4.15 am : The alarm buzzed. I woke up all eager and energetic. D-day was here. I was finally going to fulfill my dream of visiting Pondicherry.
It had taken a little while to decide whether I should set my alarm for 4 or 4.30, but given that my flight was at 6 and I wasn’t gona have a bath at such an unearthly hour, I thought it wise to give myself 40 minutes to get ready and 20 to get to the airport so that I could check in by 5.15.
5.55 am : She was racing like a bird, pounding hard on the runway. My middle seat did not give me too grand a view of the scene under the plane, and it sure was not enjoyable when the flight started jiggling and rattling mid air.
But we got to our destination in an hour and thirty minutes so I wasn’t complaining. Besides, I’d paid just over 4000 bucks for an Indigo round trip, so I was delirious with joy at having struck a great deal. Booking early rocks!
10 am : Pleasantly stuffed with Idli and Dosai, I washed my breakfast down with an addictive and steaming cup of coffee. The restaurant my cab (fare pre-decided as Rs. 2300/- for a one-way trip between Chennai and Pondi, that’s about 3 hours) had stopped at, was near a theatre called Mayajaal, located on East Coast Road (ECR). The websites I’d checked before leaving had said that the ECR was an extremely scenic route, but having traveled on the Mumbai-Pune expressway N number of times, it wasn’t extraordinary for me. It’s true that coconut trees never leave your sight, and the road has no bumps or craters… Good enough…
My first stop after breakfast was at Dakshina Chitra, which houses the culture and attractions of three South Indian states – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, spread over 10 acres of land. (They have their own website! Click here) It’s nothing short of heaven for those interested in traditions, arts and architecture. To me, it was different… Unusual… Interesting…
Our next destination was Crocodile Park that I have visited before while on my trip to Vellore with the college gang in 2008. The crocodiles were just as smelly and just as scary as the last time. I still managed to get quite a few amazing pictures… And also at Mahabalipuram – the shore temple and Five Rathas. Please take good note of this – an umbrella and an ice-cream can make this excursion decently bearable. Otherwise the sun and the heat will really drain you out.
3 pm : Entered Pondi and even the streets looked special to me! Checking in at Hotel Ginger (a Tata enterprise) was like ecstasy personified. I took some time to unpack and freshen up and set out after a mini lunch at Ginger itself.
My to-do list for the evening read Rock Beach, which is the only beach inside the town. Yeah, there’s no sandy beach within the settlement; you need to travel a couple of miles for that. I took an auto and got to the beach just as all the population started descending there. Let’s face it, there’s nothing much for the common man (and woman) to do in Pondi in the evenings, and what better place to head out than the beach and sit near the crashing waves? The statues of Gandhi and Nehru face each other, and the Old 19th century lighthouse looks on right at the entrance to the beach. I strolled around and enjoyed the lovely breeze as I walked the crowded path. There was an Ambedkar monument near the Municipality building, and I took a few snaps for my history-politics-and-biography-crazy Abba to relish.
The people there are so friendly and innocent. As I passed by, a few girls sitting on the roadside called out to me…
I looked around. They were definitely looking at me. Addressing me, for sure.
In chorus - “Where you from? What iiiiiis your name?”
I was dumbfounded, I didn’t want a bunch of kids yelling my name in public.
“Telugu? Where from?”
“France” – Could think of noplace else.
‘”Come photo, photo!”
I glanced about. One snap wouldn’t hurt. Besides, it would delight them.
I wrested to keep my skirt around my legs; the girls were tugging at my arms and clothes in order to be close to me. Click.
“Ok byeeeee, Sunita byeeee. Bye Sunitaaaa.”
I continued my stride down Rock Beach and landed up near Dumas Street – famous for restaurants, basically the French part of town. I’d heard of a Seagulls restaurant that was popular with tourists. And indeed it was a nice place. I dined at Pier Point watching the waves, the cool breeze caressing my hair and calming my soul. The rustling of the coconut leaves inspired the poet in me, and I enjoyed gazing at the sand and the crowd around me. It did not bother me that others were staring at me, and one guy even came up to me and asked me the time, despite the fact that he had a watch and I did not…
All in a day’s work.