Bonjour From Pondicherry
Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
74Trip End Sep 30, 2009
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Pondicherry is a former French colony in India and sometimes referred to as The French Riviera of the East (ha...right)
Saturday morning is trip day and as I leave very, very early in the morning, I decide to go out with my friends the night before and attempt to stay up all night. At 4AM I start packing and getting ready to leave and by 5:30AM I'm at the Hyderabad airport to catch a 6:30AM Kingfisher Air (love this airline) flight to Chennai. My flight to Chennai was uneventful as I slept through most of it. Touching down into the sea-side city of Chennai I'm greeting by my driver who will be taking me on the 3+ hour journey to Pondicherry via the scenic East Coast Road which hugs the eastern coast of India for most of the tripAmbassador cab. Ambassador cars have been in production in India since 1957...and I'm 90% sure that they've made little progress during the last 50 years to change the car to make it more comfortable. Anyway, my driver seems like a nice guy so off we go. I pretty much immediately fall asleep again and spend most of the journey wobbling my head around as I pass out and then wake back up each time my head falls off the headrest. One thing I do notice on the way down are the cows. In Hyderabad we have the nastiest black water buffaloes that will occasionally be walking in the road, blocking traffic, sticking their head in your window, etc. But here in the south, they have proper cows...and they are all over the place. Not that anyone reading this would find that remotely interesting, but I haven't seen a cow in a while so it was something new. We make one stop to a bathroom break and to grab something cold to drink, and by noon we're in Pondicherry looking for my hotel. My travel agent has booked me at a place called Villa Helena which is a former French Colonial home that has been made into a 4 room bed and breakfast. She's booked me the largest room in the place at the rock-bottom price of around $50/night...what a steal. The room was fine and after unpacking a bit, I set off on foot to walk along the promenade which lines the seashore within the city. The sea is only a couple blocks from the hotel but that was enough to make me drenched in sweat (fyi...the humidity is a killer here and temps are in the high 90's). Walking along the boardwalk I snap some photo's of the sea, a Ghandi statue, a monument to the Indians who died fighting for the French in WWI and a bunch of Indian school children who must have been on a field trip. I had some great pasta for lunch at the Promenade hotel which is where I initially wanted to stay, but alas it was sold out for the weekend I was there
Back at the hotel I requested that a scooter be delivered to help me explore more the city and a couple other sites. While I was waiting I relaxed a bit reading a book which almost immediately put me to sleep. I managed to wake up in time for happy hour which was at a place just down the street from my hotel called Seashells. Seashells has a great rooftop deck overlooking the sea with cold, cheap Kingfisher beer
Sunday morning I wake up relatively early, have a great breakfast at the hotel and jump on my scooter for the 14 kilometer ride up to Auroville. Before I can describe Auroville, you need some background on the group that built it. Sri Aurobindo was an Indian/Hindu nationalist, scholar, poet, mystic, evolutionary philosopher, yogi and guru...and is regarding as one of the greatest yogis in Hindu history. He was the founder of a new spiritual path which he called the "integral yoga," the aim of which was to further the evolution of life on earth by establishing a high level of spiritual consciousness. If you really want to read more about his philosophies, click here. Anyway, at some point Sri hooks up with a person known as the "Mother". She is Sri Aurobindo's close spiritual collaborator and she settles in Podicherry in 1920. After November 24, 1926, when Sri Aurobindo retired into seclusion, he left it to her to plan, run and build the growing Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the community of disciples that had gathered around them. When Sri Aurobindo died in 1950, the Mother continued their spiritual work and directed the Ashram and guided their disciples
Ok...enough on the background. Anyway, the Aurovillians are a semi-friendly group...they really don't want their "home" to be treated as a tourist attraction, but they understand that the more people that show up to check it out, the more people they may be able to convert, the more people they can sell their hand-made goods. Entry into Auroville is fairly easy, I park my scooter and head to the info desk where there is a brief display/museum on Auroville, the Mother and Sri Aurbindo. But that's not why I'm here...I want to see the Matrimandir. What is the Matrimandir you may ask? Officially it's a meditation chamber with giant crystal inside...unofficially it's a golden golf ball. Or maybe it's a golden Death Star...but I digress. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to enter the Matrimandir anymore, but it's still impressive from the outside. Anyway...I only stayed long enough to snap a few pics, then jumped back on my scooter for the short ride to the beach
Driving the scooter back to Pondicherry I got caught in a bit of a rainstorm, but managed to reach the hotel in time to relax and then head off for another great meal of seafood and cold Kingfisher Beer.
Monday was deemed to be another beach day and visiting a local temple where you can be blessed by an elephant. The temple was first. Not sure what the name of the temple is, but it's a rather large Hindu temple in the middle of the city. I got one picture of someone getting blessed, but when I gave my camera to some French dude to take a photo of my bless, evidently the complex action of pushing a button was beyond him and I didn't get a good photo at all. Back to the beach for another few hours in the surf...the back to town to get cleaned up for dinner. Dinner was at a great place called Satsanga where the steak was great, the Bordeaux cheap and the prices low.
Tuesday I slept in late and checked out of the hotel. I really only had time to spend some time in the city shopping and taking photos, so before I knew it, I was back in a cab and heading back to Chennai to catch my flight back to Hyderabd.
It was a great trip and I hope to return again before I leave India...enjoy the pics!