Farewell Pondicherry as we go to Temple towns.

Leaving Pondy is a little sad but exciting. Another adventure awaits.

We have a new driver and this time also a guide. Although on talking to him it turns out he’s a computer programmer working for his father’s travel company on the weekend! He’s with us because the bus driver doesn’t speak English.

We set off through the country side heading for Swamimalai. It’s in the Temple area and we’ll be seeing some temples on the way.

First stop was Chidambarum and we met our guide a very petite gentleman with gentle slow speaking English and very bad teeth.

There are 4 temples of various sizes and they are preparing for a festival. So arches are being prepared with newspaper to then be painted in a very colourful style.

We’re finding the removal of shoes for these huge structures rather wearing on our feet. There are quite long distances to walk. There is some matting which can be very dirty and then the stones which are hot and hard. I’m hopping a bit!

The Temple grounds had people sitting everywhere enjoying a picnic Indian style with tiffin boxes laden with delicious food.

It was Moms Day Out with mothers and their children from a town an hour away enjoying time together at the Temple. I got talking to one lovely lady. Her English was very good and it turns out she’s a Doctor. A gynaecologist! And was so friendly and chatty about her life and family.

We soon left there and continued further into the countryside through lots of villages and saw what I think is fairly authentic village life.

Arriving at our hotel was a treat. It was actually a small village which has been turned into a hotel. It’s called the Indecco http://www.indecohotels.com/swamimalai.html

Check it out. It’s so lovely. Steve Borgia the owner has spent a lot of money restoring it. It has a farm, several housing blocks all furnished in wonderful antiques. The pool is beautiful. At first we thought it looked a little slimy! But that was explained. It was meant to look like a village waterhole. It’s elegant and serene.

We were treated to an arrival foot massage! Heaven after walking barefoot through the temples.

We went the main village to see the bronze casters. A really Interesting process. We walked through the workshop are were able to see the various stages of production.

Google bronze casting Swamimalai. The business we went to is called :

Shri Rajan Industries (Statues/Bronze Castings Manufacturers/Panchalogam Statue Manufacturers)

Linda was very keen to own a statue. She particularly wanted Shiva as the dancer. Natajara. As a thank you from us for planning this very special trip, we decided to buy one for her as a gift. This meant visiting the sales area but no one was there to show and discuss pricing. A lovely young man rode up on his bike. His family owned a temple and he was picking up a commissioned statue. He guided us to a local family home where they have a small workshop.

Such a special experience. Linda spoke to them and found one she liked.

Meanwhile the children from the little street we were in all gathered and wanted to chat. They were delightful.

Finally the statue was polished and delivered to us and we drove off with everyone in the street waving.

Back to the hotel for a drink and a dance show and to bed.

We had a very late lunch when we arrived so couldn’t eat a thing.

Pondicherry: a delight

Our night was peaceful and breakfast on the terrace was wonderful. We had a choice of Indian or continental. Most chose Indian which was presented with a large dosa in a rolled cigar shape.

The Intach Heritage centre was our target today. They offer walks through the French Quarter pointing out the architectural history. But first the Grand Bazaar. Each city has it markets and Pondy has a great one. Walking from the smelly fish through the fragrant herbs and spices to the floral flowers was a treat for the senses.

A quick shoe stop. The girls spied a shop with comfortable looking sandals and with a days walking in mind made a quick purchase.

Arriving at the Intach Centre we sat waiting for our guide and became part of the prayer ceremony. There was a peaceful feeling about the place which starts at the door when you leave your shoes.

This is a custom observed in many shops and always in the temples. It can be a hazard though. In one shop I kicked my toe on the door and have a very red swollen toe.

Our guide Ashok Panda arrived. He was a serene gentleman in his 50s. He was very erect , fine features and was well spoken- if somewhat quiet.

He spoke to us as we had gathered around a table in the courtyard- a feature of the Tamil house.

He planned our day and we set off.

As it happened we walked down the street we had used last night to get to the beach.

We paused at another hotel the Dune Mansion Calve Boutique Hotel and Ashok told us the heritage centre he worked for had done the restoration, as they had done for our hotel the Anantha. He said the Government us encouraging restoration of the Tamil houses and French style villas. The problem is the owners then maintaining the restoration.

We stopped for coffee in a hotel by the beach and Ashok got carried away telling us another Government- it’s structure and it’s corruption.

Continuing on we paused in the garden and observed the way locals and visitors used the green space. School groups were there enjoying the space – something they don’t often experience in their very crowded country.

French villas are a feature of this lovely residential area though many have been turned into smart boutique hotels. Tourism is important in this area. Our next stop was Villa Rosa and the Coramandel Cafe. Quite beautiful. We decided it would be a great spot for a drink this afternoon.

By now it was lunch time and Ashok took us to a local vegetarian cafe. He suggested the platter. A large tray with 10 different pots of sauces, chutney and vegetable dishes to dip your rice or naan into. I also ordered a Marsala dosa. Washed down with a lassi or pomegranate juice it was quite filling and delicious.

After lunch we separated. Some returned to the hotel Di went off exploring and Marlene, Shelley and I walked and walking taking in the sights , shops and the Cathedral. An oasis in this busy duty free city.

At 5 we met at the Coramandel cafe for drinks but when Marilyn and Linda didn’t arrive we worried until we heard they had attended a puja in the Sri Vedapureeswarara Temple. Quite an honour.

Drinks for us turned into dinner at the Villa Shanti and we missed the dancing at the Lycee Français. Whoops!

Home to bed by tuk tuk with a limoncello nightcap. Tomorrow is spent on the move Chidaburam for the 12th C Temple then Swamimalai.

Getting stuck into India feet first.

Packing up even after two nights is an effort. My advice is always stay somewhere at least two nights. You need that time to scratch the surface of a new place.

Some of us managed a walk down to the seafront. It is rustic and somewhat dirty. There are dogs and cows but no cats. We even saw a monkey run across some wires.

Leaving the hotel at around 9 we drove south towards Pondicherry. Our driver stopped for photos along the way and when we came to the salt fields he insisted we get out and check it out.

We crossed the road and walk along a sandy track toward to the salt pans with piles of salt drying for collection.

Being curious and wandering on I took one step too far and …….

I couldn’t move. I was scared of sinking further. The girls – when they stopped laughing formed a human chain and managed to pull me out.

A few local men nearby saw my dilemma and came to my rescue. I had a man washing my legs, my shoes and socks without so much as a glimmer of a laugh.

It took many minutes – which gave the girls plenty of time to take photos and laugh!

Finally a bit cleaned up and back into bistro continue onto Pondicherry. We kept laughing and I was thankful I hadn’t fallen in further, that my phone was lost in the mud, that I wasn’t warring white pants!

We arrived at our hotel the Anantha Heritage.

http:www.ananthaheritagepondicherry.com

It’s a restored Tamil House in the northern part of the Historic centre. Quite beautiful. We sorted rooms and decided they were big enough for 3 in a room. Our rooms open onto a lovely verandah overlooked the temple, and a breakfast terrace.

Leaving bags to unpack later we left with our guide for a tour of the city. Our driver phoned his friend, a policeman who became our escort. With roads blocked he became our entry into streets.

Down a wide crowded street we rounded the corner to the open seafront and beach. It’s several kilometres long , well paved and well used by walkers not swimmers. At night it’s closed to traffic and becomes a promenade for the locals to have their evening passagiatta.

By now starving, we made for Villa Shanti in the French Quarter. A restored French style villa it’s an oasis of quiet and comfort. And the food was delicious. There were Indian and French dishes and I had chicken ( yes I was warned to stay vegetarian in India) cooked so well with cauliflower two ways. Beautiful.

After lunch we called into Anokhi a shop recommended by a friend. The fabrics were wonderful. We all pottered around buying bits and piece. No clothes but homewares, note cards, handkerchiefs etc.

With our escort leading we went to the paper production business. Once a big industry it was shut down when the British took over. Now making a comeback the handmade papers made here are stunning.

A few of us walked back to our hotel for G& Ts on the verandah before heading off for a walk to the beach. The beach breeze was so fresh and reviving. The weather has been kind. Warm days but cooler evenings. As we head inland the weather will heat up.

Feeling peckish we wandered into a local food market. Lots of little stalls with people sitting around on plastic chairs munching on a variety of popular Indian foods. We decided on hot charred corn on the cob. The lady running the stall wasn’t too friendly to start but loosened up as we smiled, had photos and thanked her for the beautiful corn.

By now tired a walk through the gardens and a tuk tuk ride home finished our day.

It was a day of high mud drama but all was good in the end. I soaked my stinky shoes and scrubbed them leaving them on the verandah hoping with tomorrow’s sun they would be wearable.