To the East 

If I was completely adamant about my feelings towards the east I would say that Pondicherry is not worth the trip and Chennai is a shithole (in my opinion of course) but I’ll try to be more polite and provide a more constructive point of view. 

The bus ride to Pondicherry has been everything but pleasant.  It was not a sleeping bus so I had to sleep basically seated and had in from of me a big guy who put his seat all the way down and considering his weight he was practically sleeping in my lap.  Thus my night was all but comfortable but eventually I arrived at destination.  From the bus station I easily walked to my hostel… that I couldn’t find because there is no sign outside or anything that gives it away.  Thankgod there was this old lady sweeping the street that saw the stupid tourist half lost and by way of signs and unintelligible sounds she indicated the door to the hostel..  and it was locked.  The manager arrived not long afterwards and he showed me to my “room”. Basically a closed corridor with a curtain as door… So I had a private instead of the dorm!  I should consider myself lucky.  Valentine hostel is more a private house than a hostel.  There are 3 real small rooms and 2 “rooms” with curtains as doors.  The beds are mattresses on the floor and there is one common bathroom.  Considering the fact that I paid 8€ per night it was a rip off.  But for some incomprehensible reason the whole city is very expensive.  I really don’t understand the fame of Pondicherry.  The city itself has nothing particularly interesting or curious to show.  Apart from the “promenade” and the old French area there is nothing to see.  The beach is no beach at all and there is no grand monument or palace to visit. 

Under the advice of my host I went to Indian Delights for breakfast.  And then again back for lunch or dinner the following day.  The place is famous with locals,  the food very basic Indian food but it’s good and extremely cheap.  On my second day I had also beer and French fries with one Israeli guy from the hostel  at this place called De Bussy rooftop bar.  Nice place but not particularly “ethnic”.

The following day I found this grocery store where I finally found unsweetened peanut butter!  I was on cloud nine!  The place is called Grinde. I finally found unsweetened peanut butter!!! A bit expensive but worth the money!!!  I also indulged myself in buying some soaps and teas. 

I then boarded the train to Chennai.  I couldn’t stand the idea of another bus,  of 4 hours of honking non stop in the middle of crazy traffic.  I grew allergic to honking and the sole idea of having to digest that anymore than necessary makes me sick.  I’d rather be on a train with the usual vendors calling for “chai,  chai….cha-chai… chai” or “coffee…coffee coffee coffee ” or “briyani,  veg briyani” “samosa” and all the likes.  You’ve got the idea… 

It was my first “short” day morning train ride (Not counting the trip to Goa) and it was OK at the beginning.  Then,  the last couple of hours I  just couldn’t wait to get there.  If I had known… 

Arrived at Chennai station I was looking for the metro.  Supposedly I could go with the metro to my hostel.  I asked everyone and apparently there is no metro from there so I resigned myself to book a Uber.  The nice guy arrived in a few minutes and half an hour later I was at the hostel… or so I thought.  It took me a while to find the actual place that in the end proved itself not to be the actual place at all.  I read a review in booking.com that there were two places with the same name.  The Royal Palace Guest House is actually  a house for local workers. The guy at the “reception” there called the actual place that I booked and they promised to be there to pick me up in 5 minutes…. Indian time.  Half an hour later I was still waiting.  I called them myself two more times fuming furious!  Eventually I arrived at Royal Meriton (the real name of the hostel) at 10pm.  I arrived in town 2 1/2 hours earlier… Reviews for this place in booking.com and Agoda are amazing.  It looks like this is really a king’s palace… Of course not.  Of all the facilities numbered in the website the only one that reflects reality is free Wi-Fi.  Even the breakfast picture is fake.  The breakfast is in reality very poor.  This morning I had this kind of cous-cous with whole cloves in it and a vegetarian soup so spicy that it gave me heartburn.  

I didn’t sleep that well as at some point during the night (or early morning) this Indian guy entered the dorm I was sharing with a German guy, switched on the light, and put fan and AC full power… I eventually managed to go back to sleep but I was so cold that I had to steal a blanket from one of the empty beds.  So after the not so special breakfast I got out to go to the train station to buy the ticket to Bangalore for that same night.  In theory that’s something that can be done online but I tried a couple of times and I didn’t make it… Surprise surprise…. 

So.  I arrive at the station with a local bus.  Horrible traffic and honking but it all took 30 minutes.  At the Central Station I look for the ticket counter… No where to be found.  I asked a couple of people working at the station.  They didn’t even understand the question.  Against to what a lot of people think,  not everybody in India speaks English.  Far from it… Anyway.  Let’s go back to the tickets.  So I was asking this police man and a Japanese (Chinese?) guy says,  I know,  I know!!!  So I follow him. He indicates a blue building OUTSIDE the actual station. There!  First floor!  I thank him and go to the first floor of the blue building.  At the first counter I ask to pay with card.  Of course not!  Counter 22 is for card. So I go to counter 22. The lady behind the window asks (without even watching me) for a copy of my passport…. So I start to heat up… Where can I make one?  Next building… What else!  I go out of blue building and search for the next building… That I cannot see.  I ask to a police man who doesn’t understand the question and sends me towards the toilets… Keep calm and breathe… So I ask again to someone behind some counter and he tells me that the Xerox office is down the lane,  after the market.  More or less 10 minutes walk from the main station… The Xerox “office” is on the first floor… again.  There are several actually so I turn around a bit until I find one that is not too busy,  meaning that is attending only one customer. I get two copies just in case and walk all the way back to counter number 22. I fill in the usual form and hand over the xerox copy of my passport.  Can I pay with card? Oh no!  Not this counter… I can genuinely kill someone by now.  Thankgod the “card counter” is the number 21 so the lady that was attending me moves over and re-does all over again.  I finally get my ticket.  It took me about 40 minutes in total and had to pay 100R extra because I’m a tourist… 

I’m ready to visit the few interesting things that this city has to offer.  I walk towards Fort St George that is by the sea and then  I plan to spend the rest of the morning in the area where apparently “all” is. But..  BANG!!!  once again I “stumble” upon a pole that was crossing the pavement WAY too low and my head starts to bleed… Some passers by stop a tuk tuk that will take me to the hospital.  I didn’t really want to but I was bleeding a lot so I thought that maybe was not such a bad idea after all.  At the hospital I skip the line just for being white (sometimes it has its perks!) and the… doctor? nurse?  that “visit” me (in the corridor) wants to give me stitches. I ask if it is really necessary and they say no.  So my nice tuk tuk driver takes me out and drive me away where,  I gather from his broken English,  they will give me a shot and put a band aid on my head. 

I have to make a short digression on my tuk tuk driver here.  As I arrived at the hospital and was waiting to be assisted he nicely cleaned the blood off my face and in that moment I almost cried. I thought of what Lonely Planet said of Chennai.  That the city itself is not much but the people were precious.  Maybe I finally found a place in India where I was not a SWTWALOM… as if… 

Back to trip in tuk tuk we arrive to this dodgy “clinic” where a few patients are waiting in the “waiting room” (1sq m) and being a white face I have the honor to once again skip the cue and enter first.  The “doctor” asks me what happened,  my name,  if I’m allergic to some medicine and then injects me something…and then the “nurse” cleanse my cut and put me some ointment and a band aid.  Off I go,  after paying 120R.  OK… With the prescription I go next door and buy some painkillers and something else and the ointment of course.  103R and off I go.  At this point I don’t feel like doing the tourist stuff anymore.  I just wanna go back to the hostel.  The main road to get the bus is only 15 minutes walk away so I thank and pay my nice tuk tuk driver and start to walk.  Ten steps later the nice guy from the tuk tuk arrives from my back and offers to drive me.  I think “so nice of him!” and arrived at destination where I can take a bus back I ask just out of courtesy how much it was.  I honestly thought he would say it was for free.  It must have been the blow on my head of course that made me even think such thing.  He says 20R so I gave him 100 because I have no 20s and he acts as if he wanted to keep them. I’m like… Wait what?  So I kind of ask him and he says that he has no change and that he’s been nice and drove me around so he deserves it.  OK,  now I see the asshole!  So all this time I thought he was genuinely nice but I was very wrong.  So I kind of told him to f#ck off (a pattern by now) manage to get only 50R back and left him there to get to the bus station.  

I spent the rest of the day at the hostel getting devoured my mosquitoes in the lounge area, checking my photos and writing this blog.  Now I’m on the train,  11.15pm to Bangalore scheduled to arrive at 5.10am at destination.  Hopefully it will be a bit late.  My host in Bangalore won’t be available before 11pm.  I managed to find a couple of CSers that will keep me company until 11.00pm. Can’t wait to leave this city…. 

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Far from the madding crowd… in god’s own country 

Palolem.  I could have stayed there forever.  The bus dropped me (for once) in front of my hostel.  SUMMER by thehostelcrowd has recently opened its doors.  It’s a bizzarre construction with the chill out zone outside the hostel itself on a mezzanine level. But the rooms are clean and spacious, and the only bathroom is close to the European standards.  The included breakfast is also very generous and the guys adapted to my dietary restrictions. 

But I went there for the beach so I was curiousto check it out… and this time it was more than decent.  It is a big and wide streak of sand, with very shallow waters.  It didn’t give me much of an opportunity to swim as I’m used to but I was still very happy.  And although Palolem is a very popular place for tourists the place is very quiet and peaceful.  There are a few very nice restaurants.  I tried Magic Italy,  an Italian (doh!) restaurant where both pizzas and pastas are very good.  Then I also tried Zest that is a very cosy place and even if the food is very good an interesting is far too expensive.  Then I had lunch once at Avocado Garden where I tried the vegan burger and I had a hard time to finish it.  

During my days in Palolem I spent some time with Chim a very pleasant girl met previously in Jaipur.  Chim has a shop in Palolem where she sells her own design clothing,  soaps and most interesting she sells pure coconut oil.  And although this was not time to make it she took me to the “mill” where she gets it done. The mill is still built of stone and until recently it was operated by bulls.  Now they modernized and it’s a small tractor that does the “dirty” job.  But it is still oil cold pressed and it couldn’t be more natural than that. 

So I after extending my stay in Palolem twice and getting some sun tan I was ready to leave otherwise I would have stay there for the entire time I had left in India.  On the night of my fourth day I boarded a train at 12.40am (one hour late of course…) and got off in Cochin in the afternoon of the following day.  I left Goa to Kerala,  god’s won country as they call it here.  The landscape is beautiful but it is more trafficked than Goa and I had time to get used again to honking and traffic after the peaceful break of Palolem.  

Hostel by the Sea is a hostel located in a kind of government building. Very curious by all in all not bad.  They don’t have hot water (because the temperatures outside are hot!) or PoS machine but it is very cheap and very conveniently located.  Cochin (or Kochi) is a very small town on the sea where Vasco de Gama landed first when he arrived in India.  There is really not much to do and after a couple of laps the tour is done but still a nice place for a couple of days. You can take the ferry to the mainland for 4 rupees each way and it’s a 20 boat ride but the mainland Cochin is just another big city not particularly interesting.  After 2 days there I was supposed to go to Alleppy to your the backwaters but if I wanted to visit the east coast I didn’t have time.  I had to decide what to do.  Alleppy?  Munnar?  Madurai  or Pondicherry?  I decided for the last one and took a direct bus at 4pm scheduled to arrive at 6am the following day.