My second day in Pondicherry was busy and filled with an eclectic mixture of activities. I didn’t have any particular plans but did want to visit the Aurobindo ashram and to go on a “heritage walk” of the French part of Pondicherry. As it was Sunday many of the shops were closed but that meant we had quieter streets to roam around than usual. By 10AM the sun was already beating down on us with a vengeance but the leafy garden of the Aurobindo ashram provided a cool place for us to observe a few minutes of silence. I knew nothing of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophies or his teachings, and definitely didn’t know much about “the Mother.” During my visit to this ashram the only thing I found slightly uneasy was a room dedicated to various photos of “the Mother” that were for sale. Going through that room made me realize that the small photo on the desk in my room at the guesthouse was of “the Mother” and a larger photo in the dining area was also of “the Mother.” I knew that Datta, the owner of the guesthouse, was an Aurobindo devotee but hmmm, that gave me pause. But this was just the beginning of my encounters with “the Mother” so there is certainly more to come…
Just around the corner from the Aurobindo ashram I came to a large temple and Lakshmi, the temple’s elephant. She stood in front of the temple and with her long trunk, gently tapped the heads of those who wish to receive a blessing from her. I was too timid to actually put my body under her giant limbs but I worked up the courage to get close enough to stroke her trunk. There are some funny photos of my friend Nadia and I holding our hands tight and approaching Lakshmi together, taking baby steps. Thanks to Vijai, Nadia’s husband, for taking those precious photos! While it was a very “Indian” moment for us we felt conflicted about this big animal chained tightly to the platform and her handlers collecting money in front of the temple… We wished her well and walked on.
We went to check out what was advertised as the “Sunday market” but that turned out to be a bunch of vendors who were hawking their wares in front of stores that were closed for Sunday. I have to thank Vijai again for taking some interesting candid photos of me walking down the Indian streets of Pondy, since as a solo traveler I rarely ever get any photos of myself. I guess I’m so used to the way things are here and forget that the streets of India are littered and the crumbling sidewalks can be treacherous. Only when I look at these photos am I aware of how far away from home I am and how foreign I actually appear in these unfamiliar surroundings.
After a nice beverage break at the new and posh café on the top floor of the Hidesign store on Mission street and doing some window-shopping, we met up with Lorena for a pizza lunch. My first pizza in India cannot be compared to what I used to get in New York but it wasn’t bad at all. It did take close to an hour for the pizza to arrive at our table and we could not understand why it would take so long for a thin crust pizza to cook. But we always remind ourselves here that it’s India!
Lorena agreed to accompany me for my “heritage walk” of Pondy so we spent the remainder of the afternoon just strolling. The French side was lined with cobblestone streets and with faded pastel colored walls of colonial houses, I had plenty to look at and take in. We stopped often at small boutiques and shaded gardens, but left enough for me to think that I should return again one day and spend more time there. I decided to walk back to the guesthouse alone and took the path up the beach as the sun slowly set. The beach and the “boardwalk” were packed with Indian families and couples who were enjoying the last light of the day, eating ice cream and getting sticky on pink cotton candy. What more could I have asked for? It was a picture perfect day.