Monday, January 26, 2009

Some who wander are, in fact, lost!

I must give credit to my friend Jens' creativity for this title. As the title suggests, I experienced such a feeling of being lost this weekend. With it being a three-day weekend (Happy Republic Day today, India!), some friends and I decided to make a trip down to Pondicherry. "Pondy" as it is commonly referred to, is a popular tourist destination located south of Chennai, and is famous for its French colonial legacy. Being a former French colony, it was settled in the 18th century as a colonial enclave. Today, much of the French culture can still be seen through architecture as well as the cuisine. Many people frequent Pondy to study yoga or meditation at one of the many ashrams. I've been meaning to check out the Pondy scene since I arrived in Chennai, so a 3-day weekend seemed like a great chance to do so.
Myself and four friends (two French, one Belgian, one Norwegian) hopped on board the public bus at 8 AM in hopes that we would beat the afternoon crowds. Check! We had no problem getting a seat on the bus, so I predicted this was a good sign for the 4 1/2 hour journey south. Aside from the dirt and grime collected along the way, cruising along the infamous ECR (East Coast Road) was enjoyable. We passed several villages and largely undeveloped areas. It was a welcome change of scenery to Chennai, and I took some pictures of the tapioca and coconut trees along the way.
We arrived in Pondy shortly after noon, and immediately hopped on board a local bus to head to the beach. Everyone on the bus seemed thoroughly confused and intruiged about why in the world we had chosen to take a bus. I got lucky, scored a seat, and was partnered next to a mother and beautiful 3-month old baby girl. Poor thing was sick with a fever and crying so I tried to entertain her with a bird-whistle that I had stored in my backpack (*thanks goes to the intoxicated but generous man on Pongal who gave me this plastic whistle as a "holiday gift" - I knew it would come in handy!) It's actually quite hard to miss a bus stop if you plan correctly. So long as each and every person on the bus knows where you're going, chances are somebody's going to give you a heads up when your stop approaches. This strategy worked as we made it off the bus and walked 1 km to the beach. The heat was brutal (felt even hotter than Chennai) and all I wanted to do was swim! The beach was lovely, cleaner that any of the beaches I've seen so far here. Unforunately, though, no bathing suits allowed for me. Guys were strewn along the beach, laughing and enjoying themselves in the hot sunshine in their bathing suits. But you won't find a single girl in a suit. Not a one-piece, not even one of those full-coverage suits from the 70's. The culture here is really conservative when it comes to things like this (I guess it was wishful thinking bringing my bikini!)
Anyhow, the accommodation we looked for on the beach was booked. Too bad, because the place looked awesome. Run by a woman from the Ukraine, it comprises of eight or so independent thatch-hut bungalows. -- So first try, no luck. This would not have been so disappointing were it not for the fact that we proceeded to try about 20 or so other places and were met with similar misfortune. Booked! Full! Booked! No rooms. By 6:00, this was turning out to be some pretty bad news.
Every accommodation at every type of budget was booked. Should we have known better? Absolutely. I heard from multiple sources that Pondy would be a very popular destination because of the holiday weekend. I knew this, and I went against my gut instinct which said "book first, then go!" Ahh- you'd think I had never traveled before.
We contemplated sleeping on the beach. "You'll be robbed," locals told us.
We thought of staying up all night and looking for a place the next morning. My backpack and eyelids were too heavy for such a plan, though.
While I knew turning back would signify a forefeit, I did so anyways. After 8 hours of walking the streets in search for a place to stay, Jens and myself decided to turn back, and catch a bus back to Chennai.
What a waste of a day! All in all, I spent roughly 9 hours on a bus traveling and only 8 hours in Pondy, the vast majority of which were not spent enjoying the sights but rather desperately trying to avoid homelessness.
Particular highlights of the day included:

Stepping foot onto a lovely beach.
Squishing 6 people, driver included, into a small auto-rickshaw. (Hey, we're on a budget!)
Passing by French bakeries (although I never had time to go in one!)
Taking pictures of some colorful French-styled historical buildings.

And hmm, I'd say that's about it. The day was a bust, and I've learned my lesson. On busy holiday weekends, do not try to "drop in" at a very popular tourist destination without ANY clue what to do upon arrival. Sounds obvious enough, right? Riiight.
I forgot to mention that it was only Jens and I who turned back. The French-speaking trio hopped on a bus to "somewhere" about the same time we got on a bus to Chennai. Their plan was more ambitious (and I admit, sounded quite fun). They could not face heading back to Chennai- the weekend was meant to be full of fun and adventure. They were going to hop on any random bus they could find and enjoy the unknown journey. Last I heard they were on a bus to a hill station somewhere up North.


Jens said...

I guess we'll have to quote the Governator: We'll be back!

Next time, with a reservation at a place somewhere near a french bakery that sells croissants:)

bitterscotch said...

too bad :P atleast you should have tried checking out the city once you knew youre not going to find a place.

anyway, will put up my pondy pics soon so you can get a little jealous of what you missed :)

Smaps said...

Aww thanks bitterscotch, that's really sweet of you ;)