I remember reading a quote by Kurt Vonnegut which said “Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God”. I did not even know who Kurt Vonnegut was, at that point of time (though I did google him and found out that he was an American writer!), but the quote somehow stuck in my mind.
I was sure, given my obsessive traits, that such travel was never going to be a part of my existence. After all, super planning was my forte.
Cut to October this year, after six months of working myself to the point of exhaustion, the craving to take a break was immense. With unexplained logic, I decided that Pondicherry would be the place to refuel me. I knew there was not much there to entertain my kids, and that it was really far off to go (around 400 odd miles from where I live), just to put up my feet and rest! The idea was so uncharacteristic of me, that people around kept asking me if I had a conference there or would be meeting my friends, perhaps!
Slow, lingering holidays were hardly a part of my previous agenda in life. Off late, I have been reading books like “Falling off the map” by Pico Iyer and have been an ardent follower of Shivya Nath, who writes a travel blog “The shooting star”, which may have subconsciously influenced me to visit a place, just because!Or maybe it was just sheer exhaustion which made me travel without anything specific to do, but be!
And Pondi ( as I now call it fondly) did live up to all my expectations and more.
Revisiting forgotten pleasures of watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee for hours, waking up to watching the sea in front of you, listening to the waves when you sleep at night and gorge on cuisines as diverse as the fiery Chettinad and subtle French make being in Pondicherry a divine experience!
Whenever I used to read about Pondicherry or see pictures, it would seem to me as if the city had a quaint, old world charm to it. In reality, the city is sharply divided into a bustling, crowded,typical Tamil neighborhood and a smallish French quarter, which is rather racistly called “White town”.Strange though it was,within five short days, I got used to seeing a Tamilian lady speak fluent French and Frenchman haggle for veggies in a liberally accented Tamil!
Needless to say, all the tourist attractions and the hotels are located in the French Quarter. Most of the hotels are restored homes of the French governors and other officials, and hence stately,huge and grand.
The hotel which we stayed, was on the Promenade road, just across the beach. Every window we opened gave us a magnificent view of the beach, and this was perhaps the best part of the trip. I have never been a big fan of the sticky, salty ocean, but this experience transformed me! Just watching the magnificent sunrise ( sunsets are not visible on the sea, as we were on the east coast!)was enough soul food.
One of the best things about the Promenade Road is that it is home to most of the attractions that are to be seen! The Gandhi statue surrounded by intricately carved pillars (which were apparently scoured from a fort conquered by by Shivaji, in Gingee, Tamilnadu- never knew Shivaji travelled that far), the French war memorial, the old eighteenth century light house, the Cathedral of Immaculate conception,the half sunken pier and the Aurobindo ashram institutions all are neatly placed one next to the other on the road, making it easy to tick off the things on our to do list in the span of a day! The rest of the stay hence, was used to explore and laze!
The road is off limits to traffic from 6 in the evening to 7 next morning owing to the amount of people who throng the beach every evening! The road is brightly lit through the night and boasts of a cafe which is open twenty four seven to feed any hungry visitors! Waking in the middle of the night and looking out of our hotel window gave me a glimpse of the road which was still teeming with people at 3 AM!
The French quarter is picture perfect. The worst camera would probably still give the best picture! Every building is clickable and vibrantly colored! And one in almost five buildings is a cafe serving mouth watering food!
Back after the holiday, I was reading a blog on Pondicherry, when I realized that there were quite a few touristy places that we had not visited. Any other time, it would have made me squirm at the lost opportunity, but somehow, this time, it felt okay.
I had carved out my own experiences. I had explored the by lanes and alleys with an old battered cycle and knew the best place to eat street food! I experienced riding a bike on the scary, honky,busy roads with my daughter and watching rows of glaring neon signs and really really huge jewelry shops(each one the size of any respectable mall!).
I had unearthed stores which sold old vintage furniture, a convent where destitute women made exquisitely embroidered clothes, discovered a never before seen insect and watching my kids’ excitement, taken a selfie with my son and a hundred year old banyan tree and read peacefully for hours while watching the sea!
With Pondicherry,I think I have discovered my love of soaking up the feel of the place with my seemingly bizzare travel plan!