Monday, February 14, 2011

India part 14: Chennai

"Beach is Marina Beach, M-A-R-I-N-A," the guide told us, as the tour bus made its way through Chennai. "Is biggest beach in the world, is number two ranking," he added confusingly. The man had more than one odd habit when doing his voiceovers, despite appearing normal in casual conversation (we also spoke informally about cricket, of course). He peppered his utterances with the word "sir", even when addressing a large group of both sexes: "On the left is old secretariat, sir..." And he'd pause in odd places, like a teacher who wants the class to chant the answer: "Secretariat is now using for the purpose of..." Pause, then firmly and clearly: "Library. Is now using for the purpose of library."

The tour stopped at this rather wondrous thing, which shall remain nameless because, um, I've forgotten its name.

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And we dropped by the bustling Kapaleeshwarar Temple to leer at some more gopuras.

Kapaleeshwarar Temple: Cow and gopura

We also met a man from Mumbai with the most extraordinary toupee - the hair at the back was barely even touching his scalp - and a younger gentleman from North India who was very quiet and who wore a Bluetooth headset over his right ear for the five-hour duration, without receiving a single call. At his request, we both had our pictures taken with him.

We arrived at Marina Beach as the sun was setting, and strolling along, he promised to show us "something beautiful" and marched us across the sand. I wasn't holding out much hope; his claim was belied by the guidebook's description of the beach: "Its location just a little downstream from the port which belches out waste and smelly fumes, combined with its function as the toilet of the fishing community detracts somewhat from its natural beauty."

We walked anyway for at least 15 minutes, but the scenery remained similar and unremarkable: happy families frolicking, nagging beach urchin children each with their own monkey, a consistent trail of rubbish, and so on. We eventually got out of him that he was taking us to a fish market, but we couldn't really see it, even in the distance, though he insisted we were nearly there. I was worried the coach would leave without us, and then more worried when it crossed my mind that he was probably the kind of quiet guy who always minded his own business, kept himself to himself, and then turns out to be a serial killer, and furthermore that the pictures he'd taken of us would end up in some macabre basement collection. In his favour, however, he did seem genuinely surprised when we pointed out there was only 10 minutes left to return to the bus. As we hurried back, I saw a woman on the sand weeping into her hands, while the man she was with tried to comfort her, muttering under his breath.

Gandhi silhouette

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