After almost four months in Chennai, I thought it was high time I visited Pondicherry. It would be a shame otherwise as people may say "Four months in Chennai and you have not been to Pondicherry yet? Shame on you." Even my roommates cum friends cum colleagues, Lesly and Joel agreed. Thus we set out one Saturday morning to Pondicherry, about which we had heard a lot in school text books and from other colleagues. This was the first time and after this we have been there two more times making it a total of 3 times in just one year. You can just imagine what kind of a magnetic attraction this small town had on us.
The first time, only three of us had set out. But the second time we were a total of six. Lesly, Joel, Arnold, Oswald, our close friend Shiva Prasad who had come all the way from Udupi and myself. We all planned to leave by 5:30 in the morning. This was a Sunday. Joel said "I’ll put on the alarm and wake you all up by 5 am." I doubt whether he had ever seen 5 am in his life. Nevertheless we all agreed, after all a trip can bring in excitement and Joel was visibly excited. The next day all were up by 6 am, except of course Joel! After much hara-kiri finally we got into a bus at 7. We guys don’t believe in planning things. If you keep your plan very flexible, there is no one to blame also.
It was an about two and a half hour journey from Chennai. And as usual we didn’t get a seat, so had to stand. But, were we ready for the two and a half hour ordeal?? Never! Even though we had not planned the trip properly, we certainly had thoughts and plans as to how to pass time on the beach. The three of us, who had been there before were all praises and this certainly had a full positive impact on the other 3 first timers. But we had no other option, but stand. We did not want to tire ourselves before even reaching Pondicherry.
All Mangaloreans including Tuluvaites were in full force in the bus. (Even though I am not that fluent in Tulu, I speak the language and at times get stuck in between and my friends obviously never really let go off a chance to pull my legs. Who cares!? Tulu has got its own style which I think no other language has. Certain jokes are funny only when said in Tulu. Isn’t it?)
The route to Pondicherry itself is a beauty. The ECR (East Coast Road) according to me is one of the most scenic and well constructed roads in the country. I still consider the Mumbai – Pune Express Highway the best. ECR comes close next. But for scenery, ECR is way ahead. Bikers from in and around Chennai usually put their bikes in full throttle on the ECR. Such is the beauty of the road. I consider it a very good option for Honeymooners too. Instead of shelling out lots of money for a cruise in Bangkok, why not ride along the ECR and spend time in Pondicherry? Give it a thought.
Getting back to our trip, gradually all of us got seats along the way, but the last ones to get seats were Shiva and I and that too just before we reached Pondi bus stand. What a pity.
The first thing we did after we got down was to have breakfast. There were all kinds of sounds coming out from our stomachs. Hectic Planning was going on during breakfast. What to do next? Which hotel shall we book the room? Should we hire Bikes or cycles? When we finished breakfast we left whatever we had planned as tips to the waiter and set out to hire bikes. Last time, we had hired cycles. The cycle seats were so hard that we found it difficult to sit down in office even though the seats at work were cushioned. So our mistake last time had made us wise. Just thinking about cycles made me sick. Our plight was like that of Saif Ali Khan in the movie ?Dil Chahtha Hai.’ His dialogue is still ringing in my ears "Kya mein roz thakhiye par baittha hoon." Since the other three had no time to learn from their own mistakes, they depended on our mistakes. This is what Life is all about right? Learn from other peoples mistakes. Who has time to commit all mistakes??
We got three two wheelers, two bikes and one Activa. Getting bikes is really very simple. Just give your identity card (Passport, Pan Card or your Company ID card) and the bike is yours for a day. The rent is also cheap. 150 rupees per day. I advise not to give your Passport or Pan card. The bikes will not be in a great condition, but manageable. There are many dealers around. Everyone knows about these shops. So getting there will not be a problem.
Our excitement was now sky high. Now that we had bikes we could go anywhere in Pondi. So what next??? Lesly, the most responsible in our group said "First, lets fill fuel, who will roam around later in search of a Petrol pump?" Everyone agreed. Lesly, Shiva and I were the riders. I was riding the Activa since I was not all that comfortable in riding vehicles with gear. But I was nursing a desire to ride one.
There are many lodges in Pondicherry, many on the beachfront and many more in the city close to the bus stand. But we preferred a nice hotel just on the shore. It’s an amazing experience to spend a night next to the sea even though it’s a bit expensive. We were given a four bedroom with AC and two separate mattresses. We freshened up and hit the roads. This time I was really happy to know that at least now there was a cushion under me. Comfort can really make a lot of difference. Joel too must have been over the moon. He was the one who suffered the most last time. There were two nails on his seat. Poor Joel must have felt like a rocket!
Adrenaline was pumping high and we did not know where we were going or what we were doing. Our condition was like that of a calf just let out of the cowshed. Three bikes were in three different directions!!! After about 5 or 10 minutes of riding, we all came to know this won’t do any good. Something has to be done so that we will all be together. After 2 or 3 phone calls we were all again in front of our Hotel. I insisted that I wanted to ride the bike now. Lesly was not in a mood to give me the bike and how right he was, was proved later on. So now Lesly would be leading the pack in the Activa with Arnold, followed by Shiva and Joel, followed by me and Oswald.
All went fine and we went to the beachfront, spent time there and had fun. I too was happy that I was comfortable riding the Bike. The spot on the picture below is really amazing. There is a kind of ramp which extends to about half km into the sea. There are huge boulders on both sides and just the feel of the salty sea water splashing on your face will make your day. But Pondi has many more things to offer. The section of the city built by French is awesome. It’s kept very clean.
Next we planned to go to the Aurobindo Ashram. The Ashram was built by Aurobindo Ghosh, a freedom fighter, scholar, writer, poet, literary critic, philosopher, social thinker, revolutionary, patriot and visionary. The ashram is a peaceful place filled with flowers and greenery. Photography is prohibited inside. But I and Oswald did not reach there. Guess what happened? No, we didn’t meet with an accident. (I am not that bad a rider). The bike which we were riding was an old one and the way I was shifting gears was as if I was kicking someone. We had taken a so called shortcut (which actually wasn’t) and had already reached some unknown place. Suddenly I was not able to shift gears. I was wondering why and then I could hear Oswald saying "Arre Yaar, the chain is cut and lying on the road behind us." I could visualize Lesly in my small mind. What to do now. We called up both the other riders and asked them to come to the beach. In the meantime we pushed the bike towards the beach. The best part of this small town is that, the roads are so very well planned that, by taking any road you can get to the beach. All roads are laid in cross shape and they all lead to the beach. By sheer luck we found the guy who rented us the bike right there and he got it repaired for us. After this incident I was more than happy to ride the Activa along with Oswald and never once dared to look at Lesly.
We had lunch at a small hotel. Food in Pondi is excellent and cheap too. Liquor too is cheap. For those who love their beer, a bottle of Kingfisher costs Rs 35 I guess (Look Mummy, I don’t know the exact price of beer. That means I don’t drink!!!!). After a nap in our air-conditioned room, we hit the road again, this time to Auroville, the French colony. It was about 20 km from our hotel.
Auroville is a township near Pondicherry inspired by Aurobindo. The inspiration for Auroville arose in India, stemming from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the encouragement of the Mother. This inspiration lead to the Sri Aurobindo Society, based in Pondicherry, persuading the Government of India in 1966 to accept and support the project, which was then put before UNESCO for its endorsement. Aurobindo called for spiritual regeneration of India as the path for rebirth of India. He started as a spiritual leader in Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. Auroville was later founded by The Mother, a French lady whose real name was Mirra Alfassa. She took Aurobindo’s teachings and popularized them for the layman. She founded the city of Auroville based on this philosophy. The city is within a 3 km radius – a multinational, multilingual and multicultural population living within its limits. Auroville has many activities including several schools, a research institute and other establishments. The research institute conducts research on energy, agriculture and many other areas. At the center is the Matrimandir, the Spiritual center of Auroville. Auroville mostly uses local resources. You can find many foreigners at this place zooming past you with bikes, cycles etc etc. If you are in Pondi, never forget to visit this place. It’s a must.
On our way back from Auroville, an incident happened, this time which involved Lesly. Shiva and I had reached our already planned destination and were waiting for Lesly and Arnold. It was almost half an hour now and all thoughts began to cross our minds. Did something bad happen on the way? There was no chance, since they were right in front of us until we entered the city. Lesly had earlier seen a cute hat on a cute French beauty’s head and had desired to buy it. So we thought he might have found the same beauty again (I mean the HAT) and was on its trail. It was almost 45 minutes now, no sign of the daring duo. Finally we could see Lesly wearing his hat riding his bike in all glory nearing us. "What happened? Where the hell were you guys for so long? " I demanded. Then came out the story which made us all laugh our hearts out.
It seems on their way back from Auroville, after entering the city, they wanted to become the first to reach our already planned destination. They took a shortcut. But to their bad luck (and our good luck) they had entered a No Entry. There was some procession going on. They managed to cross the entire road without getting noticed (Headlights turned off) and when they were about to join the Main road, a policeman emerged from nowhere and asked them to stop. Being a faithful citizen of India, Lesly stopped. The policeman just removed the keys from the ignition and asked him to come the next day and collect the keys by paying Rs 300 fine. But the next day was a holiday. So said Lesly. The policeman must have been pissed off by now and told him to come on the next day. The cop was obviously expecting money from our daring duo. But our duo was not ready to part with their hard earned money. After much talking, finally Arnold offered him Rs 100, for which the cop agreed. Surprising isn’t it? From 300 to 100 in just 5 minutes. And so our duo was free. I could imagine Lesly pleading with the cop to let them free. Poor guy?..
I would like to say something on corruption here. Even though there are measures to check on corruption I don’t think corruption in India will stop. Even if the officials are honest, people offer them bribes to get out of trouble. Poor guys, what can they do? I am not saying the cop whom Lesly and Arnold had met was honest. He was dishonest. But were we ready to stay back for 3 more days and get involved in all that legal complications. Paying Rs 100 seemed a better way to come out of it.
After a superb dinner, we were dead tired and went to bed after midnight. The next day was a Monday and it was a Tamil Nadu bandh. We planned to have a sea bath and then pack our bags back to Chennai. This was not to be. Instead we visited a church. The interiors and the altar of the church were simply breathtaking. We still had half day to spend and we did not intend to return our bikes so early. We decided to go to the famous backwaters. The fun we had during the ride on the boat, and on the island left us with pleasant memories. After a normal meal, we returned our bikes and took a long walk back to the bus stand admiring the churches, schools and houses along the way. We preferred walking rather than taking an auto. No one knows the reason behind this.
The bus journey back to Chennai would have been a forgettable one, but for a cute girl on whom all the six of us had our eyes on. When we got down, Shiva exclaimed "Hey dude, that girl was looking at you". From then on, I am dying to meet that girl. Maybe on our next trip to Pondicherry, I’ll be a bit more lucky.
I would like to thank Lesly, Joel, Arnold, Oswald and Shivaprasad who allowed me to use their names, which I would have used even if they had not agreed. As a matter of fact, I have not even asked them. Thanks Guys!
Author: Anil DSouza- Halealve- Kundapur