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Devarajaswami, detail

Jan 8-9, 2011: If I had known that many people headed straight to Chennai airport from Pondy, instead of stopping off in the city, I would have followed their example. I wasn’t wild about Chennai the first time I visited, and even less so this time. I would have avoided one last tussle with an Indian driver, and being booted from my comfortable-sounding hotel to an isolated annex.

I had the driver, rather than taking a bus, because I wanted to stop on the way in Kanchipuram to visit a few more temples. And I have to say that the wonderful carving in Devarajaswami was worth the detour. Kailasanatha is much older, dating back to the 7th century, but it was Devarajaswami that captivated me. Unfortunately, the day just went down hill from there.

Lunch was an uninspiring buffet and the drive to Chennai took longer than I

Devarajaswami, detail

had expected, through flat and boring scenery. I had already had a couple of fights with my driver – no, I wasn’t going to the airport, no, we were going the wrong way to get to the temple I wanted to see – and now he had no idea where to find my hotel, and I had trouble finding where I had written down the phone number. Yelling at me didn’t speed the search, but did significantly reduce his tip.

I had booked a studio apartment at the Malles Manotaa through agoda.com. The place looked good on the website, but I never saw an apartment. Instead I was driven to an office building several streets away, which I was surprised to find included a bedroom and bath. It was dark, tired, and isolated. Although the young man detailed to look after me was most solicitous, I was not happy. An expedition to the nearby Pondy Bazaar didn’t help – it really wasn’t worth risking life and limb crossing the roads to get there.

Some old paint remains at Kailasanatha

I didn’t like Chennai any better the next day, although after a poor breakfast delivered to my room the taxi was at least on time. The only bright spot was the Kingfisher Airlines representative, in a red jacket, who met me at the kerb and escorted me through security and up to the correct check-in desk. I had had some doubts about the reports I had read about Kingfisher service, but it was all true. The airport rather let the side down, though, looking older and dingier than I remembered.

Kingfisher served an excellent-for-airlines-lunch, and I had an interesting chat with an Indian woman, married to a Sri Lankan, who had the seat next to me. But as we crossed a narrow coastal strip and descended towards Colombo airport over a broad lagoon, I was more than ready to move on from India.

Love those lions! Reminds me of Cambodia.

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