If you really need to take a break from India, then Pondicherry is a good bet. Anthony and I had set our sights on this former French colony long before we came to India, but we weren’t sure how it had fared in the tsunami.
It turns out that Pondicherry has a really high sea face below which lie stacks of treacherous black rocks and tetrapods. A few people died in Pondicherry. The town had some of the lowest numbers of deaths in TN, but it certainly would have been worse had Pondy not had such a reinforced wall. Even a few weeks later, high tide looked menacing ? but I suspect that is how it always is. Posters that appeared to be several months to years old warned swimmers about the Devil Sea.
Less than three weeks after the tsunami hit, I was able to visit Tamil Nadu (TN), the Indian state that, in addition to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, suffered the most damage. Most of the people who died in TN were south of Chennai (formerly Madras) in Nagapattinam.
I was unable to visit the latter over the past weekend, but I did get the chance to see Madras, Pondicherry, and some of the coastal towns in between. And, while those towns didn’t suffer casualties as heavy as Nagapattinam, the effects of the tsunami were somewhat noticeable. More conspicuous (but not surprising given the hardships of the travel industry in DC and NY after 9/11) was the seeming lack of tourists.
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My friend Rohit and some others have set up a blog to help consolidate information on the earthquake, tsunamis, and resulting relief efforts. Great great idea. I hope to put in a little time on the blog providing links to aid organizations and the like in the next few days. Though, if you check out the site, you’ll see it’s already quite comprehensive. There are also links to donate money online.
First of all, I should say that this side of India is doing just fine ? so far. The news of the earthquake and tsunamis hit home in a really surreal way, as I spent more than two hours on the Arabian Sea on Sunday. We were invited to a wedding in the coastal town of Alibag. For transport, the bride and groom arranged for a charter boat to ferry us from the Gateway of India to the wedding site.
It’s wedding season in India, and most especially in Bombay, where it hasn’t rained since November 2 and it won’t again until May or June. The bandstands and cricket fields along Marine Drive and the causeway from South Mumbai up to Bandra are framed by hot pink archways and, by night, are flooded with lights and guests. Drop by any of the hotels in the afternoon and evening, and you are guaranteed to see a stunning array of women in beaded saris and men in fancy kurtas and long, fringed scarves. And, Tuesdays are almost as popular as Saturdays, because many couples, regardless of religious or social background, call on astrologers to determine their marriage timings.