Mamallapuram to Pondicherry – 100 km of Misery
Alright, not ALL 100 km (~60 miles) were miserable, but it was definitely our worst riding day so far, after more than 2 months of travel.
A 93km day turned into a 99km day as we met our first obstacle – a literal one: Huge gates and armed guards. Turns out our preferred route along a well-paved small road runs directly through an “Atomic Energy Site,” which Google Maps managed to not mark. The guards were amused by our mistake and their presence meant we didn’t even have photos to show for the extra miles we had to pedal as we doubled back. Once we were back on the major through road (the East Coast Road or “ECR”) the sun was high, the traffic was constant, the horns were blaring, and the shoulder was non-existent (except for stretches where it was present but paved with uneven stones that were hell to ride on, especially on small Brompton wheels.)
Overtaking buses caused us to bail out onto the sand at the side of the road multiple times – drivers here are certainly more aggressive than the ones we encountered in Sri Lanka. I spent the first three hours of the ride wishing I was anywhere but on this road. Like, anywhere. Even working as a telemarketer.
The day was salvaged when we stopped at a tiny coffee stand along the road an hour outside of Pondicherry. The woman running the cafe, Paraa, made Dmitry a steaming fresh coffee and then showed him how to pour it back and forth between the cup and saucer to cool it down.
We couldn’t speak the same language, so I showed her the map on my phone to explain where we had come from and where we were heading to. Her smiles and grandmotherly concern for us were as reviving as the caffeine, and we arrived in Pondicherry in much higher spirits than when we started. It’s funny how a small thing – a kind person and a 15 minute coffee break – makes such a difference in a terrible day.
Pondy, as it’s known here, is a former French colony and has a few French holdovers: the “Heritage Town” neighborhood is full of beautiful architecture, wide boulevards, and even croissants. In addition to lovely cafes to spend the day over iced coffee or ginger soda, the beachfront boulevard of Heritage Town is car-free after 6 pm, and the perfect spot for a sunset stroll.
We’re staying outside Heritage Town at Natura Ashram, located in a quiet warren of shady lanes. Each morning as we walk out, the doorsteps along our path display fresh “kollams” (chalk designs meant to bring luck to the house). The Natura Ashram is a welcoming place, the perfect spot to spend a week as we wait for some much-needed bike supplies shipped by our saviors, Redbeard Bikes.
We have also been working on getting working SIM cards, which is much more complicated in India than it was in Thailand or Sri Lanka. There, we just bought the SIM at an airport counter in transactions that lasted about 3 minutes each (copy the passport, pop in the new SIM, pay the money, and you’re done). In India, getting cell phone service involves multiple photocopies of ID (passport, visa page, form showing your residence in India), a passport photo, and over an hour of watching a Vodaphone shop employee fill out several forms by hand before we were able to walk out with SIM cards. And, even after all that, the SIM cards still didn’t actually work until almost 48 hours later. Now that our phones are finally registered with the network and the data is flowing, we will be posting more frequently on Instagram and Facebook.