Chennai to Puducherry – 199 km (train and car)
& 31,050 Fit Bit Steps
On the platform at Vilapuram station, we were interested to see a table set up where a public health nurse was administering oral polio vaccine to children passing through the station. This is a reminder that Pakistan and Afghanistan, two of the three countries in the world which are endemic for polio are close to India.
When the driver we had arranged to meet us to take us to Puducherry didn’t turn up, we discovered many phone calls later that the car had broken down. We were eventually picked up by the driver’s brother in an old car without working seatbelts. The 40 minute drive was fast, furious and quite terrifying.
Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) is known for its French colonial architecture and flavour (the area was under French rule until 1954), its seaside location and proximity to the interesting town of Auroville. Our hotel was in a lovely heritage building in the Tamil section of town. A disused canal running north/south splits the town between the newer commercial section on the west and the leafy streets of the older French (White) Quarter towards the sea. Except for the ubiquitous absence of continuous sidewalks, Puducherry is a pleasant city for strolling. Come dusk, when the scooters and auto-rickshaws came out in force, walking suddenly becomes a nerve-wracking experience! We wandered past houses that once would have been quite grand. Some, like the French Consulate, retain their character. As we paused by the sea watching the waves break up over the rocks, we were approached by a couple our age who asked us to take their picture. They were from Calgary and had been travelling on the “Palace on Wheels”, a luxury tourist train that runs in Rajasthan. They were positive about the experience, apart from suffering a week of sleepless nights!
We visited and read about the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a peaceful oasis and place of pilgrimage and study. It has an intriguing history, founded by Sri Aurobindo and a french-born woman, the “Mother”. Aurobindo’s teachings focus on ‘integral yoga’ that sees devotees work in the world, rather than retreat from it. We had hoped to also visit nearby Auroville, the « City of Dawn », founded in 1968 by ‘the Mother’, but no tours appeared to be available. Aurovillians run a wide variety of projects, from schools and IT to organic farming, renewable energy and handicrafts production, employing 4000 to 5000 local villagers.
We took advantage of the French cuisine, sampling French crêpes at L’e Space, found delicious South Indian cuisine at Villa Shanti and decent espresso (7.5) at Cafe Coffee Day.