What a weekend!
As is the usual case here, it doesn’t matter how carefully you plan, how much research you do, or how little you try to leave to chance. It never quite works out how you imagined.
I went to Pondicherry this weekend, it’s a fabulous little town and a real anomaly in that it was a previously French settlement and therefore very different from the surrounding state.
There’s a close tie to the place from an office point of view, one of our team’s grandfather was the first ever Indian pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and was (much later) the Ambassador to France and was involved in negotiating the transfer to Indian control.
It’s an amazing story and well worth a read.
My plan was to get a pre-arranged taxi to take me straight to the resort hotel that I’d meticulously researched and booked online, I gave the company travel desk:
- The name
- The address
- My booking reference
- A map
The car arrived on-time and we started the 150 Km drive to Pondicherry, I spent some of the time on conference calls and the rest of it listening to music, so the trip to the town went quickly.
And an old friend made his first appearance of the weekend.
The driver turned to me and asked for the name of my hotel…
Somewhat taken aback, I gave it to him and he proceeded to stop the car and ask random strangers for directions.
Being a modern and well-prepared Thunderdog, I have a local sim card in a smartphone and had been watching him get gradually more lost on Google Maps.
After he asked me once again for the hotel name, I sort of lost patience and very politely* told him to stop the car, showed him the map and told him where to go.
It was fully dark by the time that we reached there, I gave him less than half the money promised and told him that I’d pay him the balance if he managed to find his way back on Monday.
I then checked into my room and tried to log onto Wi-Fi so that I could catch up with what was happening at work, only to find that the code was ‘expired’ – no worries, I trotted back to reception to get another code, only to find the same issue.
Here’s a little known fact about Indian hotels –
Every. Fucking. Person. On. Reception.
Think that they’re an IT expert.
After demonstrating to the receptionist for a few minutes that every code had the same outcome, I was passed to another old friend.
Yes, the small god of hoteliers had decided to possess the hotel manager at this point, who being more senior, along with being rude and incredibly punchable; decided that the problem was that I was using an Apple device.
After what seemed the whole weekend, I proved to him that his own phone couldn’t log on and he reluctantly reset the server.
I had an indifferent dinner, washed down with one of the two options open to me (beer or vodka) and then.
A thunderstorm happened..
Dramatic and vivid, the rain fell in huge warm sheets and the lightning arced across the sky in flashes of white and purple.
It was glorious and it went on for hours.
And I stood in it and laughed while I got drenched.
The next day, I spent a few hours in the sea was lucky enough to see a pair of eagles overfly the coast and a flock of small swift-like birds and and then travelled to another resort for lunch, washed down with a few vodka martinis or vice versa and then went to Pondicherry in the evening.
I was lucky enough to have met a few people who would share a lot of the day and they took me to an ashram; which for some reason I found to be a sad place rather than peaceful.
The on to a huge bustling temple to Ganesh, the Elephant god; where this poor chap stood outside, prodded by a miniscule handler to take the money from the hands of supplicants and give them a gentle knock to the head.
Inside the temple was noisy and chaotic, gaudy and crowded, I paid for a blessing and only had large denomination notes, so received a bouquet of flowers for some reason; and then sat on the floor and took the sights and sounds in for a while.
It was the most relaxing thing I’d done in ages.
After that, it was time to wander the seafront and watch the locals get on with the serious business of having fun.
The local kids have turned a statue of Ghandi into a slide, in England there’d be health and safety concerns, threats and arrests.
Here there was laughter.
I know what I prefer
After dinner, we trooped back to the hotel and I made the mistake of trying to order a vodka on room service.
Apparently; room service finishes at the same time as the restaurant. – words still fail me..
I spent the bulk of Sunday alone in town and just wandering the streets, it was hot and I think that my clothes may disintegrate in the wash.
It was great though.
Sitting in a coffee shop having a quiet sandwich and milkshake for lunch, I commented that a piece of music was particularly relaxing and nice to listen to.
It was Shiva’s prayer…..
Yep – him again. He seems determined to get my attention until I get to one of his temples at least.
I saw markets and temples, statues and monuments, the sun, sea and sky. I was unbothered during this time and as the day wore into evening; I allowed my gaze and gait to become subtly more intimidating so that I could wander through groups of people and even a quartet of cocky-looking cops made way for me, causing a quiet internal snigger.
At one point, I heard a choir singing and walked to a church at the back of the seafront and stood outside for 30 minutes or so listening to a beautiful service in French before wandering back to a rooftop bar for dinner.
I finished the day with beer and lobster and a fantastic view before promising a tuktuk driver 5 times the going rate if he drove VERY fast to the hotel
I’m still grinning now.
I finished the weekend with a walk along river that parallels the beach, watching the fish troll the fishermen by jumping out of the water just beyond the reach of their nets before heading back to Chennai and the office.
All in all, it was an amazing experience, I managed to track down the CEO of the hotel group, emailed him with some observations and have a promise of a free weekend in any resort in India within their group.
First though, it’s the Bank Holiday Weekend.
And Bangkok – there are three of us booked on a flight that leaves on Friday night with no plan as yet, although we may do the floating market and tiger temple trips, which should fill enough time up with lying by the pool and getting drunk on local beer to make a whole weekend.
* A lie, it started with STOP THE FUCKING CAR!!!!!!!!