Pondy – a respite, and Sri Lanka first impressions

My only real request on this trip, so far, has been to spend my birthday in Pondicherry. I’d remembered the name from a book I read a while ago (God of Small Things? I can’t remember), and thought it sounded nice. Luckily, the guidebook also had good things to say, and so I had high expectations.

Mind you, we have quickly learned that to have expectations of any kind (time, price, interestingness) while in India is never a good idea. By and large, they will be shattered by nuance, exaggeration or good-old-fashioned bureaucracy. Therefore, I am happy to report that Pondicherry met those irrational hope of mine. It is a lovely town, and we ended up by total chance at sweet French-run guest house. Generic hotel furniture and decor was, for a few days, traded in for attention to detail, a belief in interior decoration and paint jobs, and a rare serenity. God of small things indeed — it is the details that count.

The eastern part of town, on the sea, is still very much French-colonial. With old and decaying facades and faded yellow walls, this part of town feels very much like some love-child of Hoi An, Vietnam and Kep, Cambodia. All are of the same heritage, but of the three, only Pondy has actual French people still living in it.

Beyond the boutiques and shmancy restaurants, AKB and I wandered off our map, quite by accident, and walked the streets of the Tamil quarter. Quickly we were accosted by mobs of small children who insisted on hamming it up for the camera (even as they showed us the interior of their local temples.)

It quickly became evident that this is a different India. The fast-pace of Bombay was left far behind, and the choked streets of the other cities we’ve seen were by now a distant memory (aside from a lingering pollution-induced allergy spell.) Understand, this is still India, with its beeping rickshaws and litter-filled streets, but it is slower-paced and friendlier. More than once we were greeted with a Hello/Bonjour, and invited in for tea (an invitation we are still to accept.)

AKB treated me to an ayurvedic massage for my birthday. It was oily. Very oily. But quite nice. It’s a shame that the masseur was some Indian man, and not my lovely girlfriend, but I suppose he knew better what he was doing. That evening we dined at a palatial whitey restaurant, and even had chocolate mousse and panna cotta with honey for dessert. Life is grand.

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Somehow the transportation gods were with us, and we made it to Chennai International in record time, and, after killing a few hours at the dullest-airport-in-the-world-that-miraculously-had-wifi, we flew to Colombo.

So far, Sri Lanka is markedly different from India. For one, there is hardly any litter strewn about the streets. Second, the people have been very warm and friendly — so much so that our natural guard has seemed mostly laughable. We’ll adjust.

Sri Lanka was once known as Serendib, lending itself to the term serendipity. Our experiences here so far have had that element. More on this soon.

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