Why Pondicherry is a balm to tumultuous souls 

19th Jun 2017
Photo of Why Pondicherry is a balm to tumultuous souls by Prerna Madan

The first view of coast was from the air. A white fin stuck into our view of the dancing azure ocean as it enclosed land protectively. Deeper into our sight was an ocean of dense humanity clustered in buildings and houses that were coloured in pinks, yellows, blues and greens. Shortly after, we’d landed at the Chennai airport.

It was luck or our timing (end of June) that the sky was clad with monsoon clouds and a mild sea breeze was blowing our way like a clarion calling us to its shores. At Koyambedu, a muddy area washed by rains and nearly an hour away from the city’s iconic Marina Beach, we boarded a state bus to Pondicherry. The drive, we found out, was worth a lot more than its paltry Rs 250 ticket.

As it turned out in the next three hours, we didn’t need the Tamil movie blaring inside the rickety bus for entertainment; the view on the ‘Scenic East Coast Road’ was distracting enough. Our ride was accompanied by an overcast sky, trees and bushy foliage that stared defiantly at the waves crashing ahead. Flanked on one end by the seamless sea, the other side was bathed in hues of coastal life – a whiff of fish, stray boats home to nets, heaps of salt towering over large water puddles and roofs of tiny houses made of coconut leaves. The realisation dawned somewhere along the way that the dry summer of Delhi was far behind.

Photo of Koyembedu (CMBT) Bus Terminus, CMBT Passenger Way, Koyambedu, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India by Prerna Madan

The highway rode into the city as the lanes converged and traffic greeted us like an old friend. We got off the bus two kilometres from White Town, the seafront area of Pondicherry that thrives on the culture of its French ancestors. After much heckling with the autorickshaw drivers who were quoting Rs 150, our journey ended and yet the exploration had just begun.

The crossing

It all started with a stroll away from the seaside. Although the yearning to feel sand slipping from under our feet was alluring, it was the harsh afternoon sun that kept us away. We walked through baroque villas where outdoor cafes were intimately nestled, as if shying away from the humid air, waiting for the evening dance to begin. Creepers on wooden doors softened their grandiosity and chalk drawings or traditional rangoli outside them invited us to their world. Occasionally, the twirling rot iron street lamps stood on the corners, watching the passersby quietly.

Photo of White Town, Puducherry, India by Prerna Madan
Photo of White Town, Puducherry, India by Prerna Madan

We left the calm streets of White Town, still named in French, behind and ventured to the parts where Indian flavours blended in. Wafts of freshly-baked bread waltzed in as a parade of scooters, cycles and cars blowed their horns loudly. Somewhere along the MG Road, the majestic Immaculate Conception Cathedral stepped into our view and drowned the flurry of sounds. The cross above the white façade with gold outlines shadowed the sky, which was slowly transforming from yellow to blue.

Photo of Why Pondicherry is a balm to tumultuous souls by Prerna Madan

Back to the stage

The sun turned mellow and the weather cool. It was time to go to the grand arena. It was as if all the sights and scents of Pondicherry had been preparing us for a theatrical end at the Promenade. This pearl of Pondicherry ran along the rocky coast and it seemed everyone from residents to tourists came there for a climatic end to their day. With no vehicles allowed after 6pm, the sea awaited to charm its audience. There were those who stared at it with melancholy in their eyes, the couples who coyly sat on the sidelines, the families who treated themselves to ice-cream and the group of locals who marched briskly. Oblivious to humanity, the orange lights bounced off the palms and the friendly stray dogs lazed around on the sand. And like a dramatic cliché, we too returned -- like pilgrims -- to the Promenade again and again.

Photo of Promenade Beach, White Town, Pondicherry, Puducherry, India by Prerna Madan
Photo of Promenade Beach, White Town, Pondicherry, Puducherry, India by Prerna Madan

Another day

A lavish breakfast of croissants, crepes and coffee at Café des Artes set the tone for an adventure. With nerves tingling, we hired bicycles for the day and started for Serenity beach, 5-6 km away from White Town.

Photo of Serenity Beach, Kottakuppam, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India by Prerna Madan

Although the ride was gruelling in the scorching sun, the untouched persona of the beach was soothing. While sitting on dainty chairs at an empty bar, which was the only joint open there, we sipped coke and watched the abandoned boats for what seemed like hours. But despite the disappointment, there is no tiredness that can’t be washed away by the sea and an unlikely companion on the beach – Kaalu, our furry, anointed friend who lay down with his head comfortably rested on our travel bag.

Photo of Why Pondicherry is a balm to tumultuous souls by Prerna Madan
Photo of Why Pondicherry is a balm to tumultuous souls by Prerna Madan

Yet another day

We were bolder by our second day, our confidence stealthy and our steps surer. We thought, like fools, that we had ingrained the spirit of Pondicherry. Of course there were more surprises in store. Or in our case, it was a beach a boat ride away from mainland.

Paradise beach was everything that isn’t Goa. It had state-run shacks rundown by mismanagement and no parties, nor any water sports, neither any drinks apart from expensive lemonade. But it was a jaw-dropping beauty still hidden from the claws of gross commercialisation. Even the sand particles of this pristine beach were whiter, more sublime than the rest. We sat in complete silence while the waves gushed over us and the tiny, almost-transparent crabs popped in and out of their holes as if playing hide-and-seek with water. In those moments Lord Byron and PB Shelley came to mind, reminding us why the ocean and the seas were pure ecstasy to tumultuous souls.

Photo of PARADISE BEACH, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, India by Prerna Madan

When it was time to head back to life, we wanted to go back to days like these, when the sun and the sun were elixir that fills up our hearts.

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