Friday, February 11, 2011

India part 12: Pondicherry and Auroville

After a lurching four-hour bus journey from Ooty, during which I saw a hotel called "Hotel Cheap and Best" - say what you mean, guys! - we stopped in Coimbatore for some food in a disastrous restaurant where they didn't have any steamed rice (only egg fried rice - in India!), Sarah was accidentally served a meat dish (some of which she unknowingly ate) and the air conditioning was so freezing, I was worried we'd wake up in the year 2195 with only Michael Jackson and Walt Disney for company. The waiter actually asked for a tip at the end. "Not this time, I'm afraid," I chortled.

The food wasn't all that bad, though, and once that business was over with, we hopped on a local bus for about half an hour to get to an obscure railway station nearby called Podanur Junction. You really prove yourself as a Proper Traveller taking local buses in India: the best technique for locating your ride is to stomp around the bus stand ignoring the stench of piss and repeating the name of your destination with a rising inflection to as many people as possible until you're so sick of the sound of the place you're trying to get to you want to give up and go home. And if one of the people you ask happens to be a drunk or a simpleton, you just have to make sure you ask enough sober or sane-looking people to redress the balance. Often the temptation is to give up and get an autorickshaw instead - but if you succeed on finding the right bus, you're rewarded by incredibly cheap fares, half a buttock's seat room, and long, meandering conversations with the locals. On this one, Sarah met a sweet young guy who worked in a clothing factory and dreamed of becoming an Oscar-winning film director. Awww.

Referring to my diary, it seems I wrote nary a thing about Pondicherry and Auroville, but I remember eating lots of quite pricey food and enjoying walks along la tres belle promenade (the town is a former French colony) while small children tried to get Sarah to buy purses. I also had a couple of conversations in very bad French with two old locals, one of whom called me a liar when I told him I didn't speak the language and then dropped in an au revoir at the end (bit harsh, non?). The other guy was blind and told me a story about "la guerre" which I didn't understand.

Ah, yes, and how could I forget this? We saw a Mollywood film star! Mollywood - not to be confused with US journalist Molly Wood - is what they call films in Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala. Fact fans, prepare yourself for a treat: Malayalam is also the only language named with a palindrome. I once tried to explain this incredibly interesting titbit to a friend and clearly didn't do a very good job, because they initially thought I meant every word in the language was a palindrome. This is most certainly not the case, and would be utterly barmy. Anyway, here he is: Mammooty!

Cameraman

Malayalam cinema star Mammootty

And this is him on Wikipedia, if you don't believe. Arguably just as cool was this guy:

Just reading my book

And this guy:

Temple elephant

We also dropped by the utopian town of Auroville, which is best known as "the place with the giant gold golf ball", no disrespect intended. [Subs, please copy-paste some paras about Auroville from Wikipedia, thnx.]

Auroville

Equally remarkable for me was this amazingly green moss. Probably just an alien lifeform plotting to take over the Earth, though.

Moss

Then we were, in the words of Jay-Z featuring Swizz Beatz, on to the next one, heading to the local bus stand to try our luck again, and making sure we didn't drop any crisp packets on the way out, because this rather fatalistic sign was already very angry at us.

Agressive

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