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.
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…
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.
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.