Pondicherry; The frustrations of travelling; Pondicherry does not welcome travellers on a budget

Sometimes, when you’re travelling, you have these days when… nothing works. When every step you take is blocked by some asinine circumstance, and trying to work around the problem only reveals some other, entirely different, frustrating problem. These days happen, as I say. There’s nothing you can do to stop them, and the best you can do is try to roll with the punches and not let it get under your skin too badly. Today was like that for me.

The first frustration came when we tried to find a better hotel room than the fleabag flophouse we’d been forced to take the night before. It wasn’t the worst place I’ve ever stayed in, but it was bad enough that I didn’t want to stay there again if I didn’t have to. But we walked around the Tamil Quarter of Pondicherry for two hours without finding a single available room. There was nothing in town. All the cheap places had no vacancies and waved us off from the doorsteps. Even when we got desperate and thought of treating ourselves to a better place, the more expensive hotels paused, looked us up and down, and gave us disdainful negatives. It was insulting, humiliating and infuriating. I could probably have improved their answers with some judicious baksheesh, but I was damned if I would, and so we ended up at the same crappy place we’d tried to avoid, and feeling grateful that we had that, at least.

I don’t know how Sheryl was feeling, but I was very frustrated after walking around in the heat, dodging traffic and getting rejected. I’m very afraid that India is going to be a succession of crowded, noisy, dirty cities and nothing more. There doesn’t seem to be much to see or do in Pondicherry, besides strolling the promenade. Relaxing can only be done here in a private space, since the beach is trawled by annoyingly persistent vendors and beggars. There are lots of nice cafés, restaurants and hotel gardens, but those options are only open to people with money (lots of money, here in Pondicherry), and besides, you can only eat so much and drink so much tea. The only place available to us was the public park n the centre of town. It’s nice, cool and a bit quieter, so we went there to plan our next steps and figure out how to leave town.

Leaving Pondicherry doesn’t seem to be much easier than staying in Pondicherry, though. It’s easy to leave by going back to Chennai, but one of Sheryl’s and my unspoken travel rules is no backtracking, so we were much averse to returning there. Onward travel, to the south, is the problem. Pondicherry has no rail service, for one thing. There are only three buses a day to Tiruchirappalli (or Trichy, as it’s called), our next destination. We decided to try and find a so-called “luxury” bus operator rather than struggle to find a seat on the public buses.

Our useless tourist brochure said to contact one of a list of travel agencies for bus tickets, but after we’d trekked all over town and got nothing but blank looks and vague instructions to “try the bus station”, we realized that there’s no such thing as a long-distance bus system with seat reservations here and that all the nice buses we’d been seeing must just be tour buses. We gave up, and with all the other possibilities having come to nothing, decided to try for one of the three daily six-hour government buses to Trichy in the morning, fully aware that it was likely to be an utterly hellish experience. Plan B was to take a succession of shorter local bus trips from one small town to another along the coastal route (called the Coromandel Coast, which is odd because, to me, that’s a place in New Zealand) and stopping whenever we couldn’t get any farther on a given day. I didn’t say it was a good option.

By this time I was in a truly foul and discouraged mood and feeling the signs of travel-fatigue. Sheryl decided that ice cream and a brownie would make things better and dragged me to the café on the promenade. I’m not above falling for cheap bribery (in the same sense that the ground is not above the sky) and so it put me in a much more optimistic frame of mind. We spent a couple of hours on the beach fending off the vendors and the beggars and a persistent man with a dancing monkey, and then grabbed dinner at a good local place for something ridiculous like the equivalent of $2.

The streets were busy tonight. It might be that people are gearing up for something. I’m seeing canopies and crowd-control barriers being set up. We’ll be long gone before whatever it is happens, though. We went to see Lakshmi the temple elephant one more time before we had to go. She was just as playful as before and had new designs painted on her ears and forehead. Near her temple we saw a car being blessed, of all things. A sadhu with a tray of incense was dabbing sandalwood paste on the tires, windshield, headlights and engine, and put a small green fruit under each wheel. I wonder what it was all about? Just another story we’ll never know the ending to.


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One Comment on this Dispatch:

February 26th, 2009

hey chris

hope you make a good trip out of it, about the car blessing thing, well the green fruit would be limes or a cousin of lime. and its to ward of the “Evil Eye”

hope you have better luck finding a hotel , but donot get your hopes high of shooing away peddlers and beggers as you travel across india

¬ Rupinder
February 27th, 2009

Thanks for the explanation! The fruit looked rather lime-ish but it never pays to assume. :)

We’ve got a nice hotel tonight at least - sometimes it’s good and cheap, sometimes it’s bad and cheap, you know how it goes…

¬ Chris
Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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