Oh boy, so I’ve been pretty lazy and have been putting this off but I suppose it’s time I filled you all in…. Oh and be prepared for too many pictures…. So we went to the bus station, we had trouble finding a rickshaw and then got a cab because we were running out of time; but he didn’t really know where he was going. We eventually figured it out and got there a bit past boarding time but the bus wasn’t even there yet. So as we waited we got hungry and we ate some street Chinese food. I got fried rice with egg and it was really good, but way to much for me to eat. Afterward we waited a bit longer and then the bus finally showed up and we got on. My seat was in the front and Emily KQ and Xandra’s were next to each other in the back. I asked the ticket guy if I could get a seat back there with them and he gave me one. Then we went to the next stop and waited there for about an hour and then were on our way. As usual they started with hilarious music videos followed by a movie. We stopped to eat and go to the bathroom at around 10 and there happened to be other students from Tagore there who were also traveling.
We got some chai and some warm sweet milk which was probably the most delicious/relaxing thing I’ve ever consumed, it was pretty amazing. Then we got back on the bus. I was lucky and had two seats to myself, but unfortunately when they turned the lights off on the bus they turned these blue lights on, and we were directly under them, they were really disturbing and irritating. I don’t think any of us slept very well. When I woke up around 5 I really had to pee, but luckily around 7 we made it to our destination-Chennai. Immediately we were surrounded by rickshaw drivers and they would not leave us alone. They kept asking us about where we wanted to go, where was our hotel, etc etc. We told them we just wanted to look around, eat, and then find a place to stay. But there was nothing near by so we ended up getting one to the area around the central train station, which is where they thought we meant when we said we wanted to go to the central part of town. The first thing we realized is that rickshaws are a lot more expensive here, though not as expensive as in Pondicherry as you will see. Well we got to the central place and I had happened to see a sign for a hostel so that’s where we headed and that’s where we stayed for a nice 100 rupees a night. It was a fine place with three beds in one room and clean sheets and stuff.
All the toilets we encountered the whole trip outside were squat ones, which I actually prefer when it comes to public toilets to those where you would have to sit down. It seems like a more sanitary option, though there is no way to really wipe yourself, but I don’t mind. Anyway after settling in we went out to get a quick bite nearby, then headed back to the hostel and napped for a few hours. Then it was time to explore. We went back part of the way we had seen in the rickshaw, and part of the reason was because we had seen horses! Well sure enough we found them. They were really beautiful Arabian horses with ears that curl towards each other. They also had their foreheads painted because the nine nights of the goddess was still going on. In fact the whole city had fresh leaves hung outside of their shops and houses with banana leaves or stalks on either side of them. Most windows on buildings, rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, etc were marked with three horizontal white lines with a red dot in the middle which I can only assume represents Shiva as that is typically his marking. Unfortunately I never got to ask. While walking towards the horses we had to pass by this long mural-ed wall by the road. Which means that the entire length of it reeked of pee, as walls tend to be where men stop to use the bathroom. We found the horses and got a bunch of pictures with them. They were so handsome, I really want a horse… just sayin’. There was also a little donkey that was tied up by his foot and he looked really sad. We headed back the way we came after that since there seemed to be no hope of finding food in that direction. We headed down this street that was very busy right by the subway station. Well, it turned out to be a little train platform and we got fruit juice and sat down and talked for awhile. Then we went off to find lunch.
On the way we stopped at this little stand and bought bindis and bangles, and earrings. I was looking, according to everyone, like a married Indian woman. After a long search we found a spot and had a quick meal. While we were eating we heard a lot of commotion outside–drums, music, yelling–it was a procession for Durga-the tiger riding, demon slaying goddess. There was a group of men, wearing golden headbands covered in pink powder dancing in front, followed by the drummers, and musicians, and then the float with Durga herself in all her glory being pulled by two Brahmin cows covered in pink powder and decorated.
After the procession we headed down the streets exploring. Most of the streets had shops all selling the same things- tiffins, pots, storgage containers etc. Then we heard another procession and ran out to find it. This one had a larger group of male dancers that took great pleasure in dancing for me since I was filming them. After the procession passed we followed them for a bit and they gave us bagged water and candies.
From there we went back to the hostel and chilled for a few hours. We found out about the train to Pondicherry as well, it leaves at about 6:30 am and takes 3-4 hours. We relaxed and talked for awhile back in our room at the hostel. Somehow mosquitoes kept getting in from who knows where. I can’t even begin to count how many we killed and just when we thought we had gotten them all three more would appear. It was really annoying and unsettling. Emily had a headache for most of the day but we still went out for a bit to find an internet cafe for 15 minutes of internet. We weren’t hungry so we just headed back to read and go to sleep.
In the morning we got up around 5 to go get the train. Luckily every one knows where the train station is that takes people to Pondicherry and we easily got a rickshaw for a decent price. We arrived at the station, there were many people and families sleeping on the floor, and we went to the counter and bought our tickets–85 rupees for three tickets— Then we proceeded to try and find our platform. It wasn’t very difficult, we asked plenty of people and found it easily, got on the train, and found seats.
While we were waiting for the train to depart we were entertained by a pair of mongeese playing on the tracks. They look like little ferrets, and they were having so much fun pouncing on each other and rolling around, they were soon joined by a third one. A little after 6:30 the train departed. It was really great getting to see the Indian country side. Most of it is made up of farms and farming villages. I really would like to know more about the culture in those areas because the women work along side men in these communities. I want to know what the dynamic of those relationship is since there is no apparent division of labor. I also want to know what they talk about and everything. It seems a lot more equal than what you see in the cities, and larger villages. There was an older couple who sat by us. The woman actually came and napped on my bench. She had a pretty cool tattoo on her arm.
It’s interesting because a lot of women in the older generations have tattoos on their arms and such. They are traditional and used for drawing protection from the Gods and the Universe as well as protection against the evil eye. We all napped for a good part of the ride. Then around 10:30 the train started having trouble, I think. All I know is that we stopped at one station for over an hour, and then pretty much ever station after that had over half hour waits. At the longest wait there was the cutest puppy there. He just laid down and napped the whole time, but the men around us noticed us oogling so they would whistle at him ever now and then.
He would perk up and he had the biggest bat ears imaginable, they touched at the top, it was to die for. There were a lot of venders at this stop, but we didn’t think we would be on the train for much longer so we didn’t get anything. I finally decided to get out and explore the platform since there was no sign of the train leaving. I got off and walked a bit down when another train pulled up. I noticed people started heading back to the train, so I turned around and headed back to my car. It was clear people thought the train would be leaving soon so I picked up my pace. Then as I approached my car the train blew it’s whistle and started moving. Luckily I was right at the door of my car when this happened so I just hopped on. It was really nothing to worry about though because the train purposely goes slow when pulling out because it doesn’t wait after the whistle for people to get on before it starts moving. Most people jump on while it moves. A few stops later we were joined by a large group of kids who greatly enjoyed practicing their English with us. And finally seven hours after setting off we arrived in Pondicherry. We found a rickshaw and asked him to take us to the french quarter.
Well he had no idea where that was but he asked some 300 rupees to get there. We talked hum down to 180. He drove us in the wrong direction for a minute then asked someone and headed the other way. Apparently there is no french quarter. Anyway he took us to a street called french quarter (after 5 minutes in the rickshaw or less) and we told him to take us to the main area. He wanted to charge us an extra 20 rupees for that. We were naturally outraged, we had just gone 5 km for 180 rupees an absurd amount and he would not take us the remaining two for the amount we already agree on.
It was ridiculous 7 km should cost about 100 rupees..not 200. Any we we just paid him and decided to walk. It wasn’t very far and we came across a few hotels and guest houses on the way that were over the price we were looking for but they did direct us towards cheaper ones. After three tries we found one that came close to our price-700 a night. It was a large room with a large bed and a bathroom. Afterward we set off to fine lunch, and when I say lunch I mean early dinner because at this point it was 4ish. Surprisingly there we not many restaurants around. We walked down a street that was a fruit and vegetable market, and then headed for the main road. Even on the main road we couldn’t find any and the ones we did fine had closed. At last we found one that was open and sat down to eat our first and last meal of the day. Emily was not feeling very well, she gets chronic headaches so she had had one most of the day and she was also very congested so after eating we went back to the Guesthouse and relaxed there for awhile. The group of our ISA friends-Karissa, Emilla, and Jack arrived in Pondicherry that evening and we tried to meet up with them. And when I say tried we I mean we talked about it but then they decided they were too tired. It was just as well because we tried to find out how much it would cost to get a rickshaw to take us the 12 km to where they were and the people at the front desk said about 300—so we weren’t getting ripped off, rickshaws are just outrageously expensive here.so since we weren’t meeting up with them Xandra and I went out to explore. We got some fruit drink at a little store, then we decided to go find a bar or something. We found one in a hotel, we went up and sat down. They told us that we had to order now because the kitchen was closing or something. We ordered our drink and they said they had stopped that. So we went to leave and they ran after us and were like where are you going? We explained we thought they said it was closed and they were like oh you want drinks, no we’re not closed yet sit down. So we ordered our drinks and talked. We ordered a second round and then they closed–at 11– So we drank our drinks and went out to find some street food. We found this place making late night dosas- a little woman’s cart. She made us two egg dosas and gave us two kinds of chutney. They were really good and after one we were kind of full but we still got another. She also gave us two cups of water. I didn’t want to be rude, plus I figured my body was now used to it. I drank some, then Xandra offered me her water, I refused and drank more. It tasted just fine, like normal water. We ate our second dosa and then headed home. The next morning we woke up early and my tummy was a little swirly. The plan was to meet up with our friends at Auroville, get breakfast and tour Auroville. So we got a rickshaw there and waited for them to show up. Auroville is an ecovillage and commune. Their motto is “Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”–my kinda place (all sources are from Wikipedia). I actually got a very strange wave of emotion when i was reading about it. All you have to do is work on the farm and really have the desire to connect. So they finally arrive- they had already eaten so we went to get food ourselves (not me I was feeling a bit queesey) We then headed into the theater-you have to watch a video about the Matrimandir before you can see it. We watched it and it told us about the person who designed it-The Mother- and about the history of the commune and the structure itself. Basically, it was founded in the 60s, as a place for spiritual enlightenment. The Matrimandir is located in the center. There is a banyan tree nearby which is a very ancient place for enlightenment. Near the Matrimandir is a place where people gather and they have a lotus bud structure which contains the soil of 124 countries, and every state in India that all participated in the building of Auroville. Their charter is:
- Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
- Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.
Then their is the Matrimandir, a large golden ball in the center of Auroville.
It has four entrances, facing the four directions, and representing the four main Hindu goddesses. Inside the Matrimandir total silence is maintained as it is a place of peace and mediation. In the concentration center, there is a room of white marble with a crystal ball at the center which as a single ray of light reflected on it. This is the concentration room and only people serious about concentrating on connecting with the Divine consciousness are allowed inside. As visitors we are only allowed to look at the Matrimandir at a distance.
People can only go in to concentrate after having worked on the commune for two days. We all had mixed feelings about the place. Why do they need such a large ostentatious structure? It seems to go against what they practice. Also why is not everyone allowed to go in it? Well this part makes sense to me, you wouldn’t want tourists passing through on a regular basis, it is supposed to be a sacred place. Also there are rules for when you are allowed in the concentration chamber and only people that are serious are allowed in. How do they enforce this? Personally I don’t see a problem in the seriousness aspect that some people did. I feel if you choose to live in Auroville you are already serious, also just the intention of wanting to concentrate, make you serious. Problem solved. It was an interesting place. Emilla is a very sensitive person and she was telling us that the energy in Auroville is strange, she wasn’t sure if it was good or bad so she asked the Universe and the Universe said it was an okay place. She says the energy there is very intense, it is an awareness. She says all of India has this energy she noticed, it is more than back home, and it was more intense in Auroville. We discussed the whole Matrimandir thing also. We decided that the reason why they have it, and they reason it looks the way it does is not for the people that live there but for the people who visit. They are first educated on the structure and it’s purpose and then they are sent to look at it. By concentrating on it with their gaze and contemplating it simultaneously they are directing energy at it. Concentration is a powerful thing and it gives them something to focus on and that in turn gives the structure power, most likely heightening the experience for those allowed in.
When I got back I talked to one of my friends, a girl from Norway who went there to work for a few days and concentrate in the room. She said it was an incredible experience that she can’t explain. Inside the room there is a charge of energy and she says one can’t help but feel spiritual. I really want to try and work there and concentrate before I leave. I think it would be a really interesting experience. So after that we headed back to the main area and tried to figure out where to go. It was unbearable hot, even in the shade. It seems to be a Pondicherry thing, and it was very humid. The ISA group was planning on going to a bazar after Auroville but me and Emily KQ were not up for that. Not in the heat of the day at least. The others also wanted to go back to their hotel and nap for a bit but they decided to go into town to get bathing suits and then head back. Emily KQ and I went back to their hotel, to relax, though we didn’t have access to their room. We went there and immediately got food at the restaurant there. I got caprese which was to die for. I had to eat really slowly thought because every few bites I felt nauseous. But I finally got cheese and it was amazing. Then for dessert we ordered chocolate mousse which basically tasted like brownie batter. I had one spoonful and felt awful. After a few minutes I ran to the bathroom and barely made it. Let me tell you, mozzarella is not as fun when it comes at your nose. Same goes for tomatoes. But afterward I felt splendid. Emily KQ and curled up on the sofas in the lounge of the hotel, read the paper and went to sleep. Around 5 the other group finally showed up. They had eaten lunch at an Italian restaurant that they said was the best they ever had. I cannot even begin to describe how sad I was to hear that…ITALIAN FOOD IS ALL I WANT!!! Whyyyyyy??? The chief was even an old Italian man!! Anyway, we got into our bathing suits:
and went and hung out by the pool. You weren’t allowed in with clothes on so only Emilla went in. Close to sunset I ordered a cheese plate and then we headed to the beach, to touch the Bay of Bengal. It was dark when we got there. There isn’t really any beach there, its a bunch of large boulders leading up to the ocean. All the Indians there were fully dressed, making us feel rather under dressed. The tide was coming in so groups of children and men alike got a great kick out of standing on the lowest rocks and having the waves splash them. We talked with Rahul, the ISA directer person for awhile about Hyderabad. He’s from Delhi and he says the people in Hyderabad are the nicest he’s ever met in India. Soon we left to find food. We found a restaurant/bakery and we changed in there and decided to eat there. By the time I had changed in the tiniest bathroom ever, my insides were getting upset again. So I didn’t eat, but that’s okay the food didn’t seem that great anyway. Afterward, once again Emily KQ and I went back to the guest house and everyone else went out to the bar.
I woke up on our last day feeling just fine. The plan was to go to the Italian restaurant for dinner and then catch the bus back to Chennai. I got a call in the morning saying that our bus was now leaving at 6 instead of 10pm so we didn’t have much more time to spend in Pondi. So we headed to the restaurant and got there around 11, only to find out that it doesn’t open til 12:30, talk about the saddest moment of my life. So we walk to try and find another Italian restaurant. We end up at a cafe on the beach. They tell us they’ll make lunch items for us so we sit down and oogle the menu, many delicious things on there. Then we try and order and the waiter says they will only make breakfast now until 12. So we get stuck with extremely mediocre breakfast food and then have to leave again. We catch a rickshaw to the bus station. Our driver was our first female rickshaw walla and let me tell you, she was a badass. And not only that but she gave us a very reasonable price to start off. At the train station the first class bus tickets were sold out.
So we waited in the female line to get tickets for the one o’clock bus. Once the ticketing opened up everyone rushed the window regardless of the line with rupee bills in their hands. It only cost 15 rupees to reserve three seats on the bus. We got on the bus and set off, it was packed, with people standing in the isles and what not. The scenery out the window was great, you could see the sea most of the way, and patches of…pine trees? Yes, pine trees, I forgot to mention them in the section about the train but yea, strange as it may seem there are pine trees here, in South India. They are skinny things with tiny delicate needles, but they do exist. Some of them look like they might be cultivated but I don’t know for sure. Many of them led down to the beach, and most of these strands were littered with trash as people come there to eat and go to the beach. The bus would stop relatively often to let people off. At one point a man started yelling at another man. I’m not sure what he was saying but he kept pointing at his wife who was sitting at his feet. She would yell also, not sure if he was yelling at her husband or the man he was yelling at, or giving her husband more things to yell about, anyway it was interesting. Another interesting experience I had involved what can only be a couple. I saw this man talking to a woman sitting down, they way he was looking at her looked like he was flirting or flattering her. Then I noticed that their hands were right next to each other and his thumb was on her hand. In a culture where married people will not even touch each other in front of their children, let alone hold hands in public, this was a shocking thing to see. I realized the woman was not taking her hand away, and when she did she always put it back right next to his so he could put his thumb on her. I was really confused, I had thought that he was trying to woo her, but as they were in public and older and she seemed to be accepting his advances this must be something else. The way he was looking at her and talking to her made it seem like he loved her, he was genuinely happy to be there talking to her. At one point he even touched her head with his other hand. They kept it up most of the bus ride, then when the person between them moved he sat down next to her. I was really touched by the whole exchange. If they are married, which given their age and the culture seems the only logical reason, then it was an arranged marriage, and they loved each other and got real joy out of talking to each other. I have never seen anything like it in India. Even when he sat down next to her they kept their hands like that.
It was really sweet and inspiring. By the end of the bus ride I had also made friends with the cutest little boy ever who was sitting in front of me. He was so sweet and shy.
We finally arrived at Pondicherry and walked to the bus station from there. From their we learned that our bus would not be there, but at the private station. So we walked to the private station, which was a gas station and asked there. They said that the stand for our bus was in the next lot in the bus station area. So off we went to that area and asked where our bus was located, at first they said it’s not supposed to come until 8, then they said that we were with a different company. They said we had to cross to the other side of the parking lot and our company would be there. We did and asked again, it was just on the opposite side in the second lot. Same thing, we asked and it was across the parking lot. We asked again and it was on the opposite side.
By this time it was 6–the time the bus was supposed to board. We got to the opposite side and asked again, this time they directed us to the stand which was near by. SO we asked where our bus was supposed to be. A fellow traveler was there, so the bus guy told us to follow him to where the bus would pick us up. We followed him and his girlfriend and lo and behold he led us the the gas station we had first been at… Oh India, you are the greatest. So we waited 20 minutes and got ice cream and our bus came and we were away.We stopped at this nice rest stop that had these old style god posters that I just fell in love with:
Then we got back on the bus and went on our way. In order to sleep on the bus I developed a really great way to arrange myself. I slept with my head and arms on the seat cushion, my butt on my backpack in the leg room in front of the seat, and my legs crossed in front of me under the seat. It was quite comfie. So we finally arrived back in Hyderabad at around 7:30.
Well, I was going to include the two and a half weeks that followed Pondi in the post but considering it is now 5500 words long, I’ll make it into two posts…
Also, I know I have asked this before and by this point it’s kind of too late to care but really people, please comment. I know people are reading this but I want to know who and what you think of it. Is it the same 3 people reading it 12 times, is it 38 people reading it once? WHO ARE YOU?! Please give me your feed back! Leave comments, if not on this one at least on the next one soon to come. That is all…
To be continued…