I have made it here to India. By the time you are reading this, I will have been in India for over 2 weeks. However, right now I think I am on my 10th day here in India in Chennai. I will admit as a seasoned traveller I believed that I would be completely fine, adapt to life here instantly and be living the dream. My first few days here were not plain sailing, but now I feel comfortable and wanted to discuss my experiences and also first impressions of Chennai. I have been told many times by travellers, that Chennai is a weird place to start and experience India – however, we are here for my boyfriend’s job, so I had little choice about where I started off.
Given the opportunity, I may have started in the Golden Triangle or even just Bangalore instead.
Chennai is on the east coast of India and is capital of the Tamil Nadu region. It is often known in the west, by its former name of Madras. It is famous for having the second longest beach in the world – 11km long!
Home of the Roti and the most beautiful south Indian food, there is much to eat and explore.
It has a very warm climate, is known as the Detroit of India due to the car manufacturing trade here, and is home to the UNESCO heritage site of Malappuram.
My experiences in Chennai so far!
1# People stare a lot
I was sure that people would stare in India, I have blond-ish hair, blue eyes and fairly pale skin – I do not blend in here! I just had no idea it would be so much, especially the first few days, there was just head turning everywhere I went.
Lots of children stare and point, which I don’t mind – kids are naturally curious. I don’t mind the stares all the time, I understand people are curious and not used to seeing someone who looks like me. Some days it is just difficult when you want to put your head down and not be disturbed by everyone.
After a week here, I am so used to everyone staring that I really have stopped caring. Apparently, in other cities, it won’t be as bad but now I am used to it it doesn’t put me off from doing my day to day activities! This is just an observation I have noticed in my first few days here!
2# Chennai is still fairly traditional
Part of the reason people stare here is that Chennai is not a liberal city in India yet.
It is not super common for a woman to be out and about on her own, never mind them being from Europe and eating alone. I have bought clothes from here as it reduces the stares, even though my western clothes cover my shoulders/knees and chest. It is just more comfortable to cover my ankles and then I blend in a little more.
In terms of being a couple, we just don’t hold hands, kiss or any other public displays of affection – that just makes everything a lot easier.
I have also been asked many times in taxis if I am married, have children or why I am here in general. I find it interesting that people are curious and it doesn’t bother me – you get used to it!
3# It is hard to cross the road here
I know this is a stereotype, but the roads are very busy and zebra crossings are not a thing here in Chennai – in Bangalore they are though. The first weekday I was here, I had no cash to get a taxi, my card wouldn’t work on the app and in order to get cash I had to walk to the other side of the road.
I couldn’t do it, the road was too busy and I was too scared. Combined with the jet lag, I just cried as I was hungry and couldn’t cross the road.
Apparently, we are on one of the busiest roads in Chennai, the equivalent to attempting to cross a motorway in the UK.
I have crossed a few roads now, but it is difficult as my two European responses are to run across or to stop. Both of these will get you run over. You just need to keep walking.
The roads are quieter than I thought in terms of noisy horns, but the road crossing can be tricky!
4# The lack of freedom frustrates me
This one is something I expected. My boyfriend and his lovely family did warn me that there are places I probably shouldn’t go alone.
They looked horrified that I had gone up the lighthouse, even though I told them I was with a friend. Generally, they are not scared that I will be unsafe, just that I will be mobbed by people trying to sell me things and stopping their autos to try and give me a ride. Similar to standing in a market in Morocco really!
I have lists of places, mainly shopping malls, where I will be safe…although outside one of them I did have 3 different people asking me for money and begging. However, it just is a little frustrating when you’re told not to walk down the road on your own or that you can’t go to certain places.
My boyfriend’s grandmother even showed me an article in the local newspaper about an American who was kidnapped.
5# People are lovely and try their best to help
That being said about being unsafe, almost everyone I have encountered here in Chennai wants to help me. They will help me cross the road, find where I need to go and suggest places to visit. I met a lovely lady on Girls Love Travel, who is from Chennai and she offered to show me around her city. We are now firm friends and we are planning to meet up more often.
Everyone is curious and they just want me to love their city as much as they do. Just some people come on very strong and it can be intimidating, especially after all the warnings from everyone about staying safe!
6# I’m not used to the level of service here
We are staying where my boyfriend’s work as put us up and it is a 5-star business hotel. I am normally someone who likes to stay in a local Airbnb and get recommendations about the place, here everyone is so friendly and I find this more of a culture shock than anything else.
The staff are around 24/7, everyone is so smiley and I am just not used to such attention from a hotel – As a budget traveller, I am looking very out of place in a luxury hotel. Especially when I did my laundry in the bath rather than use their expensive laundry service!
I do get to try the lovely hotel restaurants too, like the Flying Elephant at Park Hyatt.
7# The heat can feel suffocating
Chennai has a warm climate. It is currently very humid and has an average temperature of around 33 degrees. Some days have been hotter and others have been colder, but the humidity makes it feel very suffocating – very different from a dry heat at the same temperature.
I have been able to do things, one Saturday we walked around in midday as a large group and we all struggled with the humidity!
8# Adjusting to the food has taken time
In the same way that a lot of Indian people wouldn’t want to eat British food every day, my body has taken some time to adjust to the food especially the number of spices in every dish. I love so many of the flavours, but a lot of things have made my stomach hurt.
Everyone warned me before I left, so I stocked up on medication and have been conscious of what I have been eating.
I love the food here in South India, but for the moment I am eating it only once a day!
9# Chennai is really lovely, despite how I have just made it sound – I have just struggled with the jet lag and culture shock!
I have been to the best places, I have made a great friend and I now really love this city. It just has taken time to adapt, the mixture of jet lag, stares and struggles with freedom have impacted my initial view, but now I love it.
My two saving apps have been Uber – nobody can understand where I want to go otherwise, my accent is often misunderstood and I butcher the pronunciation of places here. I also love Swiggy, which is a food ordering service similar to deliveroo or just eat in the UK. Often I don’t want to go out and find food twice a day along with work so this has been great!
I hope you enjoyed my first impressions of Chennai, I have some new posts ready on India and things I have done!
Until next time,
The Great Ambini
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**I do not want anyone to be offended if anything I want you to laugh at me and my mishaps. If you think anything is offensive, please let me know – I really do love Chennai and I would hate for anyone to think I wasn’t happy here!**