Written by CNN Staff Writer
(CNN) — With an ocean of foam surrounding the camera, it’s easy to understand why swimming with the Commonwealth appears like a bit of an experience.
“It was just awesome, you’re swimming with bubbles.”
“It was like flying.”
It’s also worth mentioning how many times my finger mistakenly misfired.
I tried — and failed — to learn about the International Floating Hydroelectric Project: a system that transforms tidal water into electricity without the need for divers, barges or cranes.
I visited Pondicherry on India’s eastern coast during a three-day trip organized by the student student-run traveling journalism project, Pondicherry Report , in collaboration with Emerald Eco ,
There, we witnessed three power plants, all at different stages of development, offering different experiences.
My first choice was to take a scenic boat tour of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which lie 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) west of the capital of New Delhi.
But soon enough we were transferred to a small boat at a pump station on the shore of the picturesque Rameswaram, a small community by the side of a beach about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Pondicherry.
The enclosed concrete planks looked like a classroom building, although on closer inspection the handsome wooden walls revealed an impressive array of solar panels designed to convert tidal water into steam for the generators.
Each plan was covered with curves that created an underwater sound effect, the passage of which every anxious tourist along the way had to be aware of.
Next, we were taken to the local power plant, a modern structure with concrete superstructure, towers and fuel tanks.
We watched the electricity being generated by “hydrokinetic thrust,” where the water in the river bursts up against the platform and creates a massive wave.
Video courtesy Plumb Shoot/Media Consultants Ltd.
Induction generation is used to generate the electricity. The problem is that the windy conditions of the Andaman Islands — another little tourist hotspot of the coastal region — doesn’t provide a sufficient supply of renewable energy.
Given the prevailing drizzle, a lot of waste water is pumped out to the sea at night, and this was the reason for a nearby “beach loo.” The outdoor toilet had little charm for a tourist, but it did serve its purpose.
There was a surprising amount of recycling involved. Banners of legendary guest George Strait — who went to school in nearby Pondicherry — hung down the sides of the factory.
Although nowhere near overflowing, the toilets had gaping holes, and the walls were coated with tar because it was easier to clean them than normal tiles.
After visiting the next power plant, I joined the final group of reporters on a double-decker bus that took us for a series of tours across the streets and back to the city.
The scenic route also included a visit to Vellore, a relatively new city, but also one with an interesting history.
The mercantile hub Vellore dates back to the 19th century, and it was the site of the largest gold refining factory in the Indian subcontinent until 1950.
These days there’s more focus on the development of scientific research and education, and the only sights are the many government buildings in the center of the city, and a few far-off mansions.
History tells us that two of the more interesting surviving buildings from the golden age are the glittering P.E.S. M.A.M. society hall and the award-winning Jawaharlal Nehru National Institute of Advanced Scientific Research (JNASR), both of which still remain largely untouched.
Finally we arrived at the pulp and paper mill. The sudden change from scenic daytime tour to back to back power plant is also noticeable.
Even though there are no long lines for the elevators, the lighting is a lot brighter, and the volume of the plants’ loud fans can be felt in the air.
Finally the door of the waiting cab opened and the group stepped out into the bright sun — back to a normal life after a day underwater and heated up by a quick change from air conditioned comfort.