In India, it pays to ask as many people as possible where a bus is going before you board it. In doing so, it occasionally happens that you end up where you had hoped to get to. So, as I board a semi-sleeper from Madurai to Pondicherry, I proceed to question the passengers already on board. Each inquiry is met with firm agreement. The driver, too, confirms we’re headed for Pondicherry. You can imagine my bemusement, then, when after spending the night aboard I wake to find we’ve arrived in Chennai: 3 hours north of our intended destination. I’m confused, the driver’s confused and the only recourse seems to be to laugh at the absurdity of it. Hastily they pile me into a rickshaw and, in hot pursuit of the appropriate bus, we wind through rush hour. I am unceremoniously thrown aboard, wheels still in motion, and we make our way down the coast.
For any sheltered westerner looking to travel here, myself included, Pondicherry offers an excellent starting point: Blending the chaos of India with European tranquility. This peculiar mix affords the visitor a chance to dip in and out of the mayhem at their leisure – an impossibility in bigger cities.
A French colony until the 1950s, the architecture of Pondicherry is striking, colourful and wonderfully dilapidated. The fact that there isn’t much to “do” here only adds to the charm. Of particular relief is Paradise beach a few kilometers down from the French quarter: perhaps the only beach in the whole region of Tamil Nadu where a westerner can swim without attracting a crowd of onlookers.
When I wasn’t consumed by the arduous task of relaxation, I ventured to learn a thing or two at the local cultural centre “SITA”.
Drifting from cooking classes to art & massage, I can say with conviction that I hadn’t felt so at home in a long while. No doubt my departure came as a relief to the staff, having had to put up with my countenance continually over the duration of my stay.