2-13 (Friday, Hmm)
Since the bus direct to Pondi didn't leave until 11:30 am we opted to take one leaving at 9:30 to Vilupuram and then on to Pondi. 90% of the way was on a newly completed, divided, 4 laner but as happens in India at least half the way the bus drove as if 2 laner, ie the traffic was 2 way since the other 2 lanes across the median strip were closed (no real evidence that they couldn't be used, just not opened yet, ha!). That's India! Arrived in Villupuram at 1:45 and bus for Pondi left at 2 arr at 3:15...no accomodations in the first 5 places we checked finally opting for a very expensive ON since the rickshaw was bicycle for a real change of pace and he had ridden all over the place to help us (got a big tip as well). We both had headaches, I think from not eating much of anything all day so we headed out and much to our dismay found most places closed for any real food between 3 & 6 other than 'snacks'. Our emotional state was quite frazzled so we stopped at the first place open that did have food - a Pizza Hut! Here we met a charming retired Canadian teacher, Marilyn, who has been traveling every winter for the past 20 yrs since she retired. Good chatting and found out she was staying in Park Guest House just down the street where we had checked before, but she said it's best to go at 9 am for a better chance to get in (200 r. vs 1100 r. !!!). So you know where we're heading tomor morning!
Along the road today I saw for the first time a tuk tuk hauling 3 huge banana TREES! Not the bunches of bananas but the cut off trees. My hunch is that since so many Indians eat their meals, incl thalis, on banana leaves this was where these trees were heading - plates for serving lunch! In the other direction of the ecologically/environmentally correct vs bring-down-the-planet-as-soon-as-possible - pottery jugs are rapidly being replaced here by plastic jugs for carrying water from well to homes!! Ya win some and then some just go the other way! It is also sugar cane harvest big time in this area...lots of tractors pulling wagons towering high with cane.
Since we finally ended up at L'heritage Pondicherien where a dbl was 1100 r. we also found that they say they have hot water but do not. Likewise, their restaurant does not function as advertized...food selections on menu are about 1/2 available! For dinner at Pizza Hut I added another 450 r. (starving) to my already shot budget and closed Friday the 13th with a whopping $25 US spent for travel, food, and lodging just for me! FNot an auspicious beginning in Pondi. However, meeting Marilyn at Pizza Hut was most fortuitous!!
This am at 9 we went to the Park GH reception desk and they told us they only had an AC dbl for 800 r. - still less than the 1100 r. we were paying - so we decided to go for it. Just at that moment Marilyn from last nite walked up & we exchged greetings, etc just as I was setting out to see the room. Suddenly the fellow at reception said something to the guy taking me to the room and next thing I know we are going to a non-AC room for 600 r.! Well, now I'm thinking "What just happened?"...and when we get to the room WOW! 6 beds, 3 fans, bath w/ sep shower and toilet...a dorm really! Plus, just outside the door is the hot water spigit and in addition, there are 2 balconies one w/ sea breezes and ocean view! 180 degrees from where we were last nite...and the room #...get ready...yes, 84! Okay, I'm a bit obsessive about this but what are the chances? Anyway, we've paid for 2 nites even tho it is not the 200 r. we had hoped, still can't complain one bit. Over 3 days we will average it out and it won't be so bad.
Later we signed up for a day tour of Pondi and surrounds w/ the local tourist board, kind of like the one we went on in Mysore, for just 200 r. each so we will see how that goes tomorrow.
1) Villianur...Sri Gokilambal Thirukameshwarar Temple (don't ya just love these names, ha!), 1100 yrs old, still in use, big beautiful tank (pond surrounded by cement walls & steps), ots of indoor alters & gods to worship. First place we've been where we heard echoing thruout the stone halls the sing/chanting of a worshipper...very nice.
Along the way on the roads lots & lots of bullock carts & bicycles...bulls w/ horns painted bright colors - red, yellow, blue, green w/ streamers &/or tassles on the ends.
2) Ousteri Lake...huge 3200 acres, filling w/ algae & seaweed, much shallower than previously by the watermarks along edges. The lake is dying most likely due to runoff from the extensive use of fertilizers in the surrounding area which has incr nitrate load significantly in the water. Similar to Lake Mendota in Madison, WI 40 years ago where I grew up.
3) Auroville & Matrimandir...a village begun in 1968 (remember the big boom in comunes?!) by Mother (woman who has left a huge impact on Puducherry along w/ her guru/slmate) to create an international community living in unity and peace. Originally intended/designed for 30,000 inhabitants from every country in the world, it now has some 2500 from 65 countries. The Matrimandir is a gigantic gold globe affair begun in 1971 to represent the universal longing by humans for perfection. The followers reject all religions/faiths and nationalal identities seeking only some sort of perfection/understanding thru unity.
4) Sacred Heart Church...built by Brits in 1902-10, Gothic design only one in India. The French colonized here in 1752, only the 2nd Indian planned city. Some 12000 French still live here.
5) Botanical Garden...1826, one of the oldest, saw a Silk Cotton tree (fluted trunk, Bombax family)...over 200 tree/plant species.
6) Small museum...artifacts found S of Pondi reveal it was a Roman port 200 BC-600 AD.
7) Auro Beach...surprisingly clean, 100's of Indians swimming here...but then it is Valentine's Day Holiday weekend.
2-16 & 17
Relax days...chatted alot w/ Marilyn from Canada, very nice lady, been traveling each winter for past 20 since retiring from 35 years as teacher. Alot in common...thoughts, etc. It was a dinner at Pizza Hut (where we met Marilyn the first day)that we ended our day and said our fond farewells and best wishes to her as she has a train to catch leaving 7 am tomorrow to Mudarai.