HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Final Day in India

For our last day of the trip we had planned to have Kevin's buddy Prabhu show us around a couple of temples before going to Jai's house for a home-cooked meal. Unfortunately Ryan was waylaid with stomach issues, so he wasn't able to come to the temples with us. I still wasn't feeling totally normal either, but that wasn't going to keep me confined to the hotel.

Kevin, Jobie and I hopped into a couple of autos with Prabhu and headed to the Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Chennai's most active place of worship. It was similar in design to the huge temples I saw in Madurai and Trichy last year, though far smaller. There was an insanely colorful gopuram (entrance tower), dozens of shrines devoted to various gods inside, and a huge temple tank. The day was a scorcher, and walking barefoot across the stone floor of the temple was rough.

 We then walked through the searing heat to the nearby Sai Baba temple, built in honor of Sathya Sai Baba, a hugely popular mystic, guru, and spiritual figure who died last year. The temple was small but packed, and free food was available for worshipers. We thanked Prabhu for showing us around and returned to the hotel to cool off - simply ambling around the temples had left us drenched in sweat.

 A little later Jai arrived to give us a ride to his house for a late lunch. Jobie was now down for the count with stomach problems as well, so it would fall to Kevin and I to eat a lunch that had been cooked for four. Jai lives way out in Chennai's sprawl so we got to see a large chunk of the city, and after about 30 minutes we were in his simple, spotlessly clean house. Sedhvik was watching an ESL video about animals while Annu, Jai's wife, put the finishing touches on lunch. Sedhvik is learning English, Tamil, his fathers language; and Telugu, his mother's language from the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. I feel so ignorant when I meet people from these multicultural countries who speak multiple languages.

Lunch was amazing. I had once again fasted all day to ensure that I would be hungry, and luckily I was. There was aloo biryani (a potato and rice dish), vegetable curry, an eggplant curry with a very distinct flavor, chappati, and raitha. Annu watched us like a hawk, constantly checking to make sure that we liked the food and refilling plates and bowls the second they were empty. Kevin and I were both sweating because there was no A/C in the dining room, and she was worried that the food was too spicy. It wasn't, and everything was delicious. After stuffing ourselves we chatted with Jai and Annu for a while and tried to get Sedhvik to speak in English, but we couldn't stay too long because Kevin had to get back to the hotel to get ready for his flight back to the U.S.

the home shrine in Jai's house
 We took a few pictures, thanked the lovely family for their gracious hospitality, and piled back into Jai's car for the long ride back into town.
From right to left: Sedhvik, Jai, Kevin and I
Jai and his wife Annu
Once we were back at the hotel we checked in on Ryan and Jobie, and they were both feeling better, which was good because they had an intercontinental flight coming up. I didn't fly out until early the next morning so I needed a place to stay that night. After (reluctantly) checking out of the Taj we went to the Paradise Guest House, an oxymoron if there ever was one. I took a grim room for a few dollars and we went to Express Avenue, Chennai's newest Western-style mall, to kill the last few hours before the guys' flight in air-conditioned comfort.

Sadly the mall's A/C system wasn't able to cool the vast interior of the building, so this wasn't actually very comfortable. The mall was like many others I've seen in developing countries: very shiny and nice to look at, but so expensive that the majority of the people there could only afford to window shop. In one shop they were selling designer saris for 34,000 rupees - $600.

Soon enough it was time to bid farewell to Kevin, Ryan, and Jobie. It had been great traveling with them, and I was so happy to have had people with me for the whole trip, as opposed to last year when I went solo for a week. We had all loved the time in India, although after two weeks our stomachs were faltering and we were exhausted. After saying our goobyes I hopped into an auto and the senile driver took me back to the Paradise while muttering nonsensically the whole time.

Fortunately I would be leaving at the crack of dawn, because the room was miserable. The bathroom light constantly flickered on and off, and after taking a cold shower I belatedly realized there was no towel, so I resorted to using the woolly, itchy bed comforter to dry myself. I certainly didn't need it on the bed, because there was no A/C and the ceiling fan did little to curb the heat. After getting a handful of restless hours of sleep in my underwear, I took an auto to the train station as the sun was coming up, revealing filthy streets where entire families were waking up after sleeping on the sidewalk next to piles of refuse. Inside the heaving station I stepped over the bodies of people who were still asleep and boarded the electric train to the airport,  the city flashing past the doorway. Another two weeks in India were at an end.

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