Pondicherry – Diving, Ashram and Chilling

After all the napping yesterday the 5.45a.m. alarm was not quite as punishing as yesterday and we made our way to the dive centre in record time. Temple Divers, unlike many of the other dive centres I have dived with, does not keep your kit together and so every day you have to put together a kit bag again. This was our first task before tucking into the delicious south Indian breakfast of poori, idli, coconut and chilli chutney, sambar and curried potato – YUM! After everyone had collected their kit and eaten we again made our way back down to the water for our dive briefing and then to head out to our first site – Temple Garden.

We had a new divemaster for the day – Nischal and I was again diving with Tarun, the same dive buddy from yesterday. As we ascended the line down to Temple a huge man-made coral structure came into site, it was so cool. Temple Garden is made up of 3 different sections of man-made reef, and they have everything down there from motorbikes, crushed cars and cemented in beer bottles. There were huge schools of fish congregating around all of the structures which made for some magnificent sites. We saw some huge groupers, boxfish, hundreds of golden trevallies and a cool hermit crab! It was such a fun dive seeing all of the different structures and the way they had been presented underwater and our divemaster Nischal was fantastic at pointing things out and using his torch so I could get better pictures.

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After the usual choppy, rope clinging procedure to get you and the gear back on to the boat we made our way to the second site, Danny’s Eel Garden. As you can probably guess, the site has tonnes of eels from; white eyed moray eel, honeycomb moray eel, and the fimbrictaed moray eel. Luckily though we also managed to see quite a few species of shrimp, from the mantis shrimp to the coral banded shrimp and even some dancing ones. As well as all the schools and fish and with a slightly better visibility today of 5m both of the dives were pretty great, especially for seeing some of the smaller stuff. Since this was the last day of Halle’s advanced water course she had to undertake 3 dives today and unfortunately had gotten really sick on her second dive underwater from the currents and choppy sea. Luckily she managed to push through and get her final one in to be certified, while I opted for some sunshine from the boat. The diving here is hard, the conditions can be challenging, but it really allows you to improve your skills underwater and I have had the chance to see things here I have never seen before.

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We made our way back to the dive centre for the usual dive log and for Halle to finish the paperwork for her certification before heading back to La Maison Radha for a quick change and shower before taking an auto rickshaw or a ‘tuk tuk’ to the Sri Aurobindo paper factory. One of the things about Pondicherry is it is really close to Auroville (a self-enclosed community who live completely without any interaction with the outside world). It is also the home to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram where the guru Sri Aurobindo used to teach and many people now come to meditate and practice yoga. The paper factory is connected to the ashram and makes paper products from 100% recycled materials and then uses some beautiful paint techniques to dye the paper with different patterns. It is free to visit and you can wander around inside the factory watching the men at work firstly making the paper products and then painting them. I went to town a little in the giftshop, it was all so pretty.

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We then walked a few streets down to the ashram itself. It was set in very pretty gardens and was super clean inside. However, other than the main tomb covered in pretty flowers which many people were praying to there wasn’t so much to see here and after a few moments of silent contemplation took our leave. By this time our stomachs were rumbling with hunger pangs being after 4p.m. and having not eaten since breakfast before 7. We had made reservations the night before to eat at La Dupleix and so decided to head there, albeit 2 hours earlier than our reservation. It was such a nice moment when we finally arrived only to be told they didn’t serve food until 7! They did offer us a snack menu however and some drinks in the A/C which we begrudgingly accepted. I ordered a mushroom pasta which was at best just ok (and probably by far the most expensive thing we had eaten so far on the trip). However, the real punch line came after we asked for the bill. They had added on a service charge, VAT and Value Added Tax as well as Gov Tax. The whole bill for just 2 snacks and 2 drinks came to over 1000 rupees (or £10) an extortionate amount in India. We quickly finished up and left, leaving them no 1 rupee more than was charged. Thank goodness we hadn’t eaten a full meal here!

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The guys we had been diving with for the last few days had arranged to meet us at LB2 and so we headed over there and got some drinks and reasonably priced food. It was such a fun night, sharing dive stories and hanging out with some new lifelong friends. This is by far my favourite thing about travelling, you meet some amazing people and after just a day or two, you can honestly think of them as great friends. We also had a really nice chicken kati roll and some tasty fried prawns, as well as veg pakoras. The highlight of the night was definitely when our divemaster Nischal decided it was a fun idea to shot an entire shotglass full of thick honey that had come with my green tea – what a lad! The guys walked us back to our guesthouse and we swapped the obligatory facebook details so we can get in touch if we are ever back in the area. We then popped in to check on Marjorie before bed who wasn’t feeling too good and to say goodbye. Pondicherry has been such a cool place, and an amazing introduction to India for Halle. We both agreed 1 or 2 more days would have been nice but tomorrow, we have roadtrip time!!

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