Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Puducherry: A French-Indian ville in eastern India

On Friday evening, ten of the 13 in the group took a ten hour journey on a real, spitting, chugging, train to get to Pondicherry. Since we were in the nice, 3AC cars, we did not experience a hectic evening; nonetheless, we stayed up for a bit and had a good time between ourselves. Here's a picture of my friend, Dejah, being goofy on the train:

 The train is a whole story in itself, but can't anything be, really?

I had heard about Pondicherry (aka Puducherry or Pondicherié) before coming to India, and I had fantasies of crépe stands and smooth French music rolling through streets in the heart of India. However, the Lonely Planet travel book tells a different story: "Let's get something clear: If you came to Puducherry expecting a Provencal village in South India, you're in for some sore disappointment, mon ami." However, that's kind of an exaggeration of the lack of French in the place; despite most of the city being like the rest of India, there is a section of the city, about 1 mile by .5 mile, which is French, with tidy streets, crumbling European-style homes, and quietude.

On Saturday, I spent the day with three other girls from the program. They were super enthused by the prospect of going to the beach, so we got on a rickshaw with little real understanding of where we were going, having just arrived a half-hour before. The beach ended up being not as glamorous as we had hoped: we were one of like seven females encompassed by hordes of men in speedos. I did not feel good about going in the water because of the strange circumstances, so I stayed on the sand with our stuff. Kind of a buzz kill, but perhaps that happens once in a while when planning lacks. Perhaps my poor mood showed, so we all decided to take a rickshaw back into the center of the town to hit up a musical performance near the city beach. We enjoyed a lovely, if not pricey, spread of coffee beverages overlooking the Bay of Bengal, and ended up meeting a group of young men in town on business from Delhi. They were friendly, without being creepy, and we ended up passing the evening on the rocks overlooking the sea, and eating at Pizza Hut, which happens to be 1000x nicer than its U.S. counterpart (it was getting late, and we could not locate an open French restaurant), before heading back to our hotel near the unpleasant beach. We capped off the night in a comical circumstance, since the auto-rickshaw ran out of gas sort of close to our hotel. We had forgotten the exact name of our refuge, but we eventually located it in the pouring rain! It was frightening, but oh-so-adventurous, not knowing if we would find our hotel. After midnight, the hotel staff would not let us leave the hotel to go play on the nearby beach; they thought us females needed to be kept safe (another topic I would like to muse on in the future). My NRI (non-Resident Indian) friend Deepika was displeased at our lack of mobility, but I was exhausted, and therefore less miffed, after our long train ride and the day's adventures.

On Sunday I spent much of the day perusing the French side of town, solo.

 The turquoise color of this home attracted me.

A park in the White Quarter (the French part of town) at which Indians and non-Indians intermingle. On Sunday, I was laying down on the grass, and there were many Indian families who came to pass the afternoon, some with young children, and some without. It's a common activity for families to go and bring these strange potato chip snacks to munch on! I was offered some by a family sitting near where I was laying. Their 19-year-old and I got to communicating (I don't know if I could possibly call it talking, since she spoke little English). She wondered what I was doing there, and I showed her my university ID card.

The French government withdrew power from Pondicherry around 1954, but there is still a French consulate in town, since around 10,000 French citizens remain here.

Despite it seeming removed from the hubbub of the "regular" India, the French part of town was still cursed with a homeless person, here and there. I wonder if the police typically try to kick people out of the "nice" part of town.

Storm's a brewin'!

I saw a spectacular lightning storm over the Bay of Bengal, and I ended up feeling like an action hero while riding on a motorcycle through the rain to the bus station behind a sympathetic gentleman!

Now, the journey home was the opposite of the journey to Pondicherry; while getting to Pondicherry was a plush, comfortable experience, leaving to go back to Bangalore was a nightmare, albeit a fun one, in the end. Since the trains were booked, we had to book tickets on a traditional city bus. The seats were pretty hard and did not recline, and the vehicle was filled to the max! It was pouring outside, so we had to keep the windows closed, creating a stuffy atmosphere inside. When the bus finally departed before 11:00PM, we were pretty exhausted, and practically in shock at the site of our comparatively ramshackle transportation method we'd be using for the next eight hours. The funny part was that each time the bus hit a pothole or bump (and the frequency of that ranged from every 2 minutes to every half-hour), the folks in the back would be propelled a couple of inches in the air. When that happened, one of my American buddies would expel a quick screech, and then another American would shrink back in embarrassment! And then my friend Ren who was sitting next to me would look at me, and we'd laugh at the situation we had signed up for (albeit it for $6.00 for the entire eight-hour journey). Ren and I tried to arrange my fleece blanket to give both of us a semblance of a comfortable arrangement, yet each time, we'd try to make it work for a couple of minutes, only to be propelled in the air again!


Esther said...

Lauren - I found the blog on Puducherry really interesting. I hadn't known there was this French enclave in India. And the pictures are great.


David G. said...

Please book me on that bus for my next vacation.

I want the third floor, window seat. Reserved seating.

Going to pack my speedo and potato chipette's now.


Kristen said...

$6 for 8 hours? Oh man. Sounds like a bona fide aventure. That's cool about Puducherry... if Switzerland doesnt work out, maybe I'll just go there.

bis bisous,


Ilona said...

Great stories and pictures!I am not sure about booking a vacation in the same direction as I am not as courageous as you are. But I thought that you could make a career with Fodors Travel books company and incorporate your passion for travel and talent of writing, I am not kidding. Mashen'ka and I miss you a lot;-)!