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Crap Soup

INDIA | Sunday, 23 December 2007 | Views [2251]

The Matrimandir, Auroville, Pondicherry.

The Matrimandir, Auroville, Pondicherry.

It's been a while since we updated this mainly because we seem to have been very busy doing not an awful lot. God knows how we managed to have jobs, it seems to be perfectly possible to fill your day doing little more than eating and going to a temple / beach / shop / train station etc.

So here's a brief update on the last month:

Following the excitement with the tiger we took a relaxing break at a lovely homestay by the sea. It was idyllic with pretty much a private beach, nice people and delicious homemade food. Our host was an expert on the local tradition of Theyyam which is a religious ceremony involving a priest painted and dressed up in the most amazing outfit who goes into a trance, whirls around a lot and then effectively acts as an agony aunt to the local peoples' domestic issues. We went to watch one of these ceremonies which also involved free tea, coconut and some kind of beans. It was one of the strangest things either of us had ever seen.

After four nights in Kannur we took the train down the coast to meet my Mum and John in Fort Cochin. They kindly put us up in a hotel where our bathroom was bigger than the rooms we have been used to, and it had a swimming pool! Here we enjoyed wine for the first time in ages and spent a few days doing nothing but watching the Chinese fishing nets, going for walks and sitting by the pool.

From Cochin we all headed to Munnar in the Western Ghats where Tim and I returned to budget accommodation in the cottages of Mr Joseph Iype, self proclaimed 'tourist information officer' and 'local treasure'. He was certainly an interesting character, Tim particularly enjoyed his wall mounted antiques display which included a Maglite, a photo from the Crimean War, some Swiss army knives and a Bic razor.
We left Mr Iype after a couple of days and headed off on a three day camping trek with some very nice French people Natasha, Audrey and Fabrice. Apart from the leeches (of which there were many) the trek was very enjoyable, giving us the chance to see some more wildlife in the shape of monkeys and the giant grizzled squirrel (about the size of a dog). We also visited some tribal villages where the children seemed absolutely terrified of us and spent an unscheduled night camping next to the village's satellite TV substation as our planned accommodation was in use (ironically by a meeting of the village elders on how to improve tourism - not cancelling their accommodation would be a good start)! However, our guides managed to salvage the situation by knocking up a feast of curries, rice, chappatis and pappadums all of which was served on the floor of the satellite TV substation. We also got to watch the doctors at work as they bandaged the infected toe of the local tribal man whose job it was to watch the substation.

Following a tip from our new French friends, Tim and I then headed to Alleppey where we took a village canoe trip with a local guide Kunjachan. This was billed as a tour that took you deep into the backwaters to observe rural life including breakfast and lunch cooked by Kunjachan's wife. What wasn't advertised was that Kunjachan was absolutely bonkers. First up he dressed us up in his lungis (like a sarong) and head umbrellas, then he took us to the local Toddy shop where he managed to down an impressive amount of the slightly strange tasting coconut beer, finally, after lunch he proclaimed us his new children and said we should send him over a plane ticket for our wedding next year (his date, not ours). All of this was interspersed with some very enjoyable rowing along the backwaters.
After a couple of nights in Alleppey, Tim and I rejoined Mum and John in the world of luxury boutique hotels at a beatiful beach resort just to the north. Here we swam with dolphins and watched the sunset from a hammock on our private beach. We then took an overnight rice boat trip through the backwaters finishing off at Philipkutty's Farm, a homestay run by Mummy and her daughter-in-law Anu on an island in the backwaters. This stay included Keralan cookery lessons from Mummy so Tim took lots of notes and is actually preparing me one of her recipes as I type this.

We returned to Fort Cochin for Mum and John's last night in India and came back to the world of budget accommodation fittingly with a room with a rotten door infested with cockroaches. We saw off Mum and John the next morning and then left ourselves, on a train to Chennai in Tamil Nadu.

In Chennai we seemed to be thwarted at every turn; the hotels were all full, the museum was shut, the cinema was fully booked and Tim wasn't allowed into the nice bar because he had sandals on. We did find good coffee though and some great mini tiffin for breakfast so after one night in the absolutely knackered, but strangely charming Broadlands Lodge, we decided to cut our losses and head down the coast.

First stop was Mamallapuram, a small fishing village on the coast that had been hit pretty badly by the Tsunami in 2004. It was a nice place to stay for a few days, which was lucky because we timed our arrival with that of a Cyclone. Our time was therefore spent running from hotel to cafe to internet cafe trying to find places with electricity and stay reasonably dry.

On the third day we started to get brief dry intervals so we made a break for Pondicherry on the bus. We arrived here to discover that almost everything was booked (damn my mother being right about places being busy for Christmas), but eventually found a grim place run by a miserable French chap for the first night, a nice heritage place run by some extremely over-eager Indian guys for the next three and for tonight until Boxing Day we are in a charming little one bedroomed apartment which is giving Tim the chance to get back behind the hob.
Although we didn't intend to spend so much time here, it seems to have been a happy accident. Now that the weather has resumed normal service, blue skies and sunshine, Pondicherry is a lovely place to spend a week. It's a French enclave which means French road names and signs, crepes in the resaurants, great French bread and decent coffee all over the place.
It's also a bit of a new age mecca. There are various ashrams where people come to meditate and down the road is the experiment in cultural diversity that is Auroville. Auroville is the brainchild of 'The Mother' who was the partner of Sri Aurobinda, an activist for Indian independence who set up an Ashram here in Pondicherry. The Mother's teachings, a sythensis of yoga and science seem to be pretty popular here and Auroville with it's multi-national inhabitants settled in various areas with names such as 'Quiet' and 'Buddha's Farm' is the realisation of these teachings. It also features the Matrimandir which looks like a gold version of the Epcot Centre. Inside, the medidation chamber is all white with a large crystal that refracts the sun's rays around the chamber. We didn't get to go inside though. You're only allowed in if you prove that you're serious about meditating. We weren't.
On a more childish note Pondicherry has rewarded us with the best comedy signage we have seen so far. Here are the highlights:

Crap Soup - On a restaurant menu.
France Between Our Lips - The off licence.
Golden Shower Hostel (which apparently has comfort and quite) - An advert in The Hindu newspaper this morning.
Antony Death Body Box - The Undertakers.


Tags: On the Road


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