Tag Archives: India

Backpacking India: Chennai

India - Chennai
Five days in Chennai was more than enough. In many ways it was a good place to start our indian adventure, but we’re happy to move on.

The food was excellent and cheap (except for the night we splurged for Emily’s birthday dinner at Royal Vega). The public transportation system was good and will be even better when the new subway lines are done soon.

There aren’t a lot of sights to see but there are a lot of interesting neighborhoods to explore.

India - Emily's birthday
Kapalishvara Temple – beautiful architecture, relaxed for a holy site, interesting place to sit and watch rituals being performed.
Fort St George – awkward to get to, mostly restricted access for government business, but the museum provides a good historical context for the city
Government Museum – four museums in one covering stone and bronze statues, natural sciences, art, children’s, puppetry, etc. The site contains several old buildings with neat architecture, some falling into disrepair, but they are over 150 years old.

India - Chennai
Mylapore – new shaded side streets to explore. Interesting juxtaposition of new, rich areas, and some really poor areas.
Triplicane – a bit more hectic, a big mosque they wouldn’t let us into
T Nagar – big shopping area, an unbelievable crush of people, particularly around the train station. We went to an interesting theatre complex to see a dance show.
Georgetown – the area inhabited by the locals when the Fort was first constructed by the British. There are lots of narrow streets selling anything from pots to motorcycle parts to fruit.
Egmore – the area around the train station with the most tourist restaurants and hotels we saw. Quite hectic into the night with people coming and going.

The biggest downside of Chennai is how hostile it is to pedestrians. The sidewalks ware rarely walkable so you’re often in the street fighting off space with honking vehicles, people, cows, goats, and trees. We only found one light with a pedestrian signal and almost died trying to follow it.

The biggest advantage to Chennai was being able to act like a local. You can take public transit, shop, eat, and never get different, tourist treatment.

Backpacking India: Settling In

4 days in and we’re slowly getting used to life in India.

We’ve kind of figured out how much the auto-rickshaws should cost and how to bargain a little. We’re comfortable with public transportation (at least the suburban trains, we haven’t braved a bus yet). We’re acclimatizing to the heat and are better at staying hydrated. We acquired a local sim card for my cellphone so we can stay connected. The constant honking is still unbearable but we’re getting used to it. And our sleep schedules are almost normal – we’re still waking up and going to bed early, but we’re at least awake for dinner.

Getting a local sim card was an involved process, but I followed the steps on indiamike and it worked out fine. I took my passport and visa, drivers license, a passport sized photo, and our hotel receipt to a Vodafone store a few blocks from our hotel and within 3 hours my number was activated.

It is surprisingly cheap. For 200 rupees (less than $4), I got a new sim card, lots of talk time, and 400 MB of data.

If you want to send Emily a birthday greeting, you can now call or text us at 011 + 91 +  9962492508. The best time to call is between 8 and 10 am in India. Send texts whenever you want.

Ladies Train

The suburban train system in Chennai is cool. Prices vary depending on how far you go, but the most we’ve paid is 5 rupees each (10 cents). The trains are very gender segregated. They have special cars and sometimes whole trains reserved for ladies. I’m sure it makes the women feel safer in those cars, but the flip side is the women in the mixed cars are even more outnumbered by men.

We managed to switch rooms at our hotel. Now we have a cheaper non-AC room that faces a quiet garden instead of the busy street. It is amazing.

There is enough variety here, that eating Indian food for every meal hasn’t become boring yet. It has caused some mild indegesgtion but nothing too serious.

Backpacking India: Day 1 – Chennai

So much for taking it easy on day one.

We decided to walk from our hotel to Fort St George. It looked closer on the map.

We spent three hours walking around in the heat and baking sun. We quickly ran out of water.

The traffic and crowds are chaotic, but we’ve seen similar before in Vietnam, although with less cows and horses in the city.

Around 1 pm we ducked into a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. We were grateful to get some food, a bottle of chilled water, and sit out of the sun, even if it was still over 30 C inside.

The fort had a museum that explained the interesting history of the British rule of Madras. It was also fascinating walking around the narrow streets in nearby Georgetown, crowded with shops and street vendors.

After the fort, we took a auto rickshaw back to the hotel. I was worried about how much it would cost on the meter. So instead our driver offered to take us for 120 rupees which I accepted without bargaining. I’m sure it was at least double the standard rate. I need to work on my negotiation skills. But with the heat, I was willing to pay a lot more not to have to walk anymore.

When we got back to the hotel, we washed up and passed out. We didn’t wake up for 3 hours. It was dinner time, but neither of us had the strength to get up. So we reluctantly skipped dinner and went back to sleep. At 3 am, I woke up well rested after 11 hours of sleep. Not sure how I’ll get my sleep schedule back on track.

Backpacking India: Day 0 – The Arrival

Emily and I have arrived safe and sound in India.

It was a long series of uneventful flights to get here. I spent most of the way to Toronto and then Frankfurt catching up on action and superhero movies that all blend together now (although Guardians of the Galaxy was really good). On the way to Chennai, I actually managed to get a few hours of sleep, with earplugs drowning out the screaming child in the seat in front of me. Emily was less lucky and is still sleeping as I write this at 6 am.

We had no problem getting through Indian customs. We arranged a pre-paid taxi to drive us to our hotel – the YWCA International Guest House. I assumed it would be straight forward, as it is one of only 10 places recommended in our guide book, but our driver didn’t speak English and didn’t recognize the name. Luckily, he was smart enough to ask us for a phone number in broken English and called ahead for directions.

At 2 am, the traffic wasn’t bad and we got a whirlwind tour of Chennai, which in the glow of street lights consisted mainly of rundown buildings and roads ripped up for a new metro line. Hopefully it looks better by daylight, but our guide book does note that most travelers move on as quick as possible. We plan on spending 5 days as we acclimatize to India.

Our hotel tried to screw us over when we arrived. I was too tired to notice, but Emily knew something was wrong. We had reserved a simple room but they put us in a double the price a/c room and collected most of the money up front before I noticed what was going on. I’m still getting used to the exchange rate. Nothing to nefarious, but a perfect welcome to India and a good reminder to stay sharp. We confronted the manager last night, but he claims that a/c rooms is all they have for the next 2 nights and we can move to cheaper rooms after. I think he was lying, but we needed to sleep. Hopefully we can straighten it out today.

It’s warm here, but air conditioning isn’t necessary. We didn’t use it last night and slept fine. The constant honking of cars is more of an annoyance than the temperature. Hopefully we can get a non a/c room that doesn’t face the main road.

Countdown to India: Packing Lists

As the obsessive planner that I am, I’ve been thinking about what to pack for 4 months in India since we booked the flights. Between Chris and I, we went to MEC six times to survey our options for bags, shoes, clothes, and other travel necessities. I decided to stick with a 45 litre bag to limit how much I could bring. I also splurged on a pacsafe purse with anti-theft features. Chris is using his 60 litre camping backpack plus a 28 litre daypack.

We’ve left room in our bags to buy Indian clothing and souvenirs … or add that essential item we didn’t think about.

Emily’s Packing List:

  • Tops: 2 t-shirts, 1 icebreaker long sleeve top, 1fleece
  • Two dresses (thanks for the last minute addition, Marsha!)
  • Two pairs of pants
  • Gloves & neck warmer
  • Bathing suit
  • Shoes: light trail hikers, sandals, flip flops
  • 7 pairs underwear, 5 pairs socks, 2 bras
  • Rain jacket
  • Towel
  • Sleeping bag liner
  • Toiletries
  • Sunglasses
  • Headlamp
  • iPad

Chris’s Packing List:

  • Tops: 2 t-shirts, 4 button up shirts, 1 long sleeve top, 1fleece
  • One pair of short and one pair of pants
  • Running shorts and a dryfit tee
  • Gloves and a light toque
  • Bathing suit
  • Shoes: trail runners and sandals
  • 7 pairs underwear, 4 pairs socks
  • Rain jacket
  • Towel
  • Sleeping bag liner and pillow
  • Toiletries
  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses
  • Cellphone, e-reader, and camera
  • Journal
  • Chargers and universal power adapter
  • Swiss Army knife and sporks
  • Clothes line, first aid kit, sewing kit, hand sanitizer
  • General purpose antibiotics

We’ll check back and let you know how we did.

Countdown to India: 6 days

A few months ago, Chris and I decided to take advantage of being (relatively) young, established in our careers, and debt free. We’ve opted to pick up our lives and travel across India for 4 months. I am leaving my job for good, but Chris will be returning to his in April. Life has been a flurry of subletters, cat sitters, boxes, visits, guide books, and work work work. Despite all the hassle of preparing for a trip like this, we’re really looking forward to exploring a totally new place with such diversity and amazing food, and approaching life differently, taking time to enjoy the little things and opening our minds to new possibilities.

Iconic India

The Plan: We’re flying into Chennai, via Toronto and Frankfurt, December 9-10. On April 15, we depart from Delhi, through London. Chris is coming back to Vancouver and I’m taking advantage of being unemployed by spending some time with friends and family in Ontario. We want to travel at a relatively slow pace, taking in not just the big sites, but really getting a feel for life in India. We’ve planned out our first few weeks, but want to keep the flexibility to stay somewhere we like and leave somewhere we don’t. Generally, we’ll travel from south to north as the weather gets warmer.

We’ve had a variety of different reactions when we tell people our plans. Many are jealous, wishing they had or could leave their lives to travel for an extended period of time. Some think we’re absolutely crazy to leave stability for a country with a billion people, chaos everywhere, and poor sanitary conditions. But most are supportive of our choice and excited for our adventure. So we want to stay in touch! We plan on posting tales of travel and mayhem here every week or so and uploading pictures to flickr.