I always knew India was going to open my eyes and challenge me in ways I’ve never experienced before, but I don’t think anything can quite prepare you for the first 24 hours you spend in India for the very first time. The traffic seems to be organised chaos. There’s the constant noise of car horns sounding all around you. The first time you attempt to cross a road taking your life what seems into your own hands. And then there’s the smells, people urinating and spitting on the streets while cows roam freely feeling completely at home in a major city.
As I started to come to grips with these new senses and my surroundings in a country that was about to become my home for the next two months, it was a welcome change after spending my first three days in the city of Chennai, that some calm and normality began to creep in when I headed out of town. I spent three nights in the city Puducherry (formerly know as Pondicherry) which has the quant French Quarter located by the sea. It was a beautiful part of the city, where I wandered for hours up and down the streets admiring its architecture and buildings.
On the drive to Puducherry I stopped off at Mamallapuram and visited ancient ruins at Mamallapuram Hill, Five Rathas and the Shore Temple which survived the 2000 Boxing Day tsunami. If I had more time I could have happily spent a night there, but I had plans to meet a friend in Bangalore and I could only spare the day.
A great place that you must visit if you’re intending to go to Puducherry is Auroville, located 12km out from the city. It’s an international community that’s been created around peace, harmony, sustainable living and the divine consciousness. There is no set religion, no currency and everyone works together to build the community. The impressive Matrimandir, a place for peace, quietness and contemplation is the soul of Auroville. It’s located in beautifully manicured grounds (which are still being completed) and it’s a lovely 1km stroll from the visitors centre. When visiting make sure you try the organic coffee at Dreamer’s Cafe and eat the organic food produced from the area in the main cafe. The food was excellent, clean and delicious.
There are two boutiques on site, beautifully laid out selling products all produced from Auroville. Clothing with organic cottons and silks, skincare, candles, incense, and beautifully crafted children’s toys were just some of the delights on offer. Unfortunately I didn’t know until I arrived, that if you book a day or two ahead you can actually go inside the Matrimandir. It would have been amazing to do so. The closest I could get was to meditate in front of the grand structure in its beautiful calm and peaceful surroundings, which was nice to be able to do.
If you’re planning a trip to Tamil Nadu, make sure you have Mamallapuram, Auroville and Puducherry on your list, you won’t be disappointed. Book well ahead for accommodation in Puducherry if you want to stay in the French Quarter, unfortunately all the great places I wanted to stay in were booked and I ended up having to stay in the city as it was over a weekend. It’s a popular destination for a city break with locals living in Chennai and I can understand why they are lured to spend time in this great area.
Images: Fujifilm XT100