incredible place, filthy, but lively and full of different characters and action. No one really swims there because the current is too strong, but there's plenty of vendors, kite-flyers, and kids to entertain everyone.
I reached my hotel around 7:00 last night, after a full day of walking and exploring. I was exhausted, and my feet covered in blisters! I guess that's a good sign that I had quite a productive New Years eve. :)
My night concluded with a trip to the fruit-sellers on the corner of the street to buy some pomegranate. Munched down on fresh fruit and hit the hay (I didn't even make it to midnight to pat myself on the back for surviving the new year).
So far, so good!
Moving into the dorms today at IIT's campus- will try to post pics up tonight!

4 comments:

P Murlidhar said...

Its nice to see our place with the eyes of others and new perspective...

Waiting for some more hilarious, good and funny experiences :)

krishna said...

hey not bad haan....
n hey its vannakam...
n also change ur chen dates....01-04 its 09 not 08 dear....

bitterscotch said...

"the smartest, most street savvy, aspiring engineer around"

this is better than getting knighted :P thank ye madam

Smaps said...

haha Arun I just now saw your comment. Four weeks in and I still agree with what I wrote!