After a long work week, I spent today taking in some of the sights of Chennai. I’d checked out the usual online sources and the Lonely Planet and there wasn’t much that took my fancy. Then I found that the Royal Enfield factory is north of the city. So I combined this with a trip to the south to see Mahabalipuram.
The Royal Enfield Factory Tour
The Royal Enfield factory tour only runs once a week on a Saturday morning at 10:30. You’re supposed to book in two days in advance, but my colleague was able to book me in on Friday afternoon. I’d arranged the car to pick me up at 9:00, thinking that 1.5 hours would be heaps to get there.
We were doing alright heading into the centre of Chennai, then up to the harbour. Then it ground to a halt. There was a few klm’s of trucks lined up, and stopped, to get into the harbour on a narrow stretch of road beside the bay. So it was stop/start and I could see the time fast approaching. We turned inland and followed the main road and things got worse, the road was barely wide enough for one lane in each direction, so when one of the buses stopped ahead, or a smaller vehicles pulled over and left no room to pass, we stopped. And I was getting stressed. We got to the factory with about 3 minutes to spare!
The factory tour costs 600 rupee (about $15 US), and it’s money well spent. Not only do you get the tour, you get a free Royal Enfield polo shirt as well. The tour starts with the finished models. They produce five different models, all single cylinder, some in 350cc’s and some in 500cc’s (for the overseas market). Some feature the old 4-speed “one up and three down on the right” configuration and a more normal five speed with shift on the left. Some of the bikes are designed to compete with the Japanese and Indian commuters, and some are the old traditional models (the Bullet) including the Olive Green Indian Army model (my favourite).
We moved to engine/gearbox assembly building. I missed a lot of info here between the factory noise and my “Artillery trashed” hearing. Next is the painting of the parts. The detail lines on the tanks are handpainted, a skill that’s not very common these days. Apparently the father has been hand painting the lines on the tanks for years and is now training his sons. Then it was on to final assembly and then out to the test track. Unfortunately they won’t let you test ride the bikes.
There was an “under development” model that appeared briefly on the track amongst the Army models being checked. It was black and featured a single sprung seat and uncluttered rear guard. It looked great. Apparently it features the new motor and will be interesting to see how it goes when it hits the market later in the year.
Back in the car we headed south. Heading down towards Mahabalipuram we passed some of the more interesting sites in downtown Chennai, the Madras High Court building and the University of Madras, both featuring very unique buildings. We followed the beach and then inland to the East Coast Road south to Mahabalipuram.
Here are some snaps I took in the car with the camera in my mobile phone….
After having to pay a fee to enter the town, and then another fee to park near the Shore Temple, and then another fee to enter the site, I wandered around the Shore Temple. This temple dates back to the 8th century. It’s a very interesting structure, even though the weather has worn down a lot of the detail. I wasn’t sure of whether to take my shoes off and whether I was allowed to take photos inside the inner wall. I was confronted by a local who struck a bit of a menacing pose before breaking into a wide smile; I think he was posing for the camera not telling me to stop.
From there I walked the 200 meters inland through the streets to the set of temple caves and temples . There are many small carved temples, standalone shrines and a giant bas-relief called Arjuna’s Penance. I lost count of the number of people who wanted to be my guide and sell me stuff. Most annoying was a cute little girl about the same age as my daughters. She was particularly persistent; “you look at these”, “you drink water then you look”, “you read your book, then you look”. She went away eventually.
The rock caves and temples are interesting and worth the time, but it didn’t take long for the heat to start to take it’s toll. I was also a favourite of the kids, they all wanted to come up and say hello and shake my hand. It was nice the have the positive experience after warding off all the touts.
I was about the give it all up and head back to the car. I was walking through the grounds of the Talasayana Perumai temple’s when one of the families I’d met earlier asked me if I wanted to see the temple. Shiva introduced himself and his family and wouldn’t let me pay for my entrance to the temple. He took me through the rituals and tried to explain it, but it was lost in translation. I got my red dot on my forehead and must admit to a certain calmness walking out of the temple. Shiva’s generosity and friendliness certainly made my day.
From there it was the long grind back to Chennai, but it had been a great day. For all the pictures I took that day, see the Chennai (2008) album in my gallery.