Mahaballipuram, Pondicherry & Auroville, India

May 5 - 18, 2009

My photos of Mahaballipuram (also called Mamallapuram) can be viewed here.

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My photos of Pondicherry can be viewed here.

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My photos of Auroville can be viewed here.

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All my India photos can be viewed here.


NY Times article about Pondicherry

Surya Swastika



After a lengthy time at the post office, I had the auto rickshaw driver drop me off at the ECR (East Costal Road) so I could catch the bus to Mamallapuram. It was around 3pm at this point and luckily a bus was already stopped there when we arrived, so I didn’t have to stand around in the heat. I even got the last seat on the bus so I didn’t have to balance myself in the aisle and hang on tight as the bus honked and weaved wildly between all the traffic. Buses in India are frightening things and the drivers don’t stop for anything! As they overtake slower trafic (pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, cows), they weave wildly into oncoming traffic, barely escaping head on collisions (sometimes with other buses or large lorries) and making you feel as if you may die at any moment. The police often place large road blocks at various intervals as an attempt to force drivers to slow down. But this proves to be even more hazardous. If the buses don’t slow down for moving objects and people, they obviously aren’t goign to stop for stationary, inanimate objects. So they just weave around all the barriers at high speeds, alarmingly close to tipping over. Anyway, it was a relatively short bus ride (like an hour and a half), but it felt longer because I was surrounded by a bus full of men staring at me. I just stared straight ahead and pretended not to notice. But even though everyone stares at you (it’s hard to avoid this), most people will help you out if you seem to need it. Several people leaned over to let me know when we had reached my stop.

Auto rickshaw drivers were already waiting at the bus stop ready to whisk me away to the destination of my choice. It was only a 2km walk into town, but it was really hot and it only cost 30 ruppes (less than $1) to hop into a rickshaw. Once in town, I was ready to plop into whichever hotel I found first (as long as the price was right). I expected to have to bargain for my room price, but when I arrived at Ramakrishna Lodge, the man said my room would be 100 rupees but they were offering discounts since it was the low season and there weren’t any tourists. My room looked like the typical budget hotel room (basic and kinda dirty, with a mosquito net, single bed, and cold water shower). I had my own sheets, so it worked fine for me. Unfortunately I didn’t check out the fan power (essential when it’s about 110 outside and there are lots of mosquitoes), and after a few miserable nights of sleep, I had to move out.

Saw tourist streets (where I stayed) but also saw Indian areas (better food, but people not always so used to tourists, so they can be abrupt and unsmiling).

Found sweet woman to teach me how to cook. Went there two days and one day her son took me on his motorbike to see the tiger temple. Found a guy to teach me how to carve pendants out of soft marble.

Made friends with man who owned fisherman’s restaurant on the beach. Absolutely no business and he usually rents an apartment over his restaurant during tourist season. But because no tourists, he offered it to me for the same price I was paying for the crappy hotel room. I basically had my own house (living room, bedroom, shower, kitchen, upstairs porch overlooking the water) all to myself for only 100 rupees a night. I probably could have stayed here for a few weeks, but had to move on.

Kashmiri shops and friendly people (some of which were too friendly).

Finally left for Pondicherry and the bus was full so I had to stand in the aisle and hang on to the bars. It’s scarier to be standing in the middle because then you get to witness how often your bus comes within inches of head-on collisions. Indian drivers are notoriously reckless. But because they also seem to have faster reflexes than normal people, they generally manage to avoid major accidents. After a few hours of standing and swaying with the bus, a man stood up and insisted that I take his seat by the window. I politely refused at first, but he insisted. I was happy to have the seat. I could look out the window and stop paying attention to the traffic in the front of the bus and all the people staring at me.

When I arrived in Pondicherry, I hopped into a tuktuk and quickly selected a random hotel name from my guidebook. When we got to the hotel, the only rooms available were overpriced double rooms, so I picked out another hotel: Surya Swastika. It wasn’t bad for the price (120 rupees). Got some mosquitoes – not sure how they got inside.

Spent one day wandering around. Think a guy tried to grope me, but not sure because street was so crowded. Found nice places to eat. Miserably hot. That night, met Dev from Rajasthan. Walked along waterfront in Pondicherry with all the families, had some lemon soda, went with him to the Ashram and the Ganesh temple. Next day, walked around some more and met with Illivarasan (friend I made in Mamallapuram). We ate at his friend’s place Le Space. Next day, went to Auroville beach and hung out at night.

Bought nightdress and wore it out in public all day. Wasn’t sure that’s what it was until my friend informed me. Next day, hung out with Illivarasan’s friends in Auroville (one of which was super creepy).

Next day, really wanted to leave but couldn’t because elections were going on and everything was closed (including ATMs). Couldn’t even find a place to eat except for at a fancy hotel. 1 day would have been enough, but I stayed in Pondicherrry way too long.

Spent some time with Couchsurfer, Girish, in Auroville. At last minute, decided to call him. Was feeling down, so thought it would be good to meet someone, but also didn’t want to come across as too needy. I was overwhelmed and kinda just wanted a place to regroup before going off on my own again. Lukily his place was perfect for that. He picked me up from the bus station on his motorbike, showed me around, and dropped me back off at the bus station when I was ready to leave. We stayed up night after night talking and I ended up staying at his place a few days. Went to the beach and hung out at art cafe (Kofibar) run and frequented by CSers. Place next door sold excellent Indian thalis. Lots of environmentally minded people in Auroville, but almost all foreigners. Not even much Indian food around (lots of pizza instead). Good projects going over there, but didn’t feel at all like India.

Sexual harrassment is commonly referred to as “Eve teasing” and many Indians consider it to be socially appropriate. Most girls who are in India long enough have to deal with groping, “eve teasing”, or some form of sexual harassment.

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