We woke to a bright morning and went out on deck to watch the Captain carefully manoeuvre his ship into a rather tight parking space. Seeing him later and congratulating him on a job well done, he winked and said that in such situations, closing his eyes and hoping for the best usually works.
Anyway, having gone through the lengthy visa process at home, completed the immigration papers and customs dockets, it might have been reasonable to assume that we’d have a swift transit when we arrived around 11am this morning.
Not a bit of it. After all, this is India.
We presented ourselves for our face-to-face immigration process. We presented ourselves with customs form complete for rubber stamping and signing. We sat back and waited for the ship to receive clearance and for all the shuttle buses to be sorted, because we planned to go it alone today.
We watched the trains come and go at the station opposite, teeming with passengers. We watched the various port officials come on board, buses arrive and, because this is India, people just standing and staring, watching the goings on, as they do.
At long last, we were free to go, but not to walk through the port harbour area. We had to be on the shuttle bus to the gate, where once again, passports were checked, names ticked off the ships muster and further checks made. Oh my.
All the time we were lingering for a variety of reasons, the drivers of the yellow tuktuks came alongside, waving and asking if we wanted to ride with them. Quite why they thought that it would be sensible to get off our (free, air conditioned) bus and jump into their tuktuk for an extra charge, I have no idea. They persisted with good humour however and when we finally reached the Spencer Mall on Mount Road, they greeted us like old friends and offered to take us on, to some destination unknown.
Our first time here in Chennai and without really having an overview of the city, we decided we’d keep it simple and stick to the immediate area around the Mall. The traffic was noisy, the pace of everything overwhelming after a calm couple of days at sea and we felt we needed to just get a little acclimatised before tackling anything too adventurous.
The inside of the Mall was clean and cool, the atmosphere somewhere between a covered market and an old-style shopping centre. We pottered in and around the shops, responding to the invitations to come inside and see what beautiful things were on offer with a smile and a gentle “perhaps later…”, being caught out once or twice when we found ourselves on the same alley; “Oh hello, you came back!”
Of course, there were lovely things on display and sometimes it was hard to resist.
I mean, which pair should I choose?
(go on, you know the answer to that one, don’t you?)
We love the signs here and there, having already scribbled down one which stated “Be careful – your family is looking forward to seeing you safely at home”, we spotted this little gem on the shopping centre wall.
Stepping outside to walk down the street, we wondered how we were going to get across the road.
Simple. We stood by this young woman and followed her lead!
The sugar cane crushing machines were on every street corner, as usual. This one had no customers though and the operator was asleep around the corner, in the shade.
We’d got crossing the road to a fine art by now – yes, we made it across here and into a bookstore
Higginbothams bookstore appeared to have been there forever and stepping inside we loved the small tribute to the founders, who looked very stern indeed. I bought a children’s cartoon book of the story of Draupadi (“The Dusky Firebrand”), whose saree was undone by the evil Duhshasana but replaced by Krishna to save her modesty.
Buying the book was another Indian experience – one man scanned and quoted the price, referring me to the next one who took my money, passing the book to the man who was wrapping the purchases as he held my tatty rupee note to the light, consulted his colleague as regards the authenticity of said note before giving me my change. Another printed out the receipt – about A4 size (the book cost 40 rupees, about 60p) and handed it back to the first man, who stamped it “paid” and passed it to the wrapping man to enclose in the parcel. Finally I received my parcel and off we went.
A very poor photo indeed but standing by the roadside was a traffic policeman with a speed gun…and a whole host of onlookers looking over his shoulder. No-one is alone in this country of bystanders!
As we waited for our shuttle bus to take us back to the port, one of the tuktuk drivers reappeared, hedging his bets in the hope of a customer even though we explained that he would not be allowed to take us into the port area.
Matthew insisted I take his phone number and give it to all my friends!
One last sign for today – in case you need a “bike puncher” repair…
We’re now showered and changed and about to go out once again to our “Southern Spice Dinner” evening. It should be fun!
India doesn’t change and is always full of surprises. We are happy about that.