Having left Kathmandu airport early in the morning wearing a fleece, down jacket and gloves, it was pleasant to arrive in the South of India and be able to de-layer accordingly. It is hot here (up to 30°C during the day and early 20s during the night). We flew south from Kathmandu to Chennai with a change at Delhi when I was able to indulge in some retail therapy (window shopping only) when it felt like I was on the UK High Street rather than in Delhi given the presence of Marks & Spencer, Accessorize, Costa Coffee, WH Smith and Hamleys!
First stop Mamallapuram which is a sleepyish village/town with lots of temples, good food and quite a pretty beach on which we spent a pleasant day relaxing and another exploring its sights, in particular its ancient rock temples.
Next stop onto Puducherry (or Pondicherry) the former capital of French India which still boasts many traces of its Gallic heritage in particular the street names, the police men in De Gaulle style kepis and the locals playing boules in the square in front of one of the Catholic Churches. The beachside promenade also has a European feel about it and was also closed to traffic in the evening which was very welcome.
And there was lots of good coffee and pastries available too although we actually stuck in the main to the South Indian food (which we are finding a little more spicy than its Northern counterpart). Delicious.
We also did a side trip to Auroville, the “City of Dawn” 10km north of Puducherry which is a commune inspired by “The Mother”. Its centre piece is the spherical high tech meditation centre but as we were only day-trippers and not members of the commune itself, we were only allowed to view this curious-looking building from the outside.
While no doubt there are many laudable aims of this community, it’s hard not to be a little cynical as there seems to be a large number of well to do French style delis and handicraft boutiques etc that have sprung up around it which on first blush don’t seem to sit too well with an anti-materialistic philosophy. Also, India’s perennial rubbish problem is in evidence here (with litter strewn roads on the way to the centre): again, this doesn’t obviously fit with the commune’s environmental ambitions. That said it was a very peaceful place and certainly something different to see.