After a hell overnight flight from Australia to Malaysia (Air Asia will apparently be upgrading every seat in its fleet during 2010 due to overwhelming customer feedback — no shit) we arrived into Kuala Lumpur Airport at 4.30am, severely sleep deprived and a bit grumpy. A coffee and some noodles later we boarded another Air Asia plane bound for Tiruchirapalli. The only non-Indians on the flight, we started to stand out a bit, not helped one bit by Spykey’s Queen of Air Asia outfit, comprising a bright red, gold-rimmed Air Asia blanket around her shoulders and a gold inflatable Air Asia pillow around her neck.
My first glimpse of India from the aisle seat came as the aircraft turned while gliding low over farmland on its final approach, and the landscape looked hot, tropical and steamy. As we landed I could see mossy and faded concrete barriers marking the airport boundry, and lush, green tropical overgrowth surrounding the single runway. After disembarkation we breezed through customs and entered the arrivals hall to get our bags, where Lisa and I separated to go to our respective toilets. A few minutes later I came out of mine to find Lisa standing out the front of the ladies’ summoning a security guard. The door had locked shut and the poor women inside the toilet were banging on the door and couldn’t get out. Pretty bloody funny, you’ve got to admit.
While the toilet drama was unfolding a baggage carousel drama was just beginning a few metres away. Something had gone wrong with the carousel motor and a man was climbing inside the large motor casing to have a look. WorkSafe would’ve imploded if it saw this dude in thongs climb over moving machine parts and lower himself towards a bunch of grinding gears, belts and cables.
About ten minutes later the baggage was flowing freely and the toilet women were getting closer to freedom with a trolley load of power tools on the way to join the dozen men randomly bashing and prodding at the stuck door. When we finally got our bags and left the terminal, the toilet door had almost been completely opened up with an electric jigsaw like a can of cat food.
We left the air conditioned terminal and got our first proper smell of tropical India. A low, humid fog hung in the still air and dragonflies danced, forming thick clouds. Putting on our best tout-defending facial expressions we headed for a rickshaw and got a 100Rp (approx. $2.50) ride the 6km into town. This is the moment that I exploded with delight. There we were, Lisa and I, sitting in the back of a rickshaw, backpacks on our knees, dodging chaotic traffic as we passed mini-slums, roadside stalls, cows, goats, kamikaze buses and just about anything else you could think of. The wind rushing through the open-air vehicle brought a rainbow of smells to our noses, while the cacophony of car and bike horns around us served as the soundtrack to this most amazing of first experiences. Spykey and I didn’t really talk during the ride, preferring instead to just soak it all in and smile dumbly at each other.
We arrived at the bus station in the centre of Trichy and made our way through the anarchic streets to a budget hotel that both Lonely Planet and some independent research on the Internet suggested wasn’t totally crap. On the way we saw beautiful women in saris, families walking together, men huddled outside chai stalls, a man taking a shit in the street, and just about every other cliche you can think of. We reached Hotel Arun, booked in for two nights (800Rp — approx. $20), and collapsed wearily on the bed. It was only 11am local time, but it was 4pm according to our bodies and we’d been travelling for about 18 hours.
But we only paused for long enough to settle into the room and wash our faces, for there was food to eat. We headed straight back to the main square and into a restaurant we’d seen a bit earlier. It seemed very busy and popular with the locals (mind you, we hadn’t yet seen anyone but locals, and haven’t all day) so we marched straight in, bought two thali tickets for 90Rp (approx. $2), and had so much more than our fill of a variety of vegetarian curries, chutneys, papadams and rice, served straight onto banana leaves and shovelled into our mouths with hand (me) and spoon (Spykey).
Leaving the restaurant, we headed off on a meandering walk around the town in the midday sun. We saw street vendors, electronics shops, mechanic stands, tiny shanty enclaves, open sewers, streets of explosive traffic, dead rats the size of large cats, schoolgirls in identical green uniforms and with identical plaited hairstyles (who laughed at us — fair enough, I suppose), and even more Indian cliches. By about 2:30pm we were getting pretty tired and very hot so we retired to the hotel for a few hours of rest, trip planning and napping. One of the guys who works at the hotel took us up to the roof and pointed out some local landmarks like the massive concrete water tower and some important buildings. He also took a photo of Lisa and I (separately) on his phone before solemnly shaking our hands and going back downstairs.
Around 4:00pm Spykey fell fast asleep so I sat out on our room’s balcony with a book, but ended up watching and listening to the street more than I read. I watched buses take the blind corner at way-too-fast km/h, on the wrong side of the road, horn blaring; I watched four men lazily change a flat tyre on a shiny white Ambassador taxi; I watched the men in the mechanic shop next door do some pretty special engineering with a big fuck-off hammer; I watched groups of women walk along the side of the street paying no heed to the rickshaws and cars that missed them by mere centimetres. I listened to the loud and animated conversation between a fruit trolley man and his customer; I listened to the multitude of personalised horns and reversing tones on cars, buses, motorcycles and rickshaws; I listened to the loud and tinny Indian pop music blaring from the mechanics shop, punctuated by the rhythm of the engineering hammer.
After Lisa’s nap we ate dinner in the restaurant attached to the hotel at the invitation of the nice man who took our photos. For about $1.50 we were again satisfied, full of chappatis, dhosas, pickles and curries, and we had pleased our host by enjoying his establishment’s meal. Spykey had made the change from spoon to hand by this meal.
Now, at the positively grandpa time of 7:00pm we’re laying in bed typing and reading. Given that our bodies reckon it’s midnight and we’ve had bugger all sleep, I reckon it’s not too disgraceful. Simply cannot wait to wake up refreshed tomorrow and get out there again.