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Published: February 17th 2015
We are thoroughly enjoying finally having a relaxing holiday in India, where we are not constantly rushing from sight to sight. Today we drift slowly through the streets of the French quarter in Pondicherry. We start at the Botanical Gardens, which were probably once the Kew Gardens of their day but now look distinctly run down. They are certainly peaceful.... We look at all manner of trees with strange names – the bullet wood tree, the screw tree and the cannonball tree, for example. There is a solitary ‘greenhouse’ which is essentially a large tent housing a bunch of plants sold in every garden centre in England as pot plants.
Next stop is the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ church, another good example of Indian Catholic style – bright colours and flashing lights around the pictures of Christ. We are particularly taken by the wording at the base of four pillars outside, one for each gospel writer. Each has a brief description, and their ‘best quote’.
Once at the Promenade, we tell Mr Hussain we will walk back to the hotel and he can take the rest of the day off. This worries him greatly as he feels it
is a long way and a hot day. The latter is true, the former less so. We have walked about 400 yards when he draws up in the road abreast of us, stops the car, hoots and shouts “You OK walking very hot”. Nice man, we assure him we are fine. Nonetheless, we do start to feel the heat as it reaches midday and adjourn to the shade of the park to down a couple of cold drinks. We realise we are surrounded by parents giving their primary school children lunch. Clearly lunch is not provided at school, so parents take a tiffin box and feed their children in the playground, on the pavement or in the park.
We walk back past the general hospital, whose presence is indicated by the unnerving site of two vehicles labelled ‘hearse van’, one with a metal and a glass coffin (mercifully empty) stacked inside. Not the best recommendation for the hospital – maybe the reason why there are so many posters advertising private hospitals.
The French Quarter is reminiscent of Hanoi in Vietnam, with its mix of French colonial buildings decaying steadily in the heat and humidity, and roads teeming with
people, motorbikes, tuk tuks and the occasional car. Some of the streets even have cobblestones to make walking even more of a hazard. Pavements, if they exist, are either blocked every five yards or so full of holes it is safer to walk in the road and risk the traffic.
We retreat to the hotel to take a rest during the hottest part of the day, and venture out again late afternoon to go to the market. This time it’s busy, with the usual mix of fresh fruit and veg, flowers for making garlands and temple offerings, cooking pots and clothes. As we set off back to the hotel, Sara realises that her good luck in avoiding mosquitoes has just come to an unpleasant halt. Evening had started to set in while we were out, and the few exposed parts of her – neck, lower arms and neckline – have taken 9 bites now swelling up to give a good impersonation of a plague victim. Time to dig out the second string antihistamines and the bite cream.....
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