Chennai to Mamallapuram – Finding Our Way to Smooth Roads
One of the first things to learn in India: Don’t trust town names. Chennai is Madras, Mamallapuram might actually be Mahabalipuram (or Maamalapuram, or Maamallapuram), and Pondicherry is Puducherry. This is thanks to changes from the older (colonial) names, as well as wildly varying English transliterations of the same name. Whichever the case, it apparently makes buying train tickets especially fun. (My only inconvenience so far is figuring out how to name my blog posts though, so I won’t complain.)
Because we were only staying one night in Chennai, we chose a hotel that was conveniently close to the airport. The downside was the neighborhood – cramped, loud, and dusty. We hit the road out of the city very early the next morning. Planning the route on Google Maps, we saw that we’d be riding through a large green area marked on the map as Palikaranai Marshland – one of the last remaining wetlands in south India. Riding through at sunrise, we spotted majestic waterfowl silhouetted against the Chennai skyline… Just kidding! Our marshland turned out to be a sewer followed by an enormous landfill, with the appropriate smells to accompany each. (Marshes can be effective at filtering pollution at least!)
After that, things drastically improved. We weaved through a warren of narrow, bumpy, cow-filled roads, where we found our first coffee wallah and had two cups of hot, sweet, milky coffee for 10 INR (about 16 cents) each.
Then we made it to the East Coast Road, a nice smooth highway with good shoulder room where the traffic didn’t even seem that crazy. After so many days riding in Sri Lanka, we might actually be immune to honking horns now! (Or maybe we are just going deaf. Seriously, these decibel levels could cause hearing loss.)
The road was flat, and we covered the 33 miles (53 km) to Mamallapuram in about 3 hours, arriving with plenty of time to enjoy the town after checking into our hotel, the Vinodhara Guesthouse. Mamallapuram is pleasant town, touristy but not overrun, with ancient stone temples to visit and multiple open-air cafes to sit in with a book and a cold drink. So far, we’re pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive everything is, even compared to Sri Lanka. Everything, that is, except Kingfisher beers, which are $4 each! Apparently, Tamil Nadu state alcohol taxes are sky-high. At these prices, we may have to stay sober for the next month or two.