Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Give time a break - Pondicherry!

Puducherry also known as Pondicherry is about 300 kilometers away from Bangalore. Tamil is the official language of Pondi, but English is widely spoken. After pushing my visit to the French town umpteen numbers of times, I decided to take a night bus from Bangalore. The strong motive behind my trip was diving into the Indian Ocean.
I had booked my fun dives through Temple Adventures well in advance and was supposed to report to the dive shop at 6:30 in the morning. As luck would have it, the bus was delayed and I reached Pondi only by 8:30, by then I had missed the dive boat!

Loafing around Pondi…
After 40 minutes of convincing Gary, one of the scuba instructors, I managed to get a slot for the next day’s dive. Remember to reach the dive shop on time; you cannot be as lucky as me!

I checked into a budget hotel, which I had booked on Booking.com. The room was clean, except leaking AC duct. The shower in the bathroom was spitting water all over except on me. Pondi is the perfect place to get a tan, the Sun pricks. It’s best to book your room closer to the beach, unless you want to experience the busy-noisy Pondi.
I was hungry and walked into a South-Indian restaurant for breakfast. Mind you these are ‘pure’ vegetarian restaurants as they call themselves. I ordered for Idlis, which are white - round- tasteless cakes. Dip your Idlis with the coconut chutney (call it sauce) and sambhar (vegetable stew). Idlis cannot satisfy hunger, so I ordered a Dosa (a pan cake) too. The Tamil Nadu Dosa’s, sometimes called as ‘Roast’ are insanely lengthy, around 2 feet, but very thin. Again Dosa is served with coconut chutney and sambhar, try them as it is not too spicy. A South-Indian breakfast is incomplete without a filter coffee served in a steel tumbler, yes, a cup of hot coffee no matter what the weather is!

South Indian dishes are classified as Chinese! :)
The autos (tuk-tuk) in Pondi are obscenely expensive, reminds me of Black Cabs of London. Always ensure to bargain the price of your destination, prior to boarding one of these three-wheeler taxis. The other option is to rent out bikes or mopeds, ask your hotel manager to help. It was Election season and politicians were back from their long hibernation. Loud Kollywood songs were heard from autos, banners covering electrical poles, and artists impersonating politicians were a common sight. The permutation of guessing the winning politician in Tamil Nadu is as simple as predicting the result of a tossing coin.

I took a tempo taxi (lengthy autos which can take about 8 people) by paying Rs. 5 and reached the Promenade beach. The shore is covered with cup-shaped concrete boulders, to ensure the waves do not hit the road. It is not pleasant to walk near the beach, especially during noon. Aurobindo Ashram is just beside the Promenade beach, also the Vinayagar Temple (Elephant headed God) should not be missed. The temple has a trained Elephant, which gently taps the head of devotees (considered as blessings) provided you give the Elephant some money or food to eat.

Another attraction is the Auroville Matrimandir which looks like a mammoth golden golf ball. The mandir is the meditation center, which attracts tons of foreigners who wish to seek spiritual nirvana; some foreigners have made Pondi their second home.  
Matrimandir (Pic from Wikipedia)
Evening in Pondi is best spent by taking a stroll around the Promenade. The road opposite to the beach is closed for vehicles post 6 PM, and this gives ample space for people to run, walk, play or simply sit! The beach transforms into a food street attracting tons of people!  Try boiled chickpeas, Pani Puris, or Spicy Bhel Puris, whilst enjoying the cool breeze and waves.
The parallel roads near the Promenade have French looking homes. Some road names and messages are written in French. The tall buildings are old, but have been maintained really well, and will definitely interest people who love architecture and history. Some of these homes have been converted as commercial joints, selling eco-friendly products, Indian clothes, souvenirs, jewelry, Coffee shops, theme restaurants, and even as watering hole. The night-life in Pondi is really quiet, unlike Goa.

Fun Diving…

Temple Adventure enjoys the monopoly of diving business in Pondi, and they have taken all the pain to build an artificial reef. The reef is popularly known as Temple Reef, and is about 20 minutes boat ride from the shore. The only way to reach this secret destination is by booking your dives through Temple Adventures. Fishing boats are used to reach the dive spot, and the journey is fun due to the rough sea, it will make you feel like a pirate onboard the famous Black Pearl.

Me and Captain Jack sparrow!
Due to holiday season, we had 3 fishing boats, for 6 open water divers, 10 discover scuba divers, 5 instructors, and myself, a fun diver. The boat with open water divers sailed through a dive spot, named as ‘Arvind’s Wall’. The remaining two boats headed towards ‘Temple Reef’. Open water divers had spotted Manta Rays just a couple of days ago at the Temple Reef site, I was jealous listening to their experience. 
Our boats reached the Temple Reef dive spot, but the small boats were struggling with the anchoring process. The visibility from the boat was not great, and the color of water was green. My Canadian buddy diver asked me to be ready for dive #1. After wearing our diving gears, we did a back roll entry into the waters.

We deflated our BCD jacket, and descended very close to the iron spiral cage, which was immersed by Temple Adventure team. Palm leaves were tied to plastic bottles and the seabed. This had resulted in growth of algae and aquatic plants. The small fish were attracted to algae, and big fish were after the small ones. Temple reef is responsible for so many aquatic creatures to flourish.
Temple Reef, and a fellow diver!

The reef is home to many species, such as groupers, frog fish, banners, and many smaller species of colorful fish. Fellow divers received love bites (read as stings) from tiny jelly fish. I was lucky to spot a coral reef snake. For the first time, I experienced thermocline, which is drastic change in water temperature. Water temperature gets really cold if we descend a couple of feet at a certain depth, this was an orgasmic experience! I managed to touch the sea bed, and this was around 65 feet. The surge underwater was minimal compared to the surface. The visibility was restricted to 10 – 15 feet. Thirty five minutes of dive #1 had come to an end, and we surfaced to the boat without any ladder.   
Coral Snake
Grouper is all smiles!


The scene at the boat was depressing as all the DSD divers were suffering from sea sickness. The current was strong at the surface. Meanwhile our captain was fishing using a fish line, within minutes he managed to catch over 20 fish. Being a fish lover (not on my plate), it was sad watching so many dead fish on the boat. We had thirty more minutes before the next dive, this is the surface interval required as per the dive tables. At the surface, divers will off-gas the nitrogen absorbed, until then it is not safe for the second dive. My brain could not handle rocking motion of the boat, and I had to throw up too! Nevertheless, I was ready for the dive #2.

I was more excited on dive #2, as I was comfortable underwater and was familiar with the surroundings. I was diving with two seasoned instructors, diving was their bread and passion. One of the instructors used a stick to point me to interesting creatures. We swam with tons of fish, and in between managed to spot a puffer fish, lion fish and a crab. Rini, instructor from Kanyakumari, was touching a grouper which appeared to be dead. Dive #2 was more fun, as we kept swimming to different hidden areas to spot various other marine lives.

Frog Fish in its artificial home, and thats me in blue fins ;)
I will go back to Pondi someday to explore other diving sites!

Fish Spa???

Photo Courtesy: Temple Adventures

No comments:

Post a Comment