Selamat Datang! The next week of posts is going to be solely about our week long trip to Malaysia – the people we met, the food we ate, things we saw and inevitable comparisons between our country and Malaysia. My aim was to blog as we travelled but as we didn’t have a tablet (EVERYONE apart from us seems to have one) and they weren’t that much cheaper in Malaysia so I tell you our tales in retrospect.
We’ve been planning our trip to Malaysia for over 4 months now and have probably been dreaming about it for longer. Our first foreign trip since we wed but it meant leaving our Abroozi in the capable and loving hands of my mum in law and Julie who works for her. If they didn’t love him like their own little boy before, they do now. But it was the first time we had been apart from him for more than 24hrs so we left with mixed feelings – excited about our trip but sad we couldn’t enjoy it with our Abroozi.
Not a moment after we stepped on to our platform were we accompanied by two stray dogs who trotted ahead of us and barked at people and other dogs telling them to get out of our way (although the platform was pretty empty). It was like they knew we were missing our own dog, perhaps they could smell him on us, and wanted to reassure us that he’d be OK. These two scrawny self- appointed guardians sat at our feet, refusing to leave, keeping watch over us and our luggage bidding us adieu when our train arrived.
I’ve written before about the dismal abomination that is Vizag railway station. Katpadi railway station by any standard is exceptionally clean. More importantly, there is active cleaning going on. We saw a lady in a smart green coat with thick black gloves actually cleaning and picking off garbage from the railway tracks. There were people emptying dustbins and sweeping platforms in constant rotation. The platform was sparkling clean, I could have slept on it. A proud Indian moment and an even prouder one for my home town. They say that if you keep public surroundings clean, the public responds in maintaining that cleanliness.
Then there were the smartly dressed railway guards with their starched khaki uniforms, perfect creases down the front and ever so tight clinging trousers with barely enough space to squeeze in the mobile phone, the shape of which is outlined in a very suggestive area. To which observation the DH replies, “All have Smartphones.”
The ayyappa followers who are on pilgrimage to Sabrimala (a mountainin Kerala where the Hindu god Aiyyapa meditated before killing a demoness) flood the trains, platforms and buses. It’s the largest annual pilgrimage in the world with 40 to 50 million devotees making their way to Kerala. The railway stations provide great shower facilities and here are some drying out their traditional black or saffron lungis that they wear on pilgrimage. In fact we saw plenty of them just walking around in their towels, bare chested completely at ease adopting a public space for their private ablutions. I felt quite over dressed.
From one spanking clean environment to another – First Class in the Shatabdi Express from Bangalore to Chennai which makes a quick stop at Katpadi, Vellore. The first class chair car was like a train in “phoren” and probably cleaner too. Brand new rolling stock with super comfy padded seats that reclined half way to becoming a bed.
Minutes after we found our seats and settled in, admiring the artwork of Gandhiji alighting from a train, were we presented with bottled water and a sumptuous breakfast. Herein commences the first in a long line of food photographs taken over the course of this trip. Soft white bread, butter and jam, re-hydrated peas, a fluffy masala omelette, masala potato fries with ketchup and a banana for dessert.
Two hours later and we were deposited at Chennai Central Railway station. Another abomination – dark, dirty, grim, badly lit and Chennai was as hot and humid as in September. We made our way to the well sign posted Pre-paid Auto stand and joined the long queue. Standing in front of the DH was a Sardarji with a bright red turban to match his bright red face, smartly dressed but baking in his full sleeved shirt, looking totally out of place among the mamis and auto drivers of Chennai. On reaching the payment window a man with his pregnant wife broke the line. The Sardarji burst in to shudh street Tamil dialogue, organising an auto for the couple with the man at the counter, who he clearly new well. Malaysia, Truly Asia…. this was India, Incredible India.
We had planned to stay overnight at Chennai to shop and relax a bit before catching our flight to Malaysia the next day. After much searching, I had found by chance, the Footprint B&B. It is part of the Barefoot family operating at Havelock Island in the Andamans. On a quite street off TTK Road in what looked like a residential apartment block was a whole floor dedicated to this charming friendly B&B. I strongly believe that B&Bs are the way to go for a quick city stop over, especially in India. There’s no unnecessary frills of a big hotel but there’s all the essentials that you need. This place was furnished beautifully in Fab India style upholstery and cute ceramic artefacts. Extremely clean. Huge comfy King sized beds with soft sheets, large pillows and a duvet. A kettle and tea/coffee sachets, a carafe of water are provided. Tata Sky and a powerful A/C that go off for 2hr while the mandatory government power cut is imposed between 4 and 6pm but the fans and lights work by generator. The bathroom was a medium size and again wonderfully kitted out with Indian paintings and fresh flowers. Just a pleasure to stay in as it felt like home. You can read my review on Trip Advisor or visit their website to book and see their accurate pictures of the place.
I wasn’t impressed with the wifi but I was impressed with Rucha Gupta who runs the place. They have taken great pains to print out maps with the names and personal reviews of restaurants in the area. In the surrounding streets are a large number of good eating places, some of the best that Chennai has to offer with quite a few in walking range. This is a part of Chennai with wide tree lined streets and actual pavements that make it a pleasure to stroll around. Visit their website and book early as it’s quite popular but very quiet so you think you’re the only one there. The staff are always on hand very helpful.
You’d think we were already out of the country with the meals that were to follow our arrival – Japanese Teppanyaki for lunch and a South Korean feast for dinner. More when I upload a video of Chef Joseph juggling eggs and tap dancing salt shakers on the grill.