Easter long weekend, a sense of adventure, and a hankering for some good dahl — what more reason do you need to book a trip to India?
I must admit, I’d always been apprehensive about going to India. It’s a huge, diverse, intense country, a place that can initially seem daunting to even think about planning a trip for. But more than anything else, I always had a fear of catching food poisoning in India. Horror stories abound amongst travellers about being horrifically ill in India. After my personal experience with food poisoning in Myanmar, I was very very wary of this risk.
But my old flatmate Lisa adores India and spent a couple months there solo recently doing a yoga certification retreat in Goa. There were several others interested in a weekend trip as well, but the icing on the cake was that my friend Subir, who’d moved back to Delhi after a couple years in Singapore, was willing to meet us wherever in India we decided to go. This was shaping up to be the perfect way to dip my travel pinky into this melting pot and get a small taste of India.
We decided on Pondicherry, since no one in the group had been before. The only thing I really knew about Pondicherry was from Life of Pi — wasn’t he from Pondicherry?
Pondicherry was actually a French colonial settlement. The bougainvillea and charming houses in the core historic part certainly reminded me of Hoi An — another former French settlement. I will give it to the French — they leave a lot of charm and beauty in their trail. Even in Shanghai, the French Concession area is the most beautiful and interesting, to this day.
We landed in Chennai and stayed one night at the luxurious Westin before heading South to Pondicherry by car. The best part of the Westin was the huge breakfast buffet. The feasting started right there and we hadn’t even left for Pondicherry yet.
Six girls + a pseudo-local (Subir doesn’t even speak the same language as the locals in the South since he’s from Delhi) = The Pondi Seven, as we dubbed ourselves. The agenda for the weekend mostly included eating, shopping, more eating, exploring, oh and more eating!
- The amazing breakfast dosa at our adorable hotel. The masala filling was truly exceptional. I woke up a bit later one day and they ran out of the filling…it was a devastating way to start the day. Another highlight of breakfast was browsing through the matchmaking section of the Hindu Times whilst having coffee. It ticked all the cliches of Indian matchmaking I had in my mind. The blurbs are full of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes from good families, Harvard educated, etc. etc. Clearly written by parents or hired matchmakers.
- Auroville. Have you ever heard of Auroville? I certainly hadn’t. In fact, everyone in our group was quite mind-blown by this “utopian town” that was created in the sixties. It was a huge experiment. None of us had heard of it before. Clearly my circle needs expand to include more hemp-wearing hippies. The grandiose concept never took off as expected, though there are still individuals living in Auroville today. The town was master planned and in the centre is a structure known as the Matrimandir. Since none of us knew about this town, we didn’t know to plan in advance and book tickets to go inside the structure. Instead, we rode bikes around the city, which felt a bit post-apocalyptic with empty buildings and streets. Fascinating.
- The food — With regards to Indian food, I think my preference is for South Indian food, which tends to feel a little lighter. I first realized this on my Sri Lanka trip where I also took a cooking lesson. My favourites are dosas and thalis, which are a variety of dips and curries served in little dishes, together with some type of bread, all on one platter.