It’s a Long, Long, Way to Pondicherry

For the first time, we left our 7 or so million neighbors in Chennai and decided to head out of town.  South, along the “ECR” or Eastern Coastal Road.  Which can be a harrowing experience.  I just kept reminding myself that our driver has been doing this for a long, long time – he’s about 60 and drove a bus for nearly 20 years in the 70s/80s, and has been driving for individuals and families ever since.  The stack of references he gave us when he applied made no mention of any accidents.

So anyway, the ECR is a two-lane road: one heads north and the other heads south.  However, the paint they use to mark the center line is completely wasted, as it is fully ignored by all drivers.  Along much of the road, there is an emergency strip.  But local drivers are careful not to waste anything, and that includes pavement.  It’s not uncommon to see 4 vehicles abreast – two heading north and two heading south – as cars overtake each other in both directions.  In rare cases, you can see three heading one way and one heading the other, as a vehicle overtakes a vehicle which is overtaking a third.  And somehow they manage to safely blow past each other at 70-80 kph, or, say 150 kph net/combined, always managing to miss each other by centimeters.  It’s truly remarkable to watch, terrifying to live.

So as we headed out of town, I announced my next blog post would be about the trip, and I also announced (with a guffaw) the planned title for this post.  No one was impressed.  I guess we travel in different literary circles.

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So what’s Pondicherry?  It’s a city of about one million, and a “Union Territory” comprising what used to be French India, for about 280 years if I’ve understood correctly.  (And since 2006, it’s Puducherry – but more on that in tomorrow’s post).  And it’s about 150 km south of Chennai, which is why we got to leave town.  To document our first trip outside Chennai, I thought I’d share these photos, which is our first contact with a more rural part of the country.

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A fair number of green stretches…

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Schoolkids waiting for the bus home.

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Village after village with unpronounceable names:  Bommayapalayam, Pillaichavady, Ranganathapuram, and my personal favorite, Ganapathichettikulam.

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You can always get a coconut.  It’s not clear if it was the case here, but many vendors sell coconut that you buy, they hack off just enough to provide a quarter-sized opening, and put in a straw.  Instant summer refreshing drink!

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