HOW TO SPEND A DAY IN PONDICHERRY
I will make a promise…..to come back…with jumble of sounds of Bay of Bengal
French lands are miles away, but a tinge a touch away. Puducherry also whispered by its former name Pondicherry or affectionately Pondy, is an urban city tucked on the Coromandel (a Sri Lankan tree that yields timber used in furniture) Coast in the Indian Union Territory of Pondicherry, South India.
Chennai – Mahabalipuram – Puducherry
I kickstarted on this scenic road trip on East Coast Road in India from Chennai to Pondy. Haha, a sheer disappointment to my fantasy of Bay of Bengal at one side while the backwaters to the other. Around 150 km from Adyar, Chennai, I came ashore in 06 hours (beholding Mahabalipuram on my way) to the Black & White Town with sunflower kissed walls, pongal, podi, croissant, tarte, bicycles and hundreds of open windows of affection and worn out to poise French and Tam.
Back to the roots
A flicker of uncertainty, a slow build-up of unknown over time…..
Life in the White Town on this free spirited, quite land is white influenced post the arrival of French, Dutch & Britain colonialists in India. It is apparent in the name itself. Ah!
Conquered by French colonialists in the year 1674, streets of Pondicherry were acquired by the Indian government on 01 November 1954 (Independence Day of Pondicherry) post the independence of the country itself. French East India Company hugged these sunflower walls as their trading headquarters in the south. It is apparent in the colonial city’s architecture- government buildings, domiciles, prayer halls to even local cafes, much is the influence of the Franks.
Black Town & White Town
Where you head- Divide & Decide
Pondy is halved in Tamil Indian quarter (also, known as Ville Noire) and French White Quarter (Ville Blanche).
Love, Hard Work & Affection
Black quarter of Tamil land, a gateway to the quaint city sums up as a hamlet backed by hard labour, honesty and narrow lanes surrounded by palm trees. Unattractive, yet a bliss to behold.
Laidback & Quaint
French quarter is touristy; one can meander for hours or bicycle in the old cultural lanes to experience a baby voyage to France. After the independence from British and French peeps, only a few colonialists narrowed down to dwell here, rest leaving it to their Indian legacy or Sri Aurobindo. Most of the blocks are owned by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram trust.
Life of the people of French Town, temple, saviour, goodness, poise and peace, Aurobindo Ashram is corner for Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi, visited by thousands of devotees and travellers. Located on Marina Street, Ashram is a tranquil affair with the founder of Integral Yoga, multilingual library celebrating His life and The Mother’s devotion & guest house.
Entry to the Ashram is free. Mobile phones are to be kept on silent mode. Visiting hours- 8 am to noon and 02 pm to 06 pm. Photography is not allowed. Please maintain silence!
Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple
A Hindu Temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the only temple in the White Town, is located 02 minutes (190 meters) from Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Intricately carved in the South Indian style of architecture and colors, the sculptured walls depict tales from the life of Lord Ganesha. Brimming with devotees, the temple is well maintained yet. There are several shops at the threshold to buy flowers and ladhus. Chained elephant blesses too here.
No entry charges and photography inside the temple is prohibited.
Seaside Promenade- Gandhi Statue, Old Lighthouse…
A perfect esplanade to saunter at the dusk and dawn, quaint beach and no lousy with elbow-to-elbow, I was intrigued by the majestic structures on the street- Gandhi Statue (an arresting affair from a distance, guarded by 08 tall granite pillars), Lighthouse (old, desolate and run-down), Douane Customs, Le Cafe, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Manimandabam, Pondicherry Tourism Department, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press & several others. The promenade is pristine and heaven for joggers. Do not miss to grab some Dosai and cuppa at La Cafe, a joint facing the Bay of Bengal.
Doors of French Town & Graffiti
The French are crazy, naive, yet welcoming.
Denoting to the French facade, I dropped to Letters To Juliet (Villa Arvedi), a modern version of it.
It was 7 AM and I was in the search of my morning masala chai. While strolling in the White Town, the touristy of Pondy, I would freeze every 10 meters and put my camera to capture the colourful thresholds of the French town. There are bleached, sunflower kissed, agony red, turquoise domiciles, local French cafes, power edifices and extensive libraries or local alcohol/general shops. To explore, either rent a bicycle or walk on the promenade with a smile and inquisitive heart.
Baker Street- a gastronomical affair
Located on Bussy street, Baker Street is brimming throughout the day. Called as the bakery of the Pondy! Dishes out a wide variety of fresh and savoury French breads, croissants, tartes, and delicious pizzas, Baker Street is a must must.
In-house restaurant of The Promenade, Blueline’s buffet breakfast has a variety of options from juices, fresh fruits, confectionaries, South Indian and continental menu.
Madhuram, Abirami Residency dishes out vegetarian South Indian delicacies open from 7 am to 10.30 pm. It’s a pretty decent place for someone looking for pure vegetarian meals or South Indian thalis. Idiappam with Kurma and Coconut Milk is a must try.
Beaches & His Forefathers
Big, bang, boom
Breezy, Rocky & Adventurous, that’s what I define beaches of Pondy. Pristine, less swarmed and well kept, these four main beaches- Promenade, Serenity, Auroville and Paradise are haven for beach bums. Stroll in the Goubert Avenue at the rocky Promenade beach, experience the thrill of scuba and open water diving (Temple Adventures- tad expensive) and surfing.
Aadi Amavasya, to perform ancestral rituals for long lost forefathers. The Gandhi Statue block was swarmed with procession and beaches with the worship flowers, coconuts and pious men.
Where to Stay
Before anything sprang to my mind, I toss options- The Promenade and D’ Europe. If it is former, I am flattered. I can jot down love stories for these two. So, a full story coming up asap.
Daily flight to and fro Bengaluru (Bangalore) is currently not operational, leaving the airport for only training purpose. Regular buses from Chennai via Mahabalipuram, Bengaluru, Madurai, Hyderabad are available. Daily train service from Chennai, Villupuram and Tirupathi to Pondy.
Take & Avoid
As you sink in the slow life of the White Town, don’t go overboard and avoid local Kerala Massage centres of Pondy and melting mercury.
Alcohol is subsidised in Pondy. Tempted enough, ah ha! But don’t takeaway as souvenirs. Solitary fuel station in the downtown. Locals believe the fuel is pure and company doesn’t cheat as it is devoted to Sri Aurobindo.
Most of me would find it arresting, exasperated, I regain my comfort as I move ahead step by step, for I have promises to keep.
When in Pondy, carpe diem!