I'm meditatively harvesting pure vanilla from a pile of pods given to us years ago by someone actually from Madagascar ("Mada Hoo Ha??" Marty asked). Some of the vanilla has gone into an Ottolenghi chocolate cake recipe (btw, am I the only person who didn't realize his first name isn't Otto?) and the rest is being kept for future use. As I cut and scrape, my mind thinks back to the mad road trip (are there any other kind?) we were on a week ago. A Bangalore to Pondicherry trip that at best should have taken six hours ended up taking close to twelve hours. The driver took us on a detour that added another 150 km to the trip past Salem, the very non - direct way to get from Bangalore to Pondicherry. The side benefit was a view of the beautiful Tamilian countryside with the hills surprisingly well covered.
The French part of Pondicherry, 'White Town', a few square kilometers at best, has the typical white, ochre and red buildings that seem to characterize French cities in Asia, be it Phnom Penh, Hanoi or in this case Pondicherry. The boulevard looks out over the beautiful waters of the Bay of Bengal. Go straight and you'll hit the Andaman and Nicobar islands, closer to Thailand than they are to India.
There are trendy boutiques and coffee places, Tarini and Mira acting as our guides as both of them came here on school trips. A band celebrating their fiftieth anniversary are belting out hits from stage set up at the waterfront. The lead singer, white haired and dressed in a green polo shirt and shorts, somehow still manages to bounce up and down the stage.
The trip back to Bangalore, less than 36 hours after we finally arrived is calmer than the way in. We have swapped drivers and are now in the company of the talkative and self - appointed tour guide Vijay. Vijay is himself a resident of Auroville, established by followers of Sri Aurobindo. Call it what you like, ashram, commune, kibbutz, it's amazing and gratifying to see something started in the 1960's thriving and successfully propagating a balanced lifestyle beyond the immediate confines of the township itself.
Several hours into the drive we pass through a temple town where Vijay points out the Shiva temple with four imposing entrances, dating back to 1100 AD.
A little over the half - way point, in the middle of nowhere we stopped for hot sweet tea at a road side stall. The imposing and corpulent aunty seated on a plastic chair guarding the way to the loos yells "five rupees" after me, as the price for using the facilities. By the time I come back she has changed her mind and it is now 10 rupees. By the time we set off for the last leg of the drive she is walking back to the main building and contentedly closing her plastic box with bank notes.
"Ten rupees too much", Vijay shakes his head as we drive off, but the ladies have voted these the best loos of the trip. We drive into Bangalore a little over six hours after we set off, thoroughly shaken and stirred.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.