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From India

I spent this weekend on the south-east coast of India in a town called Pondicherry. It’s about a three hour drive south of Chennai (Madras) and it is famous for being a former French colony. They actually managed to hang on to their little enclave for ten more years after Indian independence was declared, finally giving it up in 1956. It still retains a special status though and especially taxes for alcohol are very low.

This is great news for all the wine-guzzling French tourists that fill the place, as always flocking to their ex-colonies. I wonder why that is? Always hunting for that lost time when they were still a colonial super power. They have something to be proud of though. Pondicherry is a very pleasant town. Wide open streets, blissfully free of traffic. Cafe’s serving freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolat. And a long sea-front promenade perfect for evening strolls.

It’s like a fairy tale, but as soon as you cross the canal you’re back in India proper where the blast of the Rickshaw horn rules. I spent the day visiting a quaint colonial museum, drinking a pression in The Promenade Hotel and doing some shopping in the hectic bazaar.

For pictures just click on the web album. It also includes shots of the day before we spent in Mamallapuram, an hour or so up the coast, famous for its intricate rock carvings.

Shore temple, Mamallapuram


As it turns out, flying from India to the US will take you through several countries along the way. It’s 22 hours flight time, which means a couple of changes and fuel stops are necessary. The round trip is roughly 20,000 miles, or almost the earth’s circumference, during which you cross the date line twice.

Add to that an 11,5 hour time difference and you would expect to get the mother of all jet lags, but it wasn’t really that bad. I guess the journey is so long and exhausting that it overwrites your biological clock and I had no problem sleeping whatsoever. I admit, though, that keeping my eyes open in the afternoon was a bit of a challenge

Here’s the compilation:

Seoul, South Korea

Hong Kong safety tips

Hong Kong Airport

Skyscraper, Singapore financial district. This picture was taken on a free bus tour of the city that you can take during long lay-overs

The latest in law enforcement technology: Eternal Damnation!

Streets of San Jose, a spotless shock after Hyderabad

As my friend Daan would say: Thank you Captain Obvious!

The guesthouse I’m living in is a little like a hotel. The rooms are cleaned every day, fresh towels and linnen are provided and when you come home your laundry is waiting freshly washed and ironed on you bed. There is a wide variety of security guards who sit outside and wander through the house every half hour or so to check if everything is okay. There is also a cook, whom I haven’t seen yet, but he leaves breakfast and dinner on a plate covered in plastic wrap. Everyday my name is spelled a little differently.

Today it was Mr. Petter…

View from the balcony

Living room with dinner table in the background

Bedroom and freshly ironed shirt

Mr Petter’s Thai chicken with peanut and coconut sauce

Culture Shock:

  • a condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes

A minute on Hyderabad’s quiet Sunday roads…

How much can happen in 24 hours? A lot….

Noon. Yesterday. Amsterdam. I’m at the airport and they tell me the flight is horribly overbooked. They can’t guarantee me a seat, but I should go to the gate and wait for further information. At the gate the situation is even worse. There are 15 people ahead of me hoping for empty seats so they tell me the chances of me getting on are almost zero.

And then I get lucky…. As they divide up the last few spots, they end up with a single seat. There are still 8 people ahead of me in the line, but they’re all travelling in couples, so I get the boarding pass and have to sprint to the airplane.

9 hours later, at 2 am local time I arrive at Begumpet airport, Hyderabad. It lies in the center of the city. As the plane makes its final approach, it plunges down into an endless array of apartment blocks, which clears just in time to make room for the runway. The customs procedure is fast. My luggage comes out first (having gone into the plane last) covered with white chalk crosses.

A driver picks me up in the arrivals hall and we head out into the city. Driving in the dark to the guest house, we pass crews working under bright spotlights on a new fly-over. Small groups of men linger by the side of the road. Autorickshaws buzz about, bent on crashing into anything that moves. It’s 27 degrees and the air is humid with the monsoon. At the guest house I get shown a room and fall asleep to the humm of the air conditioning.

Taj KrishnaThe next morning I join a few of the other people staying at the guest house and we head over to the Taj Krishna for Sunday brunch. The Taj Krishna is a sumptuous place to say the least. Marble-paved corridors, dramatic landscaped gardens and an exquisite buffet where you can order anything from Belgian waffles to grilled lobster. It’s a far cry from the scenes out on the streets.

Halfway through the meal, an Indian mariachi band shows up. After a few songs they begin to wander through the room and end up at our table serenading the newcomer (me) with a lovely melody entitled ‘Welcome to India’, after which they slide into a rendition of Hotel California.

The afternoon we spend looking at some of the sites: Birla Mandir Temple and Golconda Fortress. Being white in these areas makes you kind of a celebrity and our little group of three girls and one guy turns out to be very popular. People come up to you and ask you to pose with them for a picture. Others just sneak in quick shots of us as we walk by. In the distance you can hear the faint rumblings of a thunderstorm. The monsoon is around.

After sightseeing we head back to the guesthouse for a break and then take a car to the Gingercourt Restaurant, where we sample some great Indian food in a very cool, blue-lighted lounge bar; deep trance beats on the stereo.

And all that in just 24 hours…

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