29th February 2016

From Marina beach, I wanted to take a bus back. Mainly because, an auto-rickshaw would cost me lots. I asked a girl at the bus stop at Marina beach for the bus to Express Avenue mall. She said that particular bus didn't go on that road and that I would have to walk past the junction to get it. I wondered why it was so. Because if the bus from Chennai Central is coming on this route, why doesn't a returning bus going back on the same route? Maybe those theories apply in Sri Lanka and not in big cities like these. I just walked along the direction the girl directed me. It was a good walk. The heat was terrible,yes, but that didn't bother me much. The wind was blowing and I was fully on my explorer mode. The walk was interesting. There were schools and colleges and street vendors selling Indian jewellery and other interesting items. I walked a fair distance and still couldn't find a proper bus halt, I asked a girl coming out of a school and was standing at a crowded place. Since people were just gathered randomly at one spot, I figured it would be a bus stop. I asked for the bus to go to Express Avenue mall, she and her friend helped me out. In fact, I was on the wrong side of the road. I am supposed to be on the other side which actually had a proper bus stop. In Chennai also I noticed people didn't care much about traffic lights for pedestrians. They just crossed the road as they pleased,unless there was a policeman. Hahaha I guess somethings are common to all South Asians. Just as I crossed the road,the bus I was supposed to take went off. Oh shoots! Until the next one came, I went to a shop to get some change. They looked at me in an odd way, but I wasn't ready to give out that I am a tourist. But then again, I was the only girl there in western clothing, so I guess the stares are fair enough. Waited quite some time for the bus. By now I was pretty tired. Finally when the bus arrived I was pleased. Only managed to squeeze in a side seat. Told the conductor my halt is Express Avenue, and to be on the safe side asked a lady next to me if the bus goes there. She confirmed. The bus ride back was again 5INR. Although I got into the bus, I was not really sure of my halt where to get down. I was hoping the conductor would tell me when we arrive. On my way looking out the window, I noticed there were posters written in Tamil with images of the late LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. It sort of scared me a bit. Are there still supporters of the fierce terrorist group that caused the war in Sri Lanka for 30 years? Would I be in trouble since I’m a Sri Lankan? Before I left Colombo, I told my dad not to call me during day time as I won't be speaking in Singhalese [native language of Sri Lanka],fearing that someone might recognise it and notice me. There had been attacks on Sri Lankan people travelling/living in Chennai in the recent years. Even after the war was over. Even Buddhist pilgrims who took shelter at the Chennai Maha Bodhi pilgrim house were attacked. Also Buddhist monks were attacked. I seriously didn't want to be a victim of any of that sort. The poster seemed like to call people to some kind of a gathering with regard to the terrorist group, I am not sure what exactly but, by the way it was displayed and how a date and venue was given, it looked like a gathering. Now I was even more careful in not exposing myself. My Indian girl act was fully on. I couldn't wait to get back to safety. More, I couldn't wait to get out of Chennai.

Looking out the window trying to figure out where I am, I was pretty lost. There was a halt which I felt familiar, so I got down. Asked someone trying to get on the bus if it was the Express Avenue stop. He said 2 more stops. So quickly got back in to the same bus. Another 2 halts later I asked the conductor if it was my halt. Then finally at one stop he said it was Express Avenue. But, I couldn't see the building I know. Where on earth am I ? 2 girls came walking towards me. I asked them for directions. They said that, I had gotten down one halt before. So I figured I'll walk. How far can it be right? The place I got off was also by a mall. I had time left, so decided to check it out. Maybe get something to eat. It was an older mall. The interior wasn't as bad as the exterior though. Inside there were couples on a random weekday trying to find a peaceful place to hangout and talk. I just explored, window shopping.

There were many brands there. I was very tempted to buy stuff. I always have a habit of shopping on the very first few days of arriving at a place. I am a serious shopaholic. But since I am back packing this time, I can't be carrying too much stuff. Just browsed a little and checked out prices of various things. India is certainly not the cheap place I remember. Everything is very much more expensive and comparing to Sri Lanka, not much difference. I was thinking to myself, why buy for the same price I can get from Colombo? At the Bata shop there were some interesting new designs, which I haven't seen in the Bata shop back in Sri Lanka. I liked the range they had to what is back at home. But they were super expensive! Bata in Sri Lanka is not known to be an expensive brand. It is actually known as a middle class affordable brand. The sales man was behind me like a hawk. I told him I was just browsing. They were speaking in Hindi, so I figured they are not from around town. Though I was not planning on buying anything, I ended up buying a pair of shoes...shameless!! (facepalm) lol. Well I have only a pair of sandals which I wore from Colombo. These will be the only footwear for my entire journey. That was the plan. But, being March and travelling in an AC bus at night, my feet are going to get cold. I am not a cold person, so I can't bear the slightest cold. Also I remember Sve telling me to pack a shawl or a jacket just in case it gets cold in the night when I reach Tirupathi [which I forgot by the way]. Covered shoes won't hurt me. They would definitely come useful in my full trip. Besides these shoes came at INR499/= which was like only 1000bucks in Sri Lankan money! Now that’s a bargain. I didn't want to use up my money so used my card to buy it. That too came as a good thing to be able to use card and not cash. And Bata being a known brand,I can trust it won't break after 2 walks.

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Happy after shopping :) I walked towards the direction of Express Avenue. It was a long walk although it's supposed to be one halt distance. I was seriously lost though I hadn't known it. But finally managed to get to the mall and to Sve's office. At the entrance, the security wouldn't let me in. I said I am to meet Sve,but they didn't know who that was. After so much confrontation, finally I gave Sve's number for them to call her as my phone still wasn't working. The security guard called her and realised that we've all made a simple mistake. I Call her Sve and they call her Svetha. Finally I was up after being security checked and at her office. She had gotten printouts of my bus tickets and had them nicely prepared for me in a folder. How sweet! Ofcourse I couldn't be carrying a folder all over the place. I took the printouts and returned the folder. Showed her my new shoes :) wore the shoes with the socks I had packed in my bag. Put my sandles in the bag the shoes came in and asked Sve to keep it with the rest of my stuff back at her place. I wasn't gonna carry a full bag for a one night trip. After-all the plan is I take this night bus, go to the kovil, see it and take part in the Darshan if possible, and take the next bus first thing in the morning tomorrow. So what's the use of carrying so many stuff for such a little trip? I haven't even booked a place to sleep as I didn't think it would be necessary. I would be busy with the Darshans and watching all the pujas in the night right? Refilled my small bottle of water which was given in the plane. Sve called an OLA cab and I was ready to go.

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The cab took me to where the bus stand is. Sve explained everything before I left her office, so that I would be informed and not get lost. The bus stand to take the Tirupathi bus was called Koyambedu. The OLA cab only charged me INR170/= . It was a long ride from the Express Avenue mall where the cab picked me up to the bus stand. It was like 10INR per km! Super cheap! My boarding time was 5pm. Now it was like 4pm. I had plenty of time. Sve said that if I have free time,there are many restaurants to go to nearby. I could eat something also. I went to the places, but they didn't tempt me. Saw a money exchange board and went to that place. First they were like no money exchange, then they were like, wait till we ask the boss. They called someone and asked if I could wait for 15minutes. After 15 minutes they asked me to wait for another 10 minutes. I told them I will wait only till 4.45 as I have a bus to catch. After waiting for sometime they finally told me that they can't exchange money. I wasn't too pissed with them because I was seated under a fan all this time and it was much better than the bus stand :) but ofcourse I was annoyed and showed them that.

Right across the road was the bus stand. There were only like 4 people seated. I was starting to wonder. Isn't this like India, where everywhere you find is over crowded? And aren't there pilgrims going to Tirupathi? Am I in the right place? I asked a Chinese looking girl if she is going to Tirupathi. She was going somewhere else. The man seated behind said this is the place where everyone going everywhere sits, so wait till they shout for it. So, I waited...