Tamil Tales is a series of experiences from my recent backpacking trip to the state of Tamil Nadu (TN). Hoping you would enjoy the journey as I take you through the inner echoes on outer experiences
Looking through the window at the dark sky and a few twinkling stars I guess I dozed off feeling a cool breeze against my face. I woke up in Puducherry – the 5th Union Territory that I was visiting! It was early morning at 4.45 am; still in ‘waking up mode’ as I got off the bus. While I was still rubbing my eyes to shoo away the sleep, a few Auto-Annas gathered around me hoping for a ‘sawari’. Now it was the need of the hour to reboot my brain without a cup of chai as there was a big task ahead – communicating – explaining to them my destination and at the same time negotiating on fare, all this in a mixed language. One of them came forward and the conversation went like this:
Auto-Anna: Madam, where? Me: (Showing hotel address on the phone) Here
Auto-Anna: Aaan, ok Me: (puzzled) How much? (gesturing money with my index finger and thumb)
Auto-Anna: (murmured something; then discussed amongst others best price to charge)
Just as he was about to say something; the other one came and asked me to show him the phone and address. I did. They again started discussing this time over the address I guessed. Meanwhile, my brain instructed me to look for a tea stall, immediately my eyes spotted one, and without me knowing my legs started walking towards it. At times it is amazing to notice oneself and such coordinated body movements in the third person 😊 Don’t judge me for having tea in South India! Morning tea is much needed no matter in which part of the world I am! The first sip of chai gave the correct hit and the rest followed. By the time I reached the group of Auto – Annas they seemed to have reached a consensus on the address and fare to be charged. This time different Anna came and told the fare.
Me: (without knowing what would be the reasonable fare to be very honest; like any typical middle-class person would do) What Anna? Too much ha. I’m new here so asking for more money or what?
Anna: Madam, early morning time. Hotel too far.
Me: (after quoting what I thought would be reasonable) Okay? If not, then I will take the bus (pointing at the bus stand nearby)
Anna: (I’m sure he must be smiling at my ignorance) added 20 bucks to the fare I quoted and started pulling the rick
Me: (finally as if I sealed the million-dollar deal) unloaded my luggage in the rick (fact is, I was so tired that if he would have stretched it for a bit more, I would have agreed to go at his original fare)
I had booked the hotel going by online reviews; usually, they have turned quite well so far. However, this one turned to be bizarre, the locality itself didn’t give good vibes. I was thinking to myself what to do, reading my thoughts Auto-driver said- “Madam, this area no safe. Away from main city; all sightseeing places away” I started looking for other options; anyway I had just booked this one and not yet paid. The driver said – “you female, I know other good hotel. Male passengers this hotel ok”. So he was suggesting to me another good hotel which was near the main area and where I could get bikes on rent to roam around. I decided to trust him and it was a good decision. After freshening up, I stepped out to explore around, rented a funky orange color Vespa. Roaming in Pondy on a two-wheeler gave a bit of a Goa feel. I visited Sri Aurobindo Ashrama place for spiritual seekers. Formed in the memory of Aurobindo Ghosh – a freedom fighter and spiritually evolved person. After that took round around the French colony, spotted a couple of cafes to visit during the evening. And then, took a route for Auroville- a universal city shared between the state TN and the union territory Pondy. The distance from Pondy to Auroville Is of around ~12kms and the drive on the ECR route is amazing!!
Auroville is an experimental township. As the motto reads “it wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”
The moment you enter Auroville you realize there is something different about this place. The aura of Auroville; the energy in this place is beyond comprehension. This is the place where every human is treated as equal – no religion, no racism, and no status nothing. Doesn’t it sound fascinating? Auroville was founded by a French lady Mirra Alfasa; they say it is the place for youth that never ages. The Aurovilleans are free people, they serve the community by doing what they love. They work on what they love, they play, they paint, they cook, and basically celebrate life the way it is supposed to be. Tourists usually think Auroville is all about visiting Matrimandir – The Golden Globe. No doubt Matrimandir is one of the major parts of it- the meditation center, a place of worship where the only way to pray is to go within in silence. They say it took 37 years to build it. Due to COVID, I couldn’t get the passes to enter in Matrimandir- one needs to book it online. So I decided to roam in and around Auroville. There are open schools, youth centers, art centers, sound parks, cafes, and whatnot. The best part of the township is food, people, and nature. Food is all through organic farming; you’ll find lovely cafes serving delicious cuisines, fresh fruit and flower juices, vegan ice creams, and many more! Learned that the residents in Auroville are from different countries European, Asian, African, and from different walks of life. However, they have one thing in common – they believe in and practice -evolving and growing together. The traditional Aurovillean lunch that I had in one of the cafes was cooked by an Asian, served to me by a German, and an Indian made and served me a Gelato!! Nature here gives some different vibes perhaps a true Aurovillean gets to listen to his/her inner calling here; else what could be the reason for people from various parts of the world making it their home?
I wished I could have stayed there a little longer they offer reasonable accommodation in Youth Camps. This is definitely a place to come back and how I wished to get an opportunity to be here during those lockdown days- ahhh wouldn’t it be a blessing in disguise? Promising myself to come back I left Auroville with a heart full of positivity.
Coming back to Pondy, I strolled in the French colony, had tasteful food in local cafes with some good live music. Spent some relaxing time on Promenade aka Rock beach. I have heard about the surfing lessons they offer in Pondicherry wanted to take those but couldn’t. You remember that Bollywood movie “Ye Jawani Hai Deewani” and the famous dialogue where Naina says “Jitna bhi try karlo Bunny, life mei kuch na kuch toh chutenga hi, toh jaha hai wahi ka maza lete hai na”. I believe I have a part of Bunny within me who wants to cover every item on the checklist and at the same time, there is also a part of Naina in me who wants to live the moment and not run after the checklist. Interchangeably both these personalities perform their role. This time it was Naina’s part to play! And I got immersed myself in the sound of waves. Before returning to my hotel I took a walk in local markets nearby and had one of the best idiyappam of my trip at a small – makeshift kinda food joint with filter coffee. The next day, early morning I vacated my room, dumped my luggage at the hotel’s reception, and went to the Rock Beach – of course for a Sunrise 😊 these 5 am dates with the Sun were turning to be soothing but not enough to beat the evening dates during sunsets, those were magical. After a heart-full sunrise view and tummy-full yummy breakfast, I was deciding what next? Kodaikanal or Yercaud- both hillstations. Finally, I decided to go to the bus station and whichever bus I get first I’ll go to that place. I was looking for an auto to go but no one agreed to come at a reasonable fare. So I decided to walk a little further and find another; heard a voice “Madam, madam” I turned back to see a man in his mid-fifties calling me. I paused and asked what is it? He said “Bus station, go?” He was not in uniform like most of the auto-wallas there and he immediately pointed out towards a car – an Ambassador in its iconic white color ‘mann mein ladoo foota’ as I have childhood memories associated with that car. I gestured to ask fare surprisingly he was ready to drive in a lesser amount than auto wallas were charging ‘mann mein dusra ladoo foota’. I hopped in the car, it was beautifully maintained and was almost my age, well a little younger than me to be honest 😉! The driver was telling his story – he usually doesn’t take within city fares and all but since he was going to that side and overheard me negotiating with auto wallas thought he’ll give me a ride. I guess some things are just meant to be right? That car ride brought back tones of memories and smiles along with it. With his permission, I recorded a few of his talks and took some pictures. The bus that was waiting for me there was for Yercaud – well not a direct bus – one has to go via Salem to reach Yercaud. During the journey got to know the usual route to Yercaud is closed due to a landslide- a small hiccup, but now once the decision is made and time in hand all I could do is to go with it and explore the result. At the Salem-bus stop learned that there is one last bus for the day that is about to leave. So with my backpack, I ran towards it only to know that the bus capacity is ~32 and I’ll be probably the 64th passenger boarding it! I still boarded it- jo hoga dekha jayega– 3hrs standing journey packed amidst people. My mood went through phases like excitement and adventure of boarding such crowded bus, then little irritation and annoyance of not getting a seat, managing the luggage, swinging as the bus took turns, and lastly settled on nirvana mode-observing people aka my co-passengers! I was standing and surrounded by men passengers- and even though it was crowded there was not a single inappropriate touch or uncomfortable stare; unlike the experiences, I had in my previous trips.
After all humid and hot destinations so far, Yercaud- a town in Shevaroy hills was unbelievingly cool and pleasant. I hired a local autorickshaw for the sightseeing. It could have turned into a usual tourist spots visit; thanks to the driver he understood and suggested a mix of some tourist and off-beat spots including a few forest trails. Yercaud is full of coffee and pepper plantations and thick bamboo forests. Due to the long weekend, it was flooded with tourists just like Mahableshwar or Matheran would during peak season. So I skipped most of the typical viewpoints. Few places that are worth visiting are Shri Chakra Maha Meru Temple, Silk farm, Nortons Bungalow, Shevaroy hills highest point and the cave temple there, coffee plantations, and private waterfalls. Local markets there offer a variety of fresh fruits to be savor on. The view that my hotel room offered was no less than the view from Pagoda point. After Yercaud my next destination was Chennai and Mahabalipuram. I had heard a lot about Mahabalipuram and its beach so was excited to visit the UNESCO declared world heritage site – it was marvelous however couldn’t enjoy the solace I was looking for, due to tourists. And with this, it was a wrap-up of my Tamil Nadu backpacking tour.
As I said earlier it was the trip was memorable in more than one way – dynamic itinerary, food I had, people I met, and most importantly experiences I had. As I was waiting for my flight home; I was going through the scribbles in my diary.
Day 1 note read- Off to Chennai Kyunki har baar North jaungi toh South bura maan jayega and Day 9th note read- TN Backpacking 2021- Done and Dusted; 9 Days | 8 Destinations | ~ 2000kms: via State Transport!! Now, What’s Next???
Hope you enjoyed the journey through my blog post series “Tamil Tales” as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Link for the first part https://soulsanvaad.com/2021/10/31/tamil-tales-chennai-to-kanyakumari/
Link for the second part https://soulsanvaad.com/2021/11/08/tamil-tales-rameswaram-and-ghost-town/
© 24.11.2021 The copyright and other intellectual property rights of this content and pictures are with the author and Soulसंवाद .