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INDIA | Monday, 15 August 2016 | Views [526]

Long before we actually reach Chennai settlements have become more tightly knit until forming a town, which somehow becomes a city scarcely separated by the airport. It seems inconceivable that there is space for runways and terminal buildings, but suddenly there it is! Within moments of pulling up outside Domestic Departures Veronica is offloaded to begin her next adventures from Delhi, while the driver is keen not to exceed the free ten minute drop off allocation. Air conditioning (if available) costs extra so while he pulls over for a chat, the temperature in the car is steadily rising. Eventually we are on the move again as he knowledgeably negotiates the chaos on the roads. The city begins to take on a more city shape as motor showrooms, high-rise buildings and even a metro system appears.

Green Park hotel is located beside a large shopping mall and directly next to the Vijaya Hospital. The thought 'shop til you drop' springs to mind! Reception are unable to find my booking extension for tonight and I find myself feeling uptight for the first time since I arrived. Actually I feel like someone who fell asleep in the country and five sticky hours later has somehow woken up in a big city! Soon enough I am in a large room that feels like an extravagant guilty pleasure, although lacking the simple charm of the one I have left behind. There is a reasonable sized pool outside, although the token four loungers imply I may be in the minority of listing a pool as prerequisite in my hotel choice. 

Whenever I feel overwhelmed whlie travelling I find it helpful to do something that feels familiar. The Bali Spa offers the perfect solution as I absorb myself in the brochures, opting for a very reasonably-priced leg and foot massage. It turns out to better than any I had in Bali, much to the delight of my Indonesian therapist. Perhaps a facial tomorrow? Well, for £10 it's difficult to argue against!

Sunday breakfast is a long one, spent in the delightful company of a friend of a friend. She is combining a visit to family with business in Chennai from her home in Bangalore. We find ourselves absorbed in conversation that could easily have stretched far longer into the day. Wherever you are in the world you find people who want to push their boundaries in a desire to see more, to get out and experience life - sometimes referred to as the 'black sheep' of their family for defying convention and they are usually the sort of people I like most!

The Vijaya shopping mall is crowded, noisy and international: sari shops to M&S; Indian eateries alongside Italian and branded fast food chain outlets; and my favourite being locally inspired paintings alongside a portrait of Bear Grylls! Downstairs there is a huge Spar supermarket where I find the Tata Gold Tea (recommended for chai masala), halwa, sweet khoua (which I sample and like very much), lassi served by the cup, alongside household goods and a butchery area which I avoid completely. The smells in the cleaning section are overpowering so I escape to aisles where large tubs of spices, lentils and rice can be scooped up like a sort of pic n mix counter. When I'm finally done, I allow myself to be lead into the cafe opposite with the promise of an iced mocha coffee, which is every bit the treat it promised to be.

Back at the hotel my bags are scanned and I pass through the metal detector which sounds again, although no action is taken as I am wished good day by the security staff. The buffet supper is a delight and its not hard to understand why I haven't missed meat or western-style food. When Ashok Tree start their Ayurvedic cookery classes, I will make a plan to return! By 7.30pm I'm finishing off with a masala chai, while waiting staff hover around the almost empty restaurant waiting for the evening rush.

The swimming pool is deserted apart from a few pigeons and two crows who make no secret of their displeasure at my intrusion into their rather opulent water source and who spend considerable time leting me know this. Otherwise I have the pool to myself apart from a couple of spectators half-hidden behind twitching curtains! I'm glad I chose the costume and not my bikini, for as international as the hotel purports to be, I am the only western female here. I am resigned that I shall return from India with a healthy glow on my face and arms, the rest having remained respectfully covered.

August 15th marks India's 70th Independence Day and fireworks have punctuated the constant hum of city traffic for most of the night. A letter from the manger has invited guests to attend the flag hoisting ceremony. By 8.30am a sizeable assortment of staff, appropriately festooned with patriotic flags and sunshades, along with a handful of guests are gathered outside. I feel conspicuous as the sole representarice of the bygone era, but a flag is thrust into my hand and I'm made welcome. After the flag has been raised and staff have paraded a pre-determined course to a well-known marching tune that somehow seems reminiscent of the past, the manager personally hands out a small tri-colour sweet to everyone present, while a photographer captures the occasion.

Breakfast is again South Indian coffee, a fruit platter with the totally indulgent addition of three gulab jamun-a kind of sponge ball soaked in syrup. As a small penance I go back to the pool to fight out ownership with the crows, who remain almost as vocal despite the small piece of cake i have brought them as a peace offering.

My last stop is a conveniently located airport hotel before my early morning departure tomorrow. A few remaining hours to contemplate my amazing time in Tamil Nadu, South India.

Tags: airport hotel, ashok tree, celebrations, chennai, cookery classes, food, sunbathing


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