Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Chennai Journal - Part One

I'm just back from my amazing trip to India. I'm home now but while I was in Chennai, India I wrote about my trip. I'll be posting some of what I wrote while I was there over the next few days.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 4:00 PM – Chennai, India

Well, we finally made it to Chennai. But we were late getting in today. Most of that time was spent in the Mumbai airport. We were supposed to take a plane from Paris to Chennai but that was cancelled so Air France set us up on a Delta (same company) plane to Mumbai and then we were to catch an Air India plane at 1:00 AM to Chennai. Well, because they added a lot of the people from our cancelled flight to the flight to Mumbai they had to get additional food ready and the plane was delayed for an hour. Not only that but there was no way in the world we were going to get from the Mumbai international terminal to the domestic terminal in an hour even under optimal conditions so we missed the plane to Mumbai and the next one was scheduled to leave at 6:45 AM. The process of getting Delta to sign us up for another flight on yet another airline was a bit of a challenge and, while we had no hassles it took lots of standing in line, waiting for officials to look at our ticket and our passport and many don’t speak English real well and if they do I can’t understand half of what they say but we got it done.

We had no phone numbers for the conference people so we sent an email from Paris (they had a lounge for World Club members like in Chicago – very nice) and we sent an email saying we were coming in at 2:45 AM instead of 12:45 AM. We asked Delta to try to get a message to them at 2:45 but, of course, they didn’t so they waited for us last night and we had no email access in Mumbai. We spent 6 hours in the lobby of the Mumbai airport – there was sitar music on the PA, lots of people in sarees and other traditional Indian clothes walking around – it was almost like out of a movie.

But we we’re tired – between when we left Michigan at 11:00 AM on Monday and when we arrived in Chennai at about midnight Tuesday night (Michigan time) I got about four hours of sleep. I nearly fell asleep sitting on a bench in Mumbai – Ron and I made sure one of us was awake although I don’t think either of us actually slept there – we just closed our eyes. We had to take a bus between the terminals and that ride (at about 2:00AM) was really strange. First we had to wait in a room to get the bus and the room was almost stereotypical – chairs in a big room that might have been nice once but really wasn’t any longer, a couple of fans, and lots of soldiers (some with rifles.) There are more soldiers and officials walking around the airport than I can believe – most of them are just there, telling people to go this way or making “move along” gestures. They certainly weren’t there to be helpful. On the bus we passed lots of buildings that almost looked bombed out but I think that’s just the state of many of the buildings here. There are nice buildings like the hotel we are staying at but there are lots that are just in terrible shape.

But we finally got on the plane (which meant we had to listen carefully for when our plane was called – more challenging than you might think since their version of English and ours sometimes has only a passing similarity.) We got to the airport in Chennai hoping that they had gotten the message and had someone waiting for us but they didn’t. You know how people line up with signs to greet people in the US? Make it a line five deep of people packed together and you have the idea. So we went back inside, convincing a soldier with a rifle that we had good reason to, and hired a taxi to take us to the Savera Hotel.

Traffic in Chennai is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The number of lanes on a road at any given time is completely negotiable. The lines on the road do no good at all. There are lots and lots of motorcycles and those strange little three wheeled carts that weave in an out. We asked the driver what they called those things but he had no idea what we were asking. (I later discovered that they are called auto-rikshaws.) The horn is apparently the most important piece of equipment on a vehicle in Chennai and it is used almost continuously. Since it is, it does almost no good. I have absolutely no idea how there isn’t an accident every block but I saw no cars with dents – they must have better spatial intelligence than I do because they see holes developing in the traffic much like a really good running back in football does. It took about 45 minutes to get to the hotel. Most of the city that we passed through on the way here looked like it was in the middle of being demolished but people were living there anyway. Construction sites look like demolition sites and the place is just a mess.

But we got to the hotel and checked in and got a little sleep. Now we’re going to get dinner here in the hotel because I’m certainly not venturing out on my own.

On to part two


Dip said...

Good post im from chennai and now in Michigan. and ur other way lol. Chennai is good place filled with good people. Njoy the stay

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