Our second visit to India could not have been more different from our first. In 2003, we stayed one night in Mamallapuram (south of Chennai or Madras) and spent the rest of the time in and around Chennai. Chennai is dirty, crowded, noisy and not all that appealing although it is interesting. I knew that I wanted to see something different in India, but didn’t want to embark on a marathon trip to the Taj Mahal or Varanasi. While I want to visit these places, I want to learn more about Hinduism before I do. Greg gets cranky in hot, humid conditions so I decided that the best plan would be to visit some place cooler and more laid-back. It is easy to become exhausted by the negotiations required to get anywhere or buy anything in Chennai.
I do think that there were fewer people begging, it was cleaner and the river smelled better than the last time we were here. I think their improved economy is trickling down although this could just be wishful thinking.
The bureaucracy in Chennai was double that of our previous visit. Upon our arrival, we each had to go before immigration to get our passports stamped. Simple enough, I thought. Initially, we were to pick up our customs forms there too (we had earlier listed all electronic gadgetry we have), but the customs agents decided to stamp each one and have us pick them up at the Purser’s desk. There was a huge line snaking every which way – people were impatient and upset although I saw it as just a taste of what was to come and not anything to get one’s panties in a bind over. In my mind we were lucky the ship was cleared by about 10 a.m. – far sooner than I’d imagined.
As we prepared to leave the ship to embark on a short shopping excursion prior to a SAS trip for one of Greg’s classes, we were caught in a LONG line out to the gate. The reason for said line was that each passenger had to show his or her passport and customs form (you CANNOT lose this – it is checked all the time) and be checked off of a list of ALL passengers. Why? Who knows? After that, another person checked custom forms and made passengers show their possessions – why? Again, who knows? We walked out to the port gate - later in the week this was deemed illegal by Indian officials - to catch an auto-rickshaw. At the gate, we had to show all our documents again. The shopping trip was uneventful with the exception of the driver trying to gouge us upon our return even we had upon three times the going rate before we even got in. He acted insulted and refused our money saying “his treat”. Of course, when we turned to walk away to call his bluff he took it. What had been a happy little excursion was changed into one that left us all with a bad taste in our mouths.
We had to show our documents again at the port gate. Greg had both our passports in his travel pouch and he handed me mine which I passed to the official. He looked at it and gave it back. Greg gave the official his passport and he seemed satisfied. When I gave my passport back to Greg, I realized that it was HIS and that the official was just going through with some charade – it was all just intimidation and harassment. I generally find it amusing, but it can get tiring and was more reason for us to get out of Chennai. The worrying thing is that this was supposed to be part of their high security system, which appeared to be a complete sham.