By now you know Nelli returned home after his 3 month long sabbatical in India. His visa had expired so he would have to return to India until it was renewed. Every day during those months he called me twice a day without fail. A quick morning call before I went to work and then after I came home for work for 1-3 hours. It was amazing to have him back, and I never let him go after that. So when he had to go BACK to India to make his visa automatically renew every 3 years I insisted I go with him. At first he was a little hesitant because his priority was his visa business and he wasn’t sure I would enjoy myself – in the end, I won!
My first trip to India isn’t the typical experience. When most people think of traveling to India, they think of the Taj Mahal and butter chicken. Since Nelli is South Indian, he would have to travel to the South India Capitol for his visa business which is Chennai, Tamil Nadu. I don’t think I have ever heard of South Indian States before I met Nelli. Well anyways, he planned some nice things for us to do in Chennai and then we would be traveling to a neighboring state called Kerala. I wanted to go to New Delhi and have a typical India touristy experience but Nelli insisted we wouldn’t have time. In the end, I’m glad we didn’t because I had a unique experience.
Nelli traveled to India a few days before so I traveled to India by myself. I didn’t think twice about this but apparently his parents thought this was crazy. My trip to Chennai was, however, HORRENDOUS and I wouldn’t have minded the company. My flight from SFO to Europe was delayed for 4 hours and I definitely missed my connection in Paris. The only nice thing being stuck in SFO was the free pizza they gave us and the experience of staying in the nice international terminal. When I finally arrived in Paris (which is a crappy airport considering how expensive I heard the city was), they said I could fly to Amsterdam, stay overnight, and then be on my way to Chennai. I went to Amsterdam and had THE worst time trying to find the shuttle to take me to the overnight hotel. When I finally got to my room, I was mentally exhausted but my trip horrors didn’t stop there. From Amsterdam, I flew to Mumbai and of course my domestic flight to Chennai was long gone. It was really difficult to book a Chennai flight because of the language barriers and I didn’t know where to go but somehow I managed to get Nelli on the phone and he took care of it. Since my flight was a 3-5 hours later I just sat around waiting for the shuttle and observed how opulent and fantastic the Mumbai airport. When it was finally time to take the shuttle, I was really perturbed with the other passengers. I was first in line but when the bus arrived everyone skipped me and pushed me out of the way. Not cool. As I stared out the window in what would be my first sights of India, I was sorely disappointed. Right outside the beautiful international airport were tons of slums which made me sad. What made me even more sad was the domestic airport which was very run down, had animals crawling all over, and a chai guy going in and out as he pleased (hellloo…security?). None of that mattered because I was soon on my way to Chennai and Nelli. /end travel woes
Nelli came and picked me from the airport and we went to our hotel. I could tell Nelli wanted me to have the best experience possible so we stayed at a very nice hotel. For this trip, I was strictly vegetarian because I didn’t want another Cambodia experience but it turns out most people in Chennai doesn’t eat meat. Nelli was right in that I was a little bored the first couple of days because he was at the embassy all the time. My first impression of Chennai was that it was extremely busy and overwhelming. I got some stares and a lot of children following me asking for money. We did take advantage of what the city had to offer though by visiting the historical monuments of Mahabalipuram , took a day trip to Pondicherry and went saree shopping (YAY!). Nelli did invite his parents to come and meet up in Chennai but his mother said she was “sick”. Anywho, I loved Pondicherry, it was basically the Indian version of New Orleans. The old school french architecture was so great to see and there were tons of different cultures represented in the city (although they were segregated). I did notice the lack of bathrooms around here and some people just went on the street in plain view. Even if I did find a bathroom, they would charge me and they were DISGUSTING. oh well. We also visited Auroville (very diverse) which is a small city where tons of people from all over the world live in unity. My saree shopping experience was a lot of fun as well – I wish I had bought more. Chennai is known for their beautiful silk sarees and I love mine! The fabric is so high quality and I paid a fraction of the cost I paid for other sarees in the US.
After Nelli finished his visa business we hopped on a flight to Kerala. I really loved my experience here because it was quieter and greener. We hopped on one of the famous house boats for an overnight experience. It was so relaxing and the boat was really nice and came with a driver and a chef! I was a little nervous because I found huge bugs on the boat and the shower didn’t come with bath towels but I made it work. Nelli had told the chef I ate meat which made me anxious but all the food turned out to be delicious. I had a chicken curry and a whole fish with fresh vegetables and rice. It’s still my favorite meal that I’ve had abroad. It was such a nice change of pace being out in nature on the houseboat. When we came back to our dock, a driver picked us up and showed us some other sights around Kochi like the famous fishing docks, downtown restaurants and shops and we visited Jew town! Basically it’s a town where Jewish people settled in the 1600’s; I love seeing different people in the most unlikely of places.