One of the charming ways in which India reminds you of her pluralism is that so many places look like they could belong somewhere else, and yet they can only be Indian in an un-definable way.
When you enter Pondicherry , you might as well be in a small town in France and even the street names are Rue this and Rue that and the map still marks out a French Quarter/ White Quarter.!
But then you step out for a rickshaw and its all Tamil with men in lungis and shirts and women wearing strings of flowers in their hair.
So here are some moments and memories from our family trip last year. Let us start at the very beginning, which apparently is a very good place to start.
We took a flight to Chennai and then the road to Pondi.
Along the way we ate the best butter dosa on the planet at a Balaji outlet. The kind where they serve the rice out of steel buckets. The total bill for 4 of us came to Rs 197. Unbelievable.
Then we visited Dakshinchitra. http://dakshinachitra.net/main
It is a cultural centre which also has live performances and an open air exhibit of the different traditional housing styles in Tamil Nadu. By a fun coincidence there was a Marathi dance troupe which performed the Gondhal, Koli dance and an exquisite Lavni.
These were some of arts and crafts and weaves :
One would like to ask the politicians who claim Mumbai as their own and want to ‘renew the state, why don’t we have a space like this ?
We stopped at Amadora on the way and had a delicious Filter Coffee Ice cream and the yummiest undercooked cookie dough with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. http://www.amadora.in/
We had to visit the stone sculptures at Mahabalipuram since they are from the 7th century and includes one of the largest open-air rock reliefs in the world, the Descent of the Ganges or Arjuna’s Penance.
My mother is very fair and was wearing trousers and a shirt and got mistaken for a foreigner at every single gate. Strange discrimination for entry fee. 10 Rs for Indian, 250 for foreign. How do you decide? They did not ask us for the passport, so I guess it is the colour of the skin. http://www.mahabalipuram.co.in/
We stopped at Mamalla Restaurant on the way ahead and had some incredible melt in the mouth cheese dosas.
Finally we reached Gratitude Heritage on Rue Romain Rolland by 2 pm. What a beautiful place! Felt like being in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! We thought Maggie Smith would pop out from behind the pillar at any minute. http://www.gratitudeheritage.in/
After dinner we went for the Midnight Mass to Notre Dame des Anges. In the church we were stuck behind a pillar and getting a bit restless since everything was being repeated 3 times! In French, Tamil and English.
It was fun, but such things leave me raving and ranting about the poison that is organized religion ………..and then we got totally lost on the way back. For no reason whatsoever since we were literally just around the corner from the rooms. My daughter grimly informed me that it was a metaphor for being lost without religion and this was a punishment for my blasphemy…..
The Gratitude team had organized a charming Christmas breakfast with cake and presents for all! I spent the rest of the morning wandering around and taking photographs from every angle.
We went for a quick pre- lunch visit to Aurobindo Ashram. I found it quite creepy with photos of Mother everywhere. Bought the mandatory agarbattis and stuff. Down a few lanes is Xtasi where we had a really yummy pizza from a wood fired oven. https://www.hungryforever.com/larger-life-lunch-cafe-xtasi-pondicherry/
While walking back we found a book sale, so of course we spent an hour there and bought a bag full of books including a cookbook one called ‘When the Mango died and Went to Heaven’. How could our lazy Christmas holiday get any better?!
In the evening we went for another ramble and had crepes at Café Des Arts. With Sugar Lemon and Nutella. Accompanied by a pot of hot tea and cool Hibiscus syrup in soda. You can lounge on a sofa and read some of the books and magazines or you can sit outside and watch the slow life in the street go by.
The next day we visited Auroville ( which has nothing to do with Aurobindo Ashram and they hate each other. So much for the new human race bringing peace and blah blah….). Auroville reminded me totally of the Kinship from Under the Dome (which is a Stephen King movie, so you can imagine….). https://www.auroville.org/
There was a windmill, creepy semi –hostile people and the Mother everywhere. For all their ‘enlightenment’ and ‘idealism’, they seems to have spread through the nearby village of Kulapalaym like a cancer, with all those houses in the village now selling dhoti pants and hippie kurtas.
The famous Auroville Bakery had an enormous open garbage heap right next to it. They said cars are restricted inside to be eco- friendly but everyone seemed to be on noisy motorcycles. And what really is the point of not making pukka roads? The staff was not just hoity- toity but even rude. The boutiques were all glass fronted and high end and many of the perfumes and candles smelt like chemicals and not really ‘natural’. Also, just because a café is ‘organic’ must it have a dirty table cloth with ants running on it and nothing available from the written menu??
Totally disillusioned. I read up some other blogs which said similar things, so I guess it was not just me being paranoid and suspicious as usual!!https://auroramirabilis.blogspot.in/2007/02/auroville-rather-creepy-commune-very.html
Woke up on Sunday and after a lazy breakfast in the background of some Vedic chants, my daughter discovered the joys of Monopoly J. We spent a good 2 hours playing. We bought property, houses, mortgaged them and went to jail, while my mother created an economic slowdown by wanting to sleep on ‘her station’ on a bench and not sell or buy anything, haha.
Since the reviews spoke so highly of it, we went to Maison Perumal for lunch. Honestly, it is over- rated. Chettinad Chicken at Culture Curry in Mumbai is way better! We also saw first- hand the racism we Indians inflict on ourselves. When the Indian waiters are all glum with you but start prancing with joyful sunny smiles when foreigners come into the restaurant, what else do you call it?
Some of the others places we ate at and can recommend:
- Surguru, a vegetarian thali place
- Carte Blanche, Hotel de L’Orient, Romain Rolland Street. They had a Christmas Eve special buffet but we were not terribly impressed with the food though the atmosphere was lovely.
- Palais de Mahe, which is a beautiful setting for any meal. http://cghearth.com/Palais-de-Mahe
- Rendezvous, where we had excellent fish, Coq au Vin, Veg Sizzler, followed by Bailey’s Bread and Butter Pudding. https://unexplored.lonelyplanet.in/discovery/entry/406.html
Finally, like all good things, the holiday came to an end and we left the next day to go to Chennai airport. Sadly the bypass road did not take us over either Mamalla or Amadoro so we left without a final taste of butter dosa or filter coffee ice cream.
So there we are. The End. Back to reality. Where there are no vedic chants and no heritage maisons. But just writing this up brought back fond memories and I was transported there for a while. I guess that is the value of travel. The memories give you as much pleasure as the actual time you spent being there.
I hope you also visit Pondicherry sometime and enjoy it like we did !