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First Day in India – Chennai to Mamallapuram

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Hello! We’re in India, this is our first post, on our second day. I’m going back to travel-journal style blogging because, to be honest, running a website for money takes far too much time. So no frills, no fussing, no spellcheck, no SEO, but the adverts have to stay. My blog is replacing my travel journal, a thing I always used to keep in the days before internet. This blog post is about our first day in India. Adjusting to India and a little about Chennai.

india chennai

First Day in India

I adore India, I have adored the idea of India since before I visited for the first time 20 years ago now.

Travelling in India is immensely rewarding but it can be hard, particularly with kids.  

Setbacks and problems have stalked us for our first day in, possibly, my favourite country to travel. It’s wonderful to be back, but let’s keep this real, it ain’t no picnic and I’m still adjusting.

Arriving in Chennai

Arriving in Chennai on Air Asia from Bangkok was a breeze, no dramas.

Bangkok is incredibly easy, great food, great hotels, it’s just like being at home to us, so big changes as we switched country.

chennai hotel india
Kids very happy with good cable TV in Chennai.

We booked a fairly expensive (around $50) hotel in Chennai for our late-night arrival.

Unfortunately, our taxi driver didn’t know it, or the road, but James sorted that out with Google Maps.

The room was OK, but the good free internet mentioned online was non-existent, totally unworkable, on all floors, in the lobby and particularly in our room.

Not a massive problem at that stage because, to be honest, you really can’t organise that much travel online in India.

We’re going back to old-school word-of-mouth personal enquiry here I think. In many ways, the old way is better.

chennai idly shop
This is a meal fit for a king. South Indian Breakfast of idly and vadda, yum!

The hotel we booked was chosen for its proximity to “The best idly shop in Chennai” as recommended by the Lonely Planet, so breakfast was good, although we ended up with extra dishes we hadn’t ordered and didn’t eat. Whatever, it was good.

A stroll around a couple of typical southern Indian temples was a great early-morning taster of  Chennai.

chennai street

From Chennai to Mamallapuram

The non-existent internet fast-forwarded our decision to get out of town, so, packs on backs, we walked to the bus station with the aim of heading to Mammalapuram, a beach town with a long-established tourist industry famous for its ancient Shore Temple.

We thought it would be easier on the kids to be somewhere with a good tourist set-up.

The single bus ride, 65Km , 100Rps (one pound)  for all 4 of us, went a bit pear-shaped.

Friendly locals with perfect English suggested we take a quicker route, with one change. We did, and thanked them profusely, unfortunately the driver dropped us in the wrong place, where we waited, and waited, before finding out where the real bus stop was, 500m down the road.

On arrival at the correct bus stop we were told that the bus to Mammalapuram wouldn’t leave for an hour.

But no worries, there was a bus to Kovalam due to depart, so we hopped on that one, it’s in the same direction.

A decent sort of bus ride, both kids fell asleep after a precariously balanced game of Uno, as we beeped and weaved down the coast road south.

This was a no-windows-just-bars sort of bus, so it was nice and cool in the natural air-con. I loved the lady with jasmine in her thick rope of glossy hair for giving us a beautiful fragrance to enjoy for the whole ride.

In Kovalam we tried to buy a cold drink but the fridge was broken, all they had was full-sugar Coke, in the freezer. No worries, we can wait a bit longer.

No bus in sight, but a tuk tuk driver kindly offered his services. 250Rps to Mamallapuram, 10Km away. 4 people and 6 bags do fit into an Indian rickshaw, just.

chennai to mamalapuram
Trying to start the engine with string.

On the dry, dusty highway, about 5 km for either town, there was a clunk. The driver pulled over, looked under our vehicle, stuck his head through the window and grinned.

“Broken?” ….enthusiastic head nodding.

He then produced his mobile and talked to a friend in a rapid-fire Tamil/ English hybrid, all I could make out was “sounding put-a-putt-putt.”

He tried turning the engine over with a piece of knotted string, rather as my dad used to start our lawn mower, but no luck.

We were mostly in good spirits, lots of smiles, laughs and head wobbling, D was busy shooting more video, Boo was NOT impressed.

first day in India. tuk tuk in India with kids
Our rescue rickshaw.

The friend eventually turned up with a stand-in rickshaw and dropped us in town.

Arrival in Mamallapuram

We stayed here in Mamallapuram 15 years ago, pre-tsunami, we were very pleased to see that little has changed, the same buildings, shops, houses, restaurants and guest houses are still standing.

It’s a cute little town, lots of colours, cows and fishing boats. We were gagging for a drink and the kids just wanted to drop our bags and chill so we cut the hotel search short.

Mamallapuram. I wish I could shop!

We took the second room we saw, a mistake, it turned out to be a sauna. We sweated our way through the night, all in one big bed, lying on a sweaty sheet as the fan whirred above us.

That was until about 11pm, when the owner turned the fan off. The switch was outside. I got up, switched it back on and continued to sweat.

I seriously considered taking a pillow outside to sleep on the balcony, where it was significantly cooler.

Around 2am the fans went off again, power cut. Nothing to be done this time.

mammallapuram india
The way to the beach. Cute shops, craftsmen making shoes and soap stone statues, guest houses and eateries. Mammalapuram.

4am is my usual wake-up time, it’s when I work, as the kids sleep.

I got up and tried to wash to cool down, no water.

Our owner had switched the water pump off. No water for the flush either.

No worries, I’ll just sit on the balcony and work quietly, well, I could have, if he hadn’t switched off the internet.

6am D awoke, together we decided to go find a café. Only that wasn’t so easy, because the metal roller blinds to the guest house were closed.

We broke out, the two of us could just manage to lift the door and found coffee that tasted like heaven.

The previous day had been a coffee-free zone, the breakfast drink I had ordered with no-milk-no-sugar, had come with both.

Milk makes me heave, so instead of coffee I had paracetamol (yes, I’m a caffeine addict)

We enjoyed our breakfast, banana pancakes and massala omelette, as cows wandered past and the town woke up.

mammalapuram cows on street
They have excellent cows in Mammallapuram.

Today is a good day, we have found a room with 3 beds instead of one and window screens, so hopefully we’ll all sleep better. I’m hot, tired, hungry, caffeine-deprived and my back hurts from carrying packs yesterday, but all will be well, it will pass.

The boys played on the beach among the fishing boats last night as the sun set on the Shore Temple.

Tonight we will do the same and, I hope, find some good food and a cold Kingfisher or three.

Shore Temple Mamalapuram beach
Shore Temple Mamalapuram

I really do love India. Read more of our India travel blog here, how we loved Mamallapuram and met amazing people and then how we moved on to Hampi by train and from there to Goa.

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Friday 11th of November 2022

I'm a bit surprised at the not being able to book online part. I booked all our hotels online even back in 2008. I've been to India 4 times and my hubby 24 times and we always had good hotels with aircon and since wifi, good wifi. We travelled by air-conditioned car down South from Chennai. We only used the tuk tuk in and around Chennai. Used the bus on a temple tour years ago, that was not great but fun.I guess it's the type of trip you want. Enjoyed reading yours.

Alyson for World Travel Family

Saturday 12th of November 2022

Thanks! Yep, we've spent a lot of time in India and had universally bad wifi. Time of year matters (as it does here in Australia) storms and thunder knock out power and wifi. This last trip, mentioned in this post, was right as the monsoon was arriving and the wifi was on off with every crack of thunder. But this hotel in Chennai was just lousy, the signal didn't go past the lobby.

Indian Review

Sunday 3rd of May 2020

Make sure next time visit Punjab Amritsar, rich in culture, economy and weather as well.

Alyson for World Travel Family

Sunday 3rd of May 2020

We've been! But back then there were bombings so we stayed in the station retiring rooms. Next time.

Tanisha Chatterjee

Wednesday 26th of June 2019

I really enjoyed your blog and the way you made Chennai look a super interesting place to visit. Just wanted to stop by and say thank you to you for making your visit to Chennai and explore India.

Bharat Taxi

Sunday 16th of June 2019

India as a whole is an incredibly special place. After reading your article, I checked out your website, and i really like your post. It looks massive and pretty cool. It offers a lot of awesome things to do. Thanks for providing this informative and comprehensive blog.

Alyson Long

Sunday 16th of June 2019

It is very special. Thank you for your comment.


Tuesday 12th of March 2019

Hi, really enjoyed your article. You have described everything and that makes it very easy and interesting to read. I would like to know, do you feel comfortable or safe in India? Thanks for sharing your experience. Keep inspiring.

Alyson Long

Tuesday 12th of March 2019

Comfortable, yes. Safe, fairly. The roads are a bit hair raising and you do need to stay sharp, but pretty good.

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