After 3 car journeys and 4 different planes I had finally arrived at La Maison Radha, my home for the next 3 nights in Pondicherry and met up with Halle, my travelling companion for the trip. The journey had not been too bad really, up until arrival in Delhi that is I landed just after 01.00a.m. local time and after a quick freshen up headed straight to the E-Tourist Visa line. India has recently brought in these new e-visa’s which are half the price of the old ones, are valid for just a month but can be applied for online and are usually issued within 24 hours. They clearly haven’t quite got into the swing with queue management and since 5 international flights arrived around the same time it was complete chaos. After 2 and a bit hours of queueing (and watching the old lady next to me complaining to everyone who worked there as they passed in such an angry and frustrated way) I decided to adopt some underhand tactics. I put on my best please help me, I am a poor defenceless girl face and approached one of the immigration officers explaining I had a connecting flight to catch in just over an hour (not exactly true, I had about 4 hours but that was need to know information). He bumped me to the front of the queue much to the annoyance of everyone around me and I sailed through. After getting my bag and currency I took a short taxi ride to the domestic terminal before attempting to sleep for a few hours on some very uncomfortable chairs.
After my hectic journey I was absolutely starving, but the owners of La Maison Radha couldn’t have been kinder. As soon as I mentioned I was hungry Sumadee dished me out a full authentic south Indian lunch on a banana leaf – apparently she had been up since 4a.m. cooking as it was a special anniversary. What a lovely welcome, and it just got better and better as Ravi showed us around his beautiful guesthouse and we hung out with his really cute kid. After getting settled we set out to explore Pondicherry for the rest of the day with Marjory, a Canadian lady also staying at the guesthouse. We stopped by Temple Divers – the dive shop we were diving with the next day to arrange payment and set up our gear before heading back into town. We passed by the beautiful Sacred Heart Church which was celebrating Palm Sunday with palm fronds everywhere for decoration. The style of the building really reminded me of some of the Central American churches in Nicaragua with the bold colours however, this one had some spectacular stained glass windows which glittered in the sunlight.
The main attraction was the famous weekly market which takes place on a Sunday along Mahatma Gandhi Road. We wandered along taking in the hustle and bustle of Indian life, stopping half way along at Perumal temple which was quite small but nice and seemed to have a sort of prayer ceremony going on inside. Marjory also stopped to pick up some of the local jasmine flowers which women here wear in their hair and smell divine. Further along the market road we got to the Grand Bazaar where we had been told was the place to pick up cheap white suits for Holi. However, as we wandered among the stalls of the market it was clear that the majority of them had closed for the day, We got to see the last of the vegetables being haggled away and found 2 clothing stores that were open, but none of them had any of the white holi suits, the festival is apparently not celebrated in the South of the country as much.
We made our way back to the Mahatma Gandhi Road and then started to walk towards the waterfront stopping in at the amazing sweet shops to get some yummy milk and sugar based sweets then some kulfi. We also managed to check out some of the nicer A/C stores for textiles and a gorgeous leather shop called Hidesign, with handcrafted designs made in Pondicherry. I couldn’t resist getting a beautiful handcrafted brown bag, not exactly sticking to the cheap and cheerful trip motto. After all the retail therapy we made our way to Adyar Ananda Bhavan for a South Indian feast. I opted for the masala dosa, with high expectations from Saravan Bhavan in Delhi, I was not disappointed. The chutneys and dhal toppings were so tasty and the dosa crispy and smooth. All for the bargain price of 60p!!
While sitting we realised that the famous Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple – otherwise known as the Ganesh Temple for short. We headed across and were immediately taken aback by the scale, this temple was huge in comparison to all the others we had seen so far, and so clean inside. We watched the temple elephant blessing the pilgrims with his trunk – Ganesh is one of the Hindu gods – the lord of success. The temple had lots of different deities which people were doing puja, and just being inside was a great experience. We headed down to the seafront afterwards, stopping at Farm Fresh to pick up some vegan drinks for the girls and some amazing chocolate tarts. The walk along the seafront was lovely with a breeze blowing to cool us from the heat and humidity of the day. It was super busy though, Halle likened it to Santa Monica Beach in LA. The walk back to our guesthouse was the usual hectic mismatch of dodging bikes and cars surrounded by a cacophony of horns. India – it is good to be back.