19 October 2012
For weeks we’ve been dreaming of Pondicherry. A beautiful city on the east coast of India and a former French colony, Pondicherry sounded quiet, blissful and utterly relaxing, a perfect weekend to even out our usual insane, high-energy weekends. Better yet, the drive (by car) is only 5 hours, very short by Indian standards. It was a small group too, which for traveling here is always better. It was just going to be myself, my flatmate K, our friend L, and our close Indian friend, A, whom we’ve had some of the best adventures with this semester.
As he did the typical Indian thing, canceling at the very last minute from driving us there, leaving us to book bus tickets just a day before, then rescheduling and making an impromptu decision to just drive there later in the afternoon to meet us, we got slightly more nervous that he would ever even show up. It really is simpler to have an Indian with you everywhere you go, especially when traveling. Most Indians do speak English, and most speak it very well, but it seems to happen that the one person (the bus driver, or your waiter) who doesn’t speak it is the one you need to communicate with. Usually hand signals, body language and broken English will get you where you need to go, but it definitely has mixed results. We must’ve gotten into a dozen rickshaws and ended up somewhere completely different from where we wanted to go and I can’t count the number of times that I’ve ordered food and ended up with something 100% different (“Gobhi Manchurian with Naan please!” “Ohh, look, Tikka Masala with Roti”). Point being, it’s easier when you have an Indian along.
Just as we were about to book our final bus tickets, A calls and tells us that actually, he needs to go to Chennai, a city 3 hours north of Pondi. He says he feels bad for backing out and would love for us to come with him to Chennai on Saturday and on Sunday, we’ll all drive down the beautiful East Coast Road to Pondicherry. Sounds like a plan and we’ll be saving money on a hotel since we’ll be staying with A’s cousin, D, on Saturday night.
Just a quick note on Indian hospitality. It’s great. Whenever you have a chance between staying with people you know (or even ones you don’t) and staying in a hotel, always pick the people. We arrived at the bus station before Abhishek had even arrived and Deepak picked us up, drove us back to his (stunningly beautiful) apartment and fed us like queens. As we quickly found out, D is a professional cricket player, an equivalent in India to being an NFL star. And as we found out later on in the weekend, he’s also a prince of Rajasthan, making he and A members of the royal family. (They showed us a picture of their “family house”, also known as, y’know, A PALACE). It was absolutely surreal.
A finally showed up and since it was his birthday weekend we all (my group, A, a girl friend of his, R, plus D and 4 others from Chennai) went out to a really nice club to go dancing, requesting songs for him (Oppa Gangnam style obviously has incredibly universal appeal, and is his favorite) and buying him birthday drinks, etc. It was actually a fantastic club, with a great DJ and balconies that overlooked each other and the dance floor, as well as a fantastic restaurant where we went and had an entire buffet with phenomenal Western and Indian food.
One thing I need to mention really fast – Indians can DANCE. All of them. Men, women, they all dance like Bollywood stars. And they love it. The men aren’t terrified of having two left feet and get down with each other equally often as with women. It’s so fantastic to be part of a dance floor where it’s not JUST people grinding (though a fair bit of that happens as well, especially as the night wears on…).
On the way back to D’s house, L, one of their friends, drove us and took us for quite the ride. Turns out he used to be a professional race car driver and currently races motorcycles competitively. I don’t want to think about how fast we were going down those Indian roads, filled with rickshaws and bikes and motorcycles, but I’m pretty positive we clocked 100kph, swerving, stopping at a moment’s notice and basically terrifying everyone in the vicinity.
The thing about driving in India is that there aren’t really any rules. Police is broken into three branches and the Traffic Police are really the only ones that would ticket you for anything. The likelihood of them ticketing you is virtually unheard of too, so traffic laws are really much more like guidelines that no one follows. Because of this, and because of the sudden appearance of really nice cars that can actually drive super fast, there are roads, MAJOR HIGHWAYS, that have normal speed limits (equivalent roughly to 60mph) but literally have speed bumps every 2 kms., which on a bus, is the MOST frustrating thing in the world.
The entire weekend went very unaccording to plan, with A, D and their friends deciding FINALLY on Sunday night to go to Pondi, but instead of a relaxing time at the beach, they made their own plans and drove us to a resort NEAR Pondi.
We were getting frustrated and some of the others were near the end of their rope when we finally asked the girl, R, what was going on. She explained that they were just trying to impress us, and wholeheartedly didn’t understand why we would want a relaxing weekend at the beach when we could have a fancy, exciting stay at a resort with a pool instead. It’s hard to describe how everything got so miscommunicated, but it was also that we were stressed about the money it would take for us to with them to all of these fancy restaurants and huge resorts. She laughed at us, saying that they were paying for everything – in India, if you are making decent money, and invite people to do ANYTHING with you, you expect to pay for the whole sum of it. As she put it, “You don’t ask your friends to pay for having a good time with you”. This also explained A’s birthday on Friday night, where none of us were allowed to pay for anything, and everything, food and drinks, were put on his tab. It seemed unfair at the time, like they were punished for having a party, but it’s all about reciprocation I suppose. We reciprocate by buying friend’s gifts on their birthdays, they reciprocate by buying friend’s gifts on their own birthday.
The whole weekend was super luxurious, and we did finally make it to the ocean (the Bay of Bengal) on Sunday on our return to Chennai to get a bus. It was the warmest, most beautiful ocean I’ve ever been too. I can only hope that our upcoming holiday weekend/week (until Oct. 30th) in Mumbai will be equally as lovely. Two coasts and two oceans in one week. What else is new?