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A Tumble into Trichy

Our last morning in Malaysia began with a visit to the restaurant that had produced the delightful Nasi Lamak and coconut rice pancakes that Smita had brought back for us the previous morning.

The place turned out to be a splendid little roadside stall, a few plastic table s with an outdoor kitchen, a crack squad of fellows, yelling at each other, and some very serious dedication to the speedy delivery of Indian-Malay grub. It was Chinese New Years Day, and the city was pretty deserted.

Most of the clientele there seemed to have a celebratory Sunday out with the family feel. The coffee was incredible. The food was as good or better than we had remembered it. Ah, KL.

So splendid was the place, in fact, that we were tempted to linger there for some time longer than scheduled. Long enough, in fact, that we were rushing to purchase a few snacks at a local wholesale grocer, and wheel back in time to pack our things up for the cab ride to the airport.

We collapsed the speed TRs in the parking garage at Smita’s residence, taking longer than usual, as we were for the first time, using a set of foam protectors which Tan from My Bike Shop had provided us . Meanwhile, Smita sprung to action arranging and negotiating with the cab company. We were sad to be saying goodbye to Malaysia and KL in particular. Kuala Lumpur had earned a firmly applied asiawheeling stamp of approval. But the open road and the wonders of India beckoned, so we bid Smita a fond farewell, and off we went.

Our AirAsia flight departed from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal, which was some distance from the airport proper. The entire terminal, it seemed, was there primarily for AirAsia flights, and we struggled some time to find, in rather low light and among what must have been nearly a hundred AirAsia counters (some for check in, some for baggage, some merely staffed for the sake of staffing) the appropriate counter for our flight to Trichy. We were finally able to find our counter, which was behind another seemingly random security checkpoint, and made all the more obvious by the large line of Indians, sporting lungis and saris, which poured out from a small counter, that may have at one point proclaimed check-in for the flight to Trichy, but now just displayed a 404 Firefox error message.

Most of the line turned out to not be a line, just people standing around chatting, so we were able to work our way quickly to the front, where, in an act of great kindness, redeeming them from all sour feelings over miscommunicated departure times, minute portions, and confusing service personnel, AirAsia waved the “sports equipment fee” for our speed TRs, marking them as merely fragile luggage and sending us, smiling, over to the luggage loading booth, where we patiently waited for a group of young children to climb off the baggage conveyor belt, where they had been most violently enjoying themselves.  Where were their mothers at a time like this?

Luggage dispatched, we headed into the terminal and joined another large group of Indians masquerading as a queue, but were in reality, just chatting and passing the time.

After eating a few shapes, we perused the airport bookstore, which was chock full of business-guru books for middle managers like “25 Sales Habits of Highly Effective Salespeople,” as well as a selection of unsettling magazines.

After shuffling around in the waiting hall looking for power and discussing the feasibility of a high-design beverage business, we boarded the flight and were soon airborne.

As an American, one assumes international flights should be long.  So we were quite surprised when only a couple hours later we arrived in India.

Indian customs proved to be a painless and quick affair, consisting mostly of head wobbling, and then we were set free into the baggage area, where we were to spend the next couple hours, tortured by thirst, and waiting as a poorly designed, bent, and crumbling luggage conveyor suffered through many,  many bags.

The machine seemed to have been designed for maximum impact, taking the luggage and first hoisting it up a long ramp, only to send it tumbling down a steep but grippy conveyor which would halt from time to time, sending the luggage on it tumbling under its own momentum, end over end, crashing down to ground level again.

We watched with bated breath, hoping that the cycles could handle the descent. Our bags slowly arrived, tumbling harmlessly down the spout, but the cycles were nowhere to be found. We paced and waited out the agonizingly slow process. Finally we saw our cycles begin to climb the conveyor, then the system stopped. It seems part of the cycle must have been caught in the machinery, or perhaps would not fit through some bottleneck in the interior of the system. Whatever it was, it was in our great favor, as the attendants finally, got up from where they had been sitting observing the goings on, and climbed into the interior of the machine to retrieve the Speed TRs, laying them at our feet, safe and sound.

The airport was tiny, sporting only a short strip outside for both pick-up and dr0p-off. After changing our Ringgit into Rupees at a truly predatory rate, we found chartering a ride into Trichy reasonably easy.  Drivers were plentiful, and, of course, the Ambassador was spacious.

As we drove, Scott selected a hotel from the list in the Lonely Planet, and our driver made short work of the journey.  With all the swerving and honking, we were reminded that we were definitely back in India.

At first the Hotel Femina seemed reticent about showing us the room before we paid. This was, of course, unacceptable, but after some hemming and hawing outside, and consultation with the locals about other options for lodging in Trichy, they relented and showed us a roomy unit with its own private balcony and a serviceable bathroom. “Oh good, a shower and a little sit in the Condor’s Nest,” we thought, thinking back to the many fine hours we had spent on balconies and porches in Indonesia. So we pulled the trigger.

With lodging out of the way, we unfolded the speed TRs and took to the street, finally getting some much needed water, locating a much needed Automatic Teller Machine, and indulging in some incredibly affordable and much needed Indian food. All the while, as we wheeled from waypoint to waypoint, I found myself startled at the degree to which India was. Everywhere I looked there were people, transacting, yelling, sounding horns, working, chatting, spitting, urinating, littering, or just sitting and passing time.  At every corner, Tamil men would question us about the bicycles and interact in all manners of communication.

The traffic was much slower than any we had yet experienced, consisting of mostly auto rickshaws and large noisy buses. Trichy, it seemed, was a transit city, and as night fell, it did not let up one bit. Street lights flickered on, and street vendors lit up hissing gas lanterns, and the city just kept churning.

And it was loud. Rickshaws, buses, bikes, and people, everyone was honking, screaming, and clanging bits of metal together. The traffic whipped up a dust that clung my sweaty skin, and the smoke from engines burning oil, the spicy scent of street vendors stirring great pots of boiling liquid, and the sickening sweet smell of the open sewers all blended together into an invigorating potpourri.

Ah, India. The extremes of Experience at last.

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