Live long and prosper..

Posted by on 13, Feb 2024 in 2024 - An Indian Winter, Asia, India, Tilly the Tandem

Live long and prosper..

Leaving Pondicherry on a bicycle at rush hour is an activity only Klingons will truly appreciate. Before jumping on to their Bicycle, Worf would no doubt shout “Today is a good day to die”.

It’s certainly the best attitude to have when cycling here. Once you accept there’s no way you’ll survive this madness you can relax and enjoy it.

To be fair to the local drivers, they all miss each other and although it looks utter chaos to us rule abiding westerners I think they generally know what they’re up to and if you behave like they expect you to – throw yourself into it like a Klingon – then they’ll aim for where you shouldn’t be by the time they pass you.

It reminds us of Egypt and crossing the road. Once you start walking, don’t stop. Just ignore everything and keep walking, you’ll be fine. Stop and you’ll be knocked down with the driver blaming you.

We had stayed in Pondicherry at a fabulous hotel – the staff were amazing, all so kind, helpful and attentive. They guarded Tilly for us and when we went down for breakfast on our first morning were over excited to have special guests staying as we, after our paparazzi chase, had made the newspaper! Needless to say a round selfies with the celebrities ensued when we left. It’s probably the best hotel we’ve stayed at so far here. We loved it and had a lovely couple of days enjoying the French feel of Pondicherry.. and left stocked up with croissants!

So  on the morning we left, we had a bit of a lay in as we only had 30kms to do to get to the old British colony of Cuddalore. Hence we ended up leaving in the rush hour naively thinking that all the traffic would be coming into Pondi.

If you can imagine a motorbike parking bay with 4 or 5 bikes parked abreast, then multiply it infront and behind for miles and miles, then that’s the traffic at rush hour.

The road out is a dual carriageway, so picture us on the inside, your row of motorbikes all passing us on our right, whilst also passing a tuk tuk that has cheekily nipped into a gap between us and the bikes, with a car on the outside, another motorbike, a bus hooting like mad in the ‘fast’ lane for everyone to get out of the way cos he ain’t stopping and that’s about how it is. Oh, I forgot the motorbikes coming towards us on the inside (why use the other carriageway eh?) And the odd dog, some cows and groups of people walking, tea stalls, children waiting for buses, tuk tuks picking up and setting down, cars stopped to answer the phone, get a cup of tea have a snooze and that does just about cover it.

Now throw in a railway crossing with a massive Indian train crawling along and everyone waiting for 10 minutes for the barrier to lift and join battle with the oncoming horde whilst Yelling for King and Country Huzzah and you’ll see why a Kilingon would love it and that the very best you can do is to enter into the spirit of it and not be timid.

Linda was not amused.

We obviously survived and turned off into the countryside and saw another side of this vast country. The fields were being cultivated, tiny combine harvesters were at work and women seemed, like so many countries we’ve visited, to be doing all the back breaking manual work. Despite the heat and effort they all beamed at us and waved shouting ‘Bye’ as we passed.

We loved it.

We stopped for tea, well you have to don’t you.. And I watched my tea boy make my cuppa. What an art that is! He has a child’s fishing net full of tea leaves about the size of a small melon. This sits in a jug full of water. He puts half a glass of hot milk into your cup then puts the net over the cup and puts the stewing water back through the net into you cup.

He then tips the drink from one cup to another about 50cm apart like a cocktail 5 or 6 times making it froth and presumably cool down a bit. Then it’s done. 12p.

Linda, not being a tea drinker, settled for a milkshake from the chiller which had the required amount of sugar in to trigger type 2 diabetes in 4 mouthfuls. They love things sweet here. Very sweet! You won’t find diet drinks in many places.

We arrived at our hotel again way too early, got a room straight away and had to leave Tilly in the car park with a man who guards the car park 24 hours a day.

The town has a ‘western shopping mall” so we popped in to see it. It was 3 floors with about 2 shops on the first 2 floors (it was tiny not deserted) and a food mall of Dominoes, Pizza Hut, Louisiana Chicken, waffle and pancake places and obviously a tea stall and an Indian food stand. We left, though, not having had Pizza Hut for years was quite tempted. It was busy with locals, many of whom couldn’t figure out how to use the escalator. It seemed so straightforward to use, but people stood at the bottom of the escalator and then refused to use it and got the lift.  It’s hard to believe that these people had never seen an escalator in their entire lives.

The next day we only had 50km to go so had another lie in. We think we’ve just about acclimtised to the heat and as long as we aim to arrive by noonish we’ll be fine.

Once out of Cuddalore it was a gorgeous ride with hardly a car all day. We passed through fishing villages and small hamlets, saw kingfishers and in much of the countryside very little litter.

Everywhere you go you get waved at, it helps if you say hello, but people of any age beam with genuine happiness when they see you.

Groups of women generally say “Bye” to our hello and then all crack up once we’ve passed and you can hear them all laughing and chatting – presumably about the mad cyclists.

School children have been the most fun. They wave from motorbikes, their cycles, bus stops and tuk tuks. They laugh and have such huge grins on their faces it really is quite wonderful.

As we passed a school at lunch time break the road was lined with teenage boys – we’d usually be expecting loads of abuse in the UK, but they cheered waved and high fived Linda on the back.

Selfie time is never far away, with even a professor at the local uni joining in. We arrived at our accommodation and were presented with sari like scarves which were wrapped around us as a greeting -, just what you need when you’ve stop cycling! together with a framed photo of the temple we’ve come to see – perhaps they were softening us up for the very hard bed, no towels and only cold water showers … Still, they had a kitchen so it’s Pasta tonight!

The temple was amazing. We visited at Dusk and the 42 acres of temple included 4 huge gates, a lake, the central temple and a wide walkway around the inside of the walls. It’s breathtaking, but sadly photos are not allowed inside. We visited as they were preparing for the prayer ritual and the whole experience of being in amongst the worshippers during this was one of our most unforgettable experiences ever.  Drums beating, processions, priests chanting, music, insence, bells clanging, flower /food offerings to the gods and a elephant all created a amazing  spectacle which we didn’t really understand but felt very privileged to have witnessed.

After all that we were up early again and ready to cycle at dawn for our biggest cycle so far. We managed 40km by 9am to reach out next temple stop and left Tilly loaded up with the car park attendants whilst we had a wander around. The temple is similar in age to Norwich Cathedral and inside we were made to say some ritual words and then were annointed with a white dot on our foreheads. We felt it quite an honour to take part, though again had no idea what was going on! Really must read up on a this…

The rest of the days cycle was far too hot for our liking. We got to about 60km and the sun was blazing away and we were up on a flood bank with no shade for 15km. It was not a pleasant cycle, especially since I was recovering from a bout of Montezuma’s so wasn’t feeling great, but we rolled into Kumbackonam amid total and utter chaos that made even Chennai look organised.

Linda closed her eyes and we plodded on to our hotel, causing traffic at a junction to all grind to a halt as we couldn’t get across them for the volume of motorbikes and when we tried we couldn’t move quickly enough to get across. In the end everything stopped and let us pass, it was that or we’d still be stuck there!.

Exhausted we checked in, drank a small resovoir of water, showered in a cold shower again and went to bed! It’s amazing how much you need to drink. I can easily drink a litre of fluid everytime I stop and never have to have a wee all day. But you probably didn’t need to know that!

4 Comments

  1. We also concluded that the locals do seem to know what they are doing in the traffic chaos, it’s all so reminiscent of our journey, loving reading the blogs. Oh and incidentally your name was spelt wrong in the newspaper write up ????

    • ???? It’s more surprising when it’s spelt correctly! and thanks for the kind words too.

  2. If there was a sniff and smell blog, this is it…. so evocative. You are transported wuth you every pedal of the way. Brilliant and great images too!

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