Friday, November 09, 2007
Pondy otherwise known as Pondicherry
In an effort to show Wendy as much of India as possible, the LoudAmericans decided to head off to Pondicherry for a 4 day road trip/beachside vacation. Pondy (as its called) boasts of seafood, the Bay of Bengal, quiet resorts and "an approximation of French food".
We left post trick or treating with the thought that we'd get about 2/3 of the way and stay the night in a town called Tiruvannamalai. This meant traveling about 200km (120 miles) and so we thought that if we left by 6pm we'd reach in plenty of time for a relaxing night and good sleep. Not so, this is India remember.
Our rented driver and car left MUCH to be desired. After spending 2 hours stuck in Bangalore rush hour traffic we finally made it outside the city limits (10km down 190 to go!!). Our driver spoke NO English and didnt seem to know which way to head to Pondicherry, not a good sign. After another 3 hours and 100 km or so, including wrong turns, stops for coffee and ever increaseing frustration in the car, we started experiencing some of the biggest potholes I had yet to see in India. And that's saying something! Needless to say, our driver was determined to drive through each and every one. To what results? You guessed, a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and a blazing thunderstorm at the midnight hour. Remember, its still Halloween and our night has turned SPOOKY!!! We were still 30km from our hotel and he didnt seem to have a clue as to what to do. He had obviously never changed a flat before and visions of "A Christmas Story" were running through our heads. (Or should I say the infamous "F" word was running through our heads.) After a 20 min attempt to but together a 3 piece warning "triangle" he was ready to tackle the tire. He proceeded to bang on the spare tire in the hopes that it would just fall off the bottom of the car. Tom tried intervening MANY times but to no avail. Finally in desparation, we called Saravanan and he talked the driver through what to do over the phone in Tamil. The grand finale? Our spare had 3 obvious patches on it. Oh well, we were off to the hotel and deal with it all the next morning. We arrived safe and sound to our hotel at 1:30am, having traveled 200km in a mere 7 1/2 hours.
The main attraction in Tiruvannamalai and the reason we had this destination on our travel itnerary is the town boasts to have one of the largest temples in India (Arunachaleswar Temple) and the place where you can "achieve enlightment just by the thought of the temple". We figured we could use a little dose of this after our Halloween/driver adventure and so set off. The temple was bustling with activity as they were getting ready for a large celebration. Everything was being washed, fixed and all the holiday lights were being pulled out. We saw monks in orange colored robes, women in all their best saree's/finery AND the temple elephant. We fed him cookies and Wendy was even blessed the elephant, very cool. It was a good morning stop. Feeling a bit more peaceful and relaxed we decided to tackle the last 100km's of our trip.
While our final segment to Pondy was relatively uneventful (other than our spare tire gave out and we had to stop in a village to get both tires fixed). We even got to see peanuts being roasted on the asphalt (see photo above) We made it to Pondy in record time. 100km in just under 3 hours! Elation!! Needless to say, we adjusted our plans to include 2 days of pure beach time before we had to even think of getting in that car again!
A little about Pondicherry. Pondy is a former French colony and this is VERY apparent when you realize as you walking down the street that signs are in French, not English, and that some of the people arent speaking English, Hindi or Tamil, but French! The guidebooks warn that the beach is dirty, littered and the sea too rough. BUT... not the case! Our resort (Kailash Beach Resort) had a fabulously clean beach and we were the ONLY people on it! The kids had a great time body surfing, fighting the waves and rolling in the sand. We are still finding sand in all their "hidden" places.
Our resort was a sleepy little place and other than 1 other family, I think we were the only ones there. The food was OUT OF THIS WORLD and there was plenty of room for the kids (and grown ups) to run and catch our breath. The rooms were really quaint and reminded me of old European hostels. The beds were 4ft off the ground and you had to use a step stool to get in. Needless to say this was the main form of entertainment for the kids. Wendy even braved the famous Auyervedic massage! (as noted in previous blogs, this consists of 2-3 gallons of oil and being mildly violated by the massuese, relaxing if you can find a way to have an outerbody experience while its going on).
After 2 uneventful and non-car related days, we decided to venture out again and face our car/driver. Our destination? Auroville. Auroville is "an international community and a project in human unity". "...an experiment in international living where people could live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, politics and nationalities". It was formed in 1968 through a partnership with "the Mother" and a local guru. The Mother was a French woman who had the vision of creating an international sociey without constrain to government. Its an interesting place and they have some really state of the art techniques around ecosystems, organic farming, cashless society and spiritualism without religion. Think about it, most wars/trouble in the world are caused by disagreements around money or God. Auroville is making a pretty good attempt to erase these as causes of angst. If you are to become part of the community, you need to renounce your religion, pledge to meditate 6-8 hours a day and work 4-6 hours of the day towards the betterment/upkeep of the village. There is a HUGE meditation center that was unfortunately closed. Billy's 1st comment upon seeing the center "wow, look at that big cricket ball" In fact, it looks more like a mini gold epcot center or a large gold golf ball. See Wendy's blog for cool photos and more accurate facts (http://www.reedtrueplaces.blogspot.com/)
Finally, it was time to return to Bangalore. It was an auspicious start. We woke up to pouring rain and decided to head home early. Despite a few nervous stomachs about the reliability of the car/driver, we were off. The trip home was relatively uneventful. He did manage to find every pot hole on the way home, but looking at the bright side, we arrived with all 4 tires intact, we only got lost once and only 2 of the 3 kids threw up from carsickness (brought on by his erratic driving). The best part, we got home in a record 8 hours!!!
Home sweet home....