19Jan, Day2: Pondy Darshan
Auspicious sighting of the shrine – Road Trip Chennai Pondy Madurai Vembanad Kochi Wayanad Kodagu
Road Trip Chennai Pondy Madurai Vembanad Kochi Wayanad Kodagu Mysore Yelagiri Kumbakonam Tanjavur Karaikudi Periyar Gavi Vagaman
We woke late and walked to Indian Coffee House in the market for breakfast, good dosa and coffee. We planned breakfast at Ananda Bhavan, maybe next time. It is self-service, a sweets shop and serves all kinds of vegetarian meals, dosa and other snacks and filter coffee. Later we visited the temple nearby, Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Devasthanam, the #1 place to visit in Pondy. The elephant comes out at 4 PM so we needed to return for this. A pujari specializes in blessing new vehicles, two and four wheelers are lined up for the service and I duly got a few photos. The temple was built in 1980 but gets hordes of devotees, always full. Then we went to the Pondy Museum next door to the temple, it has excellent bronzes. On our way back to the guesthouse we got an excellent lemon tart (which was really ‘tart’ as promised) at the ‘Eat My Cake’ Café and Bakery next to the theatre, highly recommended. Using free Wi-Fi here we found that the #3 place to visit was Paradise Beach. So later we took out the car and drove to Paradise Beach, it is about a half hour drive out of Pondy. It is a fishing village with at least 2 superb resorts on the beach. Not many visitors at the public beach on a weekday at 5 PM. Drove back to avoid driving in the dark and to catch the last of the daylight on the Promenade, which we did. After sunset we had dinner at La Terrace restaurant, the second restaurant next to the Park Guesthouse with a bar in-between. Excellent Pizza and the other dish we ordered was good too, highly recommended. The ‘Eat My Cake’ bakery is run by a Frenchwoman who is training the local women to bake, so the local women do the baking at their factory and all the servers also have gone thru the training and can alternate as bakers.
Later from 8 till 9:30 PM we watched dances by school children at the stage next to the Gandhi Mandapam Statue on the Promenade by the sea side. This was sponsored by the Auroville Ashram.
20Jan, Day3: Pondy Cont’d
We had planned a trip to Pichavaram Swamps for a boat ride but it was a statewide bandh (strike/closure) and holiday called by supporters of ‘Jallikattu’, the bull taming sport popular in Tamilnadu, which had been banned by the Supreme Court a couple of years earlier and then upheld the ban a few months ago. The cases had been filed (and brought up repeatedly) in the Supreme Court by Animal Welfare Board of India and PETA India. The WYO, World Youth Organization, was protesting against this ruling and also demanded a ban on PETA in India. It is very much like bull sports in other parts of the world where a fighter either avoids, runs in front of, agitates, or climbs and holds-on to the hump of a bull and escapes being thrown off or gored… in this instance a bull is released into a channel or open space and fighters can jump in front, on top and hold on to its hump, the object being to hold on for the maximum time, capture flags tied to the horns, or even tame the bull altogether (a tall order). Film personalities like the music composer AR Rahman in Chennai went on a day fast in support of Jallikattu on 19Jan. As a result our trip was cancelled and movement within Pondy severely restricted for the day.
We had breakfast at the guesthouse and then took a nap until noon or 1 PM. Then hungry once more, walked to the French Quarters getting a fresh orange juice (Rs.40/-) at a stall near the temple and some tea and coffee at chai wallahs (fellas) who had braved it to stay open. It was peaceful, but completely shut down in Pondy, with a handful of about 20 motorcycles of party workers doing the round of the beach road and other streets in the French Quarters. After a long walk and return by the sea side we had another nap from 4-5 PM. Finally we headed back via the beach road (Goubert Ave.) and JL Road to the market where we got dinner at 6 PM at Wang’s Kitchen, air-conditioned, bright, Chinese specialty restaurant. Rates were upmarket but food to match, highly recommended. Large helpings and a chicken dish was Rs.300/-, so not very expensive overall. ‘La Terrace’ gave half the helping for Rs.220/-, but the Pizza at La Terrace was in a league of its own. Later we got our phones recharged and got a data plan so that we could continue our road trip with a GPS via Google Maps. It started to rain, and after a wait, we had to take an auto (3 wheeler) for Rs.70/- to make the 10:30 deadline at the guest house.