Holy autorickshaw!

Trip Start Dec 30, 2006
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Trip End Jul 27, 2007


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Monday, April 23, 2007

I don't think I have ever sweated as much in my life. hot hot hot.

The Tamil film industry produces almost as many films as Mumbai, or "bollywood" does and the vast majority are filmed in and around Chennai, capital of the Tamil Nadu region of India. When in town, you can go to the AVM film studios for free. Not really a tour, so much as an open gate policy where you just wander around the different sound stages, watch filming and explore the sets on your own. It was wild.

I couldn't imagine what would happen if MGM or Paramount or any of the big hollywood studios ever did this. There was one movie filming when I was walking around but I didn't think it was appropriate to take pictures of the action. Needless to say it involved a very very beautiful lady and a ok-looking dude singing to a camera in front of a blue screen.  A couple other sound stages where getting ready to film and I was allowed to wander around the sets and go pretty wherever I wanted to.  It was amazing and fascinating. Nobody seemed to care I was there - the only white guy in the studio - wandering around the dressing rooms, costume shops, craft services and anywhere else I wanted to.

The hotel I stayed at in Chennai was actually pretty decent, considering.  No air conditioning but only 225 rupees (about $6) a night and I got a pretty clean room and a TV! With two english channels!  Sweet. I got to watch a couple episodes of the greatest Disney show ever - Recess. If you haven't seen it you are missing out.  or not. 

I didn't see any hostels for Chennai and when I looked online true hostels don't seem to be very prevalent in India. I guess due to the low low cost of budget hotels.

Spent some time wandering around Fort St. George, built in 1653 by the British East India Company, as a military fort to guard the town. It is now mostly used for the state legislative assembly for the Tamil Nadu region but also has a couple museums about the history of Britain in the country.

After some wandering and picking up a couple things from the markets I met an auto-rickshaw driver who agreed to take me around to the different sights the next morning. We ended up going to a couple temples, including the famous Kapaleeshwarar Temple and the San Thome Cathedral, a catholic church said to house the remains of St. Thomas the Apostle. We checked out Marina Beach, which had been devastated by the 2004 tsunami but looks like is back in full swing now. Kids playing cricket and couples strolling the beach for as far as you can see (well, for 13kms since that is how long the beach is).

We also drove around the city, with him pointing out different neighborhoods and significant buildings.  How we didn't end up in a serious accident I'll never know.  I only saw one road accident in the few days I was in Chennai and I was very much surprised I didn't see more. Driving, especially in an auto-rickshaw, is an experience in itself. By far the best way to get around the city but its like looking death in the eye and daring him to do something everytime you get on the road. Like an amusement park ride without the safety equipment.

Chennai is not really a touristy town.  It has a large working class population and is known for its many top-notch higher education institutions.  I didn't notice any other westerners during my stay despite staying at a hotel that was highly recommended by Lonely Planet and going to a couple places, like the film studio and Kapaleeshwarar Temple that are the two main "touristy" things to see in the city. That was a little surprising since the Chennai airport is a relatively big international airport gateway into India. But, even when I landed at the airport, (granted, at 3am) I was the only westerner to get off the plane.  Others who got on the plane in Dubai where staying for the continuing journey to Bangkok.  It did make the "non-Indian" line at passport control very short though.
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