Arrived in Chennai yesterday afternoon after a 27 hr train extravaganza. It wasn't the most comfortable 27 hrs of my life but I survived. Even without a/c the temperature was generally fine and my travelling companions amiable. Mostly they couldn't speak any english and my indian is not too great either (actually there are 16 main Indian languages). There were about 8 of us in the little section and I had 3 english speaking encounters over the journey. Mainly with a young computer student dude who was very happy to have a chance to practice his english lingo.
Very cheap ride - it cost 390 ruppees (about $8US) which was about what I was paying for accomodation in Mumbai. If I had gone a higher class I probably would have had more chance of communication with my fellows and also less beggars coming on board at every stop. It's quite confronting to have guys with deformed limbs, or little dirty poor kids or blind amputees beseech you for money all of the time. Some people say it is better not to encourage them but to give to charities instead which help them in the long-term, but it is hard to ignore them - especially when they can be so persistant - and so often times I give them some small coin if I have it.
Staying at a good cheap, fairly clean place in Chennai. Almost half the price of Mumbai for a proper room, about twice the size, with a small ensuite shower/toilet. Cold water showers BTW.
Had breakfast with a French dude who has been coming to India for six months of the year for the last 5 years. He isn't into ashrams or anything he just likes it. He was retired and his wife dead so why not says he. That's the kind of lifestyle I would like - the travelling part I mean.
Chennai feels more relaxed to me, not so intense as Mumbai. I stay here one more night and then onwards to Tiruvannamalai tommorrow (only 3.5hr bus ride this time). Andrew and Tim posted me a recommendation to go to a big Hindu temple NE of here (Tirumala Venkateswara Temple) which, according to wikipedia, is the richest and most visited holy place in the world. Sounds interesting but it will have to wait as I'm making a B-line for Ramana Ashram where I have a booking from 18-21 Jan. Other places of note around Chennai are the international headquarters of Krishnamurti, The Theosophical Society and Krishnamacharya Yoga all of which in one way or another have had a global impact on world spirituality. Although again, maybe later...........