French India – 02.08.2013

Bonjour from Pondy: a quirky city with a great deal of French influence, but a strong beating Indian pulse. Also, Happy Birthday to my gorgeous grandmother.

Today was spent exploring the city by foot, starting from the old French Quarter where we’re staying. We started our morning with masala chai, coffee, and free wifi, and made a ‘plan’ for sight-seeing today, working from our guidebook map. We headed towards the beach, along Gourbet Avenue, but didn’t get too far before we came across a shoe maker along side the road, crafting shoes on the floor of his tiny open shed/shop. Seeing as Jake has size 16 feet that are impossible to find shoes for and his thongs are already wearing through one month into our trip, we’d been on the look out for a shoe maker. 700 rupees ($12.50 AUD) for a pair of custom made, awesome looking leather sandals – ready the same day – how could we not order a pair each?!…

We continued walking along the coast line, looking out along the ocean. The sun was beating down today, but the walk was beautiful and there were several interesting sights, beautiful French architecture and some important monuments (including a statue of Ghandi) along the way to see. We visited a couple of Hindu temples, but the constant begging for us to buy crappy tack that we didn’t need (including creepy framed photos of a close up view of some old dude’s yellowing cataract eyes) meant we left pretty quickly. We went to visit the well known Sri Aurobindo Ashram here, but it was closed to visitors at that point, so we moved along.

We explored the town some more, visited a book shop, a couple of market stalls, explored the massive maze that is the Gourbet Market, and ended up at a vegetarian restaurant where we both ordered thali – a delicious banquet/feast that ended up being our breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The opening to the Gourbet Market

The opening to the Gourbet Market

Kitchen Goods

Kitchen Goods

Gourbet Market

Gourbet Market

The opening to the Gourbet Market

Gourbet Market

Excellent Sales Technique

Excellent Sales Technique

An example of why you shouldn't consume ice in India

An example of why you shouldn’t consume ice in India

Thali is an all-you-can-eat meal (don’t be put off by the dodgy association); traditionally served in several tiny steel bowls, within a larger steel platter. Our thalis came out with about 10 different curries, gravys, watery stocks packed with massive amounts of flavor, a large dried chilli, stock and oil, raita, a dish of sour curd, a little Indian sweet and some spiced, sweet rice. Massive amounts of rice are given, along with a flat bread and pappodams. And if all of this doesn’t make you full, staff are constantly coming around to top up the tiny steel dishes with more steaming [whatever is looking a bit empty]! All this for 150 rupee (under $3 AUD). I managed to get through about half of my thali, with no top ups. I have no idea how the locals can manage to top up two, three, four times before they’re finished…

Thali

Thali

After rolling out the door of the restaurant, we visited another book shop where I bought Eat, Pray, Love – how cliché – but, I’ve finished the obligatory must-read-if-travelling-to-India Shantaram, and missed having a book to read. That should keep me occupied on the five hour bus trip tomorrow!

We walked back along the beach towards our shoe maker, whose name I discovered is Prabu – for anyone who has read Shantaram – awww, Prabu!…  Prabu, along with his uncle, was in the process of putting the various pieces of our shoes together – the bases, the soles and the straps. Watching him and his family member craft our shoes with such patience and ease was a lovely experience, they bought us chai and chatted with us a bit; Prabu explained “I really happy in my job.”  They fitted our shoes several times to our feet, before finally gluing down the straps to fit us perfectly. Prabu’s tiny work space was filled with tools, glues, scraps, materials, shoe bases, photographs, shoes, books, and a beautiful antique-looking Singer sewing machine.

Smiling Shoe Makers

Smiling Shoe Makers

The end result!

The end result!

We took a tuk tuk later that evening to outside the city area, with the intention of booking a private bus for tomorrows five hour trip to Trichy on the advice of some locals – they explained since tomorrow is a Saturday, traveling by the local bus will involve “you not being freely or freeness.” However, the only private buses that run were firstly, only overnight buses, and secondly, really expensive. I guess we’ll take the ‘normal’ bus tomorrow and see how we manage: I hope we get some freeness.

Our short time here in Pondy was wonderful; it didn’t feel as though we were in India at times, and at other times we couldn’t have felt like we were anywhere else… I’m so glad we have had the opportunity to spend a tiny piece of our journey here.

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Daggy Sandals, Baggy Pants… and Nepal thrown in for good measure!

Jake and I spent 6 weeks wondering about Cambodia, Laos and Thailand in a pair of black Havianas, that by the end of the trip, were pretty well worn, filthy and on their last legs. Not to mention; our feet were in poor form after hiking, biking, waterfalls, dirty backroads, 12-hour walking sessions and god-knows what else we stepped in, with only little pieces of rubber to protect our feet…

In the last part of our trip, Jake broke one of his thongs (flip-flops/slippers – we call them ‘thongs’ in Australia) and we spent a good few hours wondering about the little market bazaars trying to find him a new pair. Normally, this would’ve been an easy task, but when you have size 16 feet, even more so, when you have size 16 feet in Asia, this task was impossible, and he spent a week or so walking around with his heels hanging off the back of the (tiny in comparison) thongs. Em found it funny, Jake probably just found it uncomfortable.

So yesterday, we made an exectutive decision to buy those daggy heavy-duty travel sandals. Yes, we know, we know… We know we’re not the only farangs to be wandering about in these bad boys around Asia town, but it didn’t stop us from feeling like we’d aged about 30 plus years in a matter of minutes… Em’s refusal to try them on without socks didn’t help to make the fashion statement any more stylish.

The boy at the shop laughed and kindly said “you know, you are welcome to try them without the socks on…”
Em’s face was priceless; a look of horror, as was her response “…I’m sorry, I just can’t…” Em hates feet with a passion, and the suggestion of taking her socks off was akin to that of being asked to get naked infront of everyone in the shop.

Still, after winging, moaning, deliberating over ‘should we, shouldn’t we…’, Em laughing/dry reaching at the sight of Jake in a pair of sandals, and complaining that ‘I never thought I’d do this, I never thought I’d ever wear these…’, yes, we bought them. Em claims she heard her wallet crying as she handed over her VISA.

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Sandas in hand, we walked silently amongst the busy shoppers. No doubt, we were in shock. We know, we know – slight over-exaggeration, but true. With that, it was on to our next stop – to buy some travel pants. Em got a pair that ticked every box.

Quick Drying? Tick.
Light Weight? Tick.
Non Crease? Tick.
Suitable for travel/hiking? Tick.
Daggy? Tick.
Ugly? Tick.
Baggy and Un-flattering? Tick.
Unattractive? Tick.

Jake bought some new underwear; his friend’s wise words echoing in his mind. “You’re going to India, man. Sometimes, underwear means the difference between getting to the toilet in time, or feeling the shit trickle down your leg.” – Charming, yes. True, yes, probably. We better stock up… sigh.

With the shopping done, feeling defeated and happy with our purchases at the same time (read: Hideous shoes to make us look even more like rich farangs, baggy pants for India to hide Em’s legs from unwanted attention, and underwear to help control things just that little bit more when we are shitting ourselves…), we went home.

Whist strutting about in our sandals, Jake in his new underwear and Em in her baggy pants […what!? You don’t do that…?] Em had a sudden thought.

Why aren’t we going to Nepal? What reason do we have not to? We’re there, near the border, why not just skip accross for a week or so?

So with a little more strutting about in our sandals and baggy pants/underwear, a little research and then dinner out at ‘Old Faithful’ with our friends who have been to India and Nepal in the past, it was decided what we should do.

So, cheers guys! Jake and Em are proud to announce the following:

We own daggy sandals that scream ‘rich farang’…
Em owns a pair of quick-dry, non-crease, light-weight, hideous baggy pants…
We’re well stocked-up on underwear for our trip…

And were off to Nepal! Fuck yeah! Country number 8 – Welcome to our list…