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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry and Vedasandur INDIA for Mahesh's Wedding! 2nd Dec to 12th Dec, 2016!

When one of my best friends from Malaysia told me that he was engaged and getting married in India, I was first and foremost thrilled for him. However, I was also hesitant to say that we could partake in the festivities, given the timing of the wedding in December (generally busier time at work). Fortunately after conferring with managers at work and looking at flights, both Jenn and I agreed that we could make it work!

This was especially exciting for me since Jenn has actually met Mahesh a few times and we've all hung out together. Since we've also never attended an Indian wedding before, if we were to make a trip half-way around the world for one, this would be it!

Mahesh and I at a mamak store, July 2007. 10 years ago!

Day 1 - Dec 2nd Friday – Leave ORD

We were recently introduced to the Priority Pass as the benefits of one of our credit cards. The Pass allowed us to visit Airline Lounges before international flights. Given the many layovers during the trip, this benefit was put to good use!

Air France - KLM Lounge in Chicago (ORD). Good drinks selection but not many hot food option.

British Airway flight to London!

Next Priority Pass stop was Aspire, The Lounge and Spa at Heathrow (LHR) T5. Great drinks selection and nice finger food spread. This was an especially nice benefit as our flight was delayed by about 6 hours!

Day 3 - Dec 4th Sunday – Arrive at Chennai

Before departing for India, Mahesh warned that the recently implemented "demonetization" policy was making it extremely difficult to obtain Indian Rupees. Compounding the problem was the fact that Indian Rupees are not allowed to be taken outside India, therefore making it almost impossible to arrive in India with any Rupees at all!

What is the demonetization policy?

Within a few hours' notice, Prime Minister Modi announced on Nov 8, 2016 that the widely used 500 and 1000 rupee notes were no longer legal tender. Therefore, citizens had to exchanged their notes for the newly printed 2000 rupees at the bank or deposit their notes into their bank accounts. Fundamentally, PM Modi wants India to become more of a cashless society. This would:

a) Shrink the "shadow" economy and thus tax evasion
b) Make it difficult for illegal activities to transpire since you had to provide an explanation for large amounts of cash being exchanged and show proof that taxes have been paid on these amounts!

With this move, long lines at the ATM became the norm as there was also a daily cash limit (INR 4000 ~ $60) that could be withdrawn from the ATM!

As soon as we arrived, we exchanged USD for rupees at the airport FX counter. I usually try to avoid this at all costs given the cutthroat exchange rates but given the urgency of the situation, we felt that we needed to at least have some Rupees on hand. There was also 1 functional ATM at the airport, so we also withdrew money up to the allowed maximum. I found out later that you could make multiple withdrawals (of the daily maximum amount each time) if you have an international ATM card! 

With our pockets flushed, we exited the airport and was greeted by Mahesh's cousin, Rohit, our tour guide for the day!

A picture of Rohit, me and Jenn, taken later!

For the first leg of the journey, we hired a driver to take us around. This was definitely the best way to get to different cities in India, something we learned from our previous trip!

Tata Zest - our car for the next few days!

The first thing we did was to check into our hotel, Courtyard Chennai. Lovely room obtained through points!

After freshening up, Rohit took us to a Chettinadu restaurant called Hotel Virudhunagar. Chettinad cuisine is a distinctive type of Tamil food utilizing a variety of spices. Having read about it before arriving, we were pretty excited to have this be our first stop! The other thing we noticed was how restaurants (with no accommodation options) are commonly named "Hotel"! There was no great answer as to why this was the case when asking around.

The traditional way for eating Tamil food is on a banana leaf. This is practiced even at restaurants! The next thing you will notice is the lack of eating utensils!

Rohit convinced me to eat with my hand (always the RIGHT hand) at least once. It's definitely not an easy task!

We ordered a variety of food!!

Mutton Briyani - I have to say that I've had the best briyani during this trip. The Tamils really made it a craft and perfected it! Ate a lot of briyani and wished I could have more!

Chettinad Chicken Curry and Mutton Chukka
So delicious!

Brinjal Curry

Paneer Butter Masala

Some Naan to accompany all the food we ordered

Full plate to sample one of everything. I would definitely come back here if I visited Chennai again!

After lunch, we had planned on buying some traditional outfits for the wedding. From my research and talking to some people on the flight, it seemed that Pothy's was a good place to start. It turned out to be the only place we needed! The store we visited spanned 6 to 7 floors and had every Indian garment you would ever need!

Jenn trying out a sari.

Pothy staff donning pink saris, enjoying their mid-afternoon break with chai and cookies!

We ended up spending the whole afternoon at Pothy's and bought a few things each! This was definitely a fun experience. After we were finished, we were tired (due to jet lag) and hungry again! Fortunately, we knew exactly where to go! On the way to our earlier restaurant, we saw.... 

"Nasi Kandar Pelita", a Malaysian restaurant!

We went a little overboard with the ordering (Maggie Mee Goreng, Rendang, Roti Canai, Curry Chicken) and was stuffed at the end of it!

One thing I learned was how many Indians in Malaysia have ties to South India. Many of the Tamil words I learned growing up were of no use when we were in India the last time (North India) but everyone here definitely understood "Nandri"! Even at Nasi Kandar, some of the people working there had actually spent time in Malaysia and could even speak Malay!

Day 4 - Dec 5th Monday – Day at Mahabalipuram and night in Pondicherry

When checking-in, we found out that the breakfast was included! It was a buffet-style meal with a variety of South Indian staples.

First visit to the buffet bar. Clockwise from top left
Vada - Indian version of a deep-fried donut 
Coconut Chutney 
Sambar for idli
Variety of vegetables
Upma Rava - thick porridge-like dish made from wheat
Idli (in the middle) - steamed savory cake made of black lentils and rice

Of course, I had to wash it all down with a cup of ginger chai (Indian tea infused with ginger).

More South Indian staple in the form of Pesarattu dosa (which was the special of the day) - a traditional Indian pancake of the green moong variety

We checked out and made our way to the next destination. On the way out of Chennai, we passed an interesting section of Marina Beach.

Thanks to a friend, I found out that the GPS on your phone can work without data! Therefore, if you "star" / "add-as-favorite" sections on Google map, it is possible to navigate to those "stars" by zooming into Google map to have a better look at the map. This was a huge time-saver for us as we could assist our driver with navigating (who was stopping every 10 minutes for directions when just trying to navigate out of Chennai)!

Our next stop was the city of Mahabalipuram (also known as Mahabs for short), home to a group of sanctuaries, carved-out of rocks and now classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.

There are several different attractions that you can visit with one ticket and we attempted to cover the more interesting ones.

Descent of the Ganges - an impressive bas-relief carving on 2 large boulders of pink granite. Relief is a technique of sculpting with the end result of having the sculpture on a solid background.

Right next to the carving was Krishna Cave, one of the more popular Cave Temples in town. There are 9 reliefs found here dedicated to Lord Krishna. Here, we are in front of the carving. Jenn was donning something that she bought from Pothy's yesterday!

One of the more interesting reliefs which shows Lord Krishna lifting a hill to protect people from torrential rains.

Another one of the reliefs that we liked, this one showing a villager milking a cow.

The next stop was "Krishna’s Butter Ball or Vaanirai Kal (Stone of the Sky God)". This 25 ton rock sits precariously on a slope and looks like it is about to roll down hill at any moment but attempts to actually make this happen has proven futile!

A different angle of the rock. Doing the tourist thing of getting a picture taken underneath the rock!

We made one last stop at the Shore Temple (a structural rock temple) before lunch, overlooking the Bay of Bengal. We could only admire it from the outside as the inner sections of temple was closed for refurbishment. 

At this point, we were getting hungry so we stopped by Gecko Cafe for lunch.

Being a seaside town, we had to try some seafood. Here's U-Xinn's Kerala style coconut fish curry with rice.

Jenn's Calamari Thokku - thokku is a cooked-down reduction usually consisting of fruits, vegetables and/or herbs, a Tamil specialty.

Our final stop in Mahabalipuram was at the Pancha Rathas or "Five Rathas of Mahabalipuram". There were five monolithic carvings that represented a variation of a chariot (Rathas).

Due to the uniqueness and intricacies of the carving, these monuments are recognized as a UNESCO heritage site.

A realistic elephant carving among the chariots.

And thus, this concluded our visit to the historically rich Mahabalipuram. On the way back to our car, we stopped at a few souvenir stores and ran into more people who could speak Malay! I was starting to think that this was common but was later told that it was merely coincidental.

When we were finished picking up a few mementos, we proceeded to our next destination where we were planning to spend the night - Pondicherry.

On the route to Mahabs, we attempted to stop at various ATMs. However, they were all out of cash. On the way to Pondi, when we saw the line on this one indicating that it was working, we thought it might be a good idea to withdraw some money. These lines were a common recurring theme throughout the journey.

 A popular tourist destination in South India, Pondicherry retains its large French influence even till today. For example, street signs are in both French and Tamil! Additionally, French architecture is clearly present in the buildings around town. This was the perfect in-between stop for us as it was halfway between Chennai and Trichy, where we thought we were headed to for the wedding.

We arrived at Hotel Le Dupleix in the evening.

Quaint rooms that were stylistically French. Very comfortable stay!

Upon arrival here, we were told that Jayalalithaa Jayaram (aka 'iron lady'), Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was hospitalized and was in critical condition. The magnitude of the event was lost upon us. However, we were advised to stay indoors if possible, to avoid any potential riots that might take place. Apparently, the beloved CM's followers may wreck havoc if she passed away. 

Fortunately for us, Le Dupleix had a very decent in-house restaurant. This also seemed like a good break from all the Indian food we've had so far.

Thyme flavored mushroom soup

Mixed Vegetable Korma - Vegetables cooked in mild and rich creamy gravy

Homemade fresh fettuccine Aglio olio e pepperoncino - Homemade fettuccine tossed in garlic, olive oil and chili flakes

Day 5 - Dec 6th Tuesday – Day in Pondicherry and extension of stay

Overnight, the announcement was made that the CM passed away. This created a lot of uncertainty in our itinerary as we were told not to travel today, for fear of angering the CM's fervent supporters!

We were actually planning on leaving for the next city today but had to re-think that plan with this new development. 

 I headed out first to explore the situation around town and found that most stores were closed with some being semi-opened (half-shuttered).

This was true of many other restaurants/stores as well. Therefore, there was not a whole lot to do! This fitted us just fine as we took time today to catch-up on our jetlag/sleep. 

Before doing that, we went out hunting for food. Fortunately for us, many of the larger hotels were open for business. We swung by the "Promenade", a sister property to check out the pool and also to get some nourishment.

Obligatory Kingfisher beer! Because Pondicherry is considered a federal territory, alcohol tax was substantially lower!

 Chinese Dragon Beef - Crispy beef strips tossed with red chilli, onion and bell pepper

 Mutton Sukka Varuval - Spicy South Indian lamb preparation

After the meal, we walked along Beach Road. It was quite empty as we suspected that people were still mourning their loss.

 One of the key attractions here was a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

 At the bottom of the statue, someone paying their respect to the CM.

After that, we went back to Le Dupleix to take a nap. We also spontaneously booked an extra night here, to avoid having to deal with the hassle of moving about. We made the decision that we were going to leave for Vedasandur, early the next day.

 When we woke up, we went to the Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple, dedicated to Ganesa (elephant God)

 This was also home to Lakshmi the elephant, that stands outside the temple at certain hours to "bless" devotees. Pictured here is the elephant and her mahout, the term to describe her trainer/rider for life.

 Of course, blessings don't come for free. First, you need to offer some rupees, which is collected by the elephant's trunk

 Once the mahmout gives the signal, then you get her blessings, which is a tap on the head with her trunk.

  Saying that Pondicherry has a beach is misleading, as the coast here is really unsuitable for any type of swimming, due to strong underwater currents. However, Beach Road comes alive at night as people come out for a stroll or to hang-out with their friends.

Enjoying the coastal Bay of Bengal breeze

 On the way back to our hotel, we passed by the same street from earlier. It looked to be a lot busier now with most of the shops actually looking like they were open for business!

 I saw this line outside this one particular store. In general, the locals are usually right!

 They only sold dosa, but I noticed that some came with an egg, either combined or or on the side.

 I got a dosa with mute (egg) that also came with some dahl. Delicious meal that reminded me of "Roti Telur" from Malaysia!

 I decided to also get a cup of chai (tea). It was very delicious due to the use of fresh milk and a lot of sugar!

 My cup of chai

I wanted to withdraw more cash but this ATM didn't seem like a good one to try. But this again showed how difficult it was for people to obtain cash, due to the daily limit!

Day 6 - Dec7th Wednesday – Leave Pondicherry and arrive in Vedasandur, Pre-Wedding Festivities

We departed from Pondicherry early in the morning. Initially, I thought that we were going to Tiruchirappalli (Trichy) because that was the airport that Mahesh had suggested he fly into.

Finally, I found out that our final destination was about 2 hours south west of Trichy, to a smaller town called Vedasandur. This was where the temple in which the wedding was to be had. The total travel time was about 5 hours.

On the way, we stopped at a road-side store for some snacks.

Chai man making his craft

Vada (left) - deep fried fritters 
Sweet Bonda (right) - a sweet, deep fried snack

After a perilous journey with Kumar, we finally arrived at Arulmigu Kunguma Kaliyamman Temple Kalyana Mandapam, Vedasandur! The temple is actually quite small but the compound around it was large. There was a huge hall next to the temple which was used as a dining area. A kitchen, where all meals were prepared, was adjacent to the hall. In addition, there was ample space outside the temple for various stages to be erected for different use.

This is the dining area!

We were starving so we sat down to eat immediately! Food was served in a traditional manner. A banana leaf was first placed in front of you. You would rinse the leaf with some water and family members would walk around with huge servings of food and offer them to guests. Think of it as a reverse buffet where the food is brought to you instead of you having to get up. 

Eating is a social affair where guests sit on long tables and are served first, before family members partake in the meals.

Once you're finished, you indicate that by folding your banana leave in towards you. I read that these leaves are then fed to cows.

After lunch, we decided to go back to the hotel which Mahesh's family so graciously reserved for us - Hotel SaiVelan Residency. In fact, they had reserved blocks of rooms in 2 separate hotels for their visiting guests. Our hotel was further away from the temple, but closer to the vibrant city of Dindigul, which we were excited to visit because we heard about their famous briyani!

On the way to our hotel, we stopped at a famous temple nearby - Thadikombu Perumal Temple
Unfortunately for us, they were closed, so we ended up only taking a picture of it from the outside.

After freshening up, we headed back to the temple to socialize with everyone. We arrived at the right time as the priest was giving out blessings.

Getting drizzled with water

Getting a tilaka on our foreheads!

With Auntie (Mahesh's mum) and Mahesh

Entrance to the actual temple.

There were no short of treats during the entire time we were at the temple! Various snacks were offered to guests. One of it was Jigarthanda, a cold drink native to the area. Loosely translated to "cool heart", the sweet dessert consists of milk, almond gum, sarsaparilla root syrup, sugar and ice-cream. (Wikipedia)

We spent the next few hours catching up and just hanging out. At this point, Mahesh told us about a goat that they had recently slaughtered to make mutton briyani. Fortunately for us, this was on the menu next!

This was our last non-veg meal at the temple for the next few days. Delicious mutton briyani with curry chicken and egg.

Eating lunch! We actually brought plastic eating utensils along!

Technically, today was supposed to be the Sangeet and Mehndi ceremony. Sangeet is just a big celebration which involves singing, dancing and music. However, Mahesh's wedding had to be scaled back due to the death of the chief minister (described earlier). Mehndi is the  part of the pre-wedding where elaborate designs are drawn on the ladies' hands using a paste, made from the dry powdered leaves of the henna plant. Commonly known as henna, a professional Mehndi artist was hired to draw temporary designs for anyone who was interested!

The group of ladies congregating to socialize and to wait in line for their Mehndi

Jenn getting her Mehndi

Different angle of the Mehndi artist at work!

Very talented artist

One hand done!

Social affair

Both hands done!

We went back to the hotel in the evening to rest up for tomorrow. After taking a shower, we decided to check out the restaurant next door.

Very similar to a mamak store in Malaysia.

Dosa Mute - Egg tosai

Roti Mute - Flat bread with eggs

Day 7 - Dec8th Thursday – Wedding Festivities Vedasandur Part1

Indian weddings are lengthy affairs. It is very common to see the entire thing last through several days. In fact, Mahesh had been in India for almost a week at this point, fulfilling wedding rituals one after another. However, today was when most of the guests started pouring in.

In preparation for this day, I was planning to don a kurta that I bought from Pothy's earlier. However, Jenn still didn't have anything good to wear. Therefore, we decided to spend today in Dindingul. Our goal was 2-fold:

a) Find a sari for Jenn
b) Try the famous Venu Briyani. Incidentally, Dindigul is famous for its briyani. The popular restaurant chain Dindigul Thalappakatti originated here!

Of course, because we were still jet lagged, we woke up at 7am before anything normal was opened! As a result, I went out to scour the streets for some food.

Came back with some garam bonda that I found - deep fried fritters that were slightly salted (instead of the sweet variety from yesterday)

After getting changed, we took an "auto" to Dindigul. 

We walked around scouting the area for the best place to get a sari and to figure out where Venu Briyani was located.

Some interesting local sights. The local fishmonger.

Local chicken butcher

In no time at all, we found Parvathy, a store that sold all the materials needed for making a sari. Fortunately, there was a tailor a few stores away, who could make an entire sari in just an hour! After going through all the possibilities and getting the proper measurements with the help of the tailor, Jenn's sari was underway!

While the tailor was working on the sari, we decided to swing by Venu Briyani for lunch.

Must try, Mutton Briyani

Karandi Omelette, a delicious omelette that's unique to India. It was so good we ordered another!

Chicken Manchurian, one of Jenn's all-time favorite Indian Chinese dishes

After the meal, the sari was ready! Saris are super complicated to put on so we asked the tailor to show us how to do it. Here's Jenn in the tailor's workshop getting fitted.

After picking up the sari, we headed back to the temple to hang out with the wedding crew. Since Mahesh's hotel was right next to the temple, we were actually invited to the hotel since we had a few hours to kill. The hotel was used as the base for relatives to dress up and to get ready. There were beauticians there as well so Jenn got in queue to get some wedding accessories.

Jenn with a bindi and tika on her forehead, along with a matching necklace to go with the sari.

Later in the evening, we were all ferried back to the temple for the bridegroom procession.

At this juncture, the entire temple was decked out with various ornaments and ritualistic decor. This is the entrance to the temple. 

This is the walkway leading into the temple. Beautiful and bright colors were definitely the theme of this wedding!

Mahesh's aunts greetings guests upon arrival

A quick picture with Mahesh's mum!

A group of Indian drummers welcomed everyone! They were drumming out some high energy beats!

Of course, food was also served. Here's a scene in the kitchen were preparation work was underway

Our vegetarian meal consisting of an assortment of local specialties.

There was also a chai man present. You could get unlimited tea or coffee!

This is what the compound of the temple looked like after decorations were added all over

Jenn and I in our traditional Indian outfits - kurta and sari. 

A quick picture with Mahesh's 2 brothers - Kritik and Kartik, both who were fantastic hosts.

At some point, we were told that the groom's side had to vacate the temple. Traditionally, the groom would have to leave from his temple to pick the bride up at her temple. Since the families negotiated for the wedding to be held at Mahesh's family's temple, he had a slight twist to this tradition. The groom's party would now "depart" from a smaller temple a few steps away.

A picture with the groom!

Observing rituals at this smaller temple

Mahesh's uncle participating in the prayer rituals

Accompanying the procession was the group of Indian drummers!

To "invite" the groom's family in, the bride's brother led a procession out to meet us in the middle! A lot of dancing and celebration ensued!

Finally, the bride and groom were united! Charu and Mahesh!

The beautiful couple and family members

This was the process of close relatives giving gifts

Gift giving etiquette: Although all sorts of gifts are acceptable, cash is king. Typically, guests would have opportunities to greet the couple and get their pictures taken. This is when you should present the couple with your gifts! We didn't quite figure this out until later!

Day 8 - Dec9th Friday – Wedding Festivities Vedasandur Part 2

Today was when the actual wedding ceremony was to take place. Known as the Muhurtham, this refers to the"time of the wedding" and is calculated by the priest, based on Vedic astrology. For this day, Mahesh's family  was so kind as to buy both Jenn and I traditional Indian outfits.

My Kurta top and Dhoti bottom
Jenn's silk sari
All courtesy of Mahesh and family. Thank you!

The sari blended very nicely with the Mehndi from 2 days ago. Did you know that Mehndis grow progressively darker?

Mahesh sitting in position before the ceremony, surrounded by his uncles and aunts

Various trinkets needed for the ceremony

Mahesh's cousins from all over India!

Finally, the bride arrived at the temple as well. She went through some rituals herself.

She was first seated across from Mahesh. Her sari is made of Kanchipuram silk, the best type of sari that can be found in the area!

She was soon moved next to Mahesh where they proceeded with being married by the priest

At the end of the ceremony, family members showered the bride and groom with rice, a symbol of prosperity and wealth!

We were able to get a picture with Mahesh!

At this point, it was time for lunch! More vegetarian deliciousness!!

The assembly line for food! Super efficient!

Group picture with the bride and groom! Congrats again! So much fun to have celebrated with you!

After that we just hung around as the groom and bride received greetings from their guests. Jenn was a popular subject for pictures!

Meanwhile, entertainers were hired to provide a combination of live music and being played by a DJ. A lot of dancing followed.

Before long, it was time for food again! As you can tell, we were really never hungry for a long time at once! Indian vegetarian food really is great!

 For dessert, there was sweet beeda. This was a tasty dessert which also acts as a breath freshener. It is typically areca nut wrapped in betel leaves and chewed.

Finally, the multi-day party came to an end. One last look at the surrounding as he headed back to our hotel to pack up!

Initially, we had planned to have a driver take us back to Chennai. However, after experiencing the driving in South India, we were a bit concerned with an overnight drive! Fortunately, Mahesh presented us with an option to take an overnight train instead. India is quite famous for its trains and this was something I wanted to do the first time we visited. When asked if this was preferable, it was a no-brainer for us to say yes! In fact, seeing that everyone else was taking the train as well, this seemed like the way to do it!

We arrived at the Dindigul Station in the evening. Note the similarity between this sign and the ones used in the London tube???

This was our luggage porter pushing all the luggage.

Train arrived for our 6 hour ride to Chennai.

There were 2 sides of the train. On the left, there were 3 bunk beds. On the right, there were 2 bunk beds.

Here we were in the middle and top bunks respectively! Jenn had a hard time sleeping due to a close-by passenger snoring! No problems for me!

Karthik also kindly made a final briyani run and got me with a chicken briyani for the journey!

Day 9 - Dec10th Saturday – Day in Chennai

Upon arrival at the Chennai train station, Jenn and I had no idea where we would be staying for the night.

We decided that our best bet was to go back to Marriott Courtyard and to figure it out from there.

After mulling over our options, Marriott Courtyard seemed like a good choice, thanks to Marriott points! As an added bonus, we even got 2 buffet breakfasts (for both of us) for almost free!

After checking in, we grabbed breakfast. The special for today, Uthappam, a dosa-like dish from South India made by cooking ingredients in a batter. Unlike a dosa, which is crisp and crepe-like, uthappam is a thick pancake, with toppings cooked right into the batter. (Wikipedia)

Having arrived in Chennai at 5.25 am, we were both still tired from the journey and opted to catch up on sleep. When we woke up, it was time for lunch! At this point, I discovered that my phone plan included free international roaming in India. This included data access, which allowed me to use Uber! This was a game changer and saved us a lot of money! It was unbelievable how much more expensive the "autos" were in Chennai, compared to Uber!

As we were getting ready to leave the hotel, we got a quote from the auto driver outside. The amount was a few times the estimate based on the Uber app! We took Uber everywhere in Chennai for the rest of our stay.

Since Chennai is a coastal city, we really wanted to try some seafood. Based on research, The Marina seemed like a safe choice. We essentially picked the seafood we wanted, choose a style of cooking and voila, our dishes were made! 

The Emperor Fish that we picked.

Tawa fry emperor fish, a popular cooking style from North India

Garlic Honey Squid 

Dim Sum Veg so we felt less guilty about our other meat choices

Ghee rice

Malabar Curry Tiger prawn, a Kerala style curry with Chinese roots. Definitely would get this again!

After lunch, we went back to Pothy's, as Jenn needed to get another outfit for the Chennai wedding reception tomorrow.

Jenn testing out a blue sari

It was a busy day at Pothy's!

We finally decided to visit a McDonald's. Since I had the Maharaja burger before, I opted for some spicy wings while Jenn went with the  safe pick of Chicken nuggets and fries.

When we went back to the hotel, Jenn started to feel quite ill. However, Mahesh and Charu just arrived in Chennai and invited us out for dinner. Since I had anticipated this happening, I met up with them at Thalappakatti Restaurant. Love the choice, since that means more briyani!

Big fail on our part for forgetting to take any pictures... We did get a picture of the Falooda dessert though, made of ice-cream, rose syrup, fruits, jelly, milk and nuts!

Day 10 - Dec11th Sunday – Day in Chennai

Today was our last actual day in India. At this point, Jenn was severely ill with a bad case of food poisoning. As a result, she was throwing up and had bad diarrhea. We spent most of the day in the hotel so Jenn could recuperate.

We couldn't decide what to do for our lodging situation either! We were torn between spending our final night at the Marriott (so we didn't need to pack) or moving to the hotel where the wedding reception was.

After doing some research, we decided it would be easier to move hotels, especially since the new hotel was closer to the airport, making it easy to catch our 7.30 am flight the next day.

Our room in Hotel Chennai Le Palace

Despite already buying a sari, Jenn was so sick that she was in no condition to go to the reception! Fortunately, room service had plain noodles and butter, the perfect comfort food for Jenn.

Meanwhile, I went down to partake in the reception. This reception was mainly for guests who could not make it to the ceremony in Vedasandur (which was about 7 hours away by car).

Picture with Charu and Mahesh in their gorgeous traditional wedding outfits.

A lot of dancing followed the greeting session.

Young talent showing their moves!

A picture with Mahesh's parents who did so much in planning the wedding! Thank you for being such great and welcoming hosts!

After the reception, the younger crowd got some drinks at the hotel bar.

Day 11 - Dec12th Monday – Leaving Chennai

We left bright and early for the airport, wanting to use our Priority Pass again.

 The Travel Club had a nice selection of local and Western food. Perfect for the sick traveler!

Closer to our 7.30am flight, we left the lounge. At this time, we could see that the rain was coming down strong and heavy. We've actually heard all morning about a cyclone potentially hitting Chennai but did not understand the severity of what would happen if it hit. We were just hoping all along to avoid getting stuck in Chennai. At about 6.45am, we saw Mahesh's family! They too, were catching an 8 am flight back to Malaysia. Coincidentally, their gate was close to ours so we got to say our good byes. We boarded the plane and departed for London.

Upon arrival at London, we checked into the lounge of our choice, No1 Lounge. This had the best food in my opinion!

 Lamb Hotpot as an option, what?!?

They also had a nice selection of beer!

With internet connection now, we found out soon enough that tropical Cyclone Verdah did hit Chennai. It was a category 1 hurricane with winds coming in at up to 87 mph (140 kmh)!!! It was so bad that people died, people lost power, large trees got uprooted and a flood struck Chennai. We also found out that Mahesh's family unfortunately did not make it out, even though their flight was the next one after ours. Said differently, we were the last plane that departed from Chennai. This was incredible, as it would not have been fun, if Jenn was stuck there and feeling the way she did!

Karthik, who was stuck at the airport took this video, exemplifying how bad the conditions were.

At the end, Mahesh's family was forced to spend the night in a hotel nearby. They ended up having to take a bus to a different city and flying home from there. Wild twist of events!

This was one of the best experience of our lives! We're so happy for this newly weds and wish them so much happiness in their lives together!

Random fact:

Our theme song for this journey was Chalmaar by Devi! Catchy Indian hit song that has "Jennifer" somewhere in the song! Check it out!

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