The Toilet Angel – Part two

Read Part 1 first

The next day having reached Pondicherry we were sitting in one of our favorite restaurants waiting to place our order.

We spotted our regular waiter crossing the restaurant on crutches.

“What happened to you?” we asked.

“On the way home from Pondicherry on my motorbike one evening I was hit by a drunk driver.

I spent 2 months in hospital but the doctors couldn’t save my foot”

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The Toilet Angel

 

Toilet Just Do It

I pull off the highway into a large motorway services complex similar to what you would see alongside motorways in the west and now increasingly common in India.

This one has a large petrol station, coffee shop, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant and quite probably the worst McDonalds in the world.

It’s 8 am and we are heading from Bangalore to Pondicherry for a few days break.

The South Indian restaurant serves lovely Masala Dosas for breakfast but one of the main reasons we stop here is because it has possibly the cleanest public toilets in the country, a rarity in a nation where entering a public toilet usually requires the wearing of a hazmat suit and gas mask.

Having broken our journey here many times over the years we have always been impressed at how well the toilets are maintained by a young Tamilian lady. Meticulously scrubbing and mopping both the men’s and ladies toilets she ensures that whatever time of day you visit they are always clean and smelling fresh. She lights up our day with a beautiful smile and over time we have become nodding and greeting acquaintances despite not sharing a common language.

It’s been 9 months since we last came through this way and we were shocked to see her limping as she worked. A piece of leather encasing the stump where her foot should be.

With hand signals and the few English words that creep into every language she explained that she had been heading home from work one night and while crossing the highway to reach her village was hit by a speeding lorry. Badly injured she spent 2 months in hospital but in the end the doctors were unable to save her foot.

Life in India for the working masses is tough, seldom affording the luxury of a long convalescence.
She is back at work, scrubbing, mopping, ensuring the toilets continue to be spotless.

And despite the missing foot…………….. still smiling like an angel.

 

Read Part two here

Where to stay in Pondicherry – My adventures with accommodation in Pondicherry

Pondicherry has a lot of accommodation options and having visited many times I have managed to experience a few of them.Sleeper
The Aurobindo Ashram, one of the biggest landlords in the French Quarter has a number of well-located reasonable priced guest houses.

However to stay there you need to get past the formidable “Gatekeepers”, Dictator-like creatures who will stop nothing short of waterboarding to interrogate you on why you wish to stay there. Many times I have been refused a room or told the guesthouse is full despite a rack of room keys visible behind the reception counter, as the “gatekeeper” didn’t like the colour of my t-shirt or I had forgotten to brush my teeth that morning. On one occasion, when leaving my family in the car while enquiring about the availability of rooms, I was told to bring everyone from the car and parade them in front of the reception for inspection. A friend, who had forgotten his car registration number while signing in, was accused of stealing his car!
Once you are in, you have a long list of rules to comply with including a 10pm curfew, and woe betide anyone who fails to observe the rules!
It is worth running the gauntlet though as the rooms are spotlessly clean, well maintained, very cheap and  well located often with sea views.
On this trip though, courage having deserted me, I stayed in the excellent private guesthouse L’Escale.
L’Escale is a boutique guesthouse of only 7 rooms just one street back from the sea. Run by expat couple Nicholas and Patricia, the rooms are clean, reasonably priced and the hotel has a wonderful roof terrace where I spent many an evening enjoying the cool sea breezes coming off the Bay of Bengal.
The owner Nicholas is very helpful, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the area, and an impeccable taste in restaurants (his top 5 list matching mine coincidentally). He was fully booked on the day we arrived so he arranged for alternative accommodation for us at another guesthouse for one night and even handled all the payments for us. I would definitely stay here again.
I have also stayed at the Promenade which is right on the beach road opposite the Gandhi Statue. Great service and location and a really good breakfast buffet (4 plates of bacon and eggs being essential to kick start my day) but the rooms are quite tired now and there are better priced options around.
Villa Shanti has lovely rooms and great food (as I mentioned here) but is more on the pricey side.
I would also like to stay at La Closerie one time. I caught glimpses of a candle lit courtyard from my balcony at L’Escale and one day knocked on the door. La Closerie is a beautifully restored Villa with stunning interiors and even has a small plunge pool in the garden. Staying here would be more like being a guest in a wealthy person’s home!

A Slice of France in India

One of the things I love about Pondicherry is just wandering around the French quarter otherwise known as White Town or Ville Blanche.

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It is so different to the seeming chaos and constant hustle and bustle of the average Indian town with its quiet Cobbled streets, and French inspired architecture.

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Large polished wood doors sometimes slightly ajar give a tantalizing glimpse of beautiful tropical gardens inside.

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100- 200-year-old trees, probably planted by the French provide shade while frangipanis drop their gloriously coloured flowers on the cobbles.
Some places are beautifully restored and others are crumbling away through years of neglect.
Now and again you pass a traffic policeman (or should I say gendarme?) in his crisp white uniform and his bright red Kepi. Possibly one of the coolest police uniforms around.

English: Police officer in Pondicherry (Puduch...

English: Police officer in Pondicherry (Puducherry), India. July 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every street is different and I never get bored just wandering around. And I never fail to be surprised when a local Tamil approaches me and starts talking in fluent French!

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The Great Indian Road Trip

Driving in Indian cities can be extremely frustrating but there is nothing I like better than venturing out into the country side for a road trip. The distances are vast and made even vaster by the road conditions reducing your average speeds down to 50kph. There is a never ending kaleidoscope of things to see in the countryside,( that’s if you can take your eyes off the road!) and it often feels like you are driving through a movie set.
We hadn’t done a long trip for a while so we decided to set out the other day for the 320km drive from Bangalore to Pondicherry on the coast of Tamil Nadu.

Pondicherry or Puducherry is an interesting place and unlike many other cities in India as it still has a lot of French influence from when it was a French Colony. It is one of my favourite places to visit and a place where I can indulge in one of my favourite pastimes…… filling my stomach!
We had to make an early start as the trip involved crossing Bangalore so we left at 6am to miss the traffic. Bangalore with no traffic is a delight and it is a refreshing experience to drive in 30 mins, distances which would take over an hour later in the day.

We stopped for breakfast at a motorway services which reflecting the rapid changes in India , now includes a McDonalds drive thru, and a Coffee shop besides the usual vegetarian Dhaba ( roadside eatery) Along with us making the Saturday morning escape from Bangalore were the Bangalore Chapter of the Harley Davidson Owners Club attracting plenty of stares from the locals on their mopeds and 100cc motorbikes.
After leaving the roadwork strewn motorway we were to join a narrower country road (still classed as a national highway) from Krishnagiri thru the pilgrimage centre of Tiruvannamalai and on to Pondicherry.
What is normally quite a pleasant drive through the country along a tree lined road has now been ruined. In the name of progress the road is being widened and miles and miles of Tamarind Trees planted 100-200 years ago by some enlightened soul are now being felled to make way for the wider lanes. All the charm of the road has now been lost and there is nowhere to stop for a rest in the shade. However stop we did and while parked on the side of the road we were passed by pilgrims walking from Tirupati to Tiruvannamalai barefoot, a distance of 190 kms in 35 degree heat and each carrying their provisions in a sling bag!
When leaving Bangalore, little did we realize that almost the whole 320 km journey would be taken up by road works. Road works in India are carried out in a peculiar fashion. There will be a couple of kilometers of beautifully finished asphalt on one side while the other lane remains unconstructed, resulting in plenty of nerve racking and butt clenching moments as you swerve to avoid oncoming buses and lorries lumbering towards you on your side of the road. Then both sides will be dirt and gravel for a few more kilometres before hitting another stretch of beautifully finished tarmac.
There also never seems to be anyone working on them, however this is a phenomena not only confined to India. I remember a stretch of highway from Auckland to Hamilton in New Zealand, where the road works lasted for almost 5 years and there was never a worker to be seen.
Sometimes I feel that roadworks are carried out at night by an army of Pixies as you never see any work going on during the day. It’s probably the best solution as the heat during the day will cook the brains of any human road worker.
This journey also brought home the benefits of having a vehicle suitable for Indian road conditions. I am fortunate enough to drive an Indian made SUV and while the journey was tiring it wasn’t that bad given that the roads were like the surface of the moon.
However my brother in-law arrived ½ an hour after me like a badly made James Bond martini, shaken and stirred in his little Suzuki hatchback which was slowly rattling and vibrating itself to death. Looking at my brother –in-law’s expression I fear the same was happening to his internal organs!