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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

India: Chennai

Parry's Corner, Chennai
Parry's Corner, the Chennai equivalent of Piccadilly Circus and Times Square, though with even crazier taxi drivers

Incredible though it might seem, Chennai, the fourth biggest city in India, is almost pleasant. The traffic's comparatively light, the slums are only moderately squalid, there aren't that many beggars, the pollution isn't solid enough to pose an ornithological challenge, the buses only ooze people at rush hour, and most surprisingly of all, there are underpasses. It's quite amazing.

The Sights of Chennai

Chennai High Court
The stunning High Court

Yes, Chennai is a city without any huge attractions, despite its history as the first major British settlement (it dates from 1639). Apart from two interesting colonial building complexes, Chennai is a collection of shops, banks, rickshaws and heat, but to me it seemed to have no spirit and no soul, and the people reflected this in their manner; whereas in Hyderabad I couldn't move for hellos and smiling waves, the people of Chennai appear to have perfected the art of staring right through you with that unnerving blank look reserved by lunatics and government politicians. I smiled happily, but the only people who smiled back were some of the educated and young middle class business-wallahs, and the school children (of course), who spotted me, surrounded me and gave me a quick lesson on how to play hooker in a scrum (for which they then tried to charge me two rupees).

A roadside farm in Chennai
A roadside farm in Chennai

1 Although it's followed closely by the hangover produced by Thailand's Mekong whisky, a concoction that doesn't quite turn you blind, but which tries very hard.

2 My hotel was memorable for the grubby little signs on the wall of each room that said (and I quote exactly):


Guests Are-Advised
of Strangers at Hotels Around
Who Coax you for
A Dance-Party-or-Something Like
They are Troublesome


The hotel was also memorable for the huge rats that inhabited the lower-floor bathrooms, so large that the resident cats studiously avoided the area. Some enterprising traveller had even chiselled away at the letters 'BATHROOM' above one particularly inviting hole to leave 'RAT ROOM', an accurate observation if ever there was one...