India - Pondicherry

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May 2nd 2016
Published: May 4th 2016
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Thank you to everyone for your nice messages about my blog. I don’t write it to ‘blog’; I use it as a way to remember things and tell my family and friends what I’m doing…but anyone who is interested is welcome. Apparently I write it like I talk so it amuses my friends… I’m not sure that’s a good thing though because I write a lot of random shiz J

Monday 25 to Thursday 28 April

There’s not much to say about the working week. The journey to and from work is pretty tough but I’m trying to make the most of it by working or studying. Or if I’m tired I sit and watch what’s going on outside and it’s really interesting when you can really look and enjoy it.

We ate out a few times this week, mainly because going to Mysore on Saturday meant we hadn’t got any food in because Sunday was Noor's day off. We walked one night to a nearby pizza place called Onesta; the walk should have taken 10 minutes but we got caught in the rain (typical, the only time it’s rained so far in Bangalore is the only time we decide to go for a walk at night!). We took shelter in a little shop alcove and when it slowed down we made a run for it. The walk back was even more eventful… as we walked past an electricity pole there was a loud bang and sparks went flying, narrowly missing Brian! We also went to a Thai/Malaysian restaurant called Nassi and Me (Noor dropped us there and we got an Auto back) and a Vietnamese place called Phobidden Fruit with Marcus (the neighbour) and a friend. Both were really good. I should have been studying every evening but also needed to eat and make friends.

Brian has had a productive week! He’s been for a walk most days to find somewhere to eat breakfast or lunch and been planning something nice for us to do at the weekend (we booked up to go to Pondicherry on the east coast). He also had an interesting 2 on 1 experience with some cows who got very friendly with him on one of his walks… gently head butting him and encouraging him to stroke them. He was a bit freaked out!

Friday 29th April – Bangalore to Puducherry

After I finished work on Friday we set out for Yesvantpur train station to get the 21:00 Pondicherry Express. Noor had told us we needed to leave at 6.30pm but we left just after 7pm and (predictably!) what should have been a 1 hour journey with traffic took nearly two. At about 8.15 we were all pretty sure we wouldn’t’ make it but thanks to Noor’s nifty driving we arrived at 20:45. The train station was hectic. Noor warned us to be careful of people wanting to carry our bags and went to find out which platform the train was leaving from. With his information we ran for Platform 4! Up the stairs, over the train tracks and to what we guessed was Platform 4 (there wasn’t an obvious sign in English… but it was next to Platform 5..!). We got on the train and a friendly local confirmed it definitely was the Pondicherry Express… but that our carriage was ‘at the other end of the train’. Now, given the size of trains in the UK that wouldn’t normally be far to go but this was seriously the longest train I have ever seen, as we started running to ‘the other end’ you couldn’t even see ‘the end’! It was not fun running in that heat but eventually we got close and got into a carriage that was called something similar to our ticket. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting (we’d paid around £10 each for the best sleeper seats) but we didn’t want to get off again and miss the train. We must have looked a bit confused so some other friendly passengers offered to help and confirmed that we were in the wrong carriage. So we got off, asked someone who looked sort of official and got in another which looked more like it. The train started moving and we were off… Noor called to check we were ok and he was so happy we’d made it wishing us ‘Happy Holidays’!

However, we were not to settle for long. A family came along after about 10 minutes and said they thought we were in their seats. We all looked at our tickets… ours definitely said 4 and 5 (which was where we were) and so did theirs. We conceded defeat (they had children) and they tried to help us figure it out… but luckily the ticket man came along. We had a worrying few minutes when he couldn’t find us on the list (eek, I had visions of us being thrown off at the next stop) but he eventually found us and advised that (again) we were in the wrong carriage. So we followed his directions and found what was definitely the right carriage J Smarter seats and decent air con. And we settled down again… thinking third time lucky (Brian even got into bed) until another family turned up and said we were in their seats! By now we were completely confused but they had a small baby so we had to give them up. The ticket man magically appeared again and told us we should be in seats 13 and 14. I’m not entirely sure why our tickets said seats 4 and 5 when we were in 13 and 14 but once we arrived there we didn’t have to move again. I wasn’t sure how I felt about a half-naked sweaty man lying on my bed before me but I went with it. We made friends with our berth mate who was in India visiting his family, he gave us lots of tips. I studied until I lost phone signal and then we got comfy and watched Luther. Even though I’d seen it before I screamed out loud at one bit (you’ll know how that can happen if you’ve watched Luther).

We decided it was bedtime at about midnight. Brian made up the beds (I was faffing about trying to get organised and not doing a good job) and the sheets smelled so nice and clean. I got into bed in my clothes and sat looking back out of the window into the night. It felt so peaceful… the rocking of the train, the occasional sound of the horn, the stars in the sky and the dark shapes as we passed trees and buildings. We both slept really well, even though it was a bit disturbed by random noises and thoughts that someone was coming into our berth and stealing our bags.

The train toilets are worth a mention because they’re usually terrible on this sort of transport and I tried not to drink too much because I wanted to avoid them but they were not the worst I’ve seen…

Saturday 30th April – Puducherry (aka Pondicherry)

I woke up as the sun was rising and that was nice to watch. It was a lovely view, there was so much going on through the dirty train windows. Open fields with the odd homestead, villages full of children running around having fun. We arrived into Puducherry at about 7.30am. It was a busy little station and had a friendly feel. Pondicherry is a Union Territory (not quite sure what that means) bounded by the Tamil Nadu state, and was a French colony until 1954 so it has a very French feel. The White Town part is full of white villa type buildings and pretty flowers; you could think you were in the South of France.

We walked the 15 minutes to our hotel, the Palais de Mahe, in the White Town, arriving at about 8am. Even though check in wasn’t until 2pm they sent us off to breakfast and said our room would be ready when we finished. Breakfast was in the hotels rooftop restaurant and was so so nice. A lovely selection of juices, croissants, cooked breakfast, dosa and pancakes. Someone arrived with our room key as we were finishing (a really huge old fashioned one that added to the feel of the place) and some jasmine garlands as a welcome, they smelled amazing. Our room was fantastic! Huge and very old French colonial.

Once we’d chilled out for a while we looked around the pool and bar and walked 10-20 metres to the beach. It was full of rocks and we learned later that the town had been hit by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and the rocks were an attempt to reduce the impact of any future tsunami’s. We walked along the seafront, which was full of monuments to the French Army and Gandhi, and through the park (finding that the shade didn’t really help with the heat). We found a really nice second hand book shop (with too much choice!) and had lunch at the Café des Arts which was very …arty. I had forgotten to pack my bikini so we looked up what appeared to be a department store and melted in the heat as we walked to the shop. We found the shop but there were no bikinis (not traditional for Indian women to wear them). I did find a swimming costume and as Brian said it could have been worse… at least the colours were allright…

Back at the hotel we sat by the pool and had some cocktails, that pool was really lovely to swim in. And then went to change for dinner. We were going to head out to a restaurant down the road but as we had to pass the hotel restaurant Brian got tempted by the lobster special… so we sat in the rooftop restaurant overlooking the town and had an amazing dinner. Brian said that whilst he’s had better lobster, being from Nova Scotia n all, it was cooked perfectly. We noticed the sous chef come out to watch his reaction as he was eating it… then had a nice chat with the head chef. We decided to head to a bar that reportedly had nice cocktails but at just before 10pm it was closing. We stopped off at another friendly bar on the way back and then got some drinks at the hotel bar, which was also closing. We learned that the upcoming elections meant the bars had to close early. So we sat outside the room chatting with our new friend Radha, who had lived in Bangalore so had great trips. I didn’t want to write this bit but Brian told me I had to because I write about everything else… I fell asleep (!) and Brian had to help me to bed… (yep sorry Dad… doesn’t happen often!).

Sunday 1st May – Puducherry

Incredibly, I felt really good when I woke up! We had breakfast in the room and watched some more Luther then headed out to Paradise Beach… which was apparently a must see. The hotel arranged a car for us and after a 15 minute drive we arrived at ‘Paradise Beach’. I wasn’t sure we were in the right place, most of the guides tell you that you have to get a boat there from a resort… but the sign did say ‘Paradise Beach’ and I remembered reading that there was the fisherman’s end of said beach. We were somewhere that was full of fishing boats and it was really pretty. We walked down the beach in the direction of what looked like activity to find the ‘must see’ bit. The sea was rough and it wasn’t the clearest but it was naturally beautiful. As we approached the area of activity we saw it was roped off and approached the guard, he confirmed it was the bit we were looking for (we even saw the boat we could have got in the distance) and that it was 100 rupees (about £1) to get in. We decided against it because it just looked like a more crowded version of the beach we’d just walked along and to be honest our walk along the beach was nicer. So we walked back. I REALLY wanted to go in the water but didn’t have a change of clothes and didn’t want to be the only person in there in my new swimming costume.

We went back to the hotel and after a quick change walked to Xtasi for pizza. It was really good pizza they cooked it outside, that can’t be fun in the heat! Brian wanted to check out the Grand Bazaar and Sunday market so we walked further into the Tamil area and found the market… which was crowded and dirty and not the most enjoyable to look around. It was so hot (38 degrees) we got an auto back just to get a fix of air con at the hotel. I went for an Ayurvedic massage which was interesting. To be honest, I’ve never had anything like it. I’ve had a lot of different types of massages in a lot of countries (e.g. Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysia, Cuban) and this was very different. They even insisted on washing and towel drying my hair despite my protests.

Back in the room I needed a sleep after the massage experience but we were going out for dinner with Radha to Villa Shanti, just down the road and rated number 2 for food in Bangalore on Trip Adviser (we’d been to number 1… a chocolate place called Zuca Choco-la earlier in the day, again just to benefit from the air con). Radha was full of interesting information and we learned that Life of Pi was filmed on location in Pondicherry! Once I looked up scenes from the film it made sense! We had some amazing food in a lovely setting then went back to the bar, taking some drinks right up to the roof. It was so nice, you could hear the sea and we did some star gazing. I was impressed I guessed correctly that one star was in fact Mars (the App I downloaded confirmed it).

Monday 2nd May – Puducherry to Chennai to Bangalore

During the night Brian got sick, really sick. We’re putting it down to the slice of leftover pizza he ate when we got in the night before. I’ve seen travelling sickness before and this version was bad. I have some experience of it and knew what to do so got him sorted with room temperature water and rehydration salts. And the hotel staff were great at getting anything we needed, allowing us late check out and ringing to check on him. I took advantage (!) of the situation and studied.

Miraculously he was well enough to leave at 2pm (I didn’t think he would be at one point) so we checked out and were genuinely sad because the staff at Palais de Mahe were so amazing. They even did a cheese and ham toastie and fries for us to eat on the road. We took a car to Chennai, three hours drive away, to get a flight back to Bangalore. It was a nice journey, out into the countryside past the fields of goats and coconuts. It was a bit hot at one point when the window was open, we couldn’t understand why the driver had opened it and couldn’t figure out how to close it again but suffered politely for a while until I could take it any longer and asked him to close it… at which point he told us that we were in control and it was Brian’s foot opening it! We got stopped by the police and searched… routine in Uganda so I was used to it… I think they were looking for alcohol (we didn’t have any) and they let us on our way after filming it very professionally. The ride was a bit crazy at times… at one point we ended up on the wrong side of the highway going in the wrong direction with the traffic coming towards us… I think we ended up there because there was a diversion but not sure why we stayed there so long, it wasn’t great to see big buses and lorries coming straight at you when you had nowhere to go! Brian eventually said this is crazy dangerous and the driver took that opportunity to put his seat belt on.

Chennai seemed a nice city, very green and full of open water and lots of bird life. The traffic was predictably bad but we made it to the airport in plenty of time and got checked in. The flight back was on a propeller plane (like the ones that go to Guernsey!) and even though it was only 50 minutes they still fed us! We were told to expect turbulence as we landed and I was like great, forgot my chill out tablets, but it wasn’t too bad.

Once we arrived we waited for my colleague Jane to arrive from Delhi. Jane was in Bangalore for work and would be our apartment guest for a couple of nights. Jane’s flight was late… Brian somehow got through the wait… she felt so bad as Brian was so sick (he is better now)… but once we found her we found Noor really really easily and he got us home in just under an hour and a half! And to cheer Brian up his laptop… which had been broken in China, transported to the UK, been all over the UK as a result of various warranty company mishaps… and then posted by my parents to India last week… ARRIVED! Thank you Mum & Dad.

Now another week back at work J

Lots of love.


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