Pondicherry: A Colonial Paradise

It’s 4:45 a.m. I struggle to open my eyes at the sound of the alarm. A little disoriented, I look around. It takes some time to remind myself of where I am. And what I have to do.

I wake them up, and we head down to the beach, a spectacle of jagged rocks, waves hitting against them and spraying the water of the sea onto our faces. A cool breeze caresses, as the fishermen begin their journeys and the early morning walkers start their exercise. Any minute now.

The sky begins to change. Subtle. A hint of blue, the promise of a sun.

And then comes shades of lilac, brilliant orange, a smidge of pink, a dash of red…

And before I know it, it has arrived. Another new day.

Pondicherry is a union territory located near Tamil Nadu in India. Previously under rule of the French, following Indian Independence, Pondicherry became independent as well. However, traces of French culture still lie in its preserved architecture, mostly along the Rocky Beach and the French Colony, hinting strongly of Pondicherry’s colonial legacy.

But Pondicherry surprised me in so many ways, because it wasn’t just a place of beauty and history, it was a food lover’s paradise. One of the must try places in Pondicherry is Cafe Xtasi, where they make pizzas so huge you can feed a table of five, and the vegetarian pizzas are better than the meat pizzas. Another place that is worth a mention is the Indian Xpress Kaffe, which delivers wholesome filling breakfasts, and is equally proficient in both Continental and Indian Cuisine. Their waffles are just about as good as it gets.

The Gelato Place located on Beach Road is simply to die for. Along with normal flavours like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry, they have really refreshing flavours like lemon and ginger, roast almond, raspberry (with real pieces of fruit!), and tiramisu.

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The best part about Pondicherry is that transport is so different from that in other crowded cities. Since the French Colony sees less traffic, it’s possible to cycle with ease. Filled with shady lanes and quaint neighborhoods, cycling along Beach Road and through the Colony allows you to feel the vibe of the area. In fact, taking accommodation in this area is the best choice. It’s very easy to rent cycles, and rates are usually cheap, at 100 rupees for the day. Visitors can contact the Tourism Office located on Beach Road and it is convenient for any other information you may require.

Pondicherry is not a party place, it’s not a place filled with young people, it’s not modern. It’s a place that revels in its past, lives in its history, and breathes in its culture…

That sunrise? That is what Pondicherry is all about. Being one with yourself. The calm before the commotion of life. It isn’t the most beautiful sunrise in the world, but it is the most beautiful feeling. And that is what makes it worth it.

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A Walk along the Kabini River

The clouds roll in… beckoning, forbidding. Gray.

A storm is coming.

It is flat. Flat, with tinges of red hidden between the short grass, which flickers and changes textures as the wind blows through it.

The horizon is clear, and it feels endless… like all around me are horizons as far as the eye can see.

With a sudden energy I take off at a run, the mud sucking at my shoes, hair whipped by the wind, which rushes through my ears.

I feel free.

I stop, to catch my breath. It’s silent, and the only sound I hear is the sound of my gasping breath. Is this what poets talk about? Is this what painters paint?

Yes.

Kabini is a river that originates from Wayanad, Kerala. It eventually joins the more commonly known Kaveri River. Once a private hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore, Kabini was a popular shikar hotspot for British Viceroys and Indian royalty. Now it is considered to be one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in Karnataka, famous for its spectacular wildlife and variety of birds. Kabini also branches out into the stunning backwaters I experienced.

This year has been one of the hugest droughts seen thus far, and while the water in the river is scarce, the plains stretch for miles, absolutely flat, a perfect line between sky and earth.

And it is the epitome of serenity. Just me, alone… a speck in the fantastic world we live in.

I raise my hands up and feel the wind all around me, lifting my very soul.

And the clouds, that have been warning me for so long, let go…

Hello Rain… I’ve been waiting.

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Waves and the Wind

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. We were sitting at a restaurant, and all of a sudden we got talking about seafood. I realized that being from the city, it’s something I miss seeing in Bangalore. If there’s one place where the calmness of the world comes to center, it’s the ocean. It’s rhythmic waves pulling you in, caressing your feet, sand grains holding onto you for dear life…

Drowning out all the chaos, and yet somehow, chaotic in its own way… something in the way it moves, though, like a dance, or like snowflakes, unique.

I feel like it grows and ages with me. I want to keep every part embedded in my memory and yet each time there’s something else. Something new. Changing… never still… and each mood different from the rest. It can be angry, happy, sad, and even jealous, snatching away precious treasures, time, people.

Sometimes, I feel like the connection we have with our parents, or with our children stems from these memories, and that it lives in where we are. Just like the waves, these memories are embedded in our minds, forever cherished, and eternal.

Reconnecting with my roots…

I’m sitting on the back steps of the house. It’s raining, pouring all around me. As I look out over the fields I can see the brilliant contrast of rural life and modern technology. To my right I see the field, filled with coconut trees and cows grazing, an old fashioned well, almost 60 years old, and on my left a brand new highway. So many changes over the past years, it’s hard to wrap my head around it. And as I sit on those back steps of this house, I know that this may very well be the last time I will ever live here again.

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This week I had a chance to reconnect with my roots, on a trip to my state of origin, Kerala. It is a small coastal state in India, and my family still lives there today. The house? My grandmother’s. One thing I have always admired about her is her fierce independence. It doesn’t hit you in the face immediately, but it’s there. It’s been ten years that she’s been living alone in this house, that’s almost about to disintegrate, with it’s crumbly walls, broken doors and tiled roof. My grandmother always says to eat fast, because there’s all kinds of bugs inside, and they might fall into your food before you can eat it (believe me, I learned that lesson the hard way). But despite all these difficulties it’s our home. And it always will be, because it is a tribute to history, memories, and generations that have grown up here. Even mine. A simple life, with simple people, that’s what village life is to me. Easy.

My grandmother works for the temple, singing a special prayer every day, something only a member of her caste can do, according to ancient tradition. Afterwards, she sits near the ‘sharadi” or the man responsible for making the flower necklaces to adorn the idols in the temple. This is where I have sat, and learned the ancient art of necklace making, a few years ago. The Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple is extremely famous throughout Kerala, something that puts this village on the map. As we head back home after the morning’s work, my grandmother smiles and says to almost everyone passing by, “This is my granddaughter, my daughter’s daughter,” with a smile on her face. I can’t help but smile at that, because another thing about village life: everyone knows EVERYONE.

Source:http://transcontinent.co/images/kodungallur-temple.jpg The Kodungalloor Bhagavathy Temple, a landmark. It is said that the sixth avatar of Vishnu (Parasurama) created this temple in the wake of terrorization by Daruka, a demon. Eventually he constructed the temple and the goddess killed Daruka. Bhagavathy is believed to be strength. No one really knows when it was made, but it’s been there for centuries.

The house has become difficult to live in. It’s literally breaking down in front of our eyes. She’s tired, and so she has decided to move to a better house, one with more stability. It’s a decision I can respect, but as I sit on those steps in the rain I wonder… will I ever get this again? In this world where skyscrapers and apartment buildings appear within a blink of your eyes, it’s rare to see an old house with huge fields, greenery, and a whole lot of tradition to back it up. In this race for power, status, wealth, and prestige, we sometimes forget our roots, where we come from, and how to appreciate the smaller things in life.

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So this week I reconnected with my roots. I said goodbye to technology of any kind, and embraced the rural life. And it was so worth it. This village won’t ever be the same, and development has hit it hard. This is the story of many villages. It’s helped so many people, but I can’t help but feel that we’ve lost a little tradition along the way.

Memoirs From Malaga (Part 1)…

Day 1 in Malaga

Ah! Costa del Sol finally! Got picked up at the airport by a lovely taxi driver named Santiago (very Spanish!) and managed to get a bit of information out of him. Santiago’s family has been living in Malaga for as long as they can remember. According to Santiago, the tourist season starts in April and goes on until October. Costa del Sol is frequented in the earlier months as it is usually warmer than other areas in Spain. Summer starts around May- June, with temperatures up to 35 degrees.

And I had a chance to use my Spanish consisting of:

  • Hola!
  • Como estas?
  • Muy bien!
  • Como te llamas?
  • Gracias
  • De Nada
  • Adios!
  • And food (nachos, burritos, tacos)

I know. How eloquent. But the point is I was willing to learn some Spanish on this trip.

We were staying in a place called Calahonda, which was smack in the middle of two central places, Fuengirola and Marbella. We were able to get accomodation at the Crown Resorts in an apartment with a kitchen, a view of the beach and two bedrooms. After a quick walk to the local grocery store for essentials we spent the rest of the day relaxing, we had no other choice because the lovely weather had turned into a rainy day pretty quickly. Calahonda is populated with a British crowd and is a tourist hotel spot primarily rather than an authentic Spanish area where locals live. There are quite a few pubs and sports bars, which telecast British soccer and cater to English cuisines. If you want to get to the predominantly Spanish areas however, they are just a bus ride away.

View from the apartment on the first day

View from the apartment on the first day

Martin’s Corner… Martin’s Comfort…. Betalbatim (Goa)

I love places that tell a story. When you walk into a restaurant, while on the outside seeming normal or ordinary, you can always find a unique quirk, something unusual. And I just can’t wait to uncover that story.

My final night in Goa, and I finally visited South Goa’s most famous restaurant, Martin’s Corner. Located in Betalbatim, Martin’s is a place frequented by locals, tourists, and celebrities alike. It’s away from the main road, in what seems to be a regular neighborhood, with residential houses all around. The restaurant was actually started by one woman, Ms. Carafina Pereira, after her husband’s retirement (the places is also named Martin’s in his honor). What started out in 1989 as a couple of tables and chairs, where the local kids could hang out and play caroms, and taxi drivers could eat prawn curry rice while their clients ate at high end restaurants, eventually turned into one of the most famous places to eat in Goa.

Long gone are the days when Martin’s was just tables in the frontyard of a house. It has transformed into a beautiful restuarant. Walking into the place that night, my eyes were arrested by all the lights. Red checkered tablecloth, and wicker chairs, with a live singer and colorful paintings all over the walls… and the bar was set to look just like a tavern with glasses hanging around. One wall is entirely covered with pictures of celebrities who have visited the place over the years. The face that stands out to me most is Sachin Tendulkar, India’s star cricket player. He even has an item on the menu, a king crab dish, in his honor. While Martin’s caters to other cuisines (Chinese and continental), it’s famous for what it started out as… authentic Goan cuisine.

There are tiger prawns, lobsters, crab, shark, and varieties of fish (pomfret, kingfish, snapper, modso, and chonok) in varieties of ways, fried in masala, rava, or butter and garlic. You can also opt for your fish to be served in the Indian tandoori style. But perhaps the most reknowned of all the styles must be the Recheado masala, a Goan spice mix that is a perfect compliment to fish. Martin’s also makes one of their signature dishes, which has been there since the time of its inception, the pork fry.

I kept my meal light, having steamed rice with rava masala fried kingfish. Along with that, I enjoyed a vegetable coconut gravy, similar to Kerala’s kadala curry, with spicy undertones, to counteract the sweetness of the fish. It was divine, the fish was just so fresh I could practically taste the sea with every bite. As I swayed to the music I couldn’t help but think: life was good.

Martin’s has atmosphere… It’s lively, intoxicating, and happening. But more importantly, it’s a tribute to a journey. A journey of hardwork and perserverance. A journey of a woman who created something huge out of something that started out small. And I think that’s a beautiful story…

From the Shacks of Goa…

A few years ago, when I first started living in Bangalore, street food was my ultimate nemesis. My main concerns were hygiene, tastiness, and fear of stomach diseases. I’d heard enough stories by then from friends and relatives about the hazards of street food. However, over the last couple of years, I’ve started to experiment more with food; try different things, and I’m so glad I did, because let me tell you, the best food is in the smallest places.

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Palolem Beach

Sitting on the beach in Goa. The roar of the waves, and a drink in my hand. The ultimate bliss. Goa is famous for its parties, fun-loving lifestyle, beaches and one more important thing. Seafood. Even hard-core vegetarians find themselves tempted and lured in by the promises of varieties of fish, crab, lobster, prawns… you name it, it’s in the shacks of Goa. Sitting on the plastic chair, with my feet buried in the sand, and the wind from the sea blowing at my back, I ask him what the catch of the day is. To my astonishment he brings me the most beautiful red snapper, grilled with masala and smelling beautiful. As I dig in, I can taste the freshness of the fish, moist and melting in my mouth, first with the spiciness, and then sinking into the tanginess of the lemon, leaving my senses tingling. I didn’t leave very much behind. 🙂 These days, some of the shacks specialize in other types of food as well, such as pastas. While this is not their main attraction, I was surprised to find out how tasty it was. A word about what to pick at the shacks: stick to the catch of the day, or grilled items. Try to avoid curries, and the like, they tend not to be as mindblowing. However, if you are adamant to remain vegetarian (in which case you may be missing out) contrary to perceptions, there are quite a few vegetarian options as well, such as pastas, curries, salads, and various starters, typically mainstream Indian food.

Red Snapper: grilled, with french fries and lemon rice

Red Snapper: grilled, with french fries and lemon rice

The reason I can’t name a specific shack in Goa is for one reason. It won’t be there next year. According to a lovely taxi driver who we met, come monsoon season, and the shacks are dismantled. But, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, new ones are resurrected in the coming tourist season.

If you ever happen to be in Goa, I’d say get out of that hotel restaurant and head to the beach to see what you can find. Number one, you will get to experience authentic Goan cuisine, rather than a mashup of all kinds of food (which is what you would find in a commercial hotel) Number two, shacks are right on the beach. You can spend hours with good company, a nice beer and the waves. Some of these shacks, such as the ones located in the Calangute area even give foot massages.

Goa has long been divided into two. North and South, in that the North is full of party people and the South is generally where people go with their families, the more quiet, relaxed side of the state. Having experienced both sides of the state, I’d say the best shacks in South Goa belong to Palolem Beach (Paradise Beach). North Goa has plenty to choose from as well, such as the shacks in Calangute, and Baga, which is actually part of the same stretch of the beach.

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No matter how many times I go to Goa, I can always find something new, something different, and something memorable. This time, I discovered the shacks. It’s true what they say: the best food really does come from the smallest places. The shack isn’t just a food experience though, it’s an experience of the mind, body, and soul. It can bring people together, creating an atmosphere that you will never find anywhere else…

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