Monday, January 11, 2010

Puducheri and Auroville

In Tamil, pudu means new and cheri means town. Puducheri, or Pondicherry, as it is better known, is a union territory of India, and was once a French colony. Different from states in India, union territories do not have elected governments, but rather obtain rulers by federal appointment. The Indian president personally appoints a Governor for each territory. Today, seven territories exist within India, separately governed and taxed from the states which they border. The French influence is still evident in the city, as many of the street names are in French. And, interestingly, the story Life of Pi is partially set in Puducheri. Also, M. Night Shyamalan was born in Puducheri, though raised in the United States.

Driving Through Tamil Nadu From Bangalore

National Highway 66, what a great stretch of road. You can travel one hundred kilometers per hour easily on most of it. The only slowdowns are toll booths. That would not be so bad if it weren't for the people at the toll booths. Even though all the lanes are clearly defined, some people insist on being idiots, slowing down the process for everyone else.

Trucks in the car lane
Here you see trucks in the lane marked for cars

Toll booth asshole
This idiot drives between the toll lanes to cut in front of everyone

About midway, we stop for some lunch. Roadside eating in India is always an adventure. There are no signs in the windows with health department ratings, and you don't have a Zagat booklet. We stopped at Hotel Sri Punjabi's Dhaba, which boasted of serving north and south Indian meals, as well as Chinese (the sign said Chinees). The menu had an impressive selection and I was in the mood for some delicious Punjabi cuisine. But, everything I ordered was something they could not prepare. It turns out they could not prepare any Chinese food neither. And, their south Indian selection was limited. The sign and menu boast of all these flavors, just to get you to stop. Once you have stopped, you find out they only have a few items. This has also been our experience with restaurant wine lists in India: print anything you want, but only have three choices.

Hotel Sri Punjabi's Dhaba in Tamil Nadu
A very non-Punjabi Punjabi dhaba in Tamil Nadu

Coast to Coast

Earlier in 2009, I visited both Mumbai and Goa, both on the Arabian Sea. Big Beach just outside Puducheri is on the Bay of Bengal. The Arabian Sea is the west coast and the Bay of Bengal is the east coast. Visiting Puducheri allowed me to see the beaches of both Indian coasts.

Big Beach outside Puducheri
Big Beach, just outside Puducheri

Fishing boats on Big Beach
A fishing village on Big Beach


Outside Puducheri, in Tamil Nadu, just up East Coast Road, there is a settlement called Auroville. It was founded in the sixties by a French woman with a simple set of rules. Basically, Auroville belongs to anyone that lives and works within Auroville, serving and unifying humanity.

Anjali enjoyed shopping in Auroville, as the crafts displayed are all manufactured within the compound. After I had reached my shopping quota, I sat outside and took photos of people with their cameras (so everyone in their group would be in the photo). I also grabbed a chocolate-soy cookie and a soda. While sitting, I noticed a dog trotting from person to person, looking for some food. Since my cookie was not very tasty, I whistled him over and he gobbled up the cookie. We were so hungry after the shopping, that we decided to leave instead of checking out the central temple, the Matrimandir (Mothers' Temple). The temple is rather interesting in that it looks like a golden golf ball and the interior is lit by sunlight scattered through a seventy centimeter crystal housed at the top. At night, a light is passed through the crystal, fed from solar-powered lamps.

Friendly folks in Auroville
They would not stop waving until I took their photo

Cookie-eating dog in Auroville
I shared a cookie with this dog

Blessed by an Elephant

If you visit Puducheri, be sure to stop by the Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple and get blessed by their elephant. You extend out a coin, which the elephant takes into his trunk, which then is handed over to his keeper, and then his trunk comes down gently on your head to bless you.

This temple elephant blesses visitors
The blessing elephant at a Puducheri temple

Elephant blesses Anjali at Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple
Anjali getting blessed

Elephant blessing me at Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple
My turn getting blessed

Looking for Lunch (in all the Wrong Places)

We came from Auroville to get some lunch in Puducheri. Hearing so much about the French influence, we were sure a small cafe would have something nice to eat. We could not find anywhere to eat! Evidently, if you are in town, everything closes at three in the afternoon. Even so, we visited some recommended spots and found their menus lacking anything exotic (to India). So, we wandered around the French-named streets looking for anything to eat, not finding one decent place.

Gandhi statue in Puducheri
Statue of Gandhi on the beach, surrounded by pillars displaced from Gingee

Line of Ambulances near the hospital
Street lined with ambulances

Puducheri police station
Police headquarters

It was decided by us that the only thing French were the street names. Hungry and disappointed, we headed back to Big Beach.

Final Walk on Big Beach

Posing on Puducheri's Big Beach
Early morning stretch before the surf

The morning was cool, chilly even. When we walked along the coast, some drizzle fell. We enjoyed watching crabs scurry about and listening to the waves crash.

Big Beach
Last morning on Big Beach

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