Date: 13 April, Palm Sunday / Tamil New Year's Eve
Location: sunny rooftop, Pride Hotel, Chennai
Notable sightings: my first rogue cow, stunning Dravidian architecture, slums and sidewalk sleepers
Marriage proposals: only 1 (shameful)
Just finished afternoon ashtanga yoga on the hotel's rooftop, the entire duration of which we were unashamedly stared at by a significant proportion of the hotel's male staff and, after which, we were strong armed into a tour of the hotel's gym and spa facilities. And then informed that massages were 'complimentary'. At least to wide-eyed, nubile white girls…
So, India hits you as a hot, loud, strange tornado whirling with shrill TukTuk beeps, stray rubbish-eating cows, brilliantly coloured saris and garbage. I've certainly quicksmart learned to stop drinking the water in my showers. (A weird habit, I'll admit. And here, a deadly one.) So far, I rather love it here.
We've started in Chennai, formerly Madras, a place that's certainly not designed to set you at your ease. The city is relatively new, but only in the sense that up until recently it was a sprawling mess of small towns that have now coagulated into a 'city'. In every other sense it feels old and worn – yet colourful. The city has begun the process of unifying. Unfortunately, at this point, this manifests in streets that have two names (old name and Chennai name) and in all of the main roads being half-unearthed as the Chennai Metro Rail is installed. It sounds like chaos and it really, really is. And it's Indian's fourth largest city.
On top of that, overlay a melting point of languages (18 are recognised by the country's constitution, with Tamil being the local language in Chennai) and religions: yesterday we visited a Hindu temple (in the Dravidian style- see below), an exPortguese-now English cathedral and a mosque. Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhism all seem to mix easily here, but perhaps that's a foreigner's optimistic naiveté? But the Muslim mosques are painted the 'water filled blue' of the Hindus, and the Christian churches mirror the shape of a Muslim mosque — and everywhere is covered in flowers.
The people have been overwhelming friendly (sometimes, ahem, too friendly) so far, though I suspect we've been dealing with the upper and middle castes. Re: people, I met my tour group today and more on that circus next time.