Posts tagged "beach"

Turtle Beach

Regular readers to my blog will know that Saturday evenings have turned in to my day of discovery as I stumble across various cultural and exotic goings on. A few weeks back I found myself in an art gallery watching a famous artist draw a picture of a cat (and buying art, who knew?), then it was the youth cultural exchange program that was taking place outside a big temple by the sea.

This Saturday just gone was no different. Myself and my friends had actually planned to go to a place called the Theosophical Society, not that we were particularly interested in Theosophy but they have some really nice gardens (God, yes I’m getting old) and when you live in a dusty, polluted city like Chennai you start to yearn for a bit of greenery and fresh air.

The Theosophical Society in Chennai occupies a large area near to a moving pile of ooze, sometimes referred to as the Adyar river and is the nearest greenest space to where I live.

Since the mercury is steadily rising and we’re starting to hit 34-35 degrees we tend to wait until gone 4pm until we venture out, our pale white skin being fried to a crisp otherwise. We arrived at the main gates at 4:30pm and were promptly denied entry since they only open the place between 2 and 4 – conveniently at the time when it’s hottest and no one wants to come. OK, we thought, this is India, lets try the side entrance and go in looking confident and aloof and make out as if we were meant to be there.

Yeah, that didn’t work either and we were stopped shortly after parking the car.

Cue the scene from Disney’s Jungle Book with the vultures sitting on a tree.

“So, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t mind, what ever you want to do is fine.”

“Eee, now don’t start that again”

(apologies if you had a terrible childhood and never watched Disney movies)

In the absence of anyone making an executive decision, I said let’s go down to the beach since it was just around the corner and we were close to a place called Broken Bridge which I’ve heard about in the folklore of Chennai, so named because there is a bridge. And it’s broken. An unimaginative folklore you could say.

With the car parked and a payment of 10 rupees (about 16p) given to a guy who promised to tell us upon our return if our car had been stolen we made our way through a fishing township towards broken bridge. I’d have loved to get some pictures of the fishing village but I feel like the intruding foreigner if I get my camera out to take pictures of people, I feel like they think I’m judging them some how because I want to take pictures of the way they live. The other reason was that the smell was so bad with the open sewers, I didn’t particularly want to stop!

As we walked towards the broken bridge, we came across a fenced off enclosure and the curiosity got the better of us so we went over and found a guy sitting inside surrounded by upside down wicker baskets. Fortunately we were with a guy who could speak Tamil (obviously I can speak Tamil as well, but only to tell people that I’m hungry or that I can only say a very small amount of Tamil!) and we found out that the enclosure was to protect the eggs of sea turtles.

Basically volunteers stay on the beach over night and wait for the turtles to lay their eggs, then the eggs are relocated to within the fenced off enclosure otherwise the feral dogs that populate the city and beaches will come along and dig them up for dinner. Even if the dogs didn’t manage to find all the eggs, the crows would eat the baby turtles shortly after hatching, and if the crows didn’t get them the line of crabs waiting in the surf would have a go. Even if the new born turtles managed to negotiate all of that, a million and one dangers still lie within the sea.

It must suck to be a turtle.

Anyway, we were allowed to come in to the enclosure, a real lucky experience because my friend went back the following evening and there were more people and no one was allowed inside.

Once in the enclosure we were able to watch newly hatched turtles make their way to the surface (with a little help from a human hand) and then attempt to make their way towards the sea. However, since there were crows and dogs stalking around the fence the turtles were kept under the upside down wicker baskets we’d seen earlier, then around dusk time they are all transported down to the sea where they had to make the final 10 metre perilous journey by themselves.

Even as we watched, swarms of crabs were stalking the baby turtles, but they didn’t seem to do too much other than getting close, poking them and then running off.

As I mentioned above, my friend went the following evening as well where there were not only more people, but maybe one hundred plus turtles being released, the beach was literally full of them, she said. However, the people watching didn’t get to go in to the enclosure and handle them, so I count myself very lucky that I got this pretty rare opportunity!

Baby Sea Turtles

Baby Sea Turtles

Baby Sea Turtles

Hand included for scale reference!

Baby Sea Turtles

Two of the turtles try to make a bid for freedom when they think no one is looking!

Baby Sea Turtles

Freshly hatched turtles making their way to the surface

Baby Sea Turtles

The baby turtles got a helping hand to get closer to the sea!

Baby Sea Turtles

And off one of them goes to freedom, or maybe the jaws of death

Baby Sea Turtles

The crabs gang up on one of the turtles, but they didn't seem to do much harm

Baby Sea Turtles

I really wasn't sure what the crabs were doing, it's not like they actually attacked any of the turtles, just got very close before scampering off

Baby Sea Turtles

I stole this photo from a friend because it's so awesome!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and video! It was a really unique experience, you see this kind of thing in nature documentaries, but to see it up close and actually touch the turtles (even though you really shouldn’t, but we were being supervised!) is just amazing.

I thought I’d wrap up this post with a news report I came across where a Sea Turtle is accused of abandoning her eggs, the report comes from The Onion 😉

Culture Vulturing In Chennai

One of my friends here in Chennai is a classical Tamil singer. The guy is as American as a Ford pickup truck, but he’s discovered a talent for the ancient and somewhat obscure art of warbling (which I’m reliably informed is actually singing). If you want to hear what it sounds like point your cursor over this link and press the left mouse button.

We are always being invited to hear him sing, and despite having not a single clue on what he’s singing about, people often go along to support him and attempt understand what’s going on. I’ve only been to see him sing once and I was completely confused, however when he invited us to listen to him sing on Saturday evening I decided, since I had bugger all else to do, to go along.

Now, this being India when you get given an address you should always head over to Google maps and try and ascertain exactly where the place is because in Chennai they have the most archaic address system known to man. Take my address for example. I live on 3rd Cross Street and the house number is 20. Except it’s also on 2nd Main Road and the house number is 26. To further complicate matters there are no less than four 3rd Cross Streets in my local area and this causes no end of fun when trying to get a home delivery or explain to a taxi driver where you live so he can pick you up. The zip/postal code system still eludes India. Oh. Wait. Not fun. Trauma.

In this instance we were told that the concert was being performed at a place called Spaces, #1 Elliots Beach Road. A quick lookup on Google Maps identifies the location and we were good to go.

When we arrived we looked up and down the road. There was no place called “Spaces”. We asked in a few shops. There was still no place called “Spaces”. We found a building that claimed to be #4 Elliots Beach Road, but unless our friend was performing in one of the houses next door we decided to discount it as pure conjecture. That coupled with the fact that the building was on a different road to what Google claimed to be Elliots Beach Road.

So after a bit of wandering we ended up walking down a little side street that we would never have gone down. It was packed with tiny little one room houses which doubled up as a shop front, the merchandise spilling out in to the street and selling everything from sea shells to mobile phones.

As we continued down this street we heard the sound of drums being played and suddenly the cramped lane opened out in to a big square overlooked by one of the biggest temples I’ve seen in Chennai.

Up on stage were a group of dancers playing the drums and putting on a bit of a performance. We stayed and watched by the sidelines, not meaning to stay very long when the friend I was with suddenly became mobbed by a load of Indians – she’s well over 6ft tall, female and white and hence is a giant magnet for young inquisitive Indian males 😀

Before we knew it we were chatting away to these university students from Pune (pronounced “pooh-nay” for the ignorant westerners reading my blog). It’s all the usual questions that I’ve mentioned in a previous and somewhat controversial blog post.

The thing that strikes me is just how friendly, inquisitive and innocent people are here. If this had been England, or most other western countries for that matter, and a couple of tourists rocked up to watch a cultural performance they wouldn’t get a second glance, but in India you get mobbed by people asking a million questions and wanting to know all about you, all about England, what you think of India – everything.

So we weren’t planning on sticking around but before we knew it they were making space for us, finding and offering us chairs to sit down, explaining what was going on, explaining about the dancers and singers, telling us about themselves and generally being extremely friendly.

My mum asked if we felt a little bit overwhelmed or out of our depth or concerned out our safety because you can literally be surrounded by dozens of people asking questions, wanting photos, trying to get you to go somewhere, but in Chennai I’ve never considered personal safety to be an issue, even late at night walking down deserted roads I’ve never felt unsafe, so speaking, interacting and joining with a big group of locals is perfectly ok. Even walking down the little sidestreet is fine because people will treat you with curiosity rather than any malice. It might be different in other parts of India, but definitely not in Chennai.

Back to the show…just like in Ooty, we quickly became a bigger attraction than the show itself as more people gathered round.

What was happening was that this show was a kind of internal, inter-state cultural exchange, designed to get people to understand more about other states’ cultures…err, through the medium of dance. They were all young people showcasing singing and dancing from the state they were from.

It actually turned out to be a really good show, and it just typifies India in that we were made to feel very welcome and everyone is so interested in you and were all so keen to tell us what’s going on. It’s just not something you’d ever find in the west.

It also sums up a lot about India that’s very hard to put your finger on, but it’s something along the lines of “things always tend to work out in the end”. We had originalyl gone to see our friend sing, we got stumped by TII (this is India) but ended up landing on our feet by having a great evening and chatting to loads of people. It’s difficult to put in to words just how differently guests are treated

Once the show finished, they even took my friend in to the massive temple that was next door to show her around. They even wanted us to join them for dinner but we were being picked up by another friend so had to say our goodbyes, however, not before all the photos were taken and they even asked us to give them our signature and write a little bit about India! No idea where they got the pen and paper from but once we had finished it was passed around so everyone could read it.

This is what I wrote…

India has a wonderfully diverse culture with some of the most friendly, welcoming and accommodating people in the world. It’s well known for the incredible food and the passion that people have for it. India is like no where else on Earth which is why so many tourists come to experience it. Jai Ho!

Haha, they loved the “Jai Ho” bit!

And now for some photos…

The sun sets over my apartment on 13th February

The sun sets over my apartment on 13th February

These guys were from Uttar Pradesh (I think)

These guys were from Uttar Pradesh (I think)

They were pretty energetic dancing around the stage

They were pretty energetic dancing around the stage

Wonder what the Health & Safety Executive would have to say about this!

Wonder what the Health & Safety Executive would have to say about this!

Massive temple right on the beach

Massive temple right on the beach

My friend was mobbed by people from Pune

My friend was mobbed by people from Pune

Soon more people came over and took photos

Soon more people came over and took photos

Even I couldn't escape as they lined up to have their photo taken with me

Even I couldn't escape as they lined up to have their photo taken with me

These people were from Kerala and the girl had an incredible voice!

These people were from Kerala and the girl had an incredible voice!

...She was also quite pretty :)

...She was also quite pretty 🙂

These guys were from...India. It was basically like Morris dancing with bells and sticks

These guys were from...India. It was basically like Morris dancing with bells and sticks

This girl from Pune did a very sensual dance - lots of wiggling!

This girl from Pune did a very sensual dance - lots of wiggling!

Another guy asks my friend for her "good name"
We were quite the tourist attraction!

We were quite the tourist attraction!

These guys...not too sure what they were doing!

These guys...not too sure what they were doing!

Huge crowds of people were there

Huge crowds of people were there

My new friend from North East India working in a shop here in Chennai

My new friend from North East India working in a shop here in Chennai

If You Go Down To The Beach Today

Given the utter lack of things to do in Chennai (ie. the pub) on Sunday evenings, Chennai, as a whole, converges en-masse to a place known as Marina beach. I often forget that Chennai is a coastal city but it’s just a short 10 minute train ride to get to the beach.

Marina beach is the place to go, it’s like Blackpool but not as bad. Families play with their kids, newly weds and secret couples sit slightly closer to one another trying to look nonchalant (but no touching!) and groups of lads do whatever it is young men do and talk about in India. Talk about cricket I guess. Amazingly you’ll also find small groups of young lady’s on the beach – quite what they are doing out of their hostels and on their own I don’t know! :p

When I went to the beach this weekend I did notice a large mixed group of young twenty somethings – presumably MBA students – sitting in a circle and chatting away to one another, however, true to the norms of the society in this part of the country, dignity was maintained by having all the girls on one half of the circle and all the guys on the other.

The beach is like India everywhere, the rich rub shoulders with the poor. If you sit or remain stationary for more than a few minutes, hawkers converge on you like the plague, peddling everything from food of a dubious quality to palm reading and even parakeets that can foretell your future by selecting cards from a pile. You’ll even get the unfortunately disformed beggars trying to touch you and ask you for money and as a foreigner you are definitely seen as a walking ATM!

Oh yes, and as a foreigner if the hawkers don’t get to you first then it’s because some locals have come over to speak to you. Some of my friends can find this quite tiring but I personally love the attention and curious nature of the people here! However, the questions are always the same…

  • “You are from?”
  • “How you like India?”
  • “You like our food?”
  • “How you find our climate?”
  • “This is your wife?” (pointing to my friend)
  • “You have been in India how long?”

Then when they learn that you’ve been living and working in India for the last two years the focus of the questions change…

  • “You have a smart salary?”
  • “How much you earn?”


And then, after chatting for you for 5 minutes, during which time you grow more conscious of the fact that you have not asked them a single question they ask for “your good name” and ask if they can exchange contact details with you – as a result my phoneboook is stuffed full of numbers for young and middle aged Indian men who I’ve met for all of 5 minutes, answered the same questions and never spoken to again in my life…if only it was this easy to get women’s numbers!

Back to the beach.

While the Indian middle classes are still learning about recreation, downtime and life beyond the office / shop / factory, the deep rooted traditional values of the south remain intact. Women do venture in to the sea but this being India they keep themselves covered from head to toe – yep, they go in to the sea fully dressed, it’s quite bizarre!

Unfortunately, from a personal point of view, no where sells buckets and spades for creating massive sand castles, so one of my few talents is completely wasted on the beaches of Chennai 🙁