We squeezed in, one after the other, at times on atop the other, to fit in the shabby, yellow cab like machinery. It seemed audacious to attempt it yet perfectly normal: Asia is well known its ability to cramp people in, from restaurants to train and bikes. Space, in this part of the world, seems much more foldable than in other geographies. Maybe the tuk-tuk is just a sort of Tardis, it’s bigger on the inside.
Yes, I know, it’s supposed to be called a rickshaw and not a tuk-tuk. The only problem, you see, is that rickshaw just sounds like “death machine” to me, whereas tuk tuk sounds like a lot of fun is about to begin.
The first part of my journey was busy, filled with organisational incompetence and the WUDC, so not all that much Indian exploration happened in the first few days. A cheeky curry here and there, but not all that much. It was time to test out all the preconceptions I had about India. It didn’t smell rank everywhere, there weren’t as many cows as I had expected, and no one would break out in Bollywood style dancing in the middle of the street (nor on the side-streets for that matter).
Chennai seems to be home to one of only three churches built over the tomb of an apostle (together with a church in Spain and St Peter’s Basilica in Rome/Vatican), San Thome Basilica. It seemed a tad bit strange, to have christian churches here, and, perhaps even stranger, to see how the locals fused other practices with it. Like taking your shoes off or having a strange Christmas set with two baby Jesuses on the same stage. Both looking quite different.
The Kapaleeswarar temple was much more interesting.
Mounds of shoes, sandals and flip-flops, covered the space next tot the entrance, like some sort of strange sacrifice to the God of Barefoot. We took our shoes off – you really don’t have any other way unless you want to insult both gods and people. In the long term, I had decided that the possibility of getting a veruca was better than getting a vindictive deity.
The place, whilst abundant in gods and praying, was severely lacking in any English signs so no one could really know what was happening. People would be lighting a sort of candles, dropping to the floor and kissing the ground, praying at all the little obscure statues.
If you want a bit of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel feeling (if you haven’t seen the movie, shame), The Amethyst is a great place. The cafe was hidden in a tiny garden, clearly a remnant of the post-colonial era, expensive shops inside and way too many white people around. The menu was dominated by western dishes, with a few indian incursions, yet was quite delightful and trustworthy. There was also (free) Wi-Fi, something the Taj Club House wasn’t willing o provide.
And then, when we left our table to roam around, who decides to go sit at it? Boris Johnson. We spend about 5 minutes debating whether it was him or not and why on earth he would be in Chennai of all places, sitting at our table. Surreal.