Another weekend, another vacation. Life’s been really hard lately.
Since we couldn’t be at home on Long Island to celebrate our usual Easter holiday dans le style Français, we chose to hop on a plane to Chennai and catch a pre-paid taxi for a three and half hour trip to the closest thing…Pondicherry (or “Puducherry”, depending upon one’s perspective). From friends’ accounts of their own experiences, I knew it was one of those places we’d either love or loathe, but the consensus from all was that our four day stay was likely two days longer than it needed to be.
Aside from booking flights and our hotel, we kind of winged this trip and decided we would just figure it all out once we got there. The flight was short, only an hour and twenty minutes, and after getting a taxi from the pre-paid counter, we were off on our three-hour car ride south.
We stopped along the way for some snacks, and the road was touch and go with traffic since we arrived near rush hour, but we still somehow managed to make the time Google Maps gave us. I’m still amazed at the accuracy of Google Maps here in predicting time in transit.
The weather was a throwback to Kochi, a balmy 35-40C (about 95-104F) during the day with high humidity, and we opened the door to our hotel room with utter relief at the wall of air conditioning that fell on us as we walked through the threshold. It was 10:00pm and we were spent!
After a little lingering over the Chennai Times, eggs and coffee, we started off on our early morning wander through town. It was already hot, but we put on our best “we’re used to this” faces and trudged on through. We went to the seaside promenade, strolled through the clean and manicured Bharathi Park, and checked out the houses, which had been kept in their glory with bright colored walls and detailed iron balconies.
By 9 ‘o’ clock I was begging for sweet mercy from the heat, so we gave in to one of the “100% Air Conditioned Ferrari ride” offers through town. The Ferrari, by the way, is just a funny term for a rickshaw with the windows open. For $8.00USD, we got a two hour tour through the whole town, which was enhanced by the fact that we were out of the sun and getting a breeze as we put-putted down the road. The driver stopped so we could take pictures, and gave us some information about what was what and where we were. It may have been the best investment of the whole trip.
Later that afternoon, we took a ride out to Auroville, “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”, to learn about the history of the community at their information center and take the meditative 1km walk (in the crazy heat) to visit the Matrimandir, their landmark building (Auroville.org, 2015). We learned that the residents make a lot of different products that are sold online and in stores in Pondicherry, so we kept a look out and found a great boutique in town on Bazaar St. Laurent Street that houses a multi-room hoard of Auroville products. We stocked up on a bunch of gifts and some goodies for us, too.
I don’t think our four days in Pondicherry was too long, in fact I think it may have been just right for us because it allowed for a nice balance of touristing and relaxing.
In addition to the charming buildings, an awesome café on Rue Suffern called Café des Arts, cute boutiques to fit every budget and fancy, and the picturesque promenade, we attended a beautiful Easter Mass at Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges, a sea-facing Catholic church that was within walking distance of our hotel. The church was decorated with flowers and the detailed painting on the interior was spellbinding in soft hues of yellow and blue. It marked the end of our time in Pondicherry, and left us with a memory that will linger for quite some time.
Cited: Auroville.org, (2015). Welcome to Auroville / Auroville. [online] Available at: http://www.auroville.org [Accessed 15 Apr. 2015].
One of the most awesome things about being in India is the ability to easily coordinate domestic travel. Sure, it might take three plane rides and a four-hour drive through the middle of nowhere to reach most destinations, but wow is it amazing to be experiencing all that this beautiful country has to offer!!
My dream trip since we’ve arrived was the Taj Mahal. I grew up as a kid seeing it on TV, paintings, magazines, and imagined it with a fairytale sort of wonderment, the regal, white marble against a cornflower blue sky. I wanted to see if the magic would still be there as I had pictured it in my mind.
Since Delhi is only a two-hour direct flight from our town, and the Taj Mahal is only a three-hour drive from Delhi, we decided we could probably see most of the major Delhi tourist sites and the Taj Mahal over a weekend without Marc having to take any vacation days from work. He’s really trying to save them for our summer trip to the US.
Organizing the trip was incredibly easy. I made a reservation at Devna, a lovely boutique hotel located in a leafy, quiet neighborhood nearby India Gate, then asked if they would be able to organize a car with a driver for the entirety of our vacation, including airport pick up/drop off, sightseeing in Delhi, and transport to/from Agra. Since it was a short trip, anything we could do to limit the amount of time figuring out logistics was worth it.
We arrived in Delhi late on Friday and went straight to the hotel so we could get up early in the morning and begin our tour of the city. Since Saturday is still considered a working day, we didn’t have much of an issue with traffic. We saw India Gate first, drove around to see the Secretariat building and the President’s House (well, the front gate, anyway), spent some time checking out Hamayun’s tomb, and then stopped for lunch before heading out to Agra. We chose The Garden Restaurant in Lodi Garden, which we found to have excellent food and a lush, green space that was the perfect backdrop for relaxing and enjoying our meal.
The drive to Agra was ideal, and I would even go so far as to say it was one of the highlights of the trip. The new Yamuna Expressway is an absolute gem, first of all. Smooth asphalt, clearly marked signs, guardrails, rest stops, modern and efficient tollbooths, reflective lane dividers…it’s an absolute marvel. The countryside to Agra is also pretty, with small brick factories, farms, and villages dotting the bucolic landscape of trees and fields.
We seemed to be following (or driving into) a cold front and arrived at Agra, where it was struggling to get past 65F and had started raining. The city was dirty and unremarkable, and the streets were small and congested; a far cry from the sparkly new highway on which we’d just arrived. It seemed as if our sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal would not be as grand as we thought.
The weather remained awful and by sunrise it was pelting us with rain and a chilly wind that went straight to my bones. As soon as we entered the grounds of the Taj Mahal, however, it didn’t seem to matter much. I brought an outfit so we could take our picture in front of the Taj Mahal (yes, for real) and changed back into my bummy clothes immediately afterward.
We walked with the guide, who was also arranged by our hotel, and learned as much as we could about the building and the legend of the Taj Mahal from his perspective. It’s a fascinating story that’s as complicated as the tomb itself, and definitely worth reading about. You’ll find that if you start digging there are as many different stories about the true identity and history of the Taj Mahal as there are inlayed flowers in the structure (that’s a lot).
We decided to skip the Red Fort because the weather deteriorated throughout the morning and opted to get an early start on our drive back to the airport. We were home by dinner, and happy to have had the chance to see the ethereal Taj Mahal, at long last.
In February I went off Facebook “for Lent”. Now, to be honest, the whole “for Lent” thing is 97% bull because, a.) I don’t practice my faith that fundamentally and b.) at a core level I believe that seeking a closer relationship with God and ourselves happens constantly, not just during the season of penitence. Giving up puppy posts (ok, those are actually cute), annoying political rants, click bait, and vague statuses from attention-hungry people with little to no self-esteem is not my idea of an exercise that will truly bring me closer to God or self-understanding.
I did it for a few different reasons. First, I wanted to reallocate my energy and attention on identifying and investing in the key relationships in my life and, second, I wanted to work on living with greater intention. Meaning, I wanted to start doing things for a reason, not just to fill time, to make others happy, because I should, or out of obligation.
The past six weeks have been all about growth. I’ve learned to say no to things I don’t enjoy, I’ve concentrated on school, I’ve spent time with friends here and connected more with ones in the US. I've been exercising 6 days a week with a trainer who challenges and inspires me, I’ve travelled to some awesome places with Marc, and I’ve let go of some ideas and habits that have been sucking positive energy from me for years. For the first time in a long time I am feeling calm-happy, from the inside.
Since Easter was the day I said I’d be back, I logged on to FB to troll and get up to speed on the past two months. I can see I’ve missed a lot. But really, I haven’t missed it at all. Most people weren’t ever sharing things with me, specifically, to begin with; they were sharing them passively, with anyone who would look, searching for approval, justification, encouragement, kind words, and validation…myself included. As a result of social media, the way people communicate has changed, and many of us are oblivious to the loss of true human connection and interaction in our lives, which is a byproduct of that.
I could vehemently write how Facebook is ruining the art of conversation and degrading the essence of friendship, but I’m fairly sure that everyone is up to date on the pro/con arguments (or just doesn’t care) and I don’t feel the need to recreate the wheel. I also don’t plan to deactivate my profile (though I'm not reinstalling the app on my phone or logging on every day) and judge those who don’t because, as an expat, I have found Facebook to be one of the most helpful platforms in terms of getting connected to resources, something incredibly important when settling into a new country. Also, I’m pretty sure I’d lose touch with a lot of family and friends who are now spread all over the globe, and I am SO not ready for that.
I’m am glad, however, I took the time to disconnect, and I encourage anyone thinking about it to just go ahead and take the plunge. It’s amazing what you can see when you’re looking forward instead of down at your phone. :-)