Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pondy (Puducherry)

Waterfront busker on a tightrope in Pondy
The next morning we got on the road toward Puducherry (Pondy), which is formerly a French colonial area. The weather was hot and very humid, and the traffic was heavy. Colin and I simultaneously had our lives flash before our eyes as we were both ridden off the road and into the mud by an oncoming bus passing a second bus (as this kind of event becomes more common, my sphincter recovery time shrinks. I believe it will be a nonevent in another month). Within about 30 miles of Pondy, the rear end of my bike developed a new wobble, so I pulled off the side of the road to have a look-see. Sure enough, I had a flat tire. Thankfully, I was right next to a weigh station with a semi-paved lot, so when Colin got back and I told him my latest woe, we pulled in and got to work. Under the watchful eyes of a rotating group of six to eight men, we removed the rear wheel, found the 1 inch long piece of nail(?) through the center of the tread, removed the tire, and found that the tube had an approximately 2 inch long tear, making it unrepairable. At this sight, the crowd groaned but cheered up when we produced a new tube from our spares kit. Re found an empty whiskey bottle in the ditch in which she mixed some water and liquid soap we had for tire lube, greatly impressing the crowd. We quickly put the rear wheel back together, and after a mere 270 strokes of the air pump, we were back on the road. We finally made it to Pondy at around 3:00, at which time Re disappeared in search of a room. While she was gone, I compared rides with a local autorickshaw driver who spoke excellent English, and he even bought me a cup of tea while we talked. Re eventually returned and we headed to our new digs for the night, which turned out to be right on the water in a very nice little guesthouse. I was surprised by the price when I saw the room, but then realized that it was discounted due to its peculiar non-ensuite bathroom setup. The room had its own bathroom, but it was located across the lobby, behind the reception desk. The very best thing about Pondy is that it was formerly occupied by the French and is technically not part of Tamil Nadu. This means that there is excellent western food and that beer is very cheap and easy to find. After a walk along the promenade, Re and I went to a lovely French restaurant for some really excellent steaks, mashed potatoes, and the coldest Kingfishers we've had in India. After briefly considering getting another steak for dessert, we instead found some ice cream along the promenade and grabbed a couple more beers before turning in for the night.

Pretty church in Pondy
We spent the next day meandering the streets of Pondy, strolling through the Sunday market area (where we finally located a replacement funnel, since the spout on ours kept getting shorter from rubbing on Colin's rear wheel), walking along the promenade on the waterfront, and enjoying the colonial era buildings in the French quarter of the city. We found the local botanical garden, which has fallen into a rather dismal state. I like botanical gardens. They are beautiful, smell nice, usually have someplace to sit in the shade, and are educational to boot. This one, however, had very few signs on the trees or plants, was largely untended and overgrown, and was strewn with litter. But it did have an aquarium near the entrance, so we paid our entrance fee of 10 cents each and admired the fish in their tanks (the aquarium section of your average WalMart pet department would put this one to shame in both size and variety). 

Colin preparing to dig into his pizza
When lunchtime rolled around, we found a place that made wood-fired pizzas and ordered two of them. The crust was chewy, they had lots of cheese, and I saw them making the sauce from fresh tomatoes when we walked in. They were wonderful! Both Colin and I love Indian food and eat plenty of veg meals among other things, but it is hard to have basically the same thing to eat every day (we certainly don't at home). Thalis and curries taste great, but the texture of most dishes is very soft. I need to chew every now and then, so the pizzas and steaks satisfied that need handily. And for dinner that evening we crunched on salads at a place known for making them “hygienically.” It's been quite nice to have some different meal options here.

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