As is the norm when arriving in a new Indian city, Soo and I exited the massively crowded and disorganized airport in Chennai and looked for the driver sent by our hotel to collect us.
Contrary to the norm, he wasn’t there.
We searched the entire area around the domestic terminal, then walked down to the exit for the international terminal and searched again.
Still, no luck.
We called the hotel and asked the whereabouts of our driver. They put us on hold, then connected us with said driver, who promised to arrive “in 2 minutes.”
Twenty minutes later he showed up, in The Smallest Car Ever Built, and proceeded to explain to us how his tardiness was really our fault and he would still expect a tip.
I despised him immediately.
After trying in vain to cram our luggage in a trunk roughly the size of Paris Hilton’s dog, as I protested in increasing volume that breaking off the suitcase’s wheels mightn’t be the best solution, he dumped a bag in the front seat and we were off.
I was steaming, and in no mood to chat, so when our driver began yammering at me in what might have begun life as English but resembled nothing of the sort by the time it left his vile little lips, I responded with only a dismissive “hmmm.”
The little wretch pulled over and stared at me.
Crap! That had been a question.
“okay I shrotp fibe mintues ghet shome foosh,” he said, gesturing to his mouth.
I quickly gathered that he was asking me if I minded terribly much if he stopped for dinner on the way to the hotel.
“YES I MIND YOU PUERILE LITTLE TWIT!!! GET ME TO MY DAMNED HOTEL BEFORE I BLUDGEON YOU WITH YOUR MINATURE CAR!”
I may not have spoke those words in precisely that order, or indeed at all, but he caught my drift, and declined to stop for a bite along the way.
Given my less than exceptional experience with their driver, my expectations for the Chennai Le Meridien were decidedly low.
I was therefore quite delighted to enter the grand, beautifully-appointed hotel. It may well be the most lavish hotel I’ve seen in India, and that is high praise, as several have been truly exceptional. I asked the supremely professional front-desk staff how a fetid troll like our driver had come to be in their employ. They distracted me from that line of thought by explaining that Soo and I had been given a room on the VIP floor with a private elevator.
Well thank you very much, this suited us just fine! I quickly forgot about the offensive, tardy chauffeur and his midget car. A VIP suite! I couldn’t wait!
As we walked to our room, passing the open doors of some of the massive suites on the VIP floor, we wondered aloud what we would possibly do with all that real estate.
Apparently I’m the littlest I of the Ps on the floor. I felt like the Clampetts newly arrived in Beverly Hills, with our suite and pick-up car apparently designed by the same fool.
At least we had a private elevator.
Chennai lies on the northeast coast of Tamil Nadu, India’s tourism capital, with a history dating back 2500 years. It’s reputed to house some of India’s most impressive anicient cultural artifacts, and miles of beautiful beaches.
I was viscerally aware, I suppose, that Chennai was on the coast, and when my colleague, Vinod, on our way back to the hotel after a long day of work, off-handedly mentioned that the sea lay “just beyond those buildings there” I responded without thought that I’d like to see it.
I’m not sure I even really meant it, but when our car broke free from the dingy mass of buildings and city congestion I was overwhelmed by the sight of the sea. Stepping out onto the yellow sand was cathartic; it took my breath away. Or, more accurately, it caused me to exhale a breath I seemed to have been holding for days, so stressed had I become by the constant press of people, chaos and noise. I realized I hadn’t relaxed in two weeks, and was desperately pleased Vinod had troubled to have the driver make the detour.
Back at the hotel, and remarkably rejuvenated, I announced to Soo that we would be making a terribly exciting hour-long trek to Mahabalipuram, home to the Stone Temple, the Shore Temple, and many other great historic monoliths, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site! It was, I promised, a grand, not-to-be missed spectacle from India’s ancient past.
I was right. They did have monoliths.
A monolith is defined as “a large single upright block of stone, esp. one shaped into or serving as a pillar or monument.”
There were monoliths at Mahabalipuram. And some were quite fascinating. But there were also the omnipresent beggars, stifling heat and “guides” who were exceedingly aggressive in demanding money to describe the monoliths, even after we offered apparently noncommittal responses like “I’m not interested,” “Please go away,” and “I may kill you if you keep speaking.”
Soo has fired me as a tour-planner.
We spent our remaining hours in Chennai either poolside at the magnificent Le Meridien, or enjoying a spectacular meal at Madras restaurant in Raintree, while I dreamed longingly about the healing balm of the sea.