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.

If you'd like to hire a car during your stay, use this car rental comparison tool to find the best deal!

We also suggest you take a look at this company to get a quote for all kinds of the more tricky adventure or extended travel insurance.

Try Stayz / VRBO for an alternative way to find rentals on homes/apartments/condos in any country!

About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

29 thoughts on “First Day in India – Chennai to Mamallapuram”

  1. 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.

    • 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Nice to read your post, you made an excellent post. You have shared a lot of useful information about India. Thanks a lot for this beauty Enjoying article with me. I appreciate it very much!

  7. You’re back in India!. ‘So glad that you managed to find a breezy place to sleep in at last. I can already hear the calmness coming through your post. Enjoy!

  8. LOVE THIS! dont worry about the no-spell-check-quick-writing style! i can picture myself with your family, experiencing the setbacks! keep me coming!

  9. Loving your journal style. Truly enjoy reading the down to earth – real and honest post.
    Cannot wait to hear more about your experience. I would so love to do India but as a solo mom of three wonder is it do-able with a ten, 6 & 6 ?

  10. Treat your self with 2 week Ayurvedic treatments in kovalam. We did that 2 years ago, it was bliss. Plenty of cheap good treatments if u look around 😉

  11. I love this style of post! We spent four days in Mamallapurim 16 years ago. I spent most of our time there sick and asleep unfortunately!

  12. I’m so glad you’re travelling India this time, and sharing uoir stories with us. I love the new (old!) travel journal format. Enjoy your stay!

  13. Hope you find a more comfortable place to stay with decent wifi. We were very proud of ourselves as oldsters staying in a 200 year old Arab “Inn” (hostel) in Old City Nazareth, Israel. Our room was “interesting” (walls all exposed stone with a vaulted ceiling), but it was a bit (very) damp. I’d rather be damp and cool than too hot.

  14. I have to admire your bravery. India has always intimidated me a bit. Sounds like you’re getting it sorted, though. Is it very hot there or was it just the accommodation that was an issue?

    • Just a matter of adjusting, getting used to no ircon, leaving the window open t night with no screens. There are very few mosquitos here, we had fresh air last night and a 3rd bed, much better! We also have the best rooftop sitting spot with views of the beach, it stays cool with the sea breezes.

  15. Sounds like you have a very positive outlook on life when things could bring you down. You and your family are amazing! Thank you for continuing to share and I eagerly look forward to following your travels through Amazing India!

  16. Sounds as a real adventure to me!! I love the breaking-out part … makes me smile on a rather rough day here. Our 15 year old cat (and friend) just died, and we are all a bit down right now. Talitha


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