As mentioned in our last blog post, due to a national holiday coinciding with our time here, almost all of the Pondicherry/Auroville hotels, B and Bs and homestays had been booked up for months. Undeterred and with steely determination, a scouring of the usual booking apps eventually proved to be fruitful. One sole room available, near Auroville, with AC! Thanks Air BnB.
A 20 minute auto rickshaw ride later and thanks Air BnB quickly turned tothanks Air BnB. No AC in the room and packs of Indian teenagers – who judging by the amount of Fosters and Budweiser in the communal fridge were planning some raucous nights – creeping out from every nook and cranny like jeaned cock roaches. The young adults and their Indian dance music I could cope with but no AC? The Ashram experience was still too raw of a memory for me to “suck it up” as Jess (sitting in the corner of the room as calm as a yoga guru) suggested. There was no option. We had to move somewhere else. And with darkness approaching we had to move fast. Panicking, because there was no ‘somewhere else’ we once again scoured our apps.
Mahabalipuram, a 2 hour, 120km and £25 taxi ride away from Auroville turned out to be ‘somewhere else.’ This was the nearest available AC room unbelievably.
We had planned to visit this popular coastal resort later in our route so skipping Auroville until the Independence Day madness subsided wasn’t such a disaster.
After a night just outside ‘Mahabs’, in a relatively nondescript hotel, which may or may not have been to blame for Jess’ first encounter with ‘Dheli Belly’, we headed back to the beach and our next AC room (I’ll spoil the surprise now. It didn’t have AC either but no drama this time as there were plenty of alternatives).
Enroute we decided to make a pit stop at a local tourist attraction/conservation trust – one I had been very excited to visit. Jess’ feelings were a little less enthusiastic. It was her turn to suck it up. Ha ha.
The trust is a nationally recognised research institution and a leading bank for conservation and education. Established in 1976, and home to hundreds of endangered animals which were once nearing extinction, the centre is the first breeding station in Asia. So why was Jess not so keen? Let’s just say the zoo houses a very specific species of fauna. See the picture below (feeding video wouldn’t upload😔)
We both enjoyed the Madras Crocodile Bank, although admittedly Jess would have preferred an elephant or penguin bank, especially the live snake venom extractions and the feeding of Jaws III (the largest crocodile in captivity in Asia).
Mahabalipuram itself was a very different coastal location to the ones we had visited in Tranquebar and Pondicherry. Thanks to favourable conditions for surfing, Mahabs attracts and is geared toward a more hippier clientele. On numerous occasions I was offered grass, weed and various other recreational drugs. I know you were worried about this mam but rest assured I managed to resist the strong sales pitches of the peddlers (primarily an older woman like an Indian version of Grandma).
For the first time we managed to take a dip in the ocean without fear of becoming tangled in rubbish, fishing equipment or animal by-products. The beach was not quite spotless but certainly the cleanest so far.
The food and accommation were nothing to write home about apart from the iced coffees. Also we did seem to be served by the same man no matter which restaurant we chose to dine in.
In terms of touristy things offered, we could choose from the Shore Temple, the five rathas, Arjuna’s penance and Mahabalipuram Hill. At 500 rupees entry per person we decided to give the world heritage temple and rathas (houses carved out of solid stone) a miss. We were still feeling templed out and the recently doubled entry fee seemed steep by Indian prices. Instead we went to gaze in awe for free at Arjuna’s penance.
One of Indias greatest ancient artworks and portraying scenes of Hindu myths, Arjuna’s penance is a spectacular giant relief carving on two adjacent boulders.
Surrounding the two giant rocks was Mahabalipuram Hill. A very pleasant stroll with numerous temples, rock carvings and monuments dotted around on the landscape. At one point we happened upon a giant boulder, known as Krishna’s Butterball, balanced rather precariously on a slope of rock.
After three nights we had seen everything we wanted to and were ready to head back to Pondicherry, to try again to visit the now elusive Auroville…