After four weeks in Sri Lanka we moved on to Chennai, India. You need to know that Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is the fourth biggest city in India with over 15 Million inhabitants and that there is hardly any tourism at all. For us it was a jump into the cold water, directly into the heart of Indias crazy culture. To be honest, we just booked a flight to this particular city, because it was the cheapest one available.
We arrived there at 4.30 am, so we had to wait for hours at the airport because we could not check into our prebooked hotel room before 12 am.
I slept a few hours on an airport bench there (if you can call that “sleeping”) and Rico did not sleep at all but fought against the swarms of mosquitoes. So yeah… we were quite tired. There is nothing worse than being tired like this to get a first impression of this strange but somehow nonetheless beautiful country.
The chaos in the streets of Chennai was beyond our imagination: cars, rickshaws, trucks, cows, busses, bikes, bycicles driving or walking past each other without any apparent system or rules… speeding, overtaking and crossing each other in a weird mayhem accompanied by a cacophony of car horns.
India’s biggest problem
Furthermore there was trash literally everywhere… no… I mean literally! There were piles of waste on the sides of the streets at every second corner with cows directly inside of them, munching on plastic bags. Somehow even the air itself felt dirty… We started to breathe harder and coughed from time to time and the dust mixed with the sweat to form a layer of dirt upon our skins. It was really disgusting.
When we started to scratch ourselves due to the mosquito bites from earlier we had this gross black residue under our fingernails, which looked like a paste made out of old car tires or fresh tar. I did not want to think about how the lungs of the people look from the inside after years of living in this city. Besides the air being dirty and covered in a thick smog all the time, there lied a mixture of bad smells in it ranging all the way from rotting food, burning plastics to human wastes and other stuff you do not even want to think of.
First Day Goals
Our plan was to get to our hotel, an ATM machine, a restaurant and a SIM card shop… On top of that we wanted to get to those fast and without any problems. We wanted to get our very much needed sleep as soon as possible. Due to that we decided to take a cab instead of walking. What a mistake… Guess what: we got ripped off.
At first everything seemed fine. We went to an ATM machine. So far so good. After that the taxi driver had seemingly forgotten our agreement though. He went directly to the hotel… Reminding him of the SIM card shop and restaurant plan he took us at least to a restaurant nearby: A little street shop selling bread and eggs.
We asked him whether or not he wanted to come and join us for breakfast. So that he did not get bored while waiting inside the cab. He agreed and ate some of those egg sandwiches as well. After we had finished eating, he wanted us to pay for his breakfast though. On top of that he did not want to take us to the SIM card shop anymore. In his eyes we took to long to eat so therefore our agreement did not hold any longer.
He even wanted to get extra money for the time he “waited” while having breakfast with us. Taking us back to the hotel got dropped out of his plans as well. It was “closeby” so actually there was no point for him in waiting at all. We could not believe what he just tried to do there and were really pissed off by his rude behaviour when we refused to give him more than the agreed price, which was already way to high, as we would find out later.
SIM card in India?!
His audacity left us speechless for a while but nonetheless, we had a job to do now ourselves: Getting a SIM card… alone and tired in the chaotic streets of Chennai. What can I say: It was a real Odyssey, so to speak. Basically we went from one shop to the next and nobody wanted to sell us a SIM card, even though they clearly had them on offer. All of them spoke rather poor English and all of them asked us the exact same thing: “Aadhar card?”. At first we did not understand what the heck they wanted from us at all and having the SIM card in one hand and the money for it in the other hand, we felt like they were playing some foul game, trying to annoy us.
It was rather frustrating. But once we found out that an Aadhar card is a proof of Indian citizenship of sorts we understood the situation a bit better. It seemed like internet usage was limited to Indian citizens only. But we kept asking around and in the end simply took the phone of some shop keeper to just google, what was going on. A quick search brought up, that SIM cards are always directly connected to one person in India, to prevent fraud or something like that. For Indian citizens that just means producing a proof of residence or some other document and they are basically done.
Even more bureaucracy
For us it meant trouble… We had to get to a proper office of one of the major internet distributors, Airtel or Vodafone. There we would have to fill in the necessery forms and applications to get internet access. Those would be processed then which could take a while (up to 48 hours!). Whatever… We asked our way towards the closest Airtel office, but once we arrived there they told us that they lacked the special allowance to issue SIM cards to foreigners. They told us to visit the main office in Chennai because they should have that and therefore the right to do so.
Of course nobody, had any idea where exactly we could find a “main” Airtel office. After a lot of asking around we finally found a driver, who agreed to take us there. But actually she just knew the general directions and asked her way around for what seemed like an eternity. By now it was noon, scorching heat made the streets a nightmare to walk in and Rico was close to an outburst, mad at the Indian bureaucracy and even more so at the fact that nobody spoke proper English even though India once was a British colony.
Does this stop?
After we finally found the main office the next surprise waited for us: If you want to get an Indian SIM card you need to fill a form… so far so good. In this form you need to provide an Indian reference number though, which they then try to call during the two next days to confirm that you are really staying in India.
We had been in India for roughly 8 hours by that time. Therefore we really did not know how we could have gotten such an Indian contact number… Somehow it worked out with a hostel number from some random hostel in Chennai. Basically we called them later to ask them to just confirm this Airtel call for us.
The first real taste of India
In the evening of this first day, after a nice refreshing three hours of sleep, we went out to search for a cool restaurant on our own and luckily we found a rather cool place very close to our hotel. There we ate Parotha for the very first time.
Parotha is a special kind of flat bread served with a close to infinite amount of sauce. It tastes really good and makes you full really fast and is on top of that really, really cheap. We loved it so much that we kept returning to the very same restaurant over and over again.
In the nights we took some long time exposure shots of the chaotic traffic with a tripod. Even though Rico was afraid of getting robbed it was worth the little risk, I think.
SIM card works?!
After two days of hoping for the SIM card unlock, I finally received a message from Airtel. They had unlocked the SIM card, it said… But of course it somehow still did not work properly. So we went to the Airtel shop again and there they finally made it work… We bitterly needed this exhilirating feeling of something working out nicely for just once. Now, with a working Internet connection everything seemed a bit better.
This same day we actually left Chennai. We did not like this city really much. It was just too much: too loud, too crowded, too dirty, too chaotic, too many hassles with Indian bureaucracy. But during our time there we actually realised a crazy idea. At least we arranged everything we needed in order to make this little dream become reality. I do not want to spoil anything here. Just come back and see for yourself in one of our very next posts 😉