Slept like a bearded baby all night, woken briefly only by a massive fight between a pack of dogs somewhere nearby, and the Muslim call to prayer just before dawn. At 6:45am the room’s doorbell rung and we were both shocked by the sudden realisation that we even had a doorbell. Outside, one of the many hotel employees stood offering hot, sweet coffee made with condensed milk and I enthusiastically accepted. Drinking the coffee on the balcony watching the city come alive, we planned our day before going downstairs for breakfast dosa and sambar.
First on the agenda was a trip to the train station to book our journey to Pondicherry the next day. We spent a little time trying to work out exactly how to go about buying a ticket, as there seemed to be snaking lines everywhere with no real clarity as to their purpose. Eventually, by watching everyone else, we worked out that we had to fill in a little booking form (acquired by pushing to the front of a line and reaching through the perspex barrier) and waiting in a queue that seemed simultaneously out of control and highly ordered. During this process we had a chat to the first non-local we’d seen so far (another Australian backpacker), before the guy at the vacant “credit cards only” window took pity on us tourists and waved us over. He served us quickly, efficiently and politely, and even let us pay in cash. We walked away with our ticket and clear written instructions about the train changes we would have to make.
From the station we went to an Internet cafe and then bought a couple of hot samosas while waiting for a bus to the Rock Fort Temple. The bus ride was great fun with deafening Indian pop music, the constant horn orchestra, and burning incense making it a total sensory experience. Walking through the “rich” part of Trichy – there were lots of large consumer goods stores – we headed for the temple.
After taking off our shoes and leaving them at the bottom we climbed the 400 steps to the top barefoot. Sitting casually on the stairs all the way up were people resting, sleeping, chatting on their phones or selling trinkets. We politely declined one staff member’s offer to waive the “Hindu only” regulations for entry into the temple in exchange for 1000Rs, and kept climbing to the top. Once there, we marvelled at the view over the vast urban mass of Tiruchirappalli on one side, and the dry river and dense greenery on the other. A terribly humid day – it had been trying to rain since daybreak but hadn’t managed more than a few spits of water – we were not surprised to see great masses of dark clouds looming ominously. We admired the view for a while, took some touristy photos, and made our way back down.
Walking around the streets at the base of the rock fort we stopped at a street vendor and bought a selection of deep fried yummies along with some chutney. We sat next to a weird man-made lake with a small temple on a central island and ate our food with an audience of curious observers. Food is quickly coming to rule our lives here in India.
While waiting for a bus back to the city centre we tried to buy a SIM card for our mobile phone. This seemingly simple task turned into one of the most hilariously complicated debacles in such an Indian way, with thirty frantic minutes elapsing, Lisa disappearing with one of the stall staff to get a “Xerox” of my passport, the photocopy getting blown away in the wind, half-a-dozen random people stopping to “help”, and no actual SIM purchase taking place because it all just got too complicated. We tried to reimburse the stallholder for the photocopies he’d paid for but he wouldn’t accept the money, and even tried to give Spykey an umbrella for the rain.
After waiting for ages in the wet for the correct bus we decided to hop a rickshaw, blowing our budget for the journey out from 6Rs to the princely sum of 70Rs (not even $2). The 4km journey was worth every rupee thanks to a hair-raising, but highly enjoyable, sprint through Trichy’s traffic, usually on the wrong side of the road. Screeching to a halt at a set of traffic lights, missing the arse-end of a cow by millimetres, Lisa and I laughed with joy. The driver turned around and made rollercoaster movements with his hand and racecar noises with his mouth, clearly proud of his driving skills. When we arrived at our destination he shook our hands and solemnly wished us a happy new year.
By this time it was mid afternoon and it had started to rain steadily so we chillaxed and read our books for a few hours before grabbing an early dinner of dosa, chaat, rice and chutneys. Early night again because tomorrow we have a 6:30am train to catch.