Pondicherry was fun. There are 5,500 French nationals living here (total pop of Pondy, 1.25m) but also a strong community of Indian citizens who are descended from French settlers. Bollywood dance classes, cookery classes, fine dining… We danced with a reggae band, and a swing band, both from La Reunion, but also enjoyed Indian classical music and traditional dance. It was like Glastonbury without fleeces!!
Six days in one location!! But the music, and daily visits to the pool filled our days. Here is a description of our route to the pool, more for myself really, so I never forget!
From our hotel we turn right onto the seafront promenade – the gentle roll of waves, blue sky, pale granite and rustling palms – the brightness is dazzling! Traffic increases further from the coast but the roads are wide and lined with shady rain trees. At the five ways junction we take the second left – easy – then bounce over the railway lines onto a leafy boulevard lined with crumbling mustard coloured colonial buildings – a lycee, un travau public – behind tall gates. The road curves round to the right over the stinky canal ( hold your breath!), then a clear run for 2km, past the squatting fisherwomen, always squabbling, and our fruit vendor, his produce spilling over into the road. Immaculate school children wait patiently in small groups for buses. Girls wear maroon baggy pants, tight at their ankles, long pink tunics and a maroon scarf. Behind their ears, pink ribbons fix the loop of their long glossy plaits. The boys wear maroon trousers, pink shirts and stylish haircuts. These identical children wear sandals, they look healthy, expectant, radiant smiles show perfect teeth.
In contrast, there’s the skin and bone old man, wild hair and beard, nearly naked sitting against a wall.
Occasionally we overtake a bike or moped, one passenger carrying a large pane of glass (no gloves), the honey man on his rusted bicycle laden with baskets of honeycombs and of course mopeds on the inside driving towards us! India is never dull!
The next 300m is horrible. Still wide, 5 motorbikes wide, but incredibly noisy and busy. Machinery workshops, populous tea stalls and potholes force us into the road. I hunker down, concentrate. Two major roads join from the right, buses swing into our path with the divine assurance given by a little Hindu icon sitting on their dashboards! We take the third right, check behind, check again, breathe, then go, right arm extended and flapping for attention! I make sure my back wheel is tucked in waiting for a gap to cross the other side.
Another km and occasional palm leaf huts show that this narrow road was once a village. Women sweep a dusty strip between house and road, some recognise us from their doorstep and wave, weathered walnut faces melting into smiles. But I am complacent. Ahead motorbikes slow to see a stationary 4×4 and a completely crushed moped. Subdued, we continue to the pool, now on a quiet lakeside road, water buffalo wallowing in the shallow water.
The next day a slow funeral procession comes towards us; a loud marching band, then a coffin on a small open truck covered with fresh flowers. Behind woman scatter flowers and petals. By the time we reach the site of the crushed moped women are already sweeping away the petals from the road
Sadly every tourist will have to use India’s roads, in a taxi, tuktuk, hire car or (God forbid) bus. And the roads are dangerous. We can enjoy rural roads but we face the traffic when we enter towns to sleep, so even on a bike you must be careful.