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India: Pondicherry and The Great Escape

I, South Indian: my account of adventures in Pondi & Auroville, plus adoption traditional south India dress and a frantic escape from tidal wave threat.

sunny 34 °C
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Pondicherry is a French flavoured town (a French colony until recently), with some nice grandiose architecture, happy vibe and great food.
Being part of Tamil Nadu, the folks are staunchly pround of their ancient dravidian language, Tamil, and as such it is rare to find a Hindi speaker here.


I left Sivananda feeling great and ready to take on a new world.
Took the bus down to Trivandrum and booked a flight to Chennai, then found very agreeable air conditioned lodgings close to the bus stop.
A quick 1 hour flight across Kerala and Tamil Nadu took me to the lightly chaotic Chennai airport. The bus to Pondicherry was LONG!
First I took the local bus to the main bus terminal (1 hour), and then the Pondi bound bus - which was a 4.5 hour dusty sweaty ride, but so much to see and hear along the way. It was an interesting trip!

Discovering Pondicherry

Got to Pondi later in the evening, and stayed at Kailash Guesthouse (really gorgeous place, run by the kindest fellas in Tamil Nadu)

The next day my travel comrade, Ana and I found a motorbike, and set off to visit Auroville.
Auroville is an international community (80 nations are represented), who are almost completely self sufficient. The farms and estates are quite spread out, so it was difficult to engage with anyone there, or get a real feel for the place - but it was a gorgeous ride through the swaying palms and desert.
On the way back, we looked for a nice beach to swim - but sadly the east side beaches are not a patch on west side!

THe next day, sometime afar lunch I got a perturbing text from a friends back in Sivananda....
Apparently an 8.7 earthquake had hit Indonesia, and a series of quakes and all coast lines facing the Indian Ocean were on high alert - with Chennai / Pondi being a particular worry.
Fear mildy set in, and Ana hit the panic button!

First we went to the travel agent next to the hotel, to look at trains or buses out of the danger area. The agent merely laughed and said "the wave will be here at 4:30, what can you do? hehehe". His assistants also found our panic amusing.
We decided to use our bike to reach safer and higher ground,
Also staying at our hotel, was a young German fella. Since we only had a small scooter, I told him to quickly go and hire one and he could follow us.
He returned in less than a minute, saying they would not give him a bike without a licence (my Australian drivers licence sufficed).
After quick assessment, I said he could ride with us.

So, the 3 of us squashed on to the little scooter armed only with essentials (money, passports, change of undies), and I drove us through Pondi, and out on to the freeway heading north west.
Initially the extra weight made it difficult to navigate the bike.
Dear Ana, in a mild panic would gently gesture - "we can go just a bit faster right?"
I had to reply calmly - "no, if we need to break suddenly, this is the top speed with the extra weight, it's going to be OK!"

Along the way we stopped and asked locals what they thought… "Pondi dangerous… veeery much danger there, you must go"… oh sh*t… we drove roughly 50kms inland before reaching a jam packed town (we didn;t find out exactly which one) where locals looked at us and smiled cheered, like the circus had come to town.It was pretty funny.

We stopped for fuel, and to assess the situation online via my Kindle.

It seems by then, India had reduced the alert, and there was no danger.
I took some time to prepare myself for the drive home, and drove us to Pondicherry - eventually safe and sound.
Some nice pho at a local Vietnamese restaurant calmed our nerves and renewed our strength. An eventful day indeed!

Traditional Dress

At this stage of the trip, I am starting to feel Indian. I can my English to the local dialects, use local mannerisms, have perfected the head waggle etc.
It is time to dress as Indians do, especially South India.
Ana had bought a gorgeous sari to wear, I decided to be a real South Indian and buy a mundu.
These are wraps worn around the waste, kind of like a sarong, and are particularly "cooling" in the hot weather.
We found a gentlemen's clothing shop, and I found MY mundu after trying on a few.

Brazilian and Australian South Indians:

We went to the market in "traditional dress", and for the most part folks delighted in seeing goras dressed as locals.
I was hoping to go unnoticed, this would really prove my becoming Indian - I pass for Indian most of the time, but somehow they knew :-)

Friendly flower seller at the market:

Bye Pond

Pondi is a nice, busy and vibrant place to stop.

Bustling Pondi:

Commuting (on bicycle or motorbike) is a little more chaotic than usual. The people are nice, the food is great - but don't come here for the coast.


One of the greatest memories of Pondi is of the wonderful old man who works at Kailash. He is an impassioned speaker of TAMenglish. English, with Tamil grammar.
He speaks this way with such confidence, that he is sure of being grammatically correct and that he should be understood.
Though we clearly did understand each word he spoke, the message was a complex and indecipherable jumble.

He us in stitches as he tried to give us directions on many occasions:
"2 you are going left side, then straight going, cutting 1,2,3,4 then coming right side going, church passing then left side going, and straight stopping… OK?! Are you listening?"

In the morning he would say:
"late last night 2 coming back 1 o'clock going? drinks are having on the roof, till what time? Nice German girls going, 2am I hear walking for bed ahah!"

George Lucas based all of his star wars races and characters on different peoples of our earth - Yoda was surely based on the old wise Indian men of Tamil Nadu.

You can see all of my photos from Pondi and surrounds here

Until next time... om shanti!

Posted by SkinnyFists 00:20 Archived in India Tagged pondicherry scooter auroville tamil_nadu mundu earthquake_india indian_traffic

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Am really enjoying these tales..

by lesleymoseley

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