We stayed in an airport hotel near Trivandum airport as we had an early flight to Chennai. The area around the airport had police everywhere and there were police in the hotel lobby. It turns out that Rahul Gandhi had been in the city that day giving speeches in the lead up to the election, so there was lots of security. This may explain the bizarre level of security we encountered at the airport check in, although he had already left town by then.
We were advised by the hotel to arrive 2 hours prior to our flight because our Air India flight runs from the International terminal, even though it is a domestic flight. So, up at 4 am, we wearily headed to the airport; we had already checked in online, so had our digital boarding passes. First our bags were scanned before dropping of to baggage.
Waiting in the queue for about 45 minutes when we finally arrived at the counter, our boarding passes were checked then printed out for us. Ok, defeats the purpose of having digital ones, but whatever. These boarding passes were then checked, stamped, scanned and rechecked no less that 6 times as we headed for the plane, and at each point there were two people designated to check them. This must be great for employment, though not a good customer experience. Then there was security…we dutifully removed our laptops and tablets from our bags as usual. These were scanned, then we could see they were taken aside from the belt, uh oh. The lady checking the bags brought my backpack over and advised “electronic items and metal in the bag”. Ok, yes, camera and some bits and pieces including my watch. I’ve never had to remove these before, anywhere in the world. I was asked to remove everything from the backpack, each item was looked at and turned over, then the empty backpack re scanned, to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. Then the same drill with my handbag and Neil’s camera bag. The woman had such an officious and unpleasant manner, although I wasn’t treated as badly as the Indian woman next to me, who had a box full of jewellery she was taking to a wedding, she was treated to a right dressing down, finger wagging and told to be quiet in no uncertain terms. Surely, the guy next to me with a sewing machine and heaps of potato chips in his cabin bag must have been more suspicious. By the time we reached the boarding gate, the plane was already half boarded, so it was clear why we needed to be there two hours before. What a performance. (I know, it’s about keeping us safe, but there is no need for the attitude.) Weirdly also, when we arrived in Chennai, our boarding passes were again asked for and checked as we left the airport and we had another security scan of our bags and ourselves on leaving.
Our driver was waiting for us outside and off we headed for Pondicherry. We asked him to stop for some breakfast and he took us to this great little restaurant where we had awesome, crunchy masala dosa and very tasty fresh vadai, followed by local coffee, which comes in two cups. It’s hot and sweet, and you are supposed to pour the coffee from one cup to the other to cool it down, nifty. (The kind man at the next table showed us what to do, while giving his little one-year old grandson a cup of coffee)
We arrived at Pondy in the afternoon and settled into our hotel, then headed out for a walk. This place is strange because it was at one time a French colony and so there is still a lot of French influence here. The city is quite small and is made up of the French quarter ( or White town), the Tamil quarter, the Muslim quarter. (Only 3 quarters as far as I can tell, should they be thirds?)
So across the city area there are churches and cathedrals, mosques and Hindu temples. There are also French restaurants and waffle shops, bakeries with croissants and baguettes, as well as some creole eateries. It’s a crazy mix of cultures, cuisines and architecture.
We walked down to the Promenade along rock beach and saw the Gandhi statue, then headed through a pleasant park. In the evening we went for another walk and I bought some Indian clothes then we went across to the grand bazaar. Wow! This was so busy, so crazily noisy and crowded and bustling it’s almost impossible to describe. Walking along the road was terrifying with motor bikes, tuk tuks and cars all tooting and jostling for position, no footpath, so as a pedestrian you are in the thick of it.
There was everything you could want on sale, from pots and dishes to underwear, fruit and vegetables but not meat or fish which is in the morning, so we bought some nice mangoes and headed home, exhausted by the frenzy. When almost at our hotel we came across a restaurant which had a tandoor, pizza oven and chickens on the rotisserie all out the front; it was very busy so we decided to give it a try for dinner. We went inside and sat down, feeling a bit conspicuous with most people looking at us, as there were no other foreigners there. We ordered some spicy bbq chicken and roti and naan, all of which were fabulous, and we had our fill of great food for under $10 for both of us. I frequently find that I am the only white person in places, and I am somewhat of a curiosity especially for children who stare and smile and whisper things to each other, probably best that I don’t know what they’re saying. 😊
We ate again at this place, this time biriyani which was also great and so cheap. Highly recommend this restaurant.
Most people are genuinely interested in where you are from, where in India you have been and how you like it. They are keen to say hello and introduce themselves and even have their photo taken with us. Overall, I have found people here to be helpful, friendly and welcoming and extremely proud of their country. (apart from officials, who seem to get off on their small amount of power)
The elections here are underway as voting is staggered across the country due to the huge number of people needing to get to the polls. During election time it seems there are restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption, who knew? Our hotel had to close the bar for two days until voting is over. I ask you; how is one supposed to survive electioneering speeches and propaganda without imbibing a few stiff drinks?
The remainder of our stay in Pondy was mostly walking around the streets and sampling the food. We found a popular bakery called Baker Street, which had lots of French pastries, and chocolates.
We decided to have a nice dinner at the Hotel De L’Orient restaurant, Chez Francis, which is renown for its creole food. We were the only patrons and enjoyed a lovely meal, starting with stuffed aubergine fritters, then creole crevette (prawns) and curry crusted fish, with a salad of vegetables with pomegranate and orange dressing, and finished with a chocolate mousse. We also enjoyed small bottle of Sula Rose (Indian) with the meal.
Next stop Kolkata, for street food, maybe an IPL match and a possible side trip to the Sundarbans.