#20 Punducherry or Pondicherry, India

Then began two nights in Punducherry. We found ourselves in a beautiful hotel with hair dryers, flat screen TVs, magnifying mirrors in the bathrooms and even occasional hot water.  Hotels have been quite an experience here. Two had Gideon’s King James, one of those also had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita.  Beds were important. We were willing to give up most everything for a good mattress. Light switches were interesting. I counted up to 16 switches in one room. I never remember to ask if there is a main switch, sometimes there is, sometimes not. When it gets dark, I just explore the room and play with the lights.

Bathrooms came with a variety of amenities, from no soap to handmade soap from the Ashram. Sometimes the shampoo was organic, sometimes it had a neon glow, sometimes we had none. We had bathrooms with separate showers, and rooms that were showers, mostly with toilet paper, once we had to ask… One of my favorite toilet accessories (present in every Asian country I’ve been in) the the flexible water hose, but I always wondered how one was supposed to dry off. Somewhere along the way, one of our male guides introduced Ronni and me to a female guide so that we could ask “delicate questions”. Turns out Indian women use panty liners. Oh, we have so much in common.

We set out to find dinner and entered a part of India different from anyplace we’ve been.  We are on the Bay of Bengal, that alone sounds exotic. There are beautiful beaches. Every evening the beachfront blvd. is closed to traffic and everyone walks up and down the promenade. It is called the French Riviera of the east.
Punducherry is a union territory of India. It has four unconnected districts, in three other Indian states! This all has to do with the legacy of the colonial period, retaining the borders of former French India. The city of Punducherry has French named streets and French style villas. There is a growing population of expats and you can hear French spoken on the streets.

There are Indians with French citizenship who are descendants of people who chose to keep French citizenship in 1954. There is a French consulate and schools run under the French Minister of National Education.

There are four languages used here. Most of the population speaks Tamil, and the district is governed by Delhi. Delhi is very far away, the whole arrangement seems very confusing…

We found a great restaurant for dinner, not so western that we had to use utensils, and up to our now picky standards. The next day we set out for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which represents another side of Punducherry. We visited and spent some time in the meditation courtyard. We felt very welcomed and included.

Nearby is a small temple dedicated to Ganesh. The inner walls are painted with statues of Ganesh from throughout Asia. It was beautiful and different from any temple we’ve seen.

We walked the streets, then the promenade until evening, then treated ourselves to dinner at a hotel that had been the home of a French mayor. Dinner was ok, and it was lovely sitting on the patio listening to john Denver, Johnny Cash and Adele. It was, for me, the beginning of the end of our trip.