Four years ago,in September, I took the plunge and embarked on my first solo trip to Pondicherry. I managed to move beyond the French side of the city! Well, this happened by accident and ever since, most of my trips have been unplanned. This gives me to experience a rustic side of a place while traveling.
How do you think the hobo managed to do so on her first solo trip? Read here to find out!
The most risky auto drive- You GO where I take?
“You go where I take?” said the auto driver in broken English driving through the by-lanes of Pondicherry. I was at the mercy of someone I barely knew. He had worn a big gold chain which would give Bappi Da a complex, was cock-eyed and I knew he would rob all my money! I was not judging him for the way he looked, but he also knew I had no place to stay. He knew I was a tourist.
I had looked up on a resort a week ago. It was a fancy tree house. And I, for one, did not bother to call the resort to check the tariff. That is how ignorant I was four years ago when, when I ventured for my first solo trip to Pondicherry.
Back then, I had no internet on my phone. I had scribbled the contact of the resort in a dairy along with some other resorts just for backup. I called the resort and the person on the other side spoke in a heavy south Indian accent. Oh wait! But I was in a French colony! He said, “No Ma’am, we have nothing with the budget that you have. These are luxurious suites.” Damn!
My head told me, it was a bad idea to just set off, without any reservation, without a hotel booking, and that to traveling alone to a city I barely knew, had no relative or friend that I could go to.
In all of this, I let the weird auto driver show me a hotel. It was one of the shadiest hotels he took me to. An old uncle was in his banyan and he had miniature old monk bottles at display at the counter. The place was dimly lit and it was scary with bamboo furniture which I otherwise loved. This was not right! I told the auto driver. No, No not this place! Are you out of our mind? My situation reminded me of the hotel decent from the Indian movie Jab we met. “Just take me to the main road. I told him angrily.” I had two big bags with me. Where would I go alone? How would I find another auto?
Ray of hope
On the main road, I found another hotel- Satya Residency. It had a big idol of a south Indian deity. I heaved a sigh of relief. I, otherwise, who is not religious, just trusted this place. Well, it really seemed like God was showing me the way to a lost place! The owner in his late 40s, told me that a room would be vacated in a couple of hours and I could wait in the lobby till then.
I remembered a friend who had told me that there are many Osho centers in Pondicherry that provided cheap accommodation. No, I am not talking about Auro Ville yet. But when I ventured to one of Osho centres, I was denied a room. The application form that I filled asked me the purpose of my visit. I said I wanted to explore the city. Had I said I wanted to learn about Osho, or find myself I sure would have got accommodation!
The idea of sitting in a café 24/7
I was told by the hotel owner that Rocky beach was a kilometre away and this would be nice way to see the city and relax by the beach. After the tiring day that I had, this seemed the best bet. But it was crowded. I loathed the crowd. At rocky beach, I stumbled upon a café – Le Café, which I read was open 24/7. The place was idyllic with the picturesque view of the sea. This place was everything a backpacker like me was looking for. With the waves gushing by my side, great music, and the company of strong cuppa filter coffee and a brownie, I did not need anything else. I was at the coffee shop till 11 in the night, at times making some doodles on a tissue paper or writing in my notebook. Sure, Pondicherry was a tourist place, but I was not aware of any coffee shop in Mumbai or elsewhere open 24/7. It did say something about the city. Or maybe, I was reading too much, too soon.
Paradise beach and the serenity
It was day two and also my last day in the French colony. I wanted to see something. The hotel guy recommended that I could go to Paradise beach which was quiet isolated. Notice how, I landed up in a city with no planning whatsoever! Most of the times, my travel is unplanned and I let the place and people take me.
Paradise beach, 7km away from the city is along the Cuddalore main road. One needs to cross the Chunnambar backwaters to reach there. Taking a ferry would be the best way and it would cost about Rs 100 in the ferry. The way leading to the beach is picturesque. It is a place where you can just be, soak yourself in the sand and look at the waves passing by. However, the under currents at the beach are strong and it is not advisable to venture deeper into the sea.
There were a few people in the same boat and I did get some weird looks. I was a solo traveler, after all!
I told you so! These words I heard here over and over again!
I reached my hotel to check out and decided to stay at Auro Ville. I had heard so much about the place and wanted to check it out. But I reached late in the evening and I was told that Matrimandir shuts early.
I found a basic shack and a home stay to stay owned by Senthil, a guy in his late 20s. He and his grandmother were my host. He told me this was not a luxurious place, but a basic shack which did not even have air-condition in the room. And I was like that is exactly what I am looking for! To be away from the comforts and enjoy simple pleasures of life.
I wanted to go to the beach and see how it was like. It was already 9pm. He advised me not to venture out on my own. And I, for one did not like that. I told him, I was grown up enough to care of myself. He didn’t say anything. I was thinking to myself, “Here I was at the coffee shop till 11pm, and experiencing the city, and who is he to tell me if it was safe or not. Is he another creep?
But once I reached the shore, I saw a drunk man who made a pass at me. It was isolated and all I could hear was a dog bark. Senthil, who suddenly popped out of no where came to my rescue and became the superhero. He told the guy to mind his own business and yelled at him and told him to back off.
And then he told me- Now you know, why I was told you not to venture out. And I was confused. I told him but when I was at Rocky beach it felt safe. Is it different here, I asked? He said, “The city is not what it was. People just come here to drink and leave empty bottles behind. Booze is so cheap here and that is one of the biggest reason tourists come here. All they want to do is party and spoil the beach.” Hmm, this was true. Talk to any goan and they would tell you how much menace tourists make.
Senthil asked me if I needed any vehicle to be dropped till the bus depot in Pondicherry or if I had booked my bus ticket to go back from Pondicherry to Chennai from where I had to catch my flight back to Mumbai. By now, you should know that I do not plan or pre-book anything! He asked me if I needed help and he could book the tickets for me and I could pay for it. I just told him that I would figure things on my own. Oh-you will manage, he said with a smirk on his face
I had asked an auto driver who dropped me at Auro Ville to come and pick me in the morning at 6.30am. But he was not taking my calls. There were no autos anywhere. I had a flight to catch at 10.30am from Chennai and I was still struggling with a vehicle. And I did not want to take Senthil’s help as he would again prove me wrong! But I had no other option. And again, he said, I told you so! You should have booked a cab or a car! Now, let me see what I can do. Damn it! I hate when I have to hear these three words- I told you!
Anways, so a car was arranged and Senthil, the sweet person he was asked a friend to drop me off at the Pondicherry bus depot which was an hour away. I began talking to him who told me about the city. I even bumped into a famous south Indian tv comedian, while I was in the cab he said the guy was a big television guy.
In the car, I was soaked with my thoughts and thought about the things I had been through. The two days of my trip were full of drama and adventure yet I had one of the best time of my life.
I also made it through my first solo trip!
And how did I feel then? Liberated would be the apt word!
And today, almost four years after my first solo trip, I am writing about it on my very first blog!