India: Pondicherry

Ram dropped us off in Pondicherry (for our first experience un-chaperoned in India).  I think he was very nervous to leave us on our own!

Moon Over Bay of Bengal

The timing of our arrival coincided with the release of Life of Pi which Joshua finished reading back in one of those African countries.  His imagination was running wild.  He’d say, “Do you really think it’s going to be like the South of France, even though it’s in India?!?!”  The ante was raised even higher when Ram offered to introduce us to Raja, his university roommate and current PTA President for the school which Pi attended in the book.

Govenor's Mansion

That’s about where the fairytale ends.  Pondicherry still felt like India, well India-Lite…with French named streets.


We couldn’t see the movie because it was only being shown dubbed in Tamil, the state language.  It was probably for the best, since we’d have more time to experience the charm and atmosphere Pondicherry has to offer “in real life.”

These days the biggest thing going on in Pondicherry is the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.  The revenue from his books and writings by The Mother (his protégé/confidante – keeping it French) have enabled the Ashram to purchase some 300 buildings in the old French quarter area.  From an outsider’s perspective, the direct result of this land grab is a few no honking signs posted (which are not actually observed) and a number of grey buildings with white trim throughout the area.  The Ashram itself is what I would expect any ashram to be…clean, serene, orderly and quiet.  To be honest, I felt a little out of place.  How were we supposed to know what to do there when we haven’t learned to meditate yet?  Despite our lack of understanding, we were still enveloped by the energy and devotion pulsing throughout the courtyard as people sat still in complete silence.

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Whatever happened in there must have given us some great karma because we immediately stumbled upon the best Madras coffee stand in Pondicherry, becoming a solid member of our food pyramid.  With an influx of caffeine-fueled energy we met Raja for an introduction to our temporary residence, the town itself, and the Indian legend, Kingfisher beer.  We were locked and loaded with some great restaurant suggestions, a loose itinerary and a place to stay right in the middle of town (for free!).

Madras Coffee

My goals were simple: find some of those amazing silver bell anklets that make me smile, attend a South Indian cooking class, visit Auroville (the utopia-like city envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother), practice yoga and learn to ride a motorbike (or at least a scooter!).  Joshua’s goals mirrored mine minus the anklets plus find a playground for exercise and view an early morning sunrise over the Bay of Bengal.

We weren’t so lucky with the motorbike.  Joshua’s honesty sabotaged us once again.  He let it slip that we had never driven a scooter before.  The merchant quickly reneged the 200 rupee/day rental price and instead offered us two manually powered bicycles.  When we offered to pay him for a lesson and then the rental, he just looked at us as if we were stupid.  Apparently “anyone can ride a scooter,” but you have to have ridden one prior to actually renting one.

Yoga wasn’t all that easy either.  We couldn’t find a local daily class that we could walk to (and since we didn’t have a scooter…).  The cooking class was our own fault.  Had we done research in advance, we could have coordinated our schedules and participated on our first day in Pondi.  Sometimes we forget these destinations are not just waiting around for us to show up.

Our visit to Auroville was educational.  We have never been exposed to communal living on the international level (47 countries represented and counting).  The only confusing part for me was the huge golden ball, the Matrimandir, that sits in the middle of the city.  It’s a place for meditation where visitors cannot enter without prearranged passes, but the ostentatious exterior and gaudy (real) gold color somehow take away from the life of simplicity I felt The Mother was trying to emphasize.  There is no denying the overwhelming beauty and opulence  that it possesses with its “space-age” design (despite taking 37 years to finish!).  Epcot Center – The bar has been raised, my friend!




Even though the corner outside our apartment must have made some public bathroom list, we generally felt comfortable walking around Pondicherry.

Public Toilets

We woke early one morning for Joshua’s “sunrise.”  There wasn’t a visible sunrise due to the clouds, but we were still joined by thousands of other Pondicherrians on their morning walk.  The brisk morning air (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit) forced locals into their warmest clothes, gloves, beanies and earmuffs…you’d think it was going to snow!

Bay of Bengal Sunrise

We accomplished a lot less than we expected, which gave us time to wander in larger and larger concentric circles.  We made it as far as the bus station to research bus times back to Chennai.  It was the worst place in Pondi…so many smells, honks, piles of fresh vomit.  We ran back to our apartment without bus tickets or appetites thinking we may just like India better with our training wheels on.

2 thoughts on “India: Pondicherry

  1. Oooh, I loved Puducherry. There are some cafes around with delicious coffee and croissants in the French Quarter. Not quite like Paris, but definitely not truly Indian either.

    We’re on a RTW too, and in India (Rajasthan) though our blog says we’re in Uruguay (difficult to write on the road!). Look forward to reading more of your India adventures!

    • Shelley: We just made it to Rajasthan too! It’s so hard to keep up with the blog especially with the unexpectedly difficult to find internet. We are headed to Jaipur for the new year. Hope you guys have a wonderful holiday in India!

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