South India Road Trip: 18Jan, Day1
Chennai to Pondy, Promenade and Aurobindo Ashram
We left Chennai at 9:45 armed with mosquito repellant ‘MOSQ’ but without the mosquito bat which electrocutes mosquitoes and flies quite efficiently. We got excellent instructions from BIL (Brother in Law) and were in Pondy (Pondicherry) at the Park Guesthouse of the Aurobindo Ashram at 1:30 PM after a short stop at Mahabs (Mahabalipuram), where we decided not to leave the car and luggage unattended and proceeded after a washroom break and purchase of some drinking water. One stop to have a ‘Degree’ coffee (Kumbakonam style filter coffee) and that was it. Excellent coffee at all these degree coffee places is assured. The Ashram gave us a room after turning away a family in a big vehicle, and many were turned away on the telephone as we approached the reception. They had a sign at the gate proclaiming ‘No Rooms Available’ and the guard was turning people away. Yet the same guard allowed us to approach the reception and the lady there invited us to stay as long as we wished. We got an AC room on the ground floor for Rs.1400/- a day and decided to stay for 2 nights.
We had the lunch packed by SIL (Sister in Law) in the room before heading out to town at about 3:30 PM. First stop was coffee at the restaurant in the guesthouse itself. All windows facing the sea wall just a few meters away with the sound of crashing waves. Then a walk on the beach road promenade, this is about 1 Km with Gandhi statue at the half way point. The sun was still hot, but there was cool and strong sea breeze. Later when the sun went down it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the cool sea breeze, the sound of the waves and the peace of the sea on one side and the sleepy town on the other. Later after we completed our tour of the town and returned at 8 PM we found that the street is ‘pedestrian only’ after dark and vehicular traffic is not allowed thru this 1 Km stretch. 5:30 until 8 PM we walked into town, visited a church and went to the fish, vegetable and fruit market where we got sour bananas (Rs.60/Kg), black grapes, guavas (Rs.50/Kg) and cheeku (also called suppata or mud-apple, no English name known to me Rs.30/Kg). All are favorites of my wife, who also loves pomegranate but we already had enough fruit for the moment. On our way back we had dosa and coffee at the Indian Coffee House, always a good choice for a filter coffee and South Indian snacks.
Once we were back on the Beach Road (also called Goubert Avenue Promenade) we found that a Bharatanatyam performance was going on a stage next to the Gandhi Statue, so we found chairs and were enthralled by the performance for about an hour and a half. There was a performance of ‘Das Avataram (10 incarnations) of Lord Vishnu’. It was an open air theatre by the sea, the water not ten meters away, with waves crashing on the sea wall. There was a big contingent of devotees of Male Marvattur Palayam Temple, who need to dress in red sarees when they visit the temple, they were at Pondicherry and we got photos, very colorful. We were back at the Ashram well before the 10:30 PM deadline. Smoking (tobacco) and drinking (alcohol) is not permitted there and the gates remain closed 10:30 PM until 5 AM. The restaurant serves vegetarian fare. Ideal for us, we neither smoke nor drink, and the deadline enforces that we go to bed early. We can enjoy our fish and mutton outside. Some of the lemon rice, prawn curry and fried fish was remaining, we had a second late dinner and followed it up with grapes and then it was time for bed.