After three days of traveling, the true journey began… I arrived in Chennai at 11:00 pm on Saturday, December 27th, 2008.
After maneuvering the higgledy-piggledy passport checkpoint, I emerged unceremoniously onto the balmy Madras sidewalk. Faced with a wall of brown faces searching for their loved ones, or unsuspecting tourists, my focus was solely on the sign bearing my name.
Alas, no such sign was in evidence.
The local currency had to be acquired, which meant a walk down the sidewalk to a nearby ATM. The journey secured me a tenacious tout offering his services. No matter how many times I said, "no thank you," he kept by my side. A few minutes later, a small fortune in hand, I walked back towards the airport. I didn’t want to be rude. I felt bad for him merely trying to secure a job, but eventually rudeness prevailed. Actually, it was more of a sharp, definitive, "No." Kind of like talking to a naughty puppy, I noted. Nonetheless, he remained within earshot.
My traveling companion was overwhelmed and of no use whatsover and so I deposited him with the luggage while I trawled back up and down the line in search of our driver. Judging by the crowd and endless sound of car horns, I suspected the driver was merely late. I had complete faith he would be there… eventually. Thinking that a phone call might be the solution, I braved my way to a kiosk across the street and bought two bottles of water so I could have small change for the phone. It was a breeze… nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the people were friendly and I learned that the going rate for a bottle of water was 13 rupees.
Back with my companions, the one with whom I was traveling and my newly-found service provider, I said, “We have to make a phone call.” And sure enough, the man was of service. He borrowed someone’s cell phone for me to use. "Very good madam," was the first of thousand very good madams that I would hear and come to love.
As I was connecting with our hotel, our driver appeared suddenly like magic, which is, I discovered, often how things work in India.
Our driver took control of my luggage and following his lead, I gave our helper a tip… which is also how things work in India.
I asked our driver his name, as I would anyone with whom I interacted in India. His name was Pondy and he would become my friend.
Tucked in the back of Pondy's trusty Ambassador, we made our way through Chennai onto the dark highway to Mamallapuram. I kept my eyes scanned for the miles of shanty towns that I had been warned and read about. Maybe I didn't see them because all was dark or maybe I didn't see them because I was in heaven... I was finally in India. With the window down I breathed in the balmy air and soaked in the scents and sites of India.
To be continued…