Chennai: Early Impressions

Driving in Chennai can be a harrowing experience, especially for a newly-arrived foreigner.  And it typically takes more than a month to get your Indian driver’s license.  So when you first get here, you’re somewhat limited in your movement, and you really get a feel for how important mobility can be.  It’s even worse when, like us, you can look out the window and see the car you purchased more than a month ago from someone leaving Chennai, just sitting in the driveway.

Fortunately, however, it’s pretty much standard practice to hire a driver here.  Which is not to say you can’t drive yourself; but the fact that diplomats can only buy one car tax- and hassle-free, the driving is so crazy, everything takes longer here, and parking is so difficult to find, means that having a driver is pretty much indispensable because it helps you mitigate a lot of those problems.  Plus you’ve got someone who knows their way around the city in case you’re looking for something particular.

For an idea of traffic, here’s about a minute’s worth – most of it on a public holiday, when traffic is relatively light.  Now imagine rush hour (or you can click on all the suggestions YouTube will surely offer when mine is done):

If you could push a button and suddenly cause all the horns in Chennai to stop function, I think traffic would grind to a halt.  So anyway, we were in the market for a driver, and hired a couple of drivers for a day each, as a part of a “test drive” to see if we’d hire them permanently.  This got us out of the house for the weekend, allowing us (in addition to the MALL!) to see other parts of Chennai.  I’m sharing these impressions and photos below.

Ladies Walking

Above is a photo in one of the banking/business districts. The beach – one of the world’s largest (more on that later) is just beyond the end of the road. Below is another area, fewer banks and big buildings, more small shops:

Chennai Street

The part of town above is called Mylapore, and is known for having a lot of jewelry shops. That neighborhood also has a temple nearby, the roof of which can be seen in the background of this photo of a man delivering gas bottles by bicycle:

Gas Man

Here’s a close-up of the roof of that temple:
Temple Roof

Behind the temple is a large water reservoir, known as a “temple tank” used for ritual cleansing.  As we were taking a photo of the temple tank (below) and Indian photographer was taking pictures of us.  I asked if there was any significance to the water and he said there no significance to the water itself, but the Wikipedia entry says the water is reputed to be from the Ganges.

Temple Tank

After that, we headed out to the beach, which had received high billing from the locals we talked to, but was ultimately a bit disappointing:

Chennai Beach

Beach Houses

Lastly I want to share a photo of a couple of “Hindustani Ambassadors” – modeled after the British Morris Oxford from the 1950s, and manufactured at the same assembly line, virtually unchanged, between 1958 and today – which is sort of a record. They can be seen all over town in use by the police and government officials.

Hindustan Ambassadors

Want to see more photos from our first outing in Chennai? Go here for a few more.

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