“So, why exactly did we decide to pick bicycles over a scooty again?”
Huffing our way up another incline under the 11 AM blazing sun, my friend and I – parched from the heat and muggy in sweat – were left staring at each other in a faint attempt at trying to answer that question.
|Going GPS-less in Pondicherry | Pondicherry|
Pondicherry, like Hampi and Amritsar, has been one of those places that has always come up in conversations with the ‘Oh-You-Must’ recommendation tag. And going by some of my experiences, I treat such reccos with much caution. Nevertheless, whilst planning our next leg of vagabonding after the 4 weeks of volunteering our time near Madurai, Pondicherry – for its relatively close proximity – was an obvious pick for my friend and me!
|That first sunrise | Pondicherry|
I love walking and have professed my love for it in as many words in some of my previous posts. But here, on the east coast of India, we had humidity along with the incinerating heat to consider while deciding our ‘preferred’ mode of locomotion.
Well, that and finances.
We were continuing to keep costs as low as we could – even as we were realising that budget travel in southern India is somewhat a misnomer. (I’ll save that for a separate post though).
Anyhoo, long story short, we chose bicycles over a mechanized two-wheeler.
If, because of travel, I wasn’t going to get me any exercise, I reckoned I may as well burn off some ‘lethargy’ cycling my way through the once-French-occupied-and-governed-but-now-union-territory-of-India Pondicherry!
At first, it was, both liberating and daunting, zigzagging alongside city traffic. After an hour of that, it ceased being daunting – this is especially important because unlike my friend, I don’t ride/drive a vehicle; neither back home nor anywhere in spite of my driver’s license.
But working those legs on the pedal, going as good as aimlessly (read: not consulting Google Maps unless it was through Zomato. Because food) has been an emboldening experience, to say the least!
If walking is the most intimate way of getting acquainted and familiar with any place, especially a new one, then cycling through it is the second best way.
And because on the first day, we really hadn’t the slightest clue about which way we kept going, when I now look back I realise we were much like the Duracell bunny! Whatever we zipped past – the yellow and sometimes grey coloured structures with their big wooden doors garlanded with bougainvillea – they were a visual treat. My most favourite stretch has been the Beach Road as it extends beyond the Promenade towards the north. Here fisherfolk communities can be found tending their nets and boats – either gearing up for a catch or returning from one.
|Our homestay – Mantra | Pondicherry
|The back-roads | Pondicherry|
|The back-roads | Pondicherry|
After that ‘warm up’ on the first day, we put ourselves to our first test when we decided to hit Serenity Beach on our second evening in Pondicherry.
Avoiding the main road (M. G. Road) and riding along the strip (which turns into a dirt track) that ran parallel to the sea, we had only the dwellings that lay in between separating us from the shore! Unlike the well outlined and tarred roads of the main hub, this route felt a lot more personal in that neither homes nor streets bore anything even remotely French about them. Suddenly we could have been in any town along any coastal village with its thatched roofs and children running along the periphery of the lanes.
There was nothing serene about Serenity Beach which was thronged with people taking a dip in the sea – something the Rock Beach does not truly allow for! But turn your back to the throngs and you can feast your eyes all you want as white waves lather up the shore.
N.B.: Cops are stationed to whistle you out of the beach at 7 PM. So bear that in mind.
|En route to Serenity Beach | Pondicherry|
|Waves lathering up the shore at Serenity Beach | Pondicherry|
It wasn’t until Day 3 that we decided to make circuiting the churches of Pondicherry a priority. According to a count, there are 34 churches in Pondy but we decided to stick to no more than 3 – 4 of them. I prefer meeting ‘God’ in a more natural setting. That said, the architectural marvels that the churches of Pondy are made of did leave me walking (and cycling) about agape. And I was mindful enough to say a quick ‘Hello’ to Mr. God while I was there.
We were at Day 4 already and some more exploring later (read: Google search on things-to-do), I realised that Arikamedu seemed very appealing to me; because after Dholavira – a little over 2 years ago – my interest in all things ruins and archaeology has only continued to grow. That ruins in India sadly are just that i.e. ruins is a caveat I bear in mind.
But Arikamedu came in the disguise of challenge number 2! Located about 9 kilometers away (one way), the distance was something to consider – given that between my friend and me, neither of us had ever ‘cycled’ that distance before. But you know that they say right – There’s always a first.
And so cycle we did to Arikamedu with Google Maps by my side. At some point the dirt track seemed misleading. It didn’t help that Google recognised the road as uhm, ‘Unknown Road’! Turns out, not all adventures have to be misadventures because that unknown road brought us straight to the ruins themselves and then further to some off the grid sights.
Though they did lead us to a cycle repair shop to undo a puncture though.
P.S: Cycling on sand should be worthy of a feat or something, no?
After that ‘achievement-unlocked’ moment under our belt, cycling 10 kilometers (again, one way) to Auroville seemed a lot like a been-there-done-that!
And that is exactly what it was – it only ‘seemed’ so.
Because that was the morning when we were huffing after our legs went woozy on the inclines – though, between the two of us, the unspoken word was that at least our return trip wouldn’t be as agonizing.
In what may seem surprising that though we did spend the day at Auroville we didn’t get anywhere near the Matrimandir. Instead through a previous association, we met with Kathy from Eco Femme.
From their website: Eco Femme is a women-led social enterprise founded in 2010. Based in Tamil Nadu, India, their goal is to create environmental and social change through revitalising menstrual practices that are healthy, environmentally sustainable, culturally responsive and empowering. They produce and sell washable cloth pads, provide menstrual health education to adolescents, and open dialogues on menstruation all along the way.
|Cloth pads and liners from Eco Femme|
There’s something about knowing someone’s story but then hearing it from them – their entire journey with its many moments of sheer confusion topped with an equal number of those filled with excitement owing to the newness and uniqueness of what they set out to do – in spite of all the voices around them. Kathy was kind enough to share her entrepreneurial journey with us – from her time back home in Australia to making it here in India and choosing Auroville as the place she knows she belongs.
Hers is a story that spoke to me.
As someone who is experiencing her own journeys within the larger journey through travel, those moments spent listening to Kathy have been the most inspiring and reassuring ones in a while.
And that is how we spent our five and a half days at Pondicherry. Bicycling through the roads and retreating into moments of realising that my ‘zen’ needs some maintenance. Getting ahead of myself is anything but helpful. I am still learning though.
But this post would certainly be incomplete without the slightest mention of food! So here are a few recommendations:
Le Café for obvious reasons and for also being the place where our gastronomic journey
Chez Nous for their yummy Italian cuisine
Carte Blanche for some delicious French cuisine
Surguru and A2B for good old south Indian breakfast
Canteen 18 for the best and greasiest burgers (I obviously recommend the ham, egg and cheese burger)
The Indian Kaffe Express (for everyhing in that image below)
Baker Street for one too many kid in the candy store moments
Café Xtasi for their wood-fired oven pizzas