Christmas Stories.

Pondicherry. 23rd December 2020
The first task upon arrival in a new city is to find a hotel. I almost never book, relying instead on luck and serendipity. It has yet to let me down. I headed to an area called White Town, correctly guessing that it was the former colonial area. I found a nice hotel facing the canal. Visions of Amsterdam, with flowers, bicycles and barges? Don’t be silly. This is India, where you should expect the cows to have eaten the flowers and the bicycles to be in the canal, along with a whole variety of other types of rubbish. In fairness to Pondy this wasn’t the case at all. No bicycles, and a lower than usual amount of plastic waste and scummy water.

Alongside the canal (on the right) was a recycling centre. Much better than dumping it in the water.

My intention was to stay there for Christmas and to find a Christmas dinner to go with the warm weather. A complete contrast to last years lonely, cold event up in Assam. So I didn’t mind the cost of the hotel, which was quite cheap at first but whose price doubled over Christmas and also new year. It was a nice place and worth the spend. Very importantly, it had a secure garage where I could leave the bike. I ended up staying there for three weeks. There were some enjoyable places to visit and it was a very popular holiday destination with Indians.
It has an interesting colonial history, far more so than most areas of India. The city is part of the Union Territory of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), a name that was adopted in 2006, with Pondicherry as its main city. India has eight UTs, sometimes for reasons of geography, such as the Andaman and Nicobar islands, but others are for political or administrative reasons. Most of them were formed in 1956, when India reorganised its states. Some have their own legislature, others are ruled directly by central government, via a Lieutenant Governor.
The unusual aspect of Puducherry UT is that it’s made up of four separate areas, lying within three separate states, none of them sharing a border with any of the others. Pondicherry and Karaikal lie within the state of Tamil Nadu; Yanam is within the state of Andhra Pradesh, over eight hundred kilometres north. All three are on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Mahé is on the opposite coast, within the state of Kerala, over six hundred kilometres away from Pondicherry. They were all former French coastal colonies. What also surprised me about Puducherry UT was that the colonies remained in French hands until 1954, seven years after the rest of India gained independence. That change was a practical and administrative one, and the legal change under international law didn’t take effect until 1962, when France finally amended their constitution.
French merchants had behaved the same as all European countries did in India. They traded, gained possession of coastal lands and set up colonies. They were in competition with the Dutch, the Danes, the Portuguese and, of course, the British. Some of the colonies changed hands between the nations but as the 18th and 19th centuries wore on, it was the British that came out on top. Britain and France fought over these areas but they were given back to France after the Napoleonic wars. Once India had gained independence from Britain in 1947 the Indian and French governments began discussions. In 1948 an election took place to allow the people to decide their future. Unsurprisingly, the vote was to join India. Then, it was just a matter of time. Much more information here.

Pretty town houses, with a clear French and Indian influence.

The French influence on Pondicherry was very evident in the White Town area, which lies between the canal and the sea. The streets were built in a grid, with some of them laid out as tree lined boulevards. There were plenty of French named restaurants and cafés. The street names mirrored the history. Many of the side streets had very French looking town houses, with balconies at the front. There were several French based institutions and museums, relating to the area’s former ownership. I would have visited them but Covid denied me that opportunity.
So what was this seaside resort like? Busy over the holidays, but not excessively so. I bumped into, and chatted with, some Europeans. They were a rare breed in India in those Covid days. There were plenty of Indians in a holiday mood and dressed for the occasion too. It was notable how many women were wearing crimson coloured saris,. I’d seen a similar style while riding down through Tamil Nadu so I took it to be a cultural style within that state. The other notable thing was how much more to the fore women seemed to be in daily life, also common throughout Tamil Nadu. I saw Western dress much more often. More women were riding scooters and to the forefront in shops. Part of the reason may be that high numbers of men go to work abroad, in the Gulf States and elsewhere. They are often away for years on end, leaving the women to fend for themselves. The amount of money they send back isn’t always very much, so perhaps the women have to be more self sufficient.

Lower end of the promenade, with the old loading pier in the distance.

The focal point of White Town is the beach. There’s a long promenade next to it, although the beach itself is very narrow. The road is closed to traffic so it makes a pleasant place for people to walk. I found a very good café next to the beach, which became a favourite place for a late lunch. Further along was a very large Gandhi memorial statue, a popular place for photos and for climbing kids. I walked the promenade quite often, either to use the café or just for some fresh air.
I arrived in Pondy just before Christmas and the first task was to fine a decent meal for the 25th. Last year had been chicken and rice. I had sworn several oaths that I wouldn’t be eating such a plain and lonely meal this year. While walking around I found the Coromandel Restaurant, where there was a special Christmas menu at a quite reasonable Rs2,100. Three courses for £21. I was happy to splash out and made a booking. Of course, they sold alcohol too. I was looking forward to a Christmas glass of wine to go with the meal.
On the day itself I enjoyed a Zoom call with my family, whom I hadn’t seen for almost eighteen months. That was very special and cheered me up enormously. The restaurant was very well set out, with a pleasant ambiance. No turkey dinner though. I didn’t mind because the Beef Bernaise starter, and the roast beef dinner, were both very good. Beef in a Hindu country? It seemed odd but it was nice to have the choice. The Christmas pudding was also very tasty. A very enjoyable meal. Oh, the wine? Yes, very moreish, but I only had one. With the beer I’d drunk while I waited for the meal, it was enough.

Message by a doorstep.

By complete contrast new year’s eve was a non event. There were plenty of people on the promenade but with nothing much happening. I went back to the hotel and watched a film.

Sacred Heart Basilica. A rather striking façade.

While exploring the area I came across the Sacred Heart Basilica, opposite the station. It looked quite something, with the sun gleaming off its white and red painted, crenulated walls and towers. Very clearly from the days of French occupation. The interior was very decorative too, especially around the alter. The European influence brought more Indians into Christianity and Tamil Nadu state has nearly 7% Christians, more than there are Muslims. I’ve already mentioned the crypt of St Thomas the Apostle.

A beautiful interior too.

I walked to the southern part of the beach, to look at the new lighthouse. I couldn’t go into it so I walked back up the beach towards the promenade area. The contrast between the two parts of the seashore was all about social status. The whole length of the beach is lined with large basalt rocks, designed to prevent erosion. (Needless to say, it just moves the problem elsewhere.) The southern section is an area of much poorer housing and the two metre high rock barrier, lined on the inner side with an earth bank, is covered with rubbish and is a play area for children and goats. Kids and kids. Further along is the old port, now closed, with its pier jutting out into the sea. Access denied for safety reasons.

The lower end of the beach, with much poorer housing and the obvious breakwater.

I always have mixed feelings about this contrast between well off and poor, whenever I come across it. Tourism seems to keep White Town looking attractive. The playground of the rich? Well, not necessarily. Plenty of Indian families, clearly on holiday, were enjoying the area. I’m sure they’re much better off than the people whose houses I’d walked past, but probably not actually rich. But then, the people in those houses weren’t anything like as poor as others I’d seen in some cities. I suppose it’s all relative. I walked and rode through various parts of Pondicherry and didn’t see any extreme poverty anywhere. I can’t change anything so I suppose I just shouldn’t worry about it too much. The role of “disinterested observer” is probably the best one to adopt, despite the fact that I’m always interested.

The Gandhi memorial, with its eight granite columns. (Don’t count them, two are out of shot!)

As mentioned, near to the top end of the promenade was a large Gandhi memorial. Four metres high, it’s surrounded by eight decorated granite pillars, brought from a nearby fort. He stands with his back to the sea and looks as if he’s keen to march inland to spread his message. Opposite him is a memorial to French WWI war dead, as well as the old lighthouse, currently being refurbished as a visitor attraction. Walking a little further inland from the promenade I came across Bharathi Park, also know as Government Park because of its proximity to the colonial government buildings. There were several sights to see in here. The first was a large memorial called Aayi Mandapam, in the middle of the park. It was built in the time of Napoleon III, to commemorate the supply of water to the French area. Aayi was a courtesan who destroyed her own house to make way for a reservoir.

Aayi Mandapam memorial.

Elsewhere in the park was a nature trail that had lots of info boards relating to the local wildlife. They were notable for their colourful drawings. In among them were some totem pole style wildlife carvings. Generally the park was very well looked after and was a great place to walk around.

Very nicely decorated info boards.

Indian culture was well represented in Pondy by several decorative temples. But perhaps more than that by the busy shopping streets a little further inland from the canal. I walked around these areas many times, looking for supplies, including a pair of new sandals. One Sunday I walked up the main shopping street to find it super busy, with crowds of people enjoying the market. The street was closed to cars, which was just as well because it was almost blocked by the stalls selling everything anyone might need. Big stalls were interspersed with people squatting on the ground selling trinkets and other cheap goods off mats. Very colourful and good fun.

A statue in the park.

The city had a Botanical Gardens, not too far from the hotel. I took a walk up there to enjoy the greenery. It had clearly been closed because of Covid and was now being tidied up and replanted. While walking around I saw an old piece of fruit on the ground which was covered in some very strange insects. They had red backs displaying a diamond pattern, and they looked to be some kind of beetle. But the truly odd thing about them was that most of them were paired off with each other and were joined together at their rear ends. I tried to get a couple of them to separate but they weren’t having it. It seemed as if they were paired for life, with one of them mostly leading the way. Why? I have no idea. A Google search found a similar picture, stating that they’re Box Elder bugs, which are native to North America. What were they doing in Pondicherry? If anyone has more information, please let me know. There were some statues around the park, and some separate areas laid out with paths and more formal gardens. A nice way to spend a couple of hours and a change from the crowded and polluted streets.

Box Elder bugs, possibly, busy enjoying some fruit. You can see that the two on the top are joined together, as are many of the others.

A close up of a very friendly couple. (Picture from the internet.)

Close to Pondicherry is a very special place called Auroville (City of Dawn). It’s about 10kms from the city, so a nice ride out there. It’s set among small villages in a wooded area. What’s so special about it? It’s the hippy dream writ large. It was founded by a woman named Mirra Alfassa, who is also known as The Mother. It’s purpose is, to quote The Mother: “Auroville wants to be 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. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.” The site was originally twenty acres of barren land. A town has been created, which was hoped to expand to accommodate up to 50,000 people. It currently has a population of around 3,000, from fifty four countries. A thousand of them are from India.

The paths from the visitor centre to the Mandir are very nicely set out.

Mirra Alfasa was a French women who was recognised by one of India’s important gurus, Sri Aurobindo, as being as important a spiritual leader as he was. She set up a foundation in his name. The town was founded in 1968. After her death the Indian government took over the running of Auroville, along with the residents. The four principles of the founding charter, as set out by The Mother, are:
1.Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in   Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that   never  ages.
3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all   discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realizations.
4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual       human unity.
I have no way of knowing how well this has been achieved, but it is certainly a beautiful and a spiritual place to visit.

The Auroville Mandir, with its very well tended gardens.

The opening ceremony was attended by one hundred and twenty four delegates from around the world. Each was asked to bring some soil from their home. This was mixed into a large urn, which was placed inside the centrepiece of the site, the Matrimandir. This building is solar powered and is surrounded by carefully laid out gardens, known as the Peace Area. Within it is a special room, described as a “place to find one’s conciousness”. I can assure you that it is a stunningly beautiful building of an exceptional design. It was a shame that visitors weren’t allowed inside.
They try to be self sufficient but also do a lot of work with the occupants of the surrounding Tamil villages. They have set up the Auroville Village Action Group whose activities include women’s education, empowerment and financial support; Reach For the Stars! Program, enabling higher education for village youth; a cultural centre; health services and many others. They have an industrial section where they design and manufacture various products. One of these was a very nice apple crumble, which I enjoyed with some coffee once I’d had a look around.
It is a fascinating place and very much supports the reputation for spirituality which India enjoys. It was really pleasant to walk around the site and enjoy the peaceful ambiance. Check out this Wikipedia entry for more information.

I saw this on New Year’s Eve. Related to the occasion? I don’t know.

A few more things happened while in Pondicherry, of a much ore mundane nature. I found a tyre shop, run by the wife of an airline pilot. He reckoned it might be the end of March before flights resumed, which startled me a bit. My visa was due to expire in February. He managed to order me a new rear tyre, although their broken down compressor prevented them from fitting it. I took it round to the local Royal Enfield dealer, who fitted it, cleaned the chain and washed the bike. I had CNN and BBC on the TV in my room so was able to watch the incredible events in the USA. If anyone had doubts about the dreadful nature of Trump and his followers, those events must surely have removed them. It was so good to see Joe Biden confirmed as the winner.
By the time departure day arrived I’d been in the hotel for three weeks. When I went down to check out, the hotel owner was there and gave me some gifts of an Indian style dress shirt and a scarf. I was very pleased. They’d looked after me well and had arranged a discounted rate whenever they could. What good people.
My plan now was to ride down through Tamil Nadu as far as India’s most southern mainland point. I was conscious that my visa was soon to expire and I wanted to finish exploring this coastline before it did.

I’d stopped by the side of the road to check my route when this young woman pulled up on her scooter to see if I wanted any help.

On the way south I visited several Hindu temples, of various sizes, all of them beautifully decorated. But just for a change I called in to see the Zion Cathedral. I came across this Pentecostal church almost by accident, having spotted it on the map.. At the gate I was stopped by a man with the biggest set of whiskers and sideburns I’d ever seen. Round by the church I met Rowlands Wesley, the inappropriately named assistant Reverend. He should really be at a Methodist church, I thought. He was very friendly and I met his family while I drank coffee. He invited me to come to lunch the next day.

The Zion Cathedral.

I stayed in the town of Nagapattunam and after enjoying a very cheap, but nice breakfast (Rs30!) I went to see a small temple a little way out of town. It was closed but while I was taking photos one of the guys hanging around by the nearby river asked me why I’d come to his village. “To meet you”, I said. His mates all laughed at him and he and I joined in.
Back at the Zion Cathedral I managed to drop my bike in a muddy puddle. Not quite enough forward momentum was the problem, otherwise known as messing it up! The boys hanging around helped to pick it up then set to with with cloths and water to clean the mud off. There was a service going on but when it was finished I met Rowland’s father and mother. Many years ago he’d been attacked and stabbed by some Hindu fundamentalists, which had made him determined to grow the congregation. It now stood at fifteen thousand. Quite a success story.

Bare inside. Ready, perhaps, for those 15,000 worshippers to arrive.

We had a very nice family lunch then Rowland’s daughters showed me around the cathedral. It’s a cavernous place, pretty much empty of any religious fripperies. Just plastic chairs or the floor to sit on. It’s next to a lake, or possibly a reservoir, but it was a good backdrop for a photo. That was delightful visit, allowing me to experience some of India’s religious diversity.

Family photo.

I tried to visit Fort Dansborg (Danish Fort), not far away, but it was closed for the festival of Thiruvalluvar day, which is named after a local poet. It’s only celebrated in Tamil Nadu. It’s part of the Pongol Festival, which is celebrated in the south of India, relating to the end of the harvest. The main crop in those parts was sugar cane, which seems to grow remarkably tall – two metres seemed to be average. I’d seen plenty of people carrying a small number of the canes on their bikes, sometimes across the footboard of a scooter, making them as wide as a truck! I guessed these were for ceremonial purposes, but I wasn’t sure.

A printing press in the museum. Brought by the Danes.

There was a museum near the fort, which covered the activities of the Danish Hallé mission. The Danish king had engaged two German missionaries who’d trained at the Martin Luther Hallé university near Berlin. He wanted to spread the Protestant message and this was the first ever attempt to do so. His approach was completely different to what churches usually did. Instead of going to Tamil Nadu and trying to convert people by talking at them, they learned the local languages and went to talk with the local people. They trained their converts to be missionaries as well. They set up a printing press and created books written in Tamil, teaching local people to read them. They learned all about local medical practices too. They sent a report back to the king every six months, which totalled 34,000 documents. The mission arrived in 1706 and was there until the 1820s. Their documents have become a valuable historical resource. I went to see the fort on the way back north and enjoyed a walk round it. There were some documents on display detailing all sorts of business carried out locally by the Danes. The fort was eventually taken over by the Dutch when the Danes withdrew from the area. Eventually it became British.

Fort Dansborg,

I saw a place on the map which looked to be worth a visit. The town of Rameswaram sat at the head of a long spit of land which jutted out into the sea by about eighteen kilometres. The first job when arriving there was to find a hotel. I located one and booked in. But the room didn’t have a working TV or the promised wi-fi. I’m not that fussed about a TV but I do like internet access and the hotel wasn’t a cheap one. The desk jockey promised it would be sorted out so I sat in the room waiting. After an hour of nothing happening, and no response from the desk, I picked up my gear and left. I hadn’t unpacked or taken off my riding gear so I just loaded up the bike again. The desk jockey came out and when I said I was fed up waiting and was leaving he demanded Rs500 from me. What for? I don’t know but I just got on my bike and rode off to another hotel. I don’t go for any of that kind of nonsense.

It looks like the rail line lifts up to let ships through.

I rode out along the causeway to sea what there was to sea. There was a railway running alongside it which had a section where the line could be swung round to allow boats to get through. The road rose up to form a bridge as well. Lots of people were stopping to take photos, including me. Once out on the spit I had the novel experience of riding along with the sea on each side.

No problem with seeing the sea on this road.

At the very end of it was a parking area with a viewpoint. I chatted to some other riders who’d come from the state Kerala for a few days’ riding. The police chased everyone away when it closed at 5pm. I stopped further back along the road to watch the sunset, which was completely spoiled by low cloud anyway. I had stopped to look at a a small church right on the beach and to watch some fishermen bringing in their catch. Judging by the amount of fish they trudged up the beach with, they’d had a good day. I’d seen plenty of fish restaurants on the way out. A fish meal appealed very much. The problem was that they had no electricity supply, so no lights. After sunset all of them were closed, to my dismay. So it was chicken, omelette and parotta once more. I know how to live!

A Shiva Linga in the sea.

Feeling the weight of a good catch.

The ride away from Rameswaram was delightful. I spotted a road that cut across country, which went through flooded paddies, the water from the recent rain sometimes spilling onto the road. I was pleased to see some wind turbines spinning away, taking advantage of the flat, breezy terrain. I eventually came onto NH32, Tamil Nadu’s “mother road”. The good riding continued, across the green countryside on a lovely sunny day.
I stopped in the town of Tirunelveli, planning to see the Arulmigu Nellaiappar temple. I snacked while I waited for it to open and enjoyed walking around it very much. It was similar to the large temple I’d visited in Rameswaram, but where I’d not been able to take photographs. Both of them were mostly covered over, with various shrines here and there, and a very high roof. The Rameswaram pillars were heavily decorated. In this one there was not so much of it but there were some great carvings.

Plain in colour but with some great carvings.

I was allowed to visit the main shrine. A guy standing outside wanted to give me some powder to take in there, to offer to the idol. But I declined, thinking that as a non Hindu going into the shrine wasn’t the right thing to do. I also declined to pay him the money he wanted for the powder he didn’t give me. This temple was clearly older that the one at Rameswaram. Few of the pillars were carved, and none were painted. I enjoyed this plainness and also the dingy, underground feel it gave to the place, enhanced by uneven flagstones and dark corners. A real change from most Hindu temples.

It wasn’t sunny all the time.

I’d applied to the FRRO for an exit permit, the same as I had in October. This time they weren’t being very co-operative and wanted all sorts of extra information, including a list of all the places I’d already been to since arriving in India and where I’d stayed. Bureaucratic nonsense, so I just up on the whole thing. I’d slowly reached the conclusion that not having an exit permit wasn’t going to be a problem. Even the FRRO seemed confused about it.
The next destination was Kanyakumari, a town which included India’s most southern mainland point. An easy and enjoyable ride down the NH32 once more. This time I saw dozens, even hundreds, of wind turbines. Every one represents less coal burnt and is a sign of progress. Well done Tamil Nadu.

The Mary Matha Shrine.

When I arrived I explored along the beach road and came to a very odd looking, large rock at the far end. It had Catholic themed paintings all over it. It’s called Our Lady , Star of the Sea Shrine. Further along I found a big, white church, Our Lady of Ransom, built in the 1900s. Next to that was another strange shrine, the Mary Matha Shrine. It’s just a small building with some statues, paintings and an altar. It puzzles me as to why these places are all so close to each other, but still separate. My guess is that they’re sponsored and erected by different people or groups, buying a stairway to heaven. Religion makes people do seemingly odd things. There’s ancient tombs in the area, suggesting that Catholics have been there since the 15th century.

Our Lady of Ransom church. Looking very nice in bright white.

I booked into an expensive hotel, very much fancying the idea of a luxurious room and a swimming pool. Down at the ‘end of India’ was a tourist area with some things I noted for a visit next day. A Gandhi Memorial Building; a Tsunami Memorial Park; a sunset viewing tower; a small amusement park.
I visited the Gandhi building first. It’s a lovely looking place, with a design I really liked. I was shown round by an old guy who basically pointed out the photos on the wall, which were all captioned in English anyway. The only thing of note he did show me was the memorial stone, which is so placed that the sun shines onto it through a hole in the roof on Gandhi’s birthday, the 2nd October. My guide declared that he was a volunteer and didn’t get paid. He opened a notebook and revealed a 500 rupee note, indicating that’s what I should pay him. It’s a good ruse. I gave him Rs100. Next door was a memorial building dedicated to Kamarajar Mani Mantapa, who was Tamil Nadu’s First Minister for thirteen years. More informative photos, and a nice bust. But another good looking building.

The Gandhi museum. I liked the design of this building a lot.

The Tsunami Memorial Park wasn’t open so I couldn’t get a decent photo of the memorial or see the display. Hence, I got one from the internet. Fifteen hundred people died in Tamil Nadu and two hundred and fifty in Kanyakumari. Down by the beach there were plenty of people enjoying the day. Out in the bay was an island with a temple and a big statue on it. There didn’t seem to be any way of getting out there, which was a shame. Lots of shops to walk around, and a café at which I enjoyed a coffee. The rest of the day was spent next to the pool, getting pink.

I don’t know much about this place it’s a bout as south as you can get without swimming. 

The Tsunami Memorial.

The only way now was north, with the clock ticking towards the end of my visa. A ride up into the hills, with some nice bends to enjoy, took me up to 2,200 metres and a cold night in a hotel. The compensation came from being in a hilly area where I could walk around and take some photos of a waterfall and a charming lake. I was in a national park with signs imploring people not to feed the animals. I only saw small monkeys, which I knew would be delighted to have been fed, even though it’s not a good idea.

The lake at Kaidakanal.

Continuing north, I made tracks for Chennai, my planned departure point from India. I was in a bit of a quandary as to where to go next. I wanted to visit Sri Lanka but they were imposing a two week quarantine on visitors. They had a list of permitted places at which I could have stayed but they were around $80 per day. After a lot of to and fro within my brain, I decided it would be best to go back the the UK. I would have to leave Sri Lanka for another day. Being a long way south, it’s a very hot place so is best visited in winter. I felt sure I could plan it in for later.
On the way to Chennai I called in to see the Danish Fort, then had a stop over at Pondicherry, just for old time’s sake. Once in Tamil Nadu’s capital city of Chennai, I found a good hotel and instigated the arrangements for storing my bike. The ever helpful Jay had put me in touch with Magesh, a friend who lived in Chennai and would look after it for me. It would be stored in the car park beneath his block of flats and he wasn’t too worried how long it would be there for. He was away on business so his cousin, Ganesh, showed me where the apartments were, then took me to his home for tea and tiffin, and to meet his family. So typically Indian.

Drying rice on the roadway.

Tamil Nadu had been a great place to travel around. It seemed different to other parts of India, especially in the way women behaved. That aspect was very refreshing. I’ve tried to understand the reasons for that although I accept I may not have. It was great to see all the wind turbines and I enjoyed the riding very much. But I still don’t know the reason for the preponderance of crimson sarees.
I had a few days to spare before I flew out so I arranged for a service on the bike. I told the mechanic about a slight, low speed wheel wobble that had developed. He checked it out and reckoned it was a worn tyre, caused by the chain being out of alignment. He said it would need a new one, to which I agreed. When I rode it back to the hotel, guess what? The wheel still wobbled! I wasn’t happy as the old tyre had only been part worn. But I had too many other things to do than bother about going back there. It was a job to sort out when I get back to India.

Wise words from Mahatma Gandhi.

I needed a Covid test and contacted a laboratory business called Metropolis. They booked me in to come and take a sample from me at the hotel. This was on a Saturday. I was flying on Monday. They didn’t show up. I found another company and rode out to their place on Sunday. Neuberg Erlich were very efficient. I had the PCR test at 2 p.m. and they emailed me the negative result by 6p.m. Excellent.
Later the same day I met Ganesh at the apartment block and we parked the bike there. I left behind all my riding gear, telling him to find a new owner for it if he could. I would be bringing new clothing and crash helmet back with me. The battery on the bike was disconnected and it was covered up too. Snug as a bug. Ganesh took me back to the hotel. I’d had a sort through all of my panniers, looking for unused items to bring home, thereby lightening the load. Some of my tools needed replacing so I packed the worn ones to bring back. It had been eighteen months since I’d last been home so a revision of equipment was overdue.

Well done Tamil Nadu.

At the airport the next afternoon check-in was straightforward. Once I was air side I relaxed, until I got a phone call from airport security. What had I done? I’d left a battery power pack in my luggage, that’s what. A young man took me all the way down to the baggage loading area, out through the baggage carts and conveyor belts. They got me to identify it then confiscated it. It should have been in my cabin bag. It was due for replacement anyway, so I wasn’t too worried.
In Mumbai I had to wait a few hours before I could go to check in. A guy there got me to complete the UK Government locator app, telling them where I was planning to self isolate, and I was sent a PDF copy of it. I downloaded the Test and Trace app too. My mind was slowly absorbing the new normal of Covid in the UK. In India, once I’d escaped lockdown, it hadn’t affected me apart from wearing a mask. My main worry was getting through immigration. I didn’t have the exit permit I’d been worrying about. After all that they didn’t even mention it. That cheered me up.
I’d heard people say that when they arrived at Heathrow nobody made any Covid related checks on them. I wasn’t among that number. I was asked for my Covid PCR test, and the NHS locator form. Well done them. The journey home was easy and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my son had filled the fridge with supplies, including some decent beer. If there’s one thing I miss when I’m abroad, it’s proper English beer. I’d heard of the plans to force people into quarantine on arrival in the UK. Fortunately that wasn’t in effect although I might have been caught if I’d gone to Sri Lanka. Ten days self isolation was all that was required.
I expect to be home for two to three months before I return to India. There’s family to visit, new riding gear to obtain and tools to buy. Therefore this blog will take a rest for a while until I can return and start travelling again. See you in a while.

I met this guy, from Kerala, at Kanyakumari. 

Despite the humble accommodation, Tamil Nadu is now supplying water to these small settlements.

2 thoughts on “Christmas Stories.

  1. Very informative and enjoyable read. Excellent photos too. The south lives large in my memory having spent a lot of time there in 1970 and 1973. I remember visiting Auroville and spending time in Pondi. I had no idea about the Danish influence in the area.
    Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Steve. Thanks for your kind comments and I’m very pleased you enjoyed it. I hope to return soon, to Chennai, where my bike is being stored. Then I’ll be heading north.


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