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India Trip Notes

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2-11-11 - Meeting again with old friend Rick Shaw

Chennai is India's fourth largest city, located to the north of Tamil Nadu in the southeast of India. It's sprawling and chaotic. Clay and I braved a bus, a task which took lots of asking, two hours, and one change of busses before we got to our hotel. For a while it was just busses but sometimes we needed to take an auto rickshaw, the three wheelers they call tuktuks in Thailand. From the airport upon return from Pune, I took a prepay taxi which Indian friends said is best and they were right. Whether rickshaw or taxi the ride is thrilling, especially in Chennai. Thrilling to me, to others it can be horrifying (some newcomers) or boring (old timers). Clay called it a roller coaster ride with intersections. At night coming in from the airport to a hotel forty minutes away, it reminded me at times of a carnival ride through a cave in the dark where you'd think you were going to run into something and at the last second the car would swerve to the side. The driver took tiny alleys and narrow shopping streets between broad divided roads which sometimes he'd go down on the side of oncoming traffic. I like the way they don't pay attention to lanes and drive right in between two vehicles to get ahead.

The ride in the cities is exciting but the ride on the highways can ratchet up the fear factor considerably due to higher speeds and the local habit of driving on either side of the road in a seeming game of perpetual Chicken.

The taxis are the Indian made Ambassadors, once just about the only car in India. They look like old BMWs. Back in 2003 I rode one halfway across northern India with two Englishmen who were making a documentary film. Met them in Agra where the Taj Mahal is, were staying in the same place. I remember watching the Rugby World cup with them - a match between Australia and England in a room filled with people from those two countries and me - it was a rare win for England. They asked if I'd like to come along with them as their assistant because their assistant had flown back to England because the ride was too frightening. So I took his place next to the hired driver and would sit there watching trucks barreling toward us air horn blowing and got to see a lot of India as their guest for doing nothing much else that I can remember.

The next morning Katrinka came in, having blessedly missed her connecting flight in Frankfurt, relieving me of having to return to the airport a few hours after I arrived. She wasn't fazed by the ride and soon was ready for a walk along crowded sidewalks, around motorcycles, fruit stands, over rubble, crossing streets with cars and motorbikes coming from both directions on both sides. She's from Manhattan.

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