Hype Dark logo

by SS at 2:32 am on Friday 4th December

Arrival in Chennai was uninteresting as I found the city itself, although soon after I landed it began to rain. Supposedly this month is the monsoon month and dusty roads became muddy.

I was very grateful to Ruby and Rukku, two colleagues of my mother who both teach and help run the Montessori training institute in Chennai, who let me stay with them as I passed through. It was nice to see familiar faces and learn a fair amount more about the work they do in India. Although there are a plethora of Montessori style schools, they are inundated with applications for their associated nursery school which takes in just 8 students per year and receives 1,000 applications for these places! This is a reflection on the quality of school since it charges fees that are considerable at least. They run applications on a first come first serve basis and it seems parents need to register their child pretty much as soon as he or she is born!

The next day, I spent the morning cruising around the damp roads of Chennai. Relatively lacking tourist sights, the Fort St. George museum and the Government Museum were both formidable attractions. I particularly enjoyed the zoology section of the latter museum, filled with skeletal remains of a horse and an elephant (huge!) and models of fish that are frightening in appearance.

As I wandered the museum I found that I had accidentally caught up with a large school group. This was the second time this had happened; a similar group was present when I went to visit the National Museum in Delhi. I struggled to see what utility the hundred or so young children received as they were herded through the museum in a loosely formed single column. The noise echoing through the exhibition halls reached a mighty clamor as they indifferently failed to observe any rules of museum etiqutte. Luckily I managed to overtake them and sanity of mind was within grasp again.

The luxury airconditioned bus that took me to Pondicherry was less than enjoyable - having paid five times the cost of a government bus, and twice the cost of a normal non-airconditioned private bus, it was not long before a short, overweight south Indian man came and sat in the empty seat next to me. Ordinarily not so much of an issue but it irked me since there were at least five empty rows behind me. Furthermore, as the conductor came to ask for his ticket, he made up an excuse and simply bribed the conductor 50 Rupees. Unfair!

Being a private bus, it was not in their interest to lose time by actually going to the stated destination, instead dropping me off at an intersection several kilometres from the main town. An auto ride later, I decided to attempt looking for accommodation in true backpacker fashion. What I quickly realised though, was that the weather in Pondicherry was too hot to walk around with a 20 kg backpack on, and all the hotels or guesthouses were located annoyingly far from each other.

Having tried several ashrams and being turned away, I turned to two reasonable looking hotels near the sea front. My 'sea-view' room was actually facing away from the beach front but from the grotty balcony, if you stood in the right corner on your tip-toes, you could see a small amount of blue water. Regardless, the airconditioning was a much appreciated luxury.

Having visited some amount of Indian cities and town, I thought I had experienced most of what they had to offer. It was surprising then that Pondicherry is one of the worst smelling Indian towns that I visited yet! The Moosra surmises this to be a combination of the French heritage and the modern south Indian population. I think the clue might be in a covered canal which runs through the town, which appeared to be mainly sewage run-off. Either way, the Lonely Planet recommends walking as the best way to get around - if you choose to do this, breath through your mouth!

The restaurant scene in Pondicherry caters to the European ex-pat and tourist, so I was pleased to be able to avoid Indian food for a short period, consuming pizza for dinner, and museli and a crepe for breakfast. Staying by the sea has further benefit in the relatively close location of an ice cream parlour.

As for actual sightseeing, my propensity to avoid places of worship embedded itself firmly here and there were only a few other places to visit. The botanical gardens were a astonishingly lush and vast collection of exotic plants in the middle of the city, although retaining their Indian heritage through badly placed signs with poor grammar.

Auroville, a township some distance away from Pondicherry, was a pleasant commune of spiritually minded residents who collectively worked together to grow the settlement. It was set up by a visionary known as 'Mother' who was an avid follower of Sri Aurobindo, a reknowned spiritual leader. The most spectacular part built so far is the Matri Mandir, a temple associated with no faith built in the geographic centre of the town. It looks like a giant golden golf ball from the outside - we weren't allowed inside to look.

The rain soon came to Pondicherry and I decided to go shelter in an internet cafe and treat myself to actual broadband, versus the 128 kbps I was getting through my phone's EDGE connection. This was a strange place, ordering food was self service - you placed your order at the counter and went to pick it up. It struck me as odd because the cafe was tiny - 3 metres by 3 metres - and that the lady nearly came to my table to tell me that my sandwich was ready anyway. It was my luck that this was a festival day and they shut early - cutting me loose from my high speed tether to the online world.

I return to Chennai via Mamallapuram, a wonderful town where there are several temples carved entirely out of stone. Sometimes these have been carved entirely out of just a single piece of stone. These are well presented and a pleasure to see in real life. The only bus that would take me back was a state run bus which was brimming with passengers, and I stood all the way back to Chennai.

On the way to the airport, my auto rickshaw was stopped from entering the domestic termal about a kilometre from the entrance and I had to walk with my luggage to the entrance. The monsoon rains were in full swing and my bags remain wet a day later.

1 comment posted so far
Moosra wrote at 2:14 pm on Fri 4th Dec -
You had a mare going to Kerala rather than Karnataka... the latter would have offered you the chance to see the true nature of India. Kerala is just full of clowns who somehow manage to live up to every stereotype of south Indians.

Comments have been disabled. You can probably comment on this post on Geek On A Bicycle.

"Our thoughts define our reality." - Anon.