The trip from Chennai to Mahabalipuram involved an auto rickshaw, two state buses, and more people than you would ever want to fit on a bus.
The trip from Triplicane (our hotel) to Parrys (bus depot) was painless enough, finding the right bus was wan't too difficult, and finding a seat was surprisingly easy. As soon as you get on, everyone wants to sell something to you, or ask for money, or in our case, just stare at you – that went for a whole 20-minutes before the driver appeared and we left.
It was warm, and there were people standing from the get go, but the whole trip was made much nicer by the girl sitting behind us who's name I can't pronounce, let alone spell, so I'm going to call her 'S'.
A few minutes in to the trip, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned around to find S and her seven-year-old nephew sitting behind us, staring intently, ready to fire any question they ever had about another culture.
Do you wear shorts?, why aren't you wearing a sari?, you don't have any bangles on, you're not wearing any chains (necklaces), do you have shawls?, do you use dollars?, do you like sweet food?, why don't you use your buttons?, for what purpose have you come to India?, D\do you like talking to me?, and at one point, why is your hair everywhere?
At that one I looked around, and compared to Indian women, realised my hair really was everywhere.
They really are immaculately groomed with combed hair pulled tightly back, usually into a braid, decorated with living floral clips and flower chains, gold embroided saris, nose rings, multiple earrings, bangles, necklaces, toe rings, and anklets.
She was thoroughly confused by just about everything I said, so when I replied to the hair question with "Um...I don't really know, it just is." She smiled, wobbled her head, and concocted new questions in an attempt to vaguely understand the strange world I come from.
After meeting her entire family at Kovalam Beach where the line ended (which, according to S, is a place famous for knives.
Chris: 'Oh yeah, like cooking knives?'
S: 'No, like <throat slicing action>').
We said goodbye and jumped on the bus to Mahabalipurum – a very different experience.
That bus was full by the time we arrived, and when an Indian bus is full, people are hanging out the doors while the driver carries on driving. It probably would have been ok if we didn't have bags. I'm certain people were annoyed. Every time we made a stop, about five people would get on and we'd have to move down, with 65L backpacks on, with virtually no ventilation.
We must have passed a school because all these teenage girls got on in relatively similar clothes, started chatting with the conductor in Tamil, and giggling at Chris.
After much giggling, the conductor looked at Chris and said 'these girls are very beautiful', to which Chris replied 'Oh, I'm...married?' and they giggled some more.
It's often much easier just to say you're married. Marriage is generally an aspiration in India and they don't really understand why you wouldn't be married. They look at you with great confusion when you tried to explain the western culture of dating for years and years.
An hour or so later, we arrived in Mahabalipuram and quickly got a taxi to Lakshmi Cottage – the place where hygiene goes to die. Our room was filthy. Dirt and mold encrusted the front door, the pillows were stained brown, the bathroom door had holes in it, there was a giant black mould patch on the roof where the upstairs bathroom must have been, and mosquitos appeared to have taken up residence long before we got there.
By this point, it was 2pm, Chris hadn't had breakfast yet and was so distraught he didn't know what to do. I gathered everything inside necessary to go out and eat something, and found Chris talking to the owner. In the end, we managed to get one of the upstairs rooms (which we initially didn't get because they're about $30/night) for a discounted price, ate something, and all was well with the world again.
The room still smelled a bit like old socks, the pillows were still gross, and there was more dirt around the door and windows than we'd like, but there's free wifi and it's not awful.