My last week in India passed in a lazy blur – after rushing round trying to do and see everything in the last two months I decided to slow down and take a breath before my next adventure. As such, I spent 5 days in Pondicherry wandering the streets, eating comfortingly familiar food, enjoying the (mostly) good weather and doing very little else. By coincidence HBO were showing Life of Pi the day after I arrived, the first part of which is set here. Admittedly it’s not quite as idealised as the film makes out, but it is still very pretty, and completely unlike anything else in India.
I’m not sure what settings my camera was on to produce this weird soft focus, but it more or less reflects my mood for the 5 days I was here. The west side of Pondicherry is pretty much like any other small Indian city, but after crossing the canal you enter the French quarter and suddenly everything is quiet, the streets are lined with trees and flowers and little cafés and there’s practically no traffic, or rubbish, or people hassling you to spend money. Other than a couple of temples and ostentatious churches there aren’t a lot of sights to see in town, so I spent my time here floating around in a contented daze in the mornings and evenings, and getting into the very respectable habit of sleeping away the hot afternoons. Even on Diwali the town is too laid back to go crazy (other than the firecrackers which go off in the street and scare the bejesus out of me every 5 minutes) – the evening was spent milling around the sea front with lots of relaxed Indian families watching several unofficial fireworks displays going off in the distance.
Thus ended my Indian adventure, to be continued in south east Asia, where I will be meeting up with the Madventure crew again in Thailand and then hopefully finding it much easier to meet new people than I have done in India so far. Well. Thus almost ended my Indian adventure.
After Pondicherry I spent the next 3 days trying to leave India, mainly because if I have to take a flight at all this year I want to make sure it’s the cheapest, most direct flight I can take. I’m already annoyed enough that I have to fly out of India (why can’t Tibet and Myanmar just relax a bit and let people cross their borders whenever they want hey?), so I’ll be damned if I’m going take a flight with a stopover if I can head up to Kolkata for a direct flight for half the price. The only snag in this stubborn little plan of mine being that Kolkata is… quite a long way away from Pondicherry.
My basic plan was to get the bus to Chennai, stay overnight and then hop on the first train to Kolkata in the morning, arriving in time to have another night’s sleep in a hotel before my flight the next day. It’s a 28 hour train so it would be tough, but still doable. That didn’t go to plan. Being a cocky idiot I didn’t recheck my train ticket and had managed to convince myself that the train left at 1000 (I think I was confusing it with the previous train). Arrived at the station at what I thought was the unreasonably early time of 0900, only to find that the train had left at 0845. Damn. Luckily, because the foreign tourist booth in Chennai central is excellent, I was able to transfer my ticket to the evening train and only lost half the fare in cancellation fees. Unluckily, this meant that I had to kill about 14 hours in Chennai*, one of the most disgusting and depressing cities I’ve ever been in, having already checked out of my hotel. After sulking away the day I then had a day and 2 nights on the train (thank god, met a lovely Canadian guy in the bunk above me who managed to stop me from chewing my own arm off in boredom), arriving in Kolkata at 4 in the morning the same day as my evening flight. Felt a bit late to find myself a hotel at that point so I just left my luggage in the station cloakroom and set about killing another day. Kolkata, from the little I saw, is nicer than Chennai but I can’t say I was really in a fit state to appreciate it. Ended up heading to the airport about 5 hours early because I was too exhausted to wander around any more. Eventually got to my hotel in Bangkok at 3am Thai time. For anyone who’s counting that’s 3 nights on trains and planes with minimal sleep and 3 full days without changing my clothes or showering. Yeech.
I have also caught a cold from the recycled aeroplane air. This is what you get for cheating on an overland trip.
*One of my standard killing time tactics has become going to a cinema to see a film I don’t understand. My last two films have been standard Indian romantic comedies. This time I saw a superhero movie. It had all the usual things you expect from a sci-fi action film – evil mutants, crazy fight scenes, a plot to destroy the world with a super virus. And Bollywood dance routines. If they can fit them into an action movie I’d be really interested to see an Indian horror movie.