My Dassera break this year did not start smoothly. I had planned to fly to Pondicherry and do a day’s diving and then some sightseeing. Unfortunately, less than a week before I was due to travel AirIndia (the national carrier) decided to stop running that particular route. After a couple of day’s trying to figure out the best option I decided to book myself a bed on an overnight sleeper bus.
The added stress to this was that instead of leaving at 10am on Tuesday to catch the flight, I had to be on the bus at 11:15 on Monday night. This was immediately after a school trip to see Hamlet performed by The Globe Theatre. They were taking part in a two year long tour that would take Shakespeare’s longest play to every country in the world. The play was excellent and gave a real sense of Shakespeare as it would have been performed in Shakespeare’s day.
Straight after the play I went to the bus stop (by school bus and then rickshaw) and found my bed – possibly the narrowest bed I have ever slept in and only slightly more comfortable than a seat on an aeroplane.
The next morning I woke up in Pondicherry and checked into the hotel at 7am. After a good breakfast and a long shower I started my sightseeing tour of Pondicherry. I got a rickshaw into the town centre and started by visiting the dive centre to sort out kit and complete all the paperwork prior to my dives the next day. From there I started walking through the French quarter of Pondicherry (due to being part of French India up until 1954 there is still a very French feels to the city).
The second day in Pondicherry started early as I had to be at the dive centre for 6:30am. After breakfast at the centre, we set off along roads that kept getting narrower and bumpier. Eventually we reached the boat and loaded up. The first dive site of the day was called Temple Reef (after Temple Dive Centre who had built the reef, and who I was diving with). The second site was a very gentle and relatively shallow site but was teeming with life.
That afternoon I looked up a bike hire company in Pondicherry, having decided that after hiring a moped in Hampi a couple of years ago it would be a good idea to do it again in Pondicherry. I took a rickshaw to the hire shop and 20 minutes later, at a cost of £3 a day, I had hired a moped for the next three days. It wasn’t long after leaving the hire shop that I recognised the difference between riding a moped on a long, wide and very clear open country road and trying to balance on a two wheeled death machine in a busy city with cars, rickshaws, buses and more bikes than you can imagine taking no heed of the rules of the road!
I just about made it back to the hotel in one piece and retired quickly to the bar for a few Kingfishers.
The next morning I decided to take a tentative ride down the road tosee how I got on. 15km later I found myself at Auroville. Auroville is a model township based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. At the heart of Auroville is the Matrimandir which is a meditation zone for those who are allowed access, mostly those from the 2,400 residents of Auroville. On the way home I stopped off at Serenity Beach and realised that it wasn’t the holiday maker’s sunbathing beach that I thought it was but rather a fisherman’s beach.
On the last day of my trip I had a full day to finish seeing the sights of Pondicherry. I started with a very French breakfast of pastries and coffee at a cafe and then took a tour of the French quarter, including a couple of cathedrals and basillicas that I hadn’t yet visited.
For lunch I discovered a tiny little French restaurant hidden on the first floor of a house in a residential street, called Opus 8. The watermelon and mint frappe and the warm goat’s cheese salad along really could have put me somewhere in France!
Having returned my moped I went back to the French quarter for a few drinks and to while away the afternoon and evening before finding my sleeper bus to return to Bangalore. The journey home was, thankfully, uneventful until I got off the bus at my stop in Bangalore at 4:30am. The bus drove off immediately with my suitcase still in the luggage compartment! This led to me running down the road, which was surprisingly busy given the early hour, before jumping into a still moving rickshaw and finally getting the opportunity to shout ‘Follow that bus!’ After a five minute chase we caught the bus up and persuaded it to stop so that I could reclaim my suitcase.