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Published: September 30th 2015
We spent two days Fisherman’s Cove moving between the pool, the spa and the restaurants. By the end we were ready to feed our more adventurous side so were happy to be picked up for the hour drive to Pondicherry.
Don’t go to a temple at 3pm in the afternoon.
We stopped at Mahabalipurum just outside of Fisherman’s cove. The town is famous for its stone carvings and has a temple overlooking the ocean and planned to take a look around. However at 3pm any time outside of the car is spent baking in an all encompassing heat that makes a leisurely stroll unrealistic.
2. Don’t do your morning walk after 8am.
Like point 1, the heat makes exercise unpleasant after the sun is even a couple of hours into its morning journey. At this point you maybe forgiven for thinking “India is hot? Nice discovery idiots!” but we had checked the weather before leaving home and found the temperature comparable to what we left in Atlanta, however we’re spending more time out and about
View from our morning walk we do on the sea front each day. Remarkably busy for 7am
and are regularly going through 3 sets of clothing a day.
3. We packed WAY too much.
We arrived with two large wheeled suitcases, one large Tortuga backpack and two day trip sized backpacks. We’ve repacked now and have removed the two large wheeled suitcases (full of clothes, toiletries and electronics) from our travel gear. Granted, we’re lucky enough to have a friend that is holding our cases, so we can swap things out if needed, but there are other factors at work here. We packed enough pharmaceuticals to cure most of South India and for every eventuality, where the reality is that drug stores sell most prescriptions (without the need for an actual prescription) for a tenth of the price of what we pay back home, so we can just buy as and when we need. Also, a macbook, two phones, two iPads, 10 chargers, noise canceling headphones, a sound bar and a battery pack is overkill. We’ve scaled back to the laptop, the phones (which we got a local to buy some minutes for), the sound bar and the battery pack. We also scaled our clothes back significantly. Even though we’re wearing multiple outfits
a day, the laundry service here costs pennies and takes no time at all.
4. Losing weight is going to be harder than we thought.
During previous trips to india, a good bout of sickness was enough to drop some excessive pounds within a few weeks of arriving. Nowadays the easy access to bottle water (we even brush our teeth using mineral water) and filtered ice in drinks means that so far we’ve stayed healthy. We’re not counting on that always being the case and expect some form of food poisoning when we get more rural, but so far, so good.
What we’ve been up to.
Pondicherry is a former French colony about 150 miles down the coast from Chennai (Madras). It heavily influenced by three institutions; the government (it’s a city / state due to it’s French history), the catholic church, and the Sri Aurobindo (a freedom fighter / philosopher / spiritual guru) Ashram. The latter is the reason we have family here as my grandfather moved here after he wrapped up his legal practice and worked in the Ashram for the last 40+ years of his life.
Shopping for Rachel wear
Hurray - I wear a XXL here :(
After arriving in Pondicherry we were lucky enough to be housed by Ajay Virmani, a friend of my Dads. He has recently built a beautiful home in a lovely district of Pondicherry that made our first few days here extremely comfortable and the town very accessible through walking a few blocks. We also had access to his wonderful staff, his ‘man Friday’ a gentleman called Khandan has been a god send, and has organized our arrival as well as got our SIM cards for the phones etc. (it’s not easy here to get a pay as you go card without paying a lot, unless you’re a local - so if anyone asks we were born in Calcutta and have the last name Ananthan!). His cook is also amazing and is happy cooking meat, and Ajay is very generous with his time and scotch. Which is ace.
We met up with my Aunt and Cousin on the second day. They both work for the Ashram too and we’ve found the warmth and friendliness there that you fall into with family. We’ve had a vegetarian lunch with them every day and enjoy catching up with local and family gossip.
Yesterday my cousin (Sachula) took Rachel and I shopping as we wanted to make sure Rachel had some comfortable (temple appropriate) outfits and I needed some extra shorts and t-shirts. After touring around a street market and some colorful stores, Rachel found three quality punjabi tops and I found a couple of pairs of shorts and a sweet ‘thundercats’ t-shirt. All in all I think we spent $40 on all of the above. We also got our eyes checked and bought 2 pairs of prescription Ray ban’s sunglasses and a new pair of regular glasses for me for under $100, there are bargains to be had in this country. Speaking of, something that has changed significantly since our last visit is that stores are now much more likely to have fixed prices for goods, removing the need to haggle. Although this removed some of the uniqueness of buying things in India, it made shopping a much more pleasant experience. If you like haggling, the street markets will still allow you to stretch your negotiation muscles.
Pondicherry itself is almost unrecognizable from the place I visited 22 years ago. It has grown exponentially and it a wonderful melting
Sachula & Rachel
Walking into town
pot of ex-pats, locals and Indian transplants. There are all kinds of food options, Thai, Chinese, French, steakhouses (buffalo, not beef) Pizza places - even a 3 table pasta restaurant that is owned by an Italian husband and wife team who make fresh pasta, a-la minute for each diner (we’re going there later today). ‘White town’, the old French quarter where we’re staying is somehow cooler than the rest of the city and is slightly less mental from a traffic perspective due to it’s grid setup.
We were lucky enough to get access to the Ashram yesterday and spent an hour meditating before going up to Sri Aurobindo’s room where he spent the last years of his life. That was followed by a visit to an interesting museum ran by my Aunt that features artifacts owned or given to The Mother (a french lady and spiritualist who worked with Sri Aurobindo and has a spiritual following of her own).
Our digs also changed yesterday. Ajay has some family coming into town, and due to his links to the Ashram was able to get us into the sea-side guesthouse they run. For $35 a night
we get a very clean, air-conditioned room directly opposite the ocean. Every day from 10pm through 8am they close the ocean road to traffic meaning it’s a great place to stroll. Yesterday we were treated to a music festival which we watched from a roof top bar, away from the crowds while eating prawn crackers and drinking mojitos.
As you can probably tell, we’re enjoying Pondy. However we leave for a 10 day trip through southern India on Thursday, after which we’ll head back. Until then…
Rachel’s addition - 2 days later: Making sure to experience India to its fullest, I indulged in some questionable ice cubes and was sick for two days. I’d love to tell you I’m slinky skinny, but not so much. On a happier note, I’ve had a great time getting to know Arun’s Auntie, Sunanda, and cousin, Sachula. They both work at the local Ashram, (which means they do not earn a wage, but rely on the ashram to pay their way in exchange for their work) and have gently and graciously shown us that you can live without Netflix and manicures just fine. Siestas
For Rita P
are also very encouraged, so I am in my element.
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