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Pondicherry - Nous sommes arrivés

In response to our last blog South India -What's not to like? - we got a message asking us to send you a smell. I had tried hard to do that already. A literary guff. I wanted you to share the bad smell of culture shock.

Happily the smell has changed. We have been in Pondi a week. I am sitting here in the warm sea breeze, on our upstairs open terrace.

Under the woven palm leaf roof, watching the fishermen come in after a gruelling day, it is now a different smell altogether. Todays smell is wonderful. Fresh salinated lime breeze, tinged pleasantly with crab and lifted by the spices drifting from our local restaurant. It's the wonderful fresh working beach smell of the Tamil Nadu coast.

(mending nets on Serenity beach)

The sound director also deserves a mention. The ocean breaking fifty meters away, with the caw of the crows. The chatter wafting up from fishy deals being struck, the background growl of the boat engines, interspersed by the warning toots of the tuktuks on the beach road.

(iPhone video inadequately captures the sound I'm afraid)

We have come to India twice before.

34 years ago we first landed in India not far away from where we are now. We were on our honeymoon. Our Indian experience then started in Trivandrum, Kerala.

Exactly 9 years ago we headed back to India, visiting Goa and Mumbai.

First time, 1989, we went to the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai for two things. First, there was a pharmacy, from where we bought buscopan for stomach cramps. And secondly, because they served Heinz Cream of Tomato soup for the same price as our room had cost for the night, which was the height of homely comfort after a severe bout of dysentery in Goa, and worth every rupee.

In 2015 we stayed at the Taj and dined in the Michelin starred restaurants and I was 20kg heavier but still had mostly dark hair.

(Breakfast at the Taj Palace - 2015)

But the world of time between those two visits didn't stop us, both times, from experiencing the same cultural tsunami that hits on arrival in India. My previous blog shows beyond doubt that even on the third visit, relatively experienced travellers can still get struck hard on arrival. I feel we are nearly over that now.

The point of staying here for a while, is of course, to settle in and have time to soak up this sensory assault. After a week, and despite the continuing assault, it has transformed.

We have been asked "why Pondicherry?". Truth be told, we aren't certain. Perhaps subconscious historical embarrassment lead us to choose one of the only bits of India to have escaped the British Raj and instead suffered under the French.

The Franco-Tamil influences in the town were an attraction, raw India interbred with Parisian grandeur. The lure of French style villas and the quiet of the Central Park and surrounding White Town (French quarter) with its coffee shops and Patisseries played a part.

We wanted to go to a place we hadn't been before and we have travelled the length of the west coast of India. So logic dictated we head East. BA do direct flights to Chennai (formerly Madras) and if you are happy to travel in the back with the hoi polloi it's about £650 return. Importantly, and I cringe as I write this, we have seen The Real Marigold Hotel series. Nasty Nick Cotton as a heavily dyed but plausible old buffer, Blowers my dear old fruit, and hilariously Paul Chuckle, do India together. That was set in Pondi.

Tamil Nadu is a predominantly dry state. Pondi is an oasis of alcohol. We are known pre-contemplative heavy social drinkers. You decide why we are here.

And, now we are here, it's absolutely clear we have almost accidentally made an incredibly good decision.

We introduced some structure to our days by signing up to 4 weeks of early morning yoga training. Meandering afterwards to our favorite breakfast spot. Enjoying some typical touristic orienting tours. But mostly, we are just living here. Shopping for food. Getting photos printed. Having dreadful baggy hippy trousers altered at the local tailor. Looking for new specs at £50 a pair, buy one get one free. Going to the chemist for antacids. Meeting locals and getting invited into their homes for tea. Building a bond with the delightful lady on our beach who marinates and spices and cooks fresh fish for us at her beach shack. Being scared shitless, and then getting completely accustomed to the terrifying tuktuk journeys to and from our beach side villa. Blissfully sitting on our terrace and being shocked that another three hours have slipped away and it's time for tiffin. Soaking up the sounds and the smells. Going into our home and closing the door and getting away from it all under the ceiling fans.

(my mate the tree locust, just eyeballing me)

Selvi in shack 7 cooking for "my brother and my sister"

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David Price
David Price
Feb 11

Smell received, thank you. As was the explosion of colour and wall of sound. Love it all. Great digs too btw.

Interesting throwback thread to your previous visits to India featuring upset stomachs. My theory is that the widespread adoption of the internet among Indians has helped to improve food hygiene. I’ve eaten widely from street kitchens, veg and non-veg without a single hitch. Jane puts it down to daily Mango Lassi, me to Kingfisher Strong!

Keep them coming! Xx


Feb 11

Yes take up writing in your retirement Mick! Vicariously enjoyed your latest post and admire you both for taking the plunge… although that’s not how you see it!?.. nothing of any interest back here in Blighty so enjoy every moment! Xx


Feb 11

How many times do I have to tell you Mick….write a book..!!! So descriptive it feels like I’m there, but hat’s off to you both, I’m kinda pleased I’m not. That being said, I have no words to describe the admiration I have for you both. Most of us (ourselves included) dip our spoon in the soup for a taste before we move onto a different course…you guys have stripped off and jumped in the bowl. Already looking forward to the next instalment. Love from us both. x

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