Beautiful beaches, the antique French lanes and the celebrations of Pongal in the air make’s Pondicherry an ideal vacation spot.
As we arrived in Pondicherry during Pongal, the union territory’s crowded bus stop came as no surprise to us. At the dawn of January 16th, as we de-boarded the bus, our tiredness from a seven hour long journey evaporated, thanks to the cool breeze and an orange sky, hinting sunrise.
An auto ride on our way to our hotel at Auroville gave us a strange, spirit of the festival as it manifested itself on the very houses and on the roads of Pondicherry. Every house had its own way of celebrating the festival. While some houses, at their doorways, had a grand array of colours, all mixed and matched to create an eye-catching pattern, others were beautifully adorned with colourful lights, making the house glow under the orange sky and the darkness around. The streets, appearing to be asleep at 6am, were lit awake with red, yellow and blue lights dancing around and thereby, giving illusions of a beautiful ballet dance. After having a fortune auto ride for mere ten-minutes, we alighted in Auroville, a small town, fifteen minutes away from Pondicherry. Auroville has history of being created as an ideal town for the purpose of human unity in diversity. Auroville had welcomed us with serenity as our stay was in a private guest house called Periyamudaliyar Chavadi, situated right in front of Auroville beach, being a lifeline of Auroville in every way. It is not only one of the primary tourist attractions in the town, but is also a fishing hub for the fishers residing in the town. Hence, the town acts as a source of livelihood for many.
We lived in a hut, right across from the fierce Bay of Bengal. Built precariously on bamboos, the hut had a small ladder which we had to climb, to reach and crawl through the small bamboo door of the hut. The dim yellow light beamingly welcomed us in the room, which had a mattress and bed sheets to accompany us. The hut was surely a traveller’s delight and as we sat on the doorway, with our legs dangling down the ladder, we could hear the roar of the sea and gap at the beautiful white waves which the moon’s reflection would form.
As we commenced our journey to explore this beauty, our first stop in Pondicherry was the Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple, which houses Lord Ganesha. The temple has been in existence before the arrival of the French in Pondicherry’s soil. It is intricately designed, with golden chariots showcased behind huge glass walls. Being a Saturday the temple was crowed at noon; with devotees busy making the rounds of the temple and people outside selling flowers, incense sticks and accessories.
Once a colony of France, Pondicherry’s streets still have that ancient French touch to them. Most of the roads continue to have French names and the buildings breathe French architecture and culture. In spite of the city being in the midst of Pongal celebrations, the streets were unusually empty. As we walked through the French lanes, we came across a huge cathedral called Immaculate Conception Cathedral. A breath-taking structure in white, with a touch of gold adorning it was a perfect beauty to be photographed. The interior of the church was more enchanting than the exterior. With beautiful and long white walls and statues of Jesus and Mother Mary on either side of the aisle, the cathedral breathed an air of calmness and devotion. The cathedral, as we later found out, is one of the oldest tourist destinations in Pondicherry, and forms the heart of the city.
In the course of our exploration around the city, we took regular breaks to try out the food, which we had heard, was the finest in India. We began with our experiment at the Xtasy Cafe, which was widely recommended to us, by our friends and relatives alike. The wide variety of pizzas, with names that would make your mouth water, left us confused, as we weren’t able to decide on what to eat and what to leave for the next time. We finally ordered a Chicken 65 pizza and a Tanizza, which had tandoori chicken, onion and cheese as its topping. However, after eating, we weren’t in a state to move, let alone walk in the scorching sun outside. However, since we were already short of time to explore the union territory, we reluctantly left.
Our last, but the most important destination for the day was Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The ashram was created out of a small community of disciples, who had gathered around Sri Aurobindo after he decided to renounce politics. The ashram holds the houses in which Sri Aurobindo and The Mother dwelled for a major part of their lives. Even their remains, or Samadhi, can be found in the ashram, in a tree-shaded courtyard. The ashram follows what is known as Integral Yoga, which, in Sri Aurobindo’s words, is a method of “self-concentration through the influence of The Divine.” The ashram attracts thousands of visitors every day and is one of the most important sites that Pondicherry is known for.
We ended the day with food at another noted cafe right across from the Promenade beach, named Le Cafe. This time, ordering food wasn’t as much of a confusing task as we were prepared to eat lasagne, the speciality of the sea-side restaurant. The look of the chicken lasagne was enough to entice our taste buds and it gave us a clear indication that we were about to have another sumptuous dish, which might leave us feeling even more lethargic. Nevertheless, we attacked the dish in front of us and with a blink of an eye, it was over. After having a long and rather food-filled day, we decided to retreat towards our hut house.
Roaring of the sea and the rustling of the leaves against the wind graciously gave us a good night sleep. With a tinch of sun, the sound of musical rain woke us up. Ideally, we should have been upset as rain meant cancellation of all our plans for the day, but instead, we were overjoyed. The smell of the wet mud and the sight of the sea, pimpled with raindrops, added to our fascination for the place. However, our fascination was short lived and the sun was back again. We left on our exploration of Auroville this time, already regretting our decision to have come for merely two days to a land which held so many untold stories.
We went to Matrimandir or The Temple of the Mother, which is an edifice of spirituality for practitioners of Integral Yoga, initiated by The Mother. Also known as the soul of the city, Matrimandir does not belong to any particular religion and has been created over huge acres of land. History has it that Matrimandir was built nearly 37 years ago and completed in 2008. The golden ball which forms the soul of the place, also called the Geodesic dome, is situated in the centre, surrounded by 12 petals, forming the heart of the temple. Inside the dome is a meditation hall, which houses the world’s biggest glass globe. However, entry inside the dome is a tedious and costly affair. Not everyone is able to devote hundred percent concentrations, which is what the dome is known for.
By the time we left Matrimandir, it was already dark and time for our bus, which would take us back to our mundane life in Bangalore. We were filled to the brim with our experiences of the city- from Pongal festivities to serene evenings at the beach; from the beauty of the French lanes to the solitude of the cathedral, we saw and felt everything. As we were bidding goodbye to the union territory, Pondicherry not only gave us a blissful break from our routine lives but also gave us an opportunity to go back and narrate stories to our friends, and plan another trip to Pondicherry, soon enough.