Friday, February 14, 2014

An Indian Road Trip, Part 2 - Pondicherry

By now, you've probably about our recent visit to Kumbakonam, and our short visit to Mahabalipuram a few days later.  There was one more spot on our to-do list, though:  my mom and aunt wanted to show us the city of Pondicherry.  My late father went to medical school there, and it was the first place my mom and dad lived together after they were married in 1965.  I'd wanted to go there since my first visit to India in 1987, so despite the less than ideal circumstances, I was looking forward to going.  Read more about our short day trip after the jump.

It was a little before 1 by the time we left Mahabalipuram, with another 95 km to go before reaching Pondicherry, a stop en route to drop my uncle off at his office, and then a 160 km drive back to Chennai, so we'd have to hurry a bit.  Which is too bad, because we saw another set of ancient temples on our way out of town, and we also had to skip the famous "Sea Temple".
A few miles down the road, we passed through some backwaters leading to the Bay of Bengal.  In addition to a tourist area for the ancient temples, the area around Mahabalipuram is also a popular beach resort for folks from Chennai wanting to get a way for a day or two.  They can't be seen in these photos, but several resort hotels can be found in the area around these backwaters.

Further down, we saw what appears to be an enclave for the very wealthy.

A typical view of the two-lane East Coast Scenic Highway.  The area south of Mahabalipuram is considerable less congested than the section between Mahabalipuram and Chennai, so you can actually make pretty good time.

More beautiful backwaters.  The color contrast of the water here is particularly striking.

Finally, we make it to the outskirts of Pondicherry.  Pondicherry is technically a "Union Territory", an independent jurisdiction from Tamil Nadu which surrounds it (a union territory is similar to the District of Columbia in the United States).  A monument is here to welcome us.

Some things never change regardless of where you are in India, though.  The crowds and chaotic traffic are two such things.
And finally, we made it to our desired destination - the Jawaharlal Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER).

JIPMER is where my dad went to medical school.  It's what's responsible for my dad starting a successful career, coming to the United States, and ultimately making my family's life possible.  RIP, Dr. Sethurama Srinivasan.

On our way to the center of Pondicherry, a cow creates a traffic disturbance.  Well, not really.  It walks into the street, and people just drive around it.  Cows are sacred to Hindus, and as such, are usually given free reign, even when roaming loose in the streets.

We arrive in the old center of Pondicherry shortly thereafter.  Pondicherry was a French colony until 1964, at which time it was turned back over to India.  My dad used to say that French was a required class in his medical school when he started, but the handover to India occurred a few months later, at which time they stopped teaching French.  I don't know if that's true or not, but it sort of makes sense.  Anyway, you can see the French influence in this part of the city - wide, tree-lined boulevards with typical French colonial-style buildings.  Even the street signs are in Tamil and French.  It's almost like being in the French Quarter in New Orleans, without the booze or beads.

We also made a brief stop at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.  It is a place of spiritual worship, but not a church or temple in the traditional sense.  Anyone is welcome to come inside and practice meditation, but it is completely non-denominational.  Photography is prohibited inside, so I could only get this picture of the entrance.
We also made a brief stop at the "beach" before heading back.  I use "beach" in quotations, because unfortunately, the city has replaced the real beach with a seawall full of rocks.  Mom was bummed out, because she was really hoping to walk on the beach like she and dad had done many times back in 1965.  My aunt wasn't sure why the beach was removed, but apparently the same thing has been done in Kanyakumari.

One last building I had to photograph before leaving - the Consulate General of France, a beautiful example of French Colonial architecture.

It was time to head back to Chennai after that so we wouldn't get back too late.  We did see a cool clock tower on the way out of town...

...followed by an OK photo of the sun setting over the backwaters.
It was a tiring day, but the trip was worth it.  We had to make sure to rest well that night, though, as we'd have to make the long flight back home the next day.  Read about that experience in my next post.


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