Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pondicherry trip

As written in my earlier post, I managed go to Pondy the Saturday before last. I almost didn't make it. As the weekdays were filled with the assigned office work, the temptation to remain between sheets and spend a lazy weekend was quite overwhelming. But then, I firmly told myself to stop being lazy and make use of my time there which if I didn't, I am sure I'd end up regretting once I returned.

Well, to ensure I make the trip, I decided to book my bus tickets before hand. Tried the but most of the seats were taken. So I booked through 'Make my Trip.' The bus was to start at 7 am and the return bus at 6.30 pm. The AC Volvo bus cost me Rs. 440 each way. Now that the tickets were booked, there was no escape. I got up at the early hour and waited for the bus at Adyar Bakery at Thiruvanmanyur and was pleasantly surprised to find it come on dot. A very comfortable journey of about 3+ hours with a break thrown in at a road-side dhaba.

A major minus for me was that I didn't get any time to research and plan my trip like I normally do. I went like any other tourist who has heard of Pondicherry and wants to see it.

Well, I was told that tourist information was available at the Pondy bus stand. My bus was headed beyond Pondi and therefore was asked to alight at Indira Gandhi Statue. I assumed that the bus stand would just be a stone's throw away and kept walking. Its only when I reached the destination was I to know that the distance was actually 1.5 kms. Walking that distance under the hot sun wasn't easy. On reaching the bus stand, I was told to contact counter no: 11 where I'd get tourist information.The information I got was, "Contact the tourism office on the beach. They will tell you."  Having walked this distance, this time I wanted to make sure where this beach was. I was told it is 10 mins from the bus stand. As usual, the hawk-like auto drivers were at the bus stand volunteering to drop me at my destination for  anything between 50 to 80 rupees. I crossed the over bridge and took a share auto for 3 rupees! This took me close to Vinayagar Temple, one of my destination spots. Crossing this, you have another tourist spot, the Aurobindo Ashram about 150 meters away. 600 meters from there is the tourism office. For me, it meant a close 2.5 kms walk that day. If you travel like me, ignorant about the site-seeing there, the best option would be to take a direct auto to the tourism office .Though I was thoroughly tired by the time I reached , what was redeeming was that the people there were quite helpful. They gave me a map and told me where to go and how to reach. They have two tours: a full-day tour from 9.45 am to 5.45 pm and half day tour from 1.30 to 6 pm. Reasonably priced at 250 and 150 rupees respectively for an AC bus service, this should suffice for the tourist.

What I could not savor is the French culture & cuisine that I had so looked forward to. The other tourists who had been here told me that there is not much to see in Pondy and the 7 hours I planned to spend there was enough. What I realize now is that Pondy is not the typical tourist place where you mark out a few places to visit. It is a way of life that one needs to experience through a well-planned visit to Auroville, experience the french cuisine, know the french heritage buildings housing the various administrative blocks and much more. On the way back from Auroville, I found a row of Pizza outlets. They looked very different than the ones that one normally visits, a few of them promising wood-burn pizza.

Walking around the Auroville is an experience by itself. The Matri Mandir, a large golden globe in the center of the International village, is restricted to few visitors who have booked the hours for meditation at least 2-3 days before. The booking happens only between 2-4 pm everyday. The meditation is reserved for 60 visitors per day. Without these restrictions, huge crowds would surely hamper the silent meditation that one seeks.I am sure spending time in that the serene atmosphere will be quite recuperative to the mind and soul.

What  I also missed was the shopping there. I didn't have any thing particular in mind but was told later about  the tax free shopping available there :(

I got to watch the Aurobindo Ashram beach from far as it is a rocky beach and doesn't really allow one to go dip your feet in the rolling waves. But I did have more than my share of water when I went to the beach at the Auroville and was literally swept off my feet as a HUGE wave swallowed me with along with the jhola on my shoulder which contained my belongings, the tickets, money, cards, phone everything!
But here I am, survived to tell my tale.