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Postcards from Pondicherry

On the long weekend (Aug 13-15), about 15 of us headed to Pondicherry. So this is a little late but I usually follow the maxim, “better late than never”!

It took about 100 mails going to and fro. Finally, about 15 people decided on Pondi as the destination for the long weekend.

The last time I went to Pondi, I have warm (or should I say hot) recollections of walking around the place in what seemed like 40+ temperatures. Sweat oozing out of our glands like juice out of lemons. I had only my sister for company. Both of us wearing cute colourful caps and walking around in the summer heat trying to look cool and discovering Auroville in all its splendour. That was a fun time!

This time it was a little different. For starters there were so many of us that at times I felt like we were at Forum! Restaurants had a real problem with us since it’s hard to find a table that accommodates so many together. And the waiters in Pondi, we found, were the rather surly types. Added to the situation, the fact that we weren’t French. Whatever little French we spoke got rejected by the Mauritian in the group (you are murdering the language, he said!). So that was the end of our brief affair avec la langue Française.

The plan was to set off at 4.00 am. We did finally manage to all take off from Bangalore at 5.00 am on Saturday morning. By about 9.30 am we were in Chennai where ee stopped at Murugan Idli for breakfast! It was a long way to go for a meal. And the idlis were a little soggy. But the yummy chutneys more than made up for the long and circuitous route to TNagar and asking a million people for directions on the way!

After that break in Chennai and another longish break in Fisherman’s Cove near Mamallapuram, we reached Pondi around 1.30 in the afternoon.

The whole world and their neighbours seemed to be in Pondi that weekend. There were massive crowds everywhere. Especially at Aurobindo Ashram there were long queues to get in. And Goubert Avenue, the main sea-front road of Pondi was choc-a-bloc with people – everyone assembles in the morning and the evening for no particular purpose (like Forum, again!).

While walking along the sea-front we spy Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Goubert Avenue. Wait a minute! It looked so healthy that we were suspicious that they actually put someone else’s body and MG’s head on it.

The Alliançe Française at one end of Goubert Avenue in Pondi overlooks the sea face and looked so beautifully done that we are now contemplating doing classes there on weekends. Heh. It was closed, but we poked our noses in to catch a glimpse : it looked terribly inviting!

We made the customary visit of Auroville (but Matri Mandir is shut for repair), frolicked in the sea and relaxed on the beach. On Monday, Shibs and I walked around Pondi town for a while and admired all the cool and pretty architecture. And then went and splurged some at Casablanca (Pondi’s cool mall) and some of the handicraft shops (where everything smells gorgeous and is equally overpriced). Picked up incense sticks, handmade paper objects, candles and generally anything that smelt nice.

Service I must say was really bad; maybe this was because of the unusual crowds in town. But both the dining places we visited : Satsanga and Rendezvous : were pretty dismal. The food was no great shakes either. The macaroni with meat sauce I ordered at Rendezvous was cold and extremely unappetizing. At Satsanga, I ordered some chicken maiyonnaise with vegetables. Thankfully, I wasn’t ravenous. I’d need 3 plates of it any other day!

The best service, I kid you not, was at the coffee shop at Casablanca mall on Mission Street. On the bill, the waiter had scribbled, “It was a pleasure to have been of service to you!” We were really surprised after our prior experiences in the town!

On Monday afternoon, after shopping and walking around, we packed our bags and started off for Bangalore. When we left Pondi and arrived in a temple town called Thiruvannamalai we stopped for lunch at Hotel Arunachalam. And boy, the waiter there made our day. He was smiling pleasantly all through, got us our dosas in super fast time, and actually took the trouble of slicing the dosas when we said 1×2. We were tempted to take him back to Pondi to teach some of the waiters and restaurants there about service!

We stopped at an ashram called Ramana Shri Ashram in the same town. One of our traveling companions went inside the meditation room and was showing no signs of emerging. Meanwhile, we watched the peacocks frolic.

Reached home at about 9.30 pm after a most pleasant tree-lined drive through Krishnagiri. And it only took us about 6 hours at a really reasonable speed. Definitely a route I’d like to go back on a bike someday!

Some takeaways from the trip:
1) Pondicherry is a hot place! Avoid till Sept-Oct if possible. Unless you actually like sweating buckets.
2) Preferably go in a small group. The problem with large numbers is that you hardly spend anytime with most of the people and tend to hang around in smaller groups. Thus defeating the purpose of the trip in the first place (i.e. to spend time with friends!). I’d say a size of 5-6 is perfect for a chilled out place like Pondi.
3) Don’t expect great service in Pondi 🙂 Slow and easy (the French way?!) is the mantra. Even the bill takes almost as much time as the meal!
4) The best way to get around is on cycles and bikes. They’re on rent in the city and Auroville. The perfect way to see the place.

The Pondicherry album is here.

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