Fond of Pondy

Fast forward to India again. From Kandy we had headed south. First to the Udawalawe National Park for a safari amongst the elephants, monkey and birds. It was nice but again it was a bit of a shit fight with the other armada of vehicles. Eventually these seemed to disperse and we were left to wander in relative peace around the park. The park has its problems with the conflict between foraging elephants and the farmers who live around its perimeter. There appears to be some stress on the animals themselves whose opportunities for feeding themselves appear to have diminished. Elephants are large animals who eat a lot and can be a threat to humans when their lives conflict. This has escalated in recent years in Sri Lanka with over 375 people killed by wild elephants and over 1,100 elephants killed by humans within the five years to 2018. I have seen this in Africa before. Often it is the big businesses that own safari parks not really sharing that wealth around. Therefore, subsistence farmers bear the brunt of animal incursions.

From there we went to the southern city of Galle. This gave us an opportunity to have probably one last trip to the beach which was nice. We stayed in the Fort area which was a lovely area based on the old Dutch colony. Certainly, it was a lovely spot. See the pictures here.

Sri Lanka was a pleasant place but I am not overwhelmed but a huge desire to return. I would certainly recommend it to those who find the prospect of India daunting. It is altogether a far tamer and more benign place.

So, from Sri Lanka it was back to India and a flight to Chennai followed by a three hour taxi ride to Pondicherry. I have long wanted to come here. It is the main part of the old French India. There is still some influence left here. The old colonial town, White Town, is lovely, There has clearly been some effort put into restoring the old buildings and to emphasise its Gallic past. The result is rather nice. There are some very tasteful restaurants and boutiques and overall the place is lovely. It has to get a nomination for one of the most pleasant places I have visited in India. The only downside to this seaside town is that it lacks a beach you can swim on. It has a seaside promenade but this faces a sea wall. Notices ban any thought of swimming. We visited the neighbouring new age town of Auroville which I have to say was largely underwhelming. It has a fair presence of westerners with about 40% of the resident population being non-Indian. There some photos of Pondicherry (colloquially known as Pondy) here.

Pondicherry (68) (2)The French had a presence in India for several hundred years. There were apparently a number of reasons for the French withdrawal from India. The areas under French control were disparate and tiny. Times were changing and old-style colonialism was unpopular and outmoded. France had been hammered by the Vietnamese in Indochina and had come to the realisation it wasn’t the power it was anymore. A number of European countries had tried to carve out empires in India with the Dutch being ousted by the British, who appeared to tolerate the longer-term presence of the French and Portuguese. The latter were of course duly kicked out by the Indians in 1961 as their fascist regime had clung on desperately to its colonies until the mid-1970’s. Even the Danish had a few goes but were small and often disorganised. I feel an over-reliance on Wikipedia as a source here but it provides a fairly accurate overall picture.

Pondicherry (258) (2)We needed a new power board and were pointed in the direction of a local department store called Pothys. As we made our way to the electrical section on the fifth floor we passed through a dazzling selection of sarees. They made for a very colourful two floors. Quite a stunning scene. The shopworkers seemed to think it was a bit strange that we were quite taken by it. Obviously, they see it every day. The purchase process following typical red tape laden procedures.   The shop assistant comprehensively tested he power board by taking it out of the package, taking me to another desk and demonstrating that each power socket worked. Not bad customer service. He then typed up a sales invoice and directed me to the payment desk. I duly paid and had the sales invoice stamped four times in two different colours. I then had to go to another desk where another shop assistant officiously grabbed the stamped sales invoice (grabbing bureaucrats and frontline staff are another feature of Indian life), and then stapled the invoice to the plastic bag that was in front of him with the purchased power board. As soon as he had stapled the invoice, he then instantly ripped it off (leaving a hole on the side of the bag) and matched it with another shorter version receipt. He then stamped the two pieces of paper twice each with a blue stamp at dizzying speed and shoved the receipt and shopping bag at me with a look that reeked of resentment. Perhaps I was a little bemused and amused at the whole process at the same time. I was disappointed that he kept the sales invoice with the most colourful stamps on it but you can’t have everything. Red tape is a way of life here. It can be infuriating at times when you are stuck in a needless process but quite entertaining at others. I must admit I kind of preferred Pothys to David Jones or Marks and Spencer. The customer service was attentive and the colour of the place was seductive. The overstocked interior and the armies of sales staff reminded me of older times. I’m not been condescending here. I love these little things that this country throws at you. They come often in the most unexpected places and during the most trivial of tasks.

So, from here we leave the south. First to Kolkata and then even further north to Darjeeling and Gangtok. What a lovely part of India it has been. I haven’t been to Kolkata since 1976 but it was the first place I landed here and so significant as the first time I discovered India.

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