I finally managed to get to my host's place in Chennai. Gita apartments, was one of those old apartments, which, I later found out, are in the list of buildings to be demolished soon, for a modern building to be constructed. At the time of my arrival, I didn't know this, so was a little surprised and concerned if I was in the right place. There were many modern apartments in the area and on the way here. So this was not expected. Reminded me of old apartments seen in Colombo. Since I didn't have a mode of contact, I couldn't call my host to come out to the gate. So now, I would have to find her house on my own. It was dark, and I didn't want to show anyone I was an alien. Spoke in some Hindi here and there and English with a slight Indian accent to give the impression that I am an Indian girl here to visit a friend. The thing with India is, most of the time, people respect and protect Indian girls. It's in their inert behaviour. They don't try to take advantage of you even if you are alone in the night if they think you are a decent Indian girl from a respectable family. Of course there are cases you hear in the news, but, in my experience, normal ordinary Indians have the habit of respecting and protecting women even if they are strangers. You would have to be very unlucky or maybe even very stupid to get in to a situation of a random crime against women. This is only my opinion from my experience, so, you can have your opinion on the matter. And also what I have noticed is, if they find out that I am a foreign girl travelling alone, in the middle of the night, trying to find a place I have not been to in my entire life, then, there could be a chance of danger as they would try to take advantage of the situation. And also they would think that you have money simply because you are a tourist.! I have come across this kind of a thing too. So when in India, you should know how to play your cards. Having an Indian look, I didn't hesitate to use it for my advantage. So, I made them think I am Indian and coming to my friend's place. When we arrived at the apartments, the name board said it was the Gita apartments although the appearance made me think twice. The driver told me that we have arrived at our destination, I wasn't sure if I should get out or look for another place. But, I didn't have a way to contact my host, so the only thing to do, is to get down and find her. If she doesn't live here, then I would have to find her exact location.

I got down and the taxi went off. There was an old man who appeared to me like the security/caretaker of the building. He was this typical Indian “security uncle”. The man who opens the gate or catch the auto for you ...you know? It was pleasant to see someone like that. Since I could read only a little bit of Tamil and speak almost to none, I couldn't understand what he was saying. But, I had to make sure that this is the right place so he was the only one here to help me. Here I am, pretending to be an Indian girl, speaking to a Tamil speaking man with one or 2 Tamil words I knew and the rest 'body language'. Must have been a funny sight. So with his help I went inside and looked for my host's house. On the ground floor, I could see No.1,2,3 but no No.4 apartment. So I told the old man, “uncle”, that I am looking for No.4. He said it should be on this floor but he couldn't read numbers! I understood this little part only after much struggle trying to tell him “four”. The outside of the building wasn't well lit. So, the place was not well seen. But, we did see the numbers 1,2, & 3 clearly but no 4. So I went up to what appeared to be the first floor.

There was a door which said 6. And the next house was 5. OK, this is strange. What happened to house number 4?! I knocked on the house number 5. A lady answered the door and I spoke in English “i am looking for apartment 4”. She said it's the house right below this. I told her that I have already searched the bottom floor but she said to go back and look for the house right under this one. That’s what I did. When back down, and went to the house right under that one. It was dark and I couldn't see a number on the door, and clearly didn't look like anyone was living there. Hmmm... am I going to be stranded in Chennai on my first night? Anyway, I knocked on the door and...here she is! Finally! Relief! I found my very first couchsurfer host! I came to my first destination!

The first thing I did when I went in was, get her wifi password on my phone and call home. Let them know that I arrived safely and came to my friends place and everything is OK. Once that was done, I was finally relaxed enough to chit chat with my host. Sve, my host was a very sweet girl. She was so considerate of me. She lived in a 2 bed room apartment with 2 flat mates. They had three beds and one of them have converted the main living room/hall as her bedroom. This is quite a common practice among Indian youngsters who are sharing apartments. I don't see anything wrong with that. Was pretty cool. Sve, had prepared her room for me to use during my stay and had temporarily shifted to the hall, on to her flatmate's bed. Her 2 flatmates are flight stewardesses. So when one of them fly out, she can host a couchsurfer in her room and manage using her flatmate’s bed. I felt bad for kicking her out of her own room. I told her I could sleep in the hall in her flatmate’s bed or even on the floor. I really didn't mind. They are working people, I was on holiday so they needed to rest well and be comfortable. I could manage whatever. But she was still too sweet and showing me great Indian hospitality. She had the room well cleaned and arranged and water bottle for me to drink in the night. She said she has not cooked for me but I could cook anything in the kitchen for dinner. I had already eaten in the flight and wasn't exactly hungry. What I wanted was to wash up and sleep. But, first thing's first. Mobile sim! I can't be “uncontactable” at any point of my trip. Now that I am in the city, I have to buy the sim and be constantly in touch with my folks in Sri Lanka and also to do my updates on Instagram and Facebook page.

Sve stopped whatever that she was doing and we both went out to the streets. Before the shops closed we had to get the sim thing done. I had already taken passport size photographs and photocopies of my passport with me before I left Sri Lanka, since I knew how it works. Walking down the streets of Besanth Nagar, Sve showed me land marks and places to remember for me to go around the place and not get lost.

The streets and the shops all reminded me of Wellawatta, Colombo. Wellawatta, Colombo in Sri Lanka, is the Tamil populated area in Colombo which has the nickname “Little India”. There are Hindu kovils, Tamil shops, south Indian food restaurants and all of that just like what I see here in Chennai. It was like I never left Colombo. Even the Tamil sign boards, I see in Colombo because, Tamil is one of the national languages in Sri Lanka and is mandatory to put on street or government official name boards. So Wellawatta being the Tamil populated area had shops also with Tamil name boards. So this sight in Chennai right now is very familiar. I didn't miss home. It was clean too. Better than what I remembered. The area Besant Nagar as a whole was clean actually. The heavy traffic was signature India. I enjoyed that walk very much, walking to the mobile sim place. The first place Sve took me was the Standard Chartered bank. Since I told her that, I couldn't exchange money from the airport and at this time we won't find any money exchanging place here. So the next option was to get money from an ATM machine at a bank. Sve didn't know that well how it worked with foreign bank accounts, so to be on the safe-side she took me to the Standard Chartered bank as it was an international bank. We have Standard Chartered bank in Sri Lanka too, so I too agreed with this. I had not done this before, using my ATM card in a foreign country. So, I was not sure how this worked either. But it was as simple as anything and nothing new from how we would take money in our own country. Sve recommended I take about INR2,000/= for whatever I would need for during the first one, two days of my trip.

Then we headed to the mobile sim shop. Sve spoke with them in Tamil and explained that I want to buy a sim. I gave my photocopies and photographs. She then said that, photocopies of visa is also required. Oh, this I didn't know about. Hmmm...now what? We went to a photocopy place Sve knew, and got the photocopies with extras also in case for future use. It cost me like only 1INR per copy. Right now, finding one rupee was like an impossibility. I had new money which I haven't used yet, I think Sve paid for the photocopies. Back at the sim shop, everything was in place. I bought an Airtel sim with a one month package. It was 300INR. It was a good deal. I had talk time without any additional payment and the package included data for a full month. That was all I needed anyway, and the national roaming charges were not that high. Besides I would be available on whatsapp or facebook, that was the plan, that I was to be connected around the world via the internet. That is why the data pack was useful, hence I bought this one month package. I didn't want to be recharging constantly while travelling around. What if I am in a situation I can't recharge? Taking everything into consideration this was the best thing to do [throughout my entire trip this decision paid off well as I was well in touch with everyone and still had extra talk time and data left even after I returned]. I have always relied on Airtel to be the best mobile network in India. It has always kept me in touch. There's clear service all around the country and even data speed is satisfactory.

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When I was talking to Sve asking about how it works and all information I needed on the sim, the girl at the shop was telling Sve [in Tamil], “She looks very familiar to me, I have seen her somewhere”. For some odd reason I understood this. I replied, “can't be unless she has been to Sri Lanka”. Ofcourse I replied in English, but both the shop girl and Sve were surprised that I responded to what she said. And after like a millisecond I was too.

We headed back to the apartment. I had told Sve,even before I came, that I wanted to visit the Tirupathi kovil. It was a very last minute thing and I still haven't made a complete decision whether I would really go or not. I didn't even bother to check out more information on it as it was like this random thing, and didn't think it would be much of a big deal. If I felt like it I would go visit...something like that. So I asked Sve how to get there and so on. She had done more research on the matter than I have. First she checked out for modes of travel for me. When in India, the only mode of travel for distant travelling for me is train. That is something I am used to and so I can rely on. But there weren't any trains available on the next day. I didn't want to stay in Chennai just to catch the Tirupathi train. Sve recommended a night bus. It would take about 4 hours from Chennai to Tirupathi. That's not bad. But right now my main concern is money as I haven't found a place to change my USD. The bus was like 220INR sleeper,AC,volvo. That didn't sound that bad. Sve highly recommended taking a flight as she couldn't understand why I would bother travelling for hours and hours on land. But I am the traveller, that is the beauty and excitement to me, the backpacking and the intense travelling. After checking the travel modes and ticket booking sites for buses, the next thing was to check on the kovil itself. I really didn't understand why she was going through all that trouble. I mean it was just a kovil right? So what can be so different than any other kovil? Sve had visited Tirupati when she was very small and not had much of a good memory of it. She remember it being a very crowded place and wasting so much time for their tern. She asked me if I had a ticket to see the “Darshan”. What was that? Apparently, to see the god you must buy a ticket starting from 300INR upwards. According to the price of the ticket, your place of seeing the god and the time of seeing the god is decided. If you don't have a ticket you might not get to see the god at all. I clearly didn't understand this although she very well explained it. On the site too it gives information on tickets and places to stay and what time the darshans are and all that.

There are many sacred hindu kovils in Sri Lanka too and they are also very commercialized. But no one pay to see the god or to offer puja. So in my way of thinking, if I don't get to go inside and see the god without buying the ticket, I can always go there, see the kovil and come back right? I can just catch a night bus which arrive at Tirupathi at 9pm, go see the temple, take few pictures and comeback on the next bus leaving to Chennai at 730am. Right? So why bother buying tickets and booking places to stay and all that? Afterall, India is a poor country. So there maybe poor people who go to this kovil. How do they get inside? Surely kovils must be having a free entrance gate for the poor right? Then I will go in that. This was my thought process. I really didn't think too heavily on that. All I wanted was to go see the place and come back, that's it. Since I don't use a credit card, Sve booked a sleeper bus for me to go tomorrow evening and a sleeper bus for me to come back in the morning. That was all I needed right now, a mode of transportation so that I wouldn't be stuck there. She insisted that I do book,but I was wondering if its a place of so many visitors, surely I would be able to find a way of coming back at any time. Unlike what it says in the websites. But I agreed at the end and we bought the bus tickets.

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It was past 1am when we went to bed. Though I was really tired, I was glad that we got this Tirupati thing sorted and thankful to Sve for all the enthusiastic help she is giving me.

That was my first night in India. Good Night Chennai,see you in the morning.

 

Original Post on www.thesathiworld.wordpress.com