Post: Aug. 1
Today we went to Pondicherry. It was a really great day. The sky was blue, the sun was hot, and we were itching to get out and do some shopping! Pondicherry is about a 1 hour drive south of Tapovan. Four of the faculty members went- Jovol, Manu, Randy, and myself. We hired a driver- it cost about 1900 rupees for six hours, including the drive. Between the four of us that went, this came to around 500 rupees each, with is about $12 Canadian. Pretty cheap compared to renting a car for $100 a day in Canada! The drive was quite scenic- we passed people working in rice fields, cows, goats, etc. but the colours were amazing. The earth here is a rich, red hue, comparable to Prince Edward Island's distinctive soil. That colour contrasting with the green of the palm trees and colourful saris was stunning.
As we drove into Pondicherry the first thing we saw was the ocean. This vista to our left greatly contrasted the view of harrowing traffic ahead of us. I got some video footage of Pondicherry- apparently what we saw was nothing compared to weekdays! But I immediately liked Pondicherry. The buildings consisted of colourful French colonial architecture, and all this mixed in with Indian sights and sounds. It was so strange to hear French being spoken on the streets! Everything had a tropical south-of France look to it. It was very pretty.
We met up with Manu's sister, Julia, who coincidentally happens live in nearby Auroville. She and Randy are both quite familiar with Pondicherry and showed us where the top spots were. First we had lunch at Satsanga, a kind of touristy restaurant whose menu is one of the most diverse and lengthly I've ever seen as they serve French, Italian, and Indian food. And it was delicious. I had a crepe with mushrooms, cheese and shrimp. Not only did it melt in your mouth but it was also a nice change from the menu at Tapovan's menu- it's good food there but it has become a bit routine. I also had a banana lassi, a kind of smoothy drink made with yogurt, milk and banana, which was delicious and hopefully as healthy as it sounded!
After lunch we ventured towards the market. Although it was supposed to be only a fifteen minute walk, the sun was very hot so we opted for autorickshaws (very rickety, doorless taxis that are all over the place here). This was quite the experience. First, you must bargain with your taxi driver for the price. Julia and Randy both knew how much it would cost to get to the market and argued with the drivers over the price they were asking, which was much more than it should have been, of course. We had to walk away, saying they were asking too much before they chased us down and agreed to our price. Man, this bargaining thing is an art unto itself. People seem to really get into it and even enjoy it! Anyway, the autorickshaw ride was fun. They don't go as fast as cars so you kind of bump along the roads and swerve to avoid everyone else, including swarms of people, all the while honking this ridiculous sounding clown horn! Minutes later we were at the market. The street was lined with shops and little make-shift stands and tables on the sidewalks. I can't describe what it was like but took lots of pictures. It was out of this world. I ended up buying three kurtas which are long cotton shirts that go down to about mid-thigh and are worn over jeans or pants. It was fun inside the shop- there are shelves upon shelves of fabrics in every colour. The shopkeepers see what you're interested in buying (kurtas) and then begin piling onto the countertop as many varieties of kurtas that you could possibly ever want. Some with patterns on the front AND back, some with high collars, some with sleeves, some sleeveless, some made with a softer fabric, some with mirrored detailing and embroidery, some plainer, some black, most of them as colourful as you could ever imagine. The three I ended up settling on (eventually you just have to decide on the ones you like otherwise the ever-growing pile on the counter never ceases!) are all sleeveless, and one is a softer fabric. Most don't fit exactly right- the sizing here is much different- but you can take them to a tailor who will customize it for you for dirt cheap- maybe around 10 rupess (50 cents or something ridiculous). The others found some neat shirts as well and everyone ended up being happy with the experience.
Afterwards we were all pretty hot and thirsty so we headed over to the aptly named Promenade Hotel which is directly across the street from the real promenade on the beach. This place was swanky, beachy, and had a great patio with a view of the ocean. We relaxed and had some cold drinks- I had a very sour but tasty green mango marguerita with some sort of herb in it which could have been cilantro. Then we walked out to the actual promenade. It was getting cold to sunset at this point and there were many, many people out "promenading". Finally, it was getting time to get back to Tapovan so we organized a meeting spot with our driver over the phone, found another autorickshaw and went through the bargaining process again. Our driver eventually showed up at our meeting point after we waited for about an hour in the oppressive heat and growing dark. On the way out of town we stopped at a convenience store (that looked nothing at all like a 7-11) and stocked up on cold drinks like pop and some snacks for back at Tapovan. Tastes of home!
Looking forward to going back to Pondicherry!