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INDIA - first impressions do count

Why do most flights to India arrive at night? I came in at 2 am to Chennai (previously known as Madras) to be hounded by auto-rickshaw drivers. I was alone; it was dark, hot, wet and humid, having arrived at the end of the monsoon season. This was my first ever trip to Asia, and I was thrown into the deep end. I had read my Lonely Planet Guide, and was prepared to avoid getting ripped off. I had not booked a place to stay, thinking that arriving without plans and being flexible would be a good idea. I stubbornly decided to wait until morning light, when I would be able to make a clearer decision of where to go next.

It was not possible to wait that long. I finally gave into the hounding of the auto drivers and haggled one down to a very good price, before discovering the reason for the good price. He was drunk. Another driver gave me a similar price and I was on my way. It was an excellent introduction to these three-wheelers. On a dark and wet night, weaving in and out of traffic and around potholes, not knowing where I was going - my life was in the driver's hands.

I could not convince the driver to take me to the hotel I had read about. He picked up a friend who directed us to a place that would put me up. I was new to this, and was being led blindly. Doing my sums in my head, I calculated that I was going to pay a little more than I wanted, but it was not the time to argue. I accepted price for the room, and reluctantly (naively?) payed a little extra for them finding me a room.

The next day I wandered around the neighbouring area. I had done my homework. I knew I had to be careful of what I ate and drank. So much so, I was afraid to eat anything at all! I thought that they spoke English in India, but no one seemed to understand me. After avoiding food for most of the day, I found a reasonable looking restaurant, and said give me whatever. I was so hungry I could eat anything.

On my first day in India, I had not seen or done anything special, but it certainly was a challenge. Being without a plan made the next move easier. I did not know where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. I quickly planned to get out of Chennai on the next available bus, heading south.

My journey had just begun, and I was loving it!

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