Dadu Aur Madak

Once again we had stayed somewhere we had visited more or less as an afterthought much longer than we had intended. Getting to Pondicherry was seeming more important with Christmas approaching and the possibility that we might be scrounging the last of the available rooms. Our itinerary was again influenced by what we could peal off in one day. The first place of any size that was within a our comfort zone in terms of riding was Anantapur. Although a big town, its lack of tourist status left us guessing about lodging. Unfortunately we guessed wrong. Let's just say we weren't the room's only inhabitants. We made an early departure, and headed to our next stop for which we at least had some info.
Tirupathi is a fair size center for Indian pilgrims who have come to visit nearby Tirumali. Tirumali is home to the Venkateshwara Temple, said to be one of the most visited temples in the world. Lonely Planet says, "There are never fewer than 5000 pilgrims at any one time--in a single day the total often reaches 100,000---...  Temple staff alone number 18,000..." If the number of people that we saw approaching was any indication those numbers are totally possible. For the last 100 kilometers before Tirupathi the roadside was full of white and yellow clad pilgrims, the majority of them barefoot, walking in clusters of anywhere from two to fifty. It is said that the 15 kilometer climb up the hill to Venkateshwara is often performed barefoot, but many of the people we saw had extended that practice to include the whole journey. It is also the custom apparently for pilgrims to give their hair as an offering, and a gesture of humility, and in the town of Tirupathi hundreds of men, women, and children walked around bald headed.
Tirumali handled the mass of pilgrims in dormitory style rooms with mass feedings both of which are free of charge. Tirupathi, however was for the bit more "upscale" Indian pilgrims, with a number of equally upscale hotels. We however were still in the motoring mode, and India's east coast was near.

We were deliberately skipping Chennai and heading for a little place between Chennai and Pondicherry that we had heard about from our Australian friends in Hampi. Mamalapuram is a nice little fishing village with a laid back, mostly European, tourist scene. This was going to be our last chance to kick back a little before getting to Pondicherry, but it began to drizzle about three seconds after we arrived. Within an hour it was pouring, and continued pretty much for the next 48 hours. It seems there was a cyclone warning in the Bay of Bengal and it whipped the seas into a frenzy and filled the air with salty mist. Above, fishing is shut down, and a few men still scramble among the boats tying things down.

Also shrouded in mist, the shore temple (above left) is all but deserted, while a lone fisherman right hurries along the beach with a watchful eye to the sea. Other than the few snaps above, the weather kept us for the most part confined to our room. On the third morning there was a small blue patch in the sky and we took the opportunity to bolt for nearby Pondicherry.

Pondicherry, a former French protectorate, is still very much divided by ethnic lines. The elegant Governor's Palace (left) and the meticulously groomed Parc across the street were just down the street from our guesthouse on Rue Dumas. The area made up of the first half dozen or so streets that parallel the sea is referred to by guidebooks as the "French Quarter", and not too secretly as "White Town" by locals. The area was particularly spic and span in that our visit coincided with a visit from India's President. Each day one or the other streets within this area was cleared and cordoned depending on what his plans were for the day.

On the day they cleared our street for his motorcade, a gendarme rang my bell at 6:00 am and said our bikes had to be moved. I was feeling obstinate, so I said my wife was sleeping and if he wanted them moved he would have to push them. Seeing him push both of them more than a block down while I did little more than steer them kind of made up for being wakened so unceremoniously.
Well, for those of you paying attention, the first half of this page about Christmas week in Pondicherry got put up incomplete on January 17th. Here it is February 1st and I am just now getting around to the second half. My only excuse is that for the final month of our trip we entered "beach mode." Below are a few more thoughts about Pondicherry

We had first begun to see frequent use of the above style of designs in Hampi. The designs are meant to welcome visitors to one's home. Each morning the woman of the house would sweep the street in front of her door stoop with a small hand broom. She would then sprinkle water by hand to moisten the street so the chalk would adhere. The pattern or design changed daily. Most designs are done in simple white chalk like the two above. Above left, these two ladies form the base pattern by dripping powdered chalk from between their fingers onto the damp street. At right above is one that is done double line using the same method. Bottom, for Christmas the designs become more elaborate and more colorful.

The south of India has a decidedly Christian influence, and Pondicherry gave us our first real taste of it. Some estimates put christians at as much as ten percent. On Mission Street, about the center of the transitional zone between "white town" and the rest of Pondicherry, this girl sells figurines for nativity scenes across from the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. At right, the church is lit in the evening in Christmas spirit.

While Pondicherry didn't really have a beach there were nice beaches about 15 minutes north and south of the city. Above, the beach at Chunnambar is about 8 kilometers by road, and then another three by boat down a river. The beach is actually a wide sandbar and the men above left fish in the fresh water side. At right on the other side of the bar we see Indian women enjoying the ocean. We had seen women bathing in rivers and lakes with their clothes on, but this is our first experience of women at the seashore. Even the more modern Indian girls that where jeans and western clothes go in with their clothes on. Men will go in in their underwear.

So anyway, will wrap up Pondicherry and Christmas with some cute young men dressed as Hanuman (Hanumen?, bad joke), some cute puppies, and sweet stuff at a relaxing roof top restaurant. I don't know how much more Christmas-y I can get.