The train journey from Trivandrum to Chennai went smoothly enough, in fact I’d go so far as to say that it was ball-achingly tedious (as my economics teacher used to say). I travelled in a 3-tier A/C sleeper – this means 6 people sleeping in each pod or compartment of the train, on fold-down beds that went up the walls, 3 on each side, in an air-conditioned carriage. After the small narrow-guage train the Aidcamps team took across the Western Ghats to Tamil Nadu from Trivandrum after my arrival in India, I was expecting maybe more of the same – friendly, curious people up for a chat. What I got was three irritating medical students that giggled like eight-year-olds for the entire journey and looked in their textbooks for diagrams of boobs and willies, and a bunch of other Indians that just kept themselves to themselves. The journey was 16 and a half hours, overnight, over a distance of approaching 1000km – at the bargain price of Rs 1113, or about GBP14. Beat that, One Anglia.
With the quietness and isolation I felt on the train, I got to feeling homesick, and the book I was reading, the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (set in Kerala) didn’t help, so I got pretty cheesed off. I was thinking about family, mates, the Aidcamp and the people I met, my animals, home comforts, and good English food and drink. The journey as a whole brought to mind Nick’s comment, “you’re going to have to get accustomed to new levels of discomfort” – he’s right, but it’s not just about being crammed into a train carriage, it’s about missing home. I hadn’t been homesick before I came away since I was about twelve, and I don’t know why it should have come as such a surprise to feel it now!
This is another reason why it was such a relief to see Rachel. She’s a friend from London who I met at London Underground, and has been working on a voluntary basis in Chennai for five months, for HEPI – Health Education and Promotion International. Rach was pretty glad to see me as well, as I was her first mate from the UK to come here. Rach has been looking after me fantastically since I got here – I’m in a fairly nice hotel across the road from her in the Mylapore area of Chennai, a fairly nice area – and we’ve been getting together to eat and chill out – I just taught her how to play sh*t head (for those unaware it is a card game – and a great game at that – where the loser is crowned sh*t head).
Yesterday, as my birthday present, we went to Mamallapuram, a fishing and stone-carving center 58km down the East coast of India from Chennai. Mamallapuram is home to a series of impressive carved stone temples, bas-reliefs, caves and rathas (carved chariots – one like a massive elephant), some hewn out of the side of gigantic rocks, reminding me of the set of some Indiana Jones movie. Goats and monkeys laze about, beggars beg on every corner, and hawkers are so aggresive they make the ones at Kovalam look easy going, often starting their hawking before you’ve even got out of the car properly. There is also a mass of stone-carving workshops, so walking around the small town, you constantly hear the chipping of chisels on rock. I’ll upload some pics soon. Rach and I were melting after a while in the heat, so retreated to the Tina Blue Lodge, one of several very chilled-out and traveller-oriented eateries, for lunch – chilli prawns and the best banana honey pancake I’ve had yet (certainly better than the weird pancake I had in Thekkady that I swear had carrot in it).
I have a few days left in Chennai, and some more sights to see, and will then be heading up to Hampi in Karnataka (on Ian’s recommendation), before checking out Gokarn, on the coast just south of Goa, and possibly Goa itself. With the current situation in Nepal looking a bit uncertain (even though I believe Aidcamps are still running their camp there), I hope to try and get to Himachal Pradesh, to see some big hills there, and maybe drop in for tea with the Dalai Lama (he and I are old mates). I’ve got six-ish full weeks left in India – any other recommendations for places to see anyone?