For the last dozen of days of so, I have been staying in the Amrita University campus of Ettimadai, near Coimbatore, and 300km away from Amritapuri. Here, there’s no western cafe, so our only food choices are between different sorts of Indian canteen food. Not that I dislike Indian food, but I do enjoy some variety in my diet so my stomach was calling for a day out.
Our plan for this week-end was to go on a day-trip to Coimbatore, approximately one hour away from campus, depending on how late the trains are. The program of the day would be something like flower market, good restaurant for lunch then mall for saree shopping and maybe even watching a movie!
Poo Flower Market
Yes, it is called Poo. Which means “flower” in Tamil, the language of the state. But it still makes me giggle.
We accepted the “tourist fare” from a rickshaw driver, as we didn’t want to fight for a few cents from back home, for them it is much more than for us. Moments later, after a crazy drive, he dropped us at the colourful flower market.
This wasn’t my first visit: I had been there approximately a month ago, with my supervisor, on my first trip to Coimbatore. But as it was Durga Puja, one of the biggest religious festivities of the year, the place was packed with people stocking up on flowers for the religious functions. I had a great first impression of the place, but it was so crowded we couldn’t move around and I could barely take pictures. Today was a working day, which means the market was less crowded.
Most vendors were friendly at the market, and were happy to pose for a picture. As in my first visit, people would even call us so that we could take a picture of them! We would them show them the picture, which would make them laugh. They knew we weren’t here for buying anything, so most of the time the would not try selling anything to us, or they would laugh while doing so.
Kuchi n Kream: feeling almost like back home!
For lunch, we wanted to go to a nice restaurant for a Western food fix. Our new Indian friend Harshita had recommended to us a few places, and we decided on Kuchi n Kream for the menu, reasonable prices and atmosphere.
When we got there, we weren’t disappointed! A part from the exclusively Indian waiter, staff and clients, it felt like any fancy cafe in Europe. The menu featured both Indian and Western dishes with an Indian twist.
We had a very fancy meal, not trying to be on a budget at all. As starters, I had a salad (spicy, of course) to enjoy the fresh veggies I’d been missing for so long and Simona had a delicious tomato soup. For the main course we shared mango gnocchi (!) which were also pretty spicy and some creamy pasta.
For desert, we moved to the couch to have ice cream, cake, coffee and tea. The air con was rather cold, and with all the Christmas decorations it almost felt like home, snuggling in the couch with a hot drink while winter is slowly settling in outside.
We enjoyed the atmosphere for as long as we could, before heading on to the mall to go to the movies. I went to pay, as the waiter told me we could pay with cards, which is pretty rare in India. But as I pulled mine out, he told me: “only Indian cards!”. So here we are, with a very expensive bill for India (but which would have only paid for a cheap burger back home in Switzerland) and not being able to pay by card. Luckily, I had the exact amount in bank notes, but we were left with nothing at all to get out of the place…
Money problems and rickshaw adventures!
No panic! I installed Uber on my phone, confident that we could get a ride in the city by registering with my credit card. But as I was about to book a ride, the service “temporarily disabled my account”. Well. Now the situation is getting more difficult. The waiter told us the first ATM of the State Bank (the only one working with my foreign credit and debit cards) was a 15 minutes walk away, and strongly advised us not to walk there.
So we went outside to ask help from a rickshaw driver, who couldn’t help us (most of them don’t speak English) and decided to start walking. A dozen of metres further down the road, some drivers asked us if we needed a ride, and we told us we needed to get to a working SBI (State Bank of India) ATM, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to pay them.
We drove to an ATM rather far away, and discovered a huge queue outside. Disheartened, we lined up at the end at what seemed like a one hour line. The driver parked his vehicle, and waved me in front of the line. He said a few words to the people in the front of the queue, and they smiled at me: “Please go! It’s your turn!”. How the hell did this happen?! The Indians seemed to find me skipping the queue perfectly normal, just as if I were a mother with a sick kid skipping the line at the bathroom. A few minutes later, I emerged from the ATM with my note of 2000 rupees (approx 30€), the legal limit per withdrawal.
We asked our driver to lead us to the mall, wondering how to get change to pay him. On the way, he stopped near a guy on a motorbike, walked up to him and showed the 2000 note. If the guy had enough change, he would have changed it just like that. Once at the mall, we went in to try to find a cheap thing to buy and get change, and after a few tries, the driver walked up to us with the exact change we agreed on! Crazy.
Going to the movies: Moana
As there were no Indian movies with subtitles, and we had nobody to help us understand, we went to see the latest Disney: Moana. The movie was awesome! It made me want to go again on adventures but also to go back “home” in New Zealand.
I was disappointed by the Indians though. Last time I went (also for a “Western” movie), the Indians in the theatre were a very funny company: they laughed out loud, encouraged the characters on action scenes and applauded. And in “romantic” scenes, you would have the 14-year-old type of dull-witted people at the back of the room shouting inappropriate things or just blurting out “baaaaaah”. Even when the “romantic” scene is a young man holding the hand of a dying old lady. If you’re in India, it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss!
One reason we wanted to go to Coimbatore was to go buy a saree! We spent the remaining of the day being very annoying to vendors, trying on all the nice colours we could find until deciding they didn’t suit us or the fabric was uncomfortable.
When I had found a colour and fabric I liked, two Indian girls shyly approached and told me the colour didn’t suit. By then, the vendor seemed to start being slightly annoyed: when you try on sarees you do make quite a mess, unravelling all this fabric!
In the end, I decided on a matching saree with Simona, but in grey instead of blue. And then, as it still fitted in the budget we had set, I decided on another light blueish green one.
After dinner, back at our hostel, we went to our friend’s room. She is an expert in saree wrapping, and had offered to dress us up! We spent a long time getting the folds perfect, putting on matching bindis (the dot on the forehead) and jewellery, then even more time taking pictures!
Now I have to try to do this by myself, an expert Indian lady (like those who wear a saree everyday) can wrap it in 5 minutes!