KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
The Union Territory of Pondicherry gave up control of the area to India over fifty years ago, after establishing the colony in the early 18th century. There is still an air of Gallic charm although it is not difficult to see that this is still India. There is still the French flag flying over the French consulate and the town hall is still referred to as the Hotel de Ville. The police wear red kepis (caps) and belts. The streets are tree-lined, at least in the old Quarter. We are looking forward to exploring the narrow streets and visiting the historic buildings.
The woman we met in Mamallapuram (Renate Heyden) was kind enough to locate a fabulous hotel room for us on the Promenade, overlooking the Bay of Bengal. We travelled the 95 km south by taxi and were delivered directly to the hotel. This sure beats the old days of taking local buses and dragging heavy packs around while we searched for a room for the night. Renate had come to Pondi a couple of days ahead of us, but we met up on our first night here and took her out for dinner as a thank you for helping us out. She had scoped out a quaint roof top restaurant called "Aristo" and we settled into our seats and ordered drinks. Apparently, they are not licensed to serve beer (wine seems to be okay) so they poured the beer into tea pots. Funny how popular tea seemed to be at all the tables around us. Click here:
For our first morning in Pondi, we did our regular exercises on the balcony overlooking the sea. Anil was awake for the sunrise, but I missed it. However, it wasn't long before our room heated up and we escaped downstairs to the AC cafe for breakfast. We chose a non-AC room because the fan is quite adequate once the sun rises higher in the sky and doesn't shine directly in our huge glass doors. Once we were fortified with cafe lattes, we headed across town to the Reliance World internet cafe to bring you up-to-date on our whereabouts. Our first impressions of the city are very positive and I can imagine we will stay here for at least five days, longer perhaps if they can provide us with a room. January 26th is Republic Day here and as it falls on a weekend, the hotels are pretty heavily booked.
On our second morning, I managed to wake early and we crept out of our room and down the stairs to the front entrance. It was then I realized that there are only four guest rooms at the hotel, the balance of the building is taken up with a restaurant, a lounge, the coffee shop and a roof top terrace restaurant. (Construction is just beginning on an addition next door that will have twenty-four AC rooms overlooking the ocean.) We found the front door locked and we sadly looked across the street to the promenade where hundreds of others were already taking their morning exercise. I tried the door to the cafe and found it open, but its entrance door was also locked. Anil was ready to give up, but I persevered and went into the kitchen. Sure enough, a side door was open and we "escaped", much to the surprise of the night watchman who was sitting (sleeping?) just outside.
The walk was refreshing and the sea breeze surprisingly cool. Most of the locals were wearing long-sleeved shirts and many even had sweaters and shawls. I had checked the temperatures in the paper the day before and found that at this time of year, the high is 30 degrees and the low 20 degrees. Can you imagine feeling cold at 20 C? Even we are getting used to this climate and I can understand how the Pondi residents feel chilled in the mornings and late evenings. We walked the full length of the promenade and back again, Anil estimates a total of over two kilometers. Then it was back to our room, the doors were now open, for our usual morning exercise stretches and abdominal crunches. After breakfast in the cafe we headed out to the internet again, this time by a different route that took us into the more industrial part of town. A big mistake, it took us over an hour to reach the Reliance World and I had developed a blister on my heel. The air is so much more humid here and my shoes were rubbing the skin raw, even though I did not have similar trouble in Mamallapuram, also by the sea.
I stopped at a "chemist" to by some band-aids, wondering how to ask for them there. When I said I needed a "plaster" or a "band-aid", the clerk reached behind the counter and pulled out a large container labelled "BandAids". Who would have known?? I didn't want to buy the whole container - there must have been a couple of hundred - so asked for only ten. When I sat down outside to put one on the blister, I laughed when I opened it to find that it was chocolate brown, with a red gauze pad. I then realized that "skin-coloured" meant something entirely different here in Southern India.
Tamil Nadu has a very large and active film industry - Anil tells me they produce even more films than Bollywood each year. We have had three separate encounters with the same group of actors in the streets and beach front here in Pondi. Our hotel manager tells us that they are filming a music video in and around the French Quarter, and it was this production that we stood and watched near the beach and on the street just behind our hotel. It was fascinating to watch a film shoot in action, seeing the actors do take after take, mouthing the words to the songs that are broadcast loudly for all to hear. I snapped a photo of the actors shaded by umbrellas, waiting for a "take" at the beach. We were told they were run off the beach later in the day because they hadn't bothered to get the proper permits from the police. When we saw them filming in the street nearby, we wondered if the police would show up again to chase them off. Late at night, we saw them from our hotel terrace, while we were having dinner, filming with lights.