Awake at 5:45am for our 6:30am train to Pondicherry. A pre-dawn walk through the streets of Trichy with our backpacks allowed us to watch the city come slowly to life. Street vendors were opening for business, sweeping the ground immediately in front of their shops to produce small squares of clean in a sea of filth; around coffee and chai stands, crowds of people stood in the clouds of steam, chattering over small glasses of hot, sweet milk; office workers waited by the side the road, briefcases in hands, waiting for a bus to work.
Once on the train we settled into our seats and bought a couple of cups of coffee from the wallah. I had a flick through The Hindu, the national English language newspaper, and Spykey dipped into our little bag of snacks. Our first train ride, we spent a lot of time watching the country fly past through the window. After about an hour I taught Lisa how to play Gin Rummy and it looks to be a promising time killer for us.
Changing trains in Villupuram, we bought a couple of samosas between platforms. An hour later we arrived in Pondicherry, although I was initially confused by the huge “Welcome to Puducherry” sign and I resisted Lisa’s assurances that we had arrived at our destination. I am now fully aware of the city’s alternate name; I acknowledge and accept your shit-giving in advance.
We hopped a rickshaw to a potential hotel but found it to be full. A brochure from the Department of Tourism gave us a list of hotels and I set off to go find something suitable while Spykey sat by the Bay of Bengal with our backpacks. As I walked through Pondicherry inland from the beach I was shocked after walking for about five minutes by the quite sudden transition from calm French-style streets, buildings and atmosphere, to more typical Indian anarchy in the space of one block. A small north-south canal divides the city into two rough halves, with the east side a bit like a theme park, catering pretty openly to tourists, and the west side being where the locals are more likely to be found. The whole city is fairly touristy, however, with Lisa and I spotting more fellow foreigners in two minutes here than we did in two days at Tiruchirappali.
I headed back to the beach to find Spykey after booking into the hotel and rescued her from a lovely, harmless but persistent Indian man who had an insatiable desire to chat. Lisa said he wanted to talk about spirituality but got the hint when she didn’t. An Indian Jehova’s Witness, if you will. We walked back to the hotel, dropped our bags, and headed straight out to eat.
Walking through the west-side streets we were struck by how much more affluent this town is than Trichy. It’s obvious,when you think about it, but still an interesting contrast. There are large, shiny shops selling clothes, bicycles, electrical goods, everything. Lots of tourists, for sure, but mostly still serving the locals. We had an underwhelming meal at the best looking place we could find and – sure enough – found a bunch of much better looking places within five minutes of leaving.
After an hour’s stroll through the streets and the waterfront we retired to the hotel to rest for a bit. Our portable clothesline found itself strung from window bars to coat hook on the back of the door, bearing the underpants, socks and t-shirts that I washed in a bucket in the bathroom. Damn fine job, too.
Heading out for dinner I had some pretty nasty heartburn going on and about a 15% NQR feeling in my stomach. I bought some heartburn tablets and crossed my fingers. We ate a great meal and went out for a walk but I had to call it off and go back to the room where I did some awesome projectile vomiting and slept poorly due to nausea and an extremely mild fever for about 12 hours.
If this is the backpacker version of the “seasoning” that colonists to British America had to go through, then consider me seasoned.