Friday, 26 October 2007

Bonjour Pondicherry!

Ram Guest House, Pondicherry
Here we are on the home stretch! Only about five days to go before we head back home, and fortunately there's only a four hour bus trip now between here and Chennai (Madras), where we're flying out of. The day before yesterday we left Ooty on the World Heritage 'toy' train thing, which was actually a bit underwhelming... Not as cool as the train from Dunedin, but I guess different enough for Indian standards. It was fortunate we got a seat in the first class cabin, because there was a bunch of idiots in the normal cabin who kept hooting when we went through tunnels...
The last stop was Mettupalayam, which we'd been strongly advised against staying in since it was such a hole, so we caught a bus to Coimbatore, another hole, but this one had the population of Auckland and many more accommodation choices. For some reason though pretty much everywhere was full, so we ended up at a pretty dodgy place with an over-friendly attendant who kept coming into our room to talk to us. I guess just for novelty value since not many foreigners would stay there.
The next morning, after much misinformation from various unhelpful people, we finally ended up on a bus to Salem, where we could then transit to Pondicherry. I'm surprised that 1) there's a town called Salem in the middle of Tamil Nadu, and 2) they haven't changed it to some other thing like they have with Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, etc, to rid itself of any signs of colonialism.
We were on those buses for nine hours, and since they were cheap government buses there were plenty of locals using them as well. We got to watch some great Tamil movies onboard, including the Indian version of Mrs. Doubtfire. In the south it seems that the ideal look for male actors is to be short, fat, sport that John Travolta Grease hairstyle, and of course have a great big moustache. You can tell that they don't have nearly as much of a budget as Bollywood because all the movies look like they were taken with some home video camera, with the fast zooming and panning etc.
The other fun thing about being on public buses were the stares - we sat by the rear door (well, door frame, there wasn't usually an actual door there) and whenever we slowly passed through a town, it was funny to see people's reactions as they noticed we were foreigners, their mouth would go agape and then they would nudge their friends and point us out to them. It wasn't much better on the bus itself, once there was this woman who just stared continuously at us (mostly James) the entire time she was there - about an hour. We should be used to it by now, but it's still quite disconcerting...
So far what we've experienced of Pondicherry is that, sure, there are some French buildings, street names, and plenty of French tourists, but it's still just like anywhere else in India - too many rickshaws, rubbish everywhere, and traffic chaos. We had lunch at a place called (but their website is which was almost like being in another country! The western food actually tasted good, and it has wifi, so that's actually where we're going to upload this from.
The place we're staying at is called 'Ram Guest House', except they mark everything as just 'Ram Guest', which is funny because seems like they're using it as a verb... Anyway, we mostly chose this place because the other budget accommodation are ashrams, which cater to hippies wanting to explore their spirituality... not really what we're after! The owner here asked where we were from, and then said he had been to the Pacific with the French military in the 70s during the nuclear testing, lol. There's quite a few French people staying here and we heard him talking to them in French, which was a bit unusual because he's Indian.
Last night we had dinner at this local place near our guest house, one dosa, a fried rice, and two drinks, very nice, filling, and only costing NZ$2 all together! Tonight we'll probably splash out on some French cuisine (well, I guess an Indian version of French cuisine) and the tax-free alcohol, but it'll still be much cheaper than NZ I'm sure. We'll meet up withDavide, an Italian guy we first met in Hampi, and bumped into again in Ooty, so that should be good. Actually we've talked to quite a few other backpackers in the past week or so, hopefully we'll actually see a few of them again in NZ as well.

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