MADurai

I am not even going to polish this one up… It’s a straight lift from my diary

To Colombo airport. Two security checks just to get in to check-in area. Waited short bit for SpiceJet check-in to open. Surprised that we didn’t have to pay excess baggage (we had nearly pre-booked it online – glad we didn’t).

Then we went through ‘Emigration’ queue, firstly in front of parents with three children, then into another queue, which seemed to take for ever, especially when Indian women started pushing in. We snarled at one woman who had pushed past and she tried indicating that she was with her husband. I snarled at him and just said ‘yeah, he did it too – it’s bloody rude’.

Sorry, it just came out.

Another woman was trying to push in too as she had a baby but I was fed up and stood my ground. Umbrella was coming in handy, keeping her legs from coming through. She was well in my personal space though and kept bumping in to me from behind.

We then waited in the departure area, had a snack and a drink and a look in the shops.

The actual security check was directly before going into the departure gate, at the same time as the Chennai and Delhi flights were boarding.

Sri Lankan Airlines staff were very good at calling forward their passengers, even though our flight was 10 and 20 minutes earlier than the other two. This meant that our queue was bombarded with people pushing and jostling to get through security, all of them seemingly pretty stressed. My heart rate was certainly raised.

Anyway, we got on board and, while boarding was being completed, sat in the plane for 20 minutes in the midday heat, with no air conditioning. Took off only about 15 minutes late. 50 minutes on a twin-prop Bombardier.

Landed in Madurai. Through Customs ok – although the man asked where we were staying and I said an AirBnB. He hadn’t heard of that. ‘Homestay,’ I said. Luckily I had paperwork which proved my booking.

Then another security scan of hand baggage before collecting suitcase! And then discovered that the padlock on the front pocket of my suitcase is broken off, the zipper broken, rendering the pocket unusable.

Tried ATM at airport, fail.

Went to taxi counter and got taxi to Madurai. Luckily had just enough rupees from previous visits to pay for it. The old driver had amazing ear hair. He drove bare-foot. The car was ancient, no seat belts, dodgy steering. I am not sure why the taxi drivers wear white trousers and white shirt. They don’t wash very well…

Fabulous drive in, dirty, grubby, sweaty, hectic India, here we come.

Driver asked for directions several times, even though he had the address and a map. He could hardly read, he didn’t have glasses, squinted at his phone to call the number I had (luckily). Got there in the end.

Small back street, dusty dead end road. Fabulous. If this is as good as Hanoi, we’ll be happy!

Welcomed in by our hosts. Sweet tea and water, and a good chat. We settled in to our room and then we needed to eat. He sent us on our way towards an ATM and a veggie restaurant.

First ATM, you had to put in your mobile number which it didn’t accept. Fail.

Found the restaurant, very local, grubby, cash only.

Had to cross the main road. Ah! The traffic here doesn’t tend to ‘give’ like it did in Vietnam. There is no second guessing it. But we did it somehow. By now it was dark.

Bank Of India… ATM was closed. Went in to the bank, as it was open (almost open, chains across at head height but you could walk in). Smiley woman said ATM would reopen very soon, money was just being counted and refilled.

Shutters went up, in walked several men from the street, they just walk right in front of you like you’re not there.

David put his Monzo card in. It took several attempts to realise you put it in, take it out, then do your transaction. He thought the machine had swallowed his card, so he stayed where he was while I went in the bank. Staff pretty unworried and unhelpful, said the ATM manager was there.

Which he was when I got back. The man opened the machine, was very quizzical, though not that bothered. After a while David happened to look in his wallet and realised he had taken his Monzo and put it back there. Oops! He nudged me (I was on the next machine) and (while the ATM man was still digging around the depths of the internal mechanism of the machine) then pretended his card had just come back out of the slot.

My Monzo was failing on the other machine. Then David got his Visa to get 10,000 rupees out. Phew. We could now eat.

Back across suicide street, to Ashok Bhavam (or something like that). Well, here the fun really started.

The first woman kept saying to us ‘Juice.’

Food, we said.

Eventually got ushered to sit down at a grubby table.

Five people surrounded us, they could speak remarkably little English. They tried to take an order but no one seemed to know quite what was going on. It seemed to be unheard of for western people to come here and order, er, food.

A very grumpy chef came out, tried speaking to us, no luck there. At some point they realised they could offer us a menu. Ah, good idea. Some of it was in English and we ordered.

They kept trying to speak to us in Hindi, as if they didn’t realise we wouldn’t understand a word.

Then an older man came over, said he could speak some English. And we ordered again.

gupta

I opened the menu and pointed at what I wanted. The man zoomed in to peer at it at a distance of one inch, at which point I got the giggles.

Sprite became Fanta, but that was ok. When David ordered a second Coke, they had run out of Coke so he had Fanta.

The food was actually ok. Veg rice, garlic mushroom masala, another mushroom curry thing, naan. Certainly couldn’t eat it all mainly due to its spiciness which slowed you down and made you feel full.

The man kept popping by to speak again. Where you from? English – you speak ‘sweet English’, the best.

‘The Queen’s English,’ I said. ‘Thank you,’ he said.

Surreal.

And the bill? 360 rupees… less than £4.

We’re gonna love India.

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