Adventure in India: Pondicherry

Arriving in Pondicherry was like a breath of fresh air.

I had it up to here (imagine me with my hand at neck level) with just about everything Indian as I left horrible Chennai.

Upon arriving in Pondicherry after a five hour bus ride, I immediately felt the slowing of time, the increase of personal space and an almost imperceptible transition from strictly Indian architecture to the more refined lines of French influenced architecture: whitewashed walls, small terraces, and relatively clean streets set in a logical grid.

 

Catholic School Girls, Indian Style. Pondicherry, India.

Pondicherry, coincidentally the home of M. Night Shyamalan and Yann Martel (of “The Life of Pi” fame), was the last colonial outpost of France in India. No more than 50 years ago, the French left Pondicherry for good. Well, the French government at least.

The police still wear French inspired uniforms with traditional red Kepis, and you can find a mean baguette or coq au vin in many of the local cafes and restaurants in town.


Gandhi Memorial. Pondicherry, India.

During the day, and especially at night, locals stroll along the seaside boardwalk, watching the waves crash against the shore. Vendors with carts full of fresh pineapple and lime fill the sandy elevated beaches above the boardwalk.

Young men, either out of school, on break, or unemployed, gather along the promenade, walking as a pack and checking out the women both Indian and foreign.

It made for great portrait opportunities.
India Book of World Records: Tiny Roller Skater. Pondocherry, India.

While walking along the boardwalk, I witnessed the strangest thing. A tiny roller skater skated back and forth under a parked car, while crowds and news crews watched. After a few passes under an impossibly low car, the tiny roller skater was ushered over to a large group of newscasters where both father and son were interviewed for quite a while. Despite all the people present, no one knew what was going on.

India is renowned for holding many Guinness Book of World Records. So many in fact that a separate book was created just for India. I could only imagine that perhaps this tiny kid was setting a new record. Skating Under the Smallest Car perhaps.


Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, as an elephant. Pondicherry, India.

One of the last things we discovered in Pondicherry, was a small Hindu temple that worshiped a tethered elephant, who was supposedly the earthly incarnation of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.
Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, as an elephant. Pondicherry, India.

Lakshmi sucks coins into her trunk. As you bend down to receive Lakshmi’s blessing, she lightly taps you on the head with her trunk.

I had mixed feelings about this. I felt terrible the elephant lives tied up in a busy walkway outside a temple, taking coins from passers-by.

On the other hand, Lakshmi may be lucky. Being fed and taken care of is a rare thing for elephants in India who are often used for very difficult labor.

I thought about this as we departed for Mumbai and the last leg of our trip.