Pondicherry- The Riviera Of India

Tripoto

I am never travelling to Goa again! - was my first thought after I visited the only French town of India.

Hello! this is my first attempt to blog about my experience of "Solo Travelling" to one of the most "paisible" cities in India.

There are many travelers who say that they are spontaneous and they begin their journey by hitting the road. Well, it sounds adventurous but foolish at the same time to me atleast.

I am a planner and I like to plan end to end details. Although not everything can work out as per the plan but yet for safety reasons "Research" is very important. The more you prepare yourself and read about the destination, the more exciting will be your journey. Plus point: You can and You will visit more places during your visit, So more happiness, more stories, more memories, more photography! Research shows that anticipating about your travel plan makes you happier weeks before your travel and you can maximize the pre-trip happiness boost by fully indulging in the excitement of planning. Talk to people about your plans, brag about them on social media, and revel in both the anticipation and FOMO you’re causing. It 's Just an advice: Plan your travel.

I started my research about Pondicherry around the month of December 2016 just after my brother mentioned about Puducherry on a Sunday morning during the breakfast. I had heard about the place but never knew that this place has so much to offer.

Thanks to TripAdvisor and Tripoto for helping me plan my journey. So the plan was I will be flying to Chennai and from there I will be taking a bus to Pondi. What was next, I booked my flight tickets - Mumbai to Chennai. I did get a good deal on www.via.com for my round trip! Next was Hotel hunting on the list, I had read that the home stays in Pondi are pretty cheap and I had also checked on the airbnb for the stay but unfortunately the options were very limited and were not convincing enough. The very next day I got a pop-up on my tripadvisor app about a home stay available with a Heritage House - Hotel Coramandal Heritage. An executive AC room for a Solo Traveler with a single bed was available - It was perfect!. Without much thought I booked it instantly because the Heritage house was beautifully maintained. I trusted tripadvisor's recommendations, ratings and the photographs of the property. Flights Booked, Hotel Booked. Over the next 30 days I continued my research about Pondicherry's major tourist attractions, beaches, adventure sports and food. My self-made ideal itinerary was ready and I was all set for my solo-expedition.

Day 1

Day 1

Finally the wait was over, backpack was ready and the adventurous trip had just begun. It was 9th February 2017 4:15 am a cold morning and my Ola arrived. I waved goodbye to my brother and sis-in-law and headed towards the airport. With lot of excitement about the trip and the feeling of a Solo Traveller which had just got into me, I reached Terminal 2 - Mumbai International Airport. I got off my cab and was just admiring the beauty of the airport. I always get nostalgic at the airports. Lots of memories! That's my #firstselfie of this trip.

I got a trolley for myself and released myself from the heavy load of my rucksack. I entered the airport and started walking towards the Web Check-in counter of Air India. I had not even walked couple of steps, I realised that I had accidently forgot my shades in the Cab! I was talking about an adventure - And, here it was! I quickly called the Ola driver and explained him about my negligence, luckily he was around and agreed to return. Meanwhile, just to divert my mind from the recent shock, I updated my status of my solo-trip on Facebook. Yes, I was bragging about it! :D Everyone does!

The driver returned to handover my shades to me at the gate. I was really grateful to him, I thanked him and asked myself to be more careful and attentive.

Later, I went straight to the check-in counter, deposited my bag and after my body scan, I headed to my departure gate. I had to take really a long walk to reach the departure gate. To be honest I missed my gate twice and kept walking and admiring the art and the interiors of the airport. It is mind blowing! After waiting for around 30 minutes the gate was opened and the queue started forming. I got into the airplane and found my window seat and got settled. The flight took off at 6:25am and I started watching a movie to kill time. My fellow passenger was a gujju lad was reading a gujarati newspaper throughout the flight. I never bothered to disturb him by starting a conversation. He was too engrossed into his paper. The breakfast arrived! - It was looking just ok but I was hungry. I had opted for a non-veg preset menu - fried egg, potato wedges, bun, butter, jam, fruits, water and a coffee.

After 1:55 hrs, the flight landed in Chennai and people started running out of the airplane as if there is a bomb planted in the plane, that's the beauty of Indian travelers! They want to outrun each other every time. I waited for the co-passengers to move out and then I left the plane while greeting the air hostess of the Flight AI570.

Chennai Domestic Terminal T1 is a decent airport and well maintained. My baggage arrived quicker than I expected. I did see a big statue of Natraj at the airport. It was marvelous.

After exiting from the airport my next destination was Guindy Bus Station. I called for an OLA cab and I slowly realised that I am in a different city in a different part of India. Little did I know that I will be having a tough time conversing with the people of Chennai. The OLA driver hardly understood English and Hindi was out of question. Somehow I communicated to reach at a desired location to pick me up. But all in vain. I had to cancel the ride and book a new one. The second driver was bit smarter and kept repeating just one word "Madras Cafe". I looked around for a name board and I found a cafe bang opposite the Arrival gate. I waited there for a few minutes and was in his cab finally. Time was 9:10am.

I was sharing my cab with a Sudanese student who was studying Pharmacy in Chennai. We introduced ourselves and I narrated my struggle about the language problem while dealing with the cab drivers and he couldn't agree more. He was living in Chennai since he was 15 years old and had even learnt Tamil which was quite impressive. I was slowly accepting the fact that I am an outsider in my own country. The cab ride was pleasant and I reached Guindy Bus Stop in about 20 minutes. There were hundreds of people waiting for their buses and it was a typical bus stop scene. I enquired about the Bus for Pondicherry from an old gentleman who luckily understood English and helped me to the right bus stop. I walked passed the localities who were looking at me as if I am a foreigner. I waited for the bus to arrive at the bus stop and also confirmed once again with a man standing at the bus stop. He advised me to take the ECR (East Coast Road) Bus to reach Pondicherry as it was the cheapest mode of transport. 

Without much thought I got into the bus at around 9:50am. It was a 2.5 hrs long journey and I was prepared for it. I thought to take a quick nap, as I knew once I reach Pondicherry, I will be tired and I didn't want to waste my time in resting. I was at the window seat enjoying the countryside view and the cool breeze. The climate was pleasant with a Tamil song playing at the background, I slept for 2 straight hours. When I woke up I was in the middle of my destination City - Pondi Bus Stop. I got off the bus and checked for Ola but it was not available at that time, so I opted for an Auto Rickshaw. Tip: Please ask for the fare beforehand getting into the Rickshaw, these auto drivers are crooks. They will charge you unrealistic fares if you do not bargain. Being a Mumbaikar, I have got the skills!

I reached my Hotel exactly at 1pm as I had informed the Manager Ms. Jaya about my arrival time a day prior. My hotel was located on Nidarajapayer street, behind Mahatma Gandhi road, next to French quarters. When I entered Hotel Coramandal Heritage, I met the manager at the reception. She appeared to be very friendly and after completing the check-in formalities, she handed over the key of my room. The hotel gave me a homely feeling and it was kinda home away from home atmosphere. It was beautifully maintained with lovely artifacts, old photo frames, a rangoli, paintings, books, a Ganesh idol, a black round open water vessel with fishes in it, cactus pots, dimly lit lights, old classic wooden pillars , The hotel has a total of 10 rooms. 2 at the ground, 4 at the 1st floor, 3 at the 2nd floor and 1 at the top floor.

I was offered a room at the ground floor as an upgrade- an executive AC room with double bed. Honestly, I was disappointed with the room as I was expecting my room at the top floor and had signed up for the same. But at the last moment I was requested to take the ground floor room and had to agree to it. Big Mistake! Top floor rooms are far better than the ground floor rooms. Tip: For God sake get the upper floor rooms! Anyways, I didn't wanted to waste my time in any arguments, so I quickly freshened up, changed my clothes and got my little backpack along as I moved out of my room. On my way out, I asked for a bicycle rental shop contact at the reception. The manager helped me with a contact, also she confirmed the availability of the bicycle with the dealer. I headed straight to the dealer and got a bicycle on rent for myself. There are many rental shops on the Mission street for two and four wheelers. I opted for a Hercules bicycle as my prior research helped me figure out that the distances of all the major attractions from my hotel were less than a km, except few but that was manageable as I love cycling and also the rentals are cheap.

It was 1:45pm, the perfect time for having my first lunch in Pondi and I knew the food place had to be the most recommended pizza place of Pondi - Cafe Xtasi. Located on the busy Mission street is a value for money for it is famous wood fire grilled pizzas and burgers. The restaurant has an open kitchen at the entrance itself with live wood fire for grilling the pizza. The cafe ambience inside is ok. The tables were occupied as it was the lunch time and I had to wait for few minutes before I was assigned a table. I ordered a Bacon Chicken regular pizza. I was surprised to know that it was a dry day and I was forced to settle for a soft drink. The pizza was very delicious and had a thin crust exactly how I like it. The bacon was fresh and tasted great. Food: 4/5, Ambience: 2/5, Service: 5/5. A must visit for the Pizza lovers!

I was fully stuffed and yet too excited to begin my exploration of the French town. I cycled through the Mission street and was about to connect to the beach road intersecting through several streets, I came across the Bharati Government Park, located next to the White Town. Bharathi Park is a well planned and well maintained park flanked by some of the most important government buildings on all the sides. Serving as a popular tourist attraction, this place is ideal to relax and unwind. The beautifully carved free-standing Indian-style pillars around the French-style Aayi 'Mandapam' (pavilion) is remarkable. The park has lush green trees, benches, swings for children, lawns and a larger than life a"Shell" structure.

After exploring the park, I headed towards the Beach road. The Beach road is an adjacent road to the Promenade beach or better known as the Rock beach, which has the most magnificent landmarks making it the most crowded beaches for travellers in Pondicherry. Beach road is within the boulevard and is beautifully maintained. There are several streets which gets connected to the Beach Road and has multiple entry and exits points with proper parking places and shades. The Rock Beach gets its name from the rocks which are placed on the shore to protect the water from moving further. The shore has a serene view and can be admired for hours in the company of the cool breeze. But yet it was very humid out there and one cannot spend much time on the rock during the day time. Early mornings and evenings are the ideal time for spending time on the Indian beaches.

While cycling on the beach road, I came across the French War Memorial located on the Goubert Avenue. It is dedicated to the soldiers who lost thier life during the 1st World War. The memorial is situated at a distance and can be viewed only from the main gate. It is closed for the public visit and the gates are opened only on special days. Unfortunately it was not my lucky day and just got a glance of the memorial from the gate at a distance. Yet I captured an excellent clear picture of the memorial. The statue is placed at the centre of 4 vertical pillars with words engraved on the marble pillar in french- Des Indes Francaises. The property is maintained well with rock pebbles and titles with lush green garden on both sides with lights.

The next landmark on the list was Gandhi Statue located opposite to French War Memorial. The four-meter high statue of Mahatma Gandhi is surrounded by eight granite pillars, which were supposedly brought from Gingee, a fort some 70 km from Pondicherry. The statue attracts tourists in large number. I tried clicking the perfect picture of the landmark but after many attempts finally got the right snap.

Opposite to Gandhi Statue is the Old Lighthouse on the Beach Road. One of Pondicherry's most famous landmarks, the lighthouse was constructed in 1836 and at that time, was considered very modern because of its unique round tower. It is not operational today but still remains a very interesting tourist attraction. I tried entering the Lighthouse's premises but a security guard politely declined my entry into the premises as the Lighthouse as it is very old and has been declared risky.

At the end of the boulevard at the Goubert Avenue, the Statue of Joseph Francois Dupleix, the then governor of Pondicherry is located on the beach road. It is housed inside the Dupleix’s Park at Pondicherry. The black statue stands 2.88 meters tall and is installed at the southern end of the park. It was installed by the French government as a tribute for his contribution.

It was already evening, around 6pm I parked my bicycle on the Dumas Street and went straight to the beach to spend some silent time with the sound of waves splashing on the rocks. Later I went back to my hotel room to freshen up and rest for a while before heading for the dinner.

I wanted to have a local spicy Chettinad food, so I selected Hotel Appachi to satisfy my tastebuds. It is located on M.G. road hardly 300m from my hotel. When I reached the hotel, it gave me a feeling of a old restaurant. Zero ambience. I had expected the restaurant to be crowded, as the reviews were truly amazing about this place.It was 8pm yet there were hardly any customers in the restaurant. Well, I just wanted to test my luck with the traditional tamil cuisine. After going through the menu I ordered chicken chettinad gravy, prawns masala, mutton brain pepper fry, parotta and rice. The food was served in steel plate and bowls and just to give a traditional feeling the banana leaf was placed on the plate. Yet it did the trick! The food was delicious and the authenticity of traditional food really satisfied my tummy. Food: 4/5, Ambience: 2/5, Service: 3/5. If you just want to taste the Chettinad Food, this is the place!

After the dinner, I was just cycling around in the white town, this part of the city looks beautiful even in the night. I reached my hotel room by 9:30pm and I went straight to bed. Day 1 was great but I was tired and just wanted a good night sleep but then a strange thing happened I saw an old photo album on my bed. It was only the first time I had noticed it although it was on my bed all this while. It was a collection of photographs of all the guests of the hotel or their memories of Pondi. I went through the album and saw lots of photographs of different monuments and landmarks. I realised most of the photographs were of europeans, as this hotel was quite famous for its hospitality and the heritage artifacts. With that memory I went to sleep and I was very excited for Day 2 because I was going to the meditation centre - Auroville and Matrimandir.

Day 2

I got up early in the morning around 6:15am, quickly freshened up and rode off to the beach. I wanted to capture the Sun rise. It was my first experience to witness the sunrise as I have lived all my life in the western part of India, so I never got a chance to see the Sun rise in my life. Also I had an impression that the beach road will be deserted. Although the streets were empty with no people or vehicle, the moment I reached the beach road, I parked my bicycle and was surprised to see hundreds to people out there doing their morning exercises. I saw people of all age groups jogging, walking, meditation, exercising, singing and there were few like me ready to capture the beauty of nature. I went to the rocks and settled myself while listening to the water splashes, birds chirping, sound of motorboat sailing and smelling the freshness of the air. It was filled with positivity and goodness. It was 6:29am and the Sun was about to rise. I quickly turned my video on and started filming the dawn. It was beautiful simply beautiful!

I sat there for a while admiring the beauty of the sunrise and for the first time I was listening to the silence! Later I got back on my bicycle and went to see the french architectural beauty - the churches. in the white town. The first church which I visited was St. John's Church surrounded with big green trees. The triangular entrance dome walls were pinkish-whitish in color. Although I did not enter the church as the gates were locked in the morning, the management had maintained the church very well.

The second church on list was Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges Church also known as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. It is one of the most popular churches of Pondicherry, located at Rue Dumas street. It has a beautiful white marble stonework that captures attention of the travelers passing through the region.

The next landmark for day 2 was Joan of Arc Statue, located on Dumas street, Opp. to Church of Eglise de Notre Damme. It's been nicknamed "The Maid of Orleans", she was a great French warrior and a saint. Yet again, I was not able to enter the premises of this landmark, as it is been restricted for public. Though at a distance, I managed to get a decent snap of the beautiful statue holding a flag.

It was 7:30am, the sun was up and it was already hot out there. I went back to my hotel room to get ready for my Day 2 exploration. I locked my room and I met Mr. Raja the M.D. of the hotel. He asked me to join the other guests for breakfast and I was delighted by the aroma of the coffee which was placed on the coffee table. Here I meet the guests from Holland. Two middle aged women who appeared friendly and within no time we were talking about the hotel, Pondicherry, Auroville (as they had visited just a day prior), cuisines, culture and about my experience of a solo traveler. They really thought it was cool to travel solo. And why not I was actually experiencing life! The breakfast was placed on the table and I was really famished. Although the food was pretty ordinary but I liked it because it is my daily breakfast literally. - bread toast, butter, jam, fried eggs, fruits and a coffee.

I quickly finished my breakfast, waved goodbye to the guests and moved out of my hotel. I was heading to Auroville via east coast road, cycling for almost 14 kms with the company of Google Maps. It was the highlight of my trip, Google Maps are really life saviours. Although I lost my way couple of times as it always shows the shortest route without considering roadblocks :P I might have wasted 20 mins due to this. I started asking the localities for the way and it really helped to save some time. After few kms i realised my bicycle breaks are not working, I guess one of the breaks got dropped somewhere. Although it was safe as I am an ace rider plus traffic was minimal, yet I got it repaired to avoid any accidents. Finally after wandering for almost a hour and half I came across the Auroville sign board.

Time was 10:30am, still 4kms to go, but atleast I knew I was on the right path. I kept cycling on the same road for next 4kms on the lush green patch on both sides of the road and finally reached the "Auroville Visitors Centre". On the way I saw many visitors on two-wheelers, bicycles and I got more excited as I was just about to reach to my 2nd most awaited destination of this trip. I parked my bicycle at the entrance of the Visitors centre and entered the auditorium where I saw the history of Auroville and Matrimandir. There were lots of old photographs and text scripts about the importance of the place and the significance of the place beautifully displayed.

It is a place where you will find people from all over the world. This is a township devoted towards human unity. There are different belts of land in the city dedicated towards green industries, residential area, cultural zone etc. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity – in diversity. Today Auroville is recognised as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with - and practically researching into - sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind. This place emits lot of positive energy and keeps your mind peaceful and calm.

The centre has a model of the entire property and it looks damn beautiful.

Can you see the golden ball at the centre of the unit? Yes, you guessed it right that's the "Matrimandir"- the soul of Auroville. My bicycle really helped me here to cover smaller distance with ease. It was 12 noon and the temperature was at its peak. I kept moving towards the golden ball. One my way I rested for a while at a beach shack like shed. It was big and beautiful and could easily accommodate 20 people at a time.

Finally I reached the Matrimandir, viewed as a large golden sphere which seems to be emerging out of the earth, symbolising the birth of a new consciousness. While walking through the lovely green Matrimandir Gardens (divided into 12 individually named parks such as "Harmony", "Bliss", Perfection" each with their variety of flowers, shrubs and trees, The landscape was worth capturing for years to come. It was simply marvellous rightly described as a place of peace, quietness and contemplation.

People in large groups were clicking pictures with the golden sphere and everyone wanted to have that one funny click of either holding, pushing, sitting or lifting the golden sphere. I had to help these jerks to get the perfect pose (not proud) as it didn't take them much time to figure out I had no company. It is said that you meet few good souls during your travel and it is actually true. I met "Riya" while clicking her photo as she tried kissing the sphere. She works for an NGO in Bangalore and visits meditation centre across India and teaches the same to the kids of NGO. I really liked her thoughts on spirituality, peace, love and the change she wants to bring in the lives of the orphan kids of her NGO. We sat down for a while enjoying the silence and the positivity of the environment and told her that I will make a move.

While returning from Matrimandir, I came across a unique Banyan Tree with multiple aerial roots. This tree belongs to the Ficus family and is now probably a little more than a hundred years old. Banyans have the peculiarity of producing aerial roots which grow down from the branches towards the ground and take root to become new trunks. I had come across first of this kind in my life. It looked haunted but beautiful at the same time.

It was 2pm and I was looking to have a quick bite in Auroville. At the entrance of the visitor's centre there was a restaurant called "Right Path Cafe". It is a busy restaurant with indoor and outdoor seatings. I had not checked for any reviews about this restaurant before getting in. There were visitors from all the countries in this restaurant. At that point of time it really gave me a feeling of human unity – in diversity. It was a simple restaurant with fancy paintings or colors or shades with simple seats and busy waiters. I went through the menu card placed on the table and was not able to decide what I wanted to eat, as the options were very limited. And for the first time I made a wrong selection of food. I ordered for a tomato spaghetti and a coffee. It was absolutely bland and lacked flavour. Though it appeared delicious but i wasn't able to gulp it down my throat. Coffee was good! Food: 2/5, Ambience: 2/5, Service: 2/5. Tip: Go for mini meals.

There were many other restaurants on the main road of Auroville like Tanto's Pizzeria, Roma's Kitchen which were much better options which I regretted later on my way back.

Although I was feeling the heat but I kept paddling until I passed by the "Sir Aurobindo Statue" installed at Savitri Bhavan. I went inside the bhavan and clicked a picture of the statue and proceeded further as it was a long route to the exit.

My next destination was "Auroville Beach" around 8kms from Visitor's centre. This beach is popularly known as Auro beach - as the name suggests is close to Auroville. Actually it was a bad idea to go to the beach at this time but I did not wish to come back cycling down here again the following day or wait for the temperature to fall. The roads were very unsteady and unfinished which was taking a toll on my legs. But I had company as there were many alike cyclists whom I met on my way. After the hectic ride and the directions by Google Map, I reached the white sand narrow lane heading towards the beach. It was scorching out there and I still wanted to touch the hot waves while I started walking by the shore. I wasn't alone there, Indians love beaches irrespective of what time it is or the climate was. It was like a Sunday afternoon at Juhu Beach, Mumbai. Families, friends, kids everyone was enjoying their beach time. And I was just trying to protect my face from the heat.

Whenever I go to the beaches I do this typical thing just to preserve the moment for years to come. Some may find it girly but I find it cool. Well the beach person knows what a beach can offer every single time.

It was 5pm, I waved goodbye to the beach and went back to the hotel. After riding for around 30 minutes, I reached my hotel. I wanted to have a cold shower as I was tired and exhausted. After I freshened up and I went straight to the most awaited destination of this trip via the beach road. The beach road is never dull. It is always crowded and it gives positive vibes every single time I went through it. But where was I going? After missing out my way couple of times (Thanks to Google Maps), I finally reached the diving school "Temple Adventures". At the entrance I saw few representatives having tea and talking in Tamil. I was greeted and invited at thier reception area and was asked to wait for a while till someone attends me. The diving school was a chill out place to be in, there were proper seating arrangement in all rooms. It gave me a feeling of a hostel, with young adults taking this adventure sports very seriously. They were a bunch of professional scuba enthusiasts running this school for all kinds of divers and armateurs. I was quickly introduced to the packages and I was thrilled, as it was a dream come true experience for me. The packages included Discover Scuba (pool only), Discover Scuba Diving (pool and sea), Open Water + Advanced diving etc. All were PADI Certification Courses. I had already researched about the school and their association with PADI and the course which I signed up for was "Discover Scuba Diving" as it was my first ever dive in the ocean. I completed the formalities for the program and also paid for the course in advance as I wanted to experience this ASAP. I chose to take the training session the very next day and the slot allotted was 3pm and the deep sea diving was on 12th Feb, Sunday morning 6:30am. I was damn excited for this and was eagerly looking for the day to come. The Scuba guys were very friendly and I was also acquainted with the diving gears - the wetsuit, the oxygen cylinder, mask, fins, diving shoes, BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), weight system, regulator, SPG (Submersible Pressure Gauge). It was too exciting!

I left the diving school around 7:45pm and headed back to my hotel. On my way I grabbed few beers and fish tacos as I wasn't hungry, I skipped my dinner. The Tacos were okish but the beers did the trick. I was on bed reading the scuba diving manual and sipping beers. By 10pm I concluded my day 2.

Day 3

I got up around 6:30am, yeah I had turned to be an early riser. I quickly freshened up and went for a ride to the white town and captured few beautiful landmarks. The streets around here has interesting names like "Romain Rolland Street", "La Bourbonnais Street", "Suffren Street", "Goubert Ave" and so many more. “Rue" is used instead of "street". Then I came across the Café des Arts on Suffren Street. An old yellow colored cafe with some funny artwork on the walls totally living up to the name.

The streets were empty and I enjoyed my morning ride with cold breeze and the freshness in the air. The architecture is simple yet elegant and it did made worthwhile for the travelers to capture these moments. The smell of freshness was gushing out there!

I went to my hotel room, had my regular breakfast and started towards my next beach destination the Serenity Beach, located around 5kms from my hotel, around twenty minutes’ ride from my place to the north of the town. On reaching the beach, I saw lots of fishing boats parked on the shore. The fishermen were preparing their fishing net and yet another time the beach was deserted; only few school students were playing football on the beach. But this time I came to the beach to watch a different water sport - Surfing. I had read about a surfing school conducting surfing lessons on this beach. Its called the Kallialay Surfing School, located just at the entrance of the beach - a Spanish-run school with few surfing boards stationed at the door, offering everything from beginner sessions to intensive 'surf camps'. I had plans to take the lessons but when I reached the door I saw a small hanging wooden surfboard saying "Closed. Gone Surfing". I saw an number on the board and tried calling the same but wasn't able to get through. I waited for a while but later after clicking a selfie with surfboard I left the beach.

I quickly called up the Scuba school and reschedule my training session as I didn't wanted to waste any time at this part of the town. They agreed to reschedule and I was asked to reach by 12 noon. It was 10:30 am and I was riding my way back. On my way I came across this workshop of wooden artifacts. I am an art lover and I do appreciate these stuff a lot. I had to stop by to check a beautiful piece if I can buy. It was filled with awesomeness and I was getting confused with my pick.

I tried bargaining with the artist but he was adamant to reduced any price, but honestly I was getting a good deal as it was anyways a wholesale rate as the produce was from a workshop. I finally chose one of the artifacts and asked him to wrap it properly so that it doesn't get damaged during travelling. He surfaced its base properly and polished it using honey wax and it was shining!

I continued cycling my way to the Scuba school and reached there by 12 noon. When I reached the school, I met the scuba team who had just returned from a morning dive. I saw them unloading the scuba gears from the vehicle back into the big tubs for cleaning purposes. I went inside and was greeted by one of the instructors. Along with me there were two cousin sisters Dr. Parvati and Dr. Laxmi who were also signing up for the dive. We introduced each other as we finished the final formalities followed by a theoretical session with one of the instructors. The Instructor had a wild adventurous look but was very good with his work. He communicated well and I was impressed by his knowledge. He showed us different signs to be used underwater as we would not be able to communicate without the sign language. It made me recall the scene from "Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara" and we were totally ready for the training session to begin. We changed ourselves to the wetsuits and I was happy to get the size M for myself. I was looking quite fit in my suit.

As we got inside the pool fully loaded with our scuba gears, ready for the session to commence. The first thing which we learnt was to trust the instructor and honestly that is the key for smooth dive. Our instructor Mr. Infent Rini taught us how to use the mouth regulator for breathing. Initially it was bit difficult but once we got a hold of the process we started enjoying it. Apart from breathing, we were taught how to clear water from the mask, how to exhale water from the mouth using the regulator, if water gets inside the mouth, how to get hold of the regulator if you miss the regulator beneath the water during the dive and finally how to equalize to help release the water pressure. It was a fun session but more informative and we really got a sense that it was really risky and now that we had signed the waiver, it was no going back!

After the refreshing session, we freshened up and we were giving our feedback to the team about the training session as we confirmed the time for the dive the following morning. Reporting time was 6am! Wooo that was too early! I was famished as the water session made me hungry (happens every single time to me after swimming or being in water). I left the place around 1:45 pm and headed straight for my lunch. I wanted to have one of my best dishes and I knew exactly where I found find it - "The Pasta Bar Veneto" . As I reached the cafe it gave me an impression of an old Italian restaurant. The ambience was good, seating arrangement were comfy and the aroma was awesome. I saw a few beautiful crockery paintings on the wall giving a homely decor to the place. I ordered for "Ravioli di pollo con pesto" and Caffe Americano. I wanted to get energized and what else can help other than a black coffee and a delicious cheesy pasta? The place was surprisingly vacant and I was totally enjoying it. Light music, perfectly lit ambience and a hot meal - My definition of pleasure cannot be anything else! Actually at that moment I did thought to live my life in the same way for next 50 years to come. The feeling was amazing! Travelling solo in a new city is like tasting life raw!

I had just tasted one of the best pastas in recent times. It tasted perfect and the flavours and aroma was absolutely brilliant! A good place to spend a lazy afternoon. Food: 4/5, Ambience: 3/5, Service: 3/5.

I left the cafe around 3:15pm and went straight to the New Lighthouse located around 1.5 kms from the the cafe. I was not permitted a day prior because I had reached the place after 5pm. The premises had security guards and it was beautifully maintained. I realised that the new lighthouse was taller than the old one. Finally I was in after getting a ticket to the top of the lighthouse. It was a task to reach the top of the lighthouse as we know generally Lighthouses in India do not have lifts.The stairways was nice, wide and clean. The stairways has windows thus helping the natural lights and breeze to get in. After climbing the never ending steps, I finally reached to the top of the Lighthouse. There was one more guard at the top to check the tickets of the visitors. The top floor has a Lantern room, which has all the electrical units to control the navigations. Lots of indicators and machinery were installed which looked quite complicated. When I entered the top gallery I was overwhelmed looking at the beautiful skyline. It was worth the climb! The air was so fresh up there and it felt like the purity pouring out from the heaven.

I didn't wanted to come down yet I started walking down the stairs after spending some silent time. I took my bicycle and went to have my evening snacks. I wanted to visit this place everyday but I was able to get there only on Day 3, I regret it badly. The place is the French Delicacies Concept Store - "Baker Street". This place is located on the Bussy street which is very near to the beach. Once inside, the place is plain sinful. They serve croissants, pizzas, pastas, pita sandwiches, burgers, croissants with chicken fillings, handmade chocolates, muffins and other desserts. The list is never ending! On the right you can see all the food items placed on the glass display and on the left side there were seats arranged in artistic way. The ambience was good and the bakery aroma was in the air. I ordered for Pork Burger, French Chicken Quiche and a Coffee. “It was deliciously savory.” I was lost in the #foodgasmmode ignoring everyone in the bakery, enjoying my food in my own sweet little world. Food: 4.5/5, Ambience: 4/5, Service: 3.5/5.

When I got off the table I was full and I knew I have had my dinner. It was so heavy. It was 7:00 pm and was moving back to my hotel. It was time for a well deserved hot shower, I was tired to move out so I got dressed up and went to the top floor of my hotel. I was sipping my beer under the stars and it was getting cold too. It was bit dark yet everything was visible because it was a full moon night. The atmosphere was really good which made me more happy as I wasn't expecting the climate to be humid in the night too. After a while I went back to my room and made few calls to my family and friends. At this point no one knew about my following morning's adventure. and I had not shared about it except couple of friends. I was getting anxious and excited at the same time. The feeling was strange but I was fighting with hundreds of thoughts! I tried sleeping but couldn't sleep more than few minutes. I kept chatting with friends till they fell asleep and I was still up throughout the night. I never slept!

Day 4

I got off my bed before the alarm rang. It was 5:30am. I had to reach the scuba school by 6am sharp. I quickly freshened up and got ready to leave. I greeted my hotel Mr. Raja and also informed him that I will not be up for breakfast today. As I was supposed to check-out on Day 4, I had already packed up my stuff and had also requested the hotel manager to make some adjustments on the check-out time as I was not sure about by return time after the dive. I started from by hotel, it was a pleasant cold morning and I was totally thrilled for the adventure. On my way to the school, I stopped at the gate of Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. It looked like a 100 years old historical Gothic style church, located very close to the scuba school. It was 5:50am and the Sunday morning mass was about to start. I went inside the church and it was christmas inside with so many lights and candles. I prayed for a while as I sat on the wooden bench. Then I moved out of the church and reached Temple Adventures by 6:15am. I thought I was late as I parked my bicycle and went straight upstairs as someone from the school asked me get some breakfast which was served on the first floor. On the staircase, I saw a bunch of certificates hanging on the wall all credited to Temple Adventures and I couldn't resist capturing it.

I entered the room and saw few guys having breakfast, I too joined them. The guys were friendly and we were talking about the scuba diving, advanced diving, scuba pro license, residing cities, work, things to do in pondi, and other adventure sports. Although I was not keen to have breakfast yet we were asked to have something light. I had 2 idlis, 2 boiled eggs and a coffee. And slowly all the scuba enthusiasts joined for the breakfast. Later we got into our scuba suits and diving shoes and helped the organisers to get the scuba gears loaded on the cars. We were all set for the marine expedition as we reached the harbour. So a total of 14 people had signed up for discover scuba diving and around 6 had enrolled for the pro course. As we reached the harbour we were briefed by the directors of Temple Adventures Mr. Aravind and Mr. Rob. It was a fun and relaxed briefing session as we revised the underwater signs. Both the directors were professionals and fun loving at the same time. Appreciate their sense of humour as we discussed Sharks attacks but it was just a hoax situation as the Sharks do not like Bay of Bengal.

We started moving to the boat one by one and got settled. And the game was on! We started from the harbour around 7:30am and began the journey to the middle of the deep dark blue ocean. Tearing the waves at a speed of 60 kmph, we were forced to settle on the base of the boat. Although we were wearing the lifejacket but yet we did not wish to meet with accident as the waves were rapid and almost everyone were first timers. The climate was very much suitable for the dive as per Rob, as the sun had just come up with beautiful rays coming down to the seabed. The view from our boat was incredible. We were in middle of nowhere around 25kms from the harbour point. But the dark blue clear water was looking beautiful and wild at the same time.

Well have you heard about seasickness? Well we were about to witness it. Rob asked us "has anyone taken any seasickness tablet'? Well none of us were aware of it. Almost everyone started feeling sick. Whether it was fear, anxiety or mixed emotions playing its part, nobody had any clue. But it is a common thing, happens to the best of us. Luckily I was quite calm right from the beginning. Rob asked for the 1st 4 divers who would like to initiate the adventure and 4 of the guys quickly volunteered. Well even I wanted to but I gave it a pass as I wanted to experience the process of entire dive first before I get in. As the first 4 guys got into thier scuba gears, they were toppled upside down one by one into the ocean. Sounds scary? Yes, it was crazy! Imagine you are getting into the ocean during a somersault with the scuba gears. Don't be worried, each of the guys were personally handled by the scuba divers of the school. Initially each of the guys were asked to breathe normally with their face down in the water and only if they were comfortable they were taken down. Strangely none of the guys who went inside were comfortable breathing in the water. They were having serious issues with the water as they were continuously coughing, puking and breathing heavily . Well looking at them I realised I did made the right call of not rushing into it. They were asked to take rest as the next 4 guys geared up. The next 4 were 2 couples and they wanted to go next. I was calm and composed as I too had company with me, Parvati and Laxmi. But even they were feeling the seasick and were trying to cope with it. Just to get a feel of the water and to divert our minds we got into the water with our life jackets on. We were asked to be around the boat and to make way if someone come up after their dive. We were free floating and enjoying the cold water and splashing water at each other. After a while I came up on the boat as it was time for me to dive. I quickly got into my BCD, the oxygen cylinder, mask, fins, weight system, regulator, SPG and I was all set for the dive. The divers were clicking photos at regular intervals right from the beginning from the time we had reached the harbour. Including the most important thing "Underwater photographs"!

When I was toppled down into the water, I made sure my regulator is intact in my mouth and I knew if I do that one thing right my dive would be smooth because no one but me can help myself breathing. I was supervised by Mr. Aravind and I was lucky to have him as my scuba instructor. He is gem of a person with good sense of humour. As I signaled that everything was fine, we started going down meter by meter and after each meter we were supposed to equalize. After few meters I was able to see the reef made up of coconut tree branches, shrubs etc. The reefs attract the fishes and yes there they were. Hundreds of colourful fishes of different sizes and types. We clicked lots of photos including an underwater selfie. The water was very clear and all I can hear was bubbles. As I signalled down, we went down to see more fishes but this time there were few big beautiful shiny fishes. We went upto 18 meters as we proceeding upwards to the boat. I thoroughly enjoyed with my first ever dive. It was amazing! I got into the boat and went silent for few minutes as i was digesting my experience - I was speechless! I wanted to be inside the ocean for a longer time but it was already 45mins down there. Time runs too fast under water I guess.

As everyone completed their respective dives, we got back to the harbour with lots of memories and positivity. It was time to tick check the adventure sports: Scuba Diving - CHECK! It was simply an awesome lifetime experience. We returned to the scuba school and were discussing our thrilling experience. I got freshened up and collected my Discover Scuba Diving Program Completion certificate and a memento - Temple Adventures Scuba Tshirt. It was really a proud feeling!

We were hungry so Parvati, Laxmi and I decided to meet for lunch after an hour. We headed to our respective hotels as I wanted to check-out and do my final packing of things.I reached my hotel, took a long hot shower, packed my stuff, did my check-out and asked the hotel manager to take care of my belongings as I was planning to pick the bag later in the evening. It was 1:30pm and we chose to go to Rendezvous restaurant for the lunch but to our surprise, when we reached there the restaurant was closed. Then we decided to go "Le Chateau" restaurant in White Town. Parvati's husband Dr. Vipin also joined us at the restaurant. I was in the company of three certified MBBS doctors. Well that's what I was saying earlier; you do meet some people who become a part of your travel by luck. We were destined to meet, hang out and explore!. We went directly to the first floor as the ground floor area was pretty normal without any interesting seatings. The restaurant's ambience on the first floor was good, they had a live bar counter with proper seatings, natural lights and proper ventilation. We ordered for 2 Beef steak and beers for myself and Vipin. Finally found someone who likes beef. Also we did ordered for chicken steak, pasta and some wine for the ladies. Food was good but we were disappointed with the service. It took a lot of time for the food to arrive also after we asked for the check they showed us another seating place available on level two with a seaview which was far more better. Food: 4/5, Ambience: 3/5, Service: 2/5.

It was 3:15pm as we left the restaurant and headed towards the Beach road as Vipin wanted to see the beach. I was earlier planning to go to Mahabalipuram but I dropped the plan as I was enjoying the doctors' company. Also it would have been very hectic for me to carry my heavy rucksack and travel and explore around. So, I decided to revisit few places with my new friends. Though the scenery was beautiful with the shades of blue meeting at the horizon, but the climate was very hot and humid; thanks to the breeze for helping us to sustain the heat.

We spent some time on the beach as we walked past by the landmarks, later we headed to the new lighthouse and finally the Baker Street by evening. Finally we reached the bicycle shop to return our bicycles. It was time to say goodbye to the folks as we said to stay in touch with firm handshakes! "Adios Amigos"!

I returned to my hotel, freshened up and picked my luggage as I moved out of the hotel waving bye to Ms. Jaya. I called for an auto to reach the Pondi bus stop. Once I reached the bus stop, I saw hundreds of passengers waiting for the bus. As it was a weekend, there were more than normal people travelling. After waiting for almost 30 minutes at the queue, I got the hold of my ticket and finally got into the bus. It was really a tiring journey back to Guindy Bus stop. But I was still enjoying and reliving the memories that I was carrying along with me. After almost 3hrs around 10:30pm I reached the Guindy bus stop. I called for an OLA and entered the Chennai Domestic Terminal T1 within 3o minutes.

I took my trolley to the check-in counter, deposited my bag and after my body scan, I headed to my departure gate. I was really hungry but strangely most of the food counters were either closed or getting closed. I was still scanning through the outlets to find something to eat. Finally I saw a Maggi Hotspot - a saviour indeed! I called for an masala maggi and a coffee. The coffee machine was not working so I had to settle just with the Maggi. It is the first ever Nestle's Hotspot Maggi installed in India and it was having maintenance problems. Amazing! I was disappointed :(

Also the maggi was not upto the mark. It was tasteless. I was still hungry and I badly needed something hot to drink. It was bit cold and I had to stay awake as my flight was at 2:45am. Finally The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf came to my rescue. I ordered for blueberry muffins and a hot chocolate. Yummies!!!! The midnight snack was very satisfying and I was refreshed. My phone battery was dying and also my travel charger was discharged. I had no option but to ask the Outlet guy for a charger. Luckily he lent me his portable charger. Well it was still a 2 hours wait time for my flight. I kept listening to music and speaking to my friends till the finally gate opened.

I got into the flight JET 7012 half sleepy and tired. My back was hurting real bad. I rested on my seat and went to sleep instantly. I didn't even know when the flight took off. I was woken up by the air hostess for my meals at 3:15am. I quickly had the sandwich and a black coffee as I didn't wanted to sleep again. Any finally the flight landed to Mumbai around 4:15am. I got off the flight straight to the luggage belt and booked a cab to Powai and then headed to the Ola cab stand. Got back home around 5:55am, dropped my bag, freshed up and went straight to the bed. On that note my solo expedition came to an end.

Well this is the hardest part about traveling, coming back to routine and it’s the very reason why we all run away again. So until next time - Salut!

This post was originally published on Kotian Sushant's Blog.

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