This seems to be the season of archives. Everywhere I look, someone, somewhere is digging up their old albums to sneak into the past. I have been having a turbulent past few months with nothing going my way. So I figured, I might as well look back on some happy travel memories as well. It has been more than a year since I visited Pondicherry but flipping through these old pics still feels like a fresh breath of air.
Pondicherry, Puducherry or French capital of India, whatever it may be called, is perfect for a relaxed laid back vacation. Colonized by the French until 1954, shades of the French are still visible around every corner. The street names are still mentioned in French with a Tamil translation. For the “touch & go” tourist, Pondicherry can be covered within a day or two, but what’s the hurry? Just take it easy, let that French feeling sink in and immerse yourself in a city away from India.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Pondicherry is late Oct to Jan. I visited this French inspired town towards the latter part of January when the temperatures during the day were warm enough to melt a stone.
We made the overnight trip from Bangalore to Pondicherry; alighting just a few blocks off the French Colony. The colorful facades, French people and artistic streets add their charm to the much talked about French Colony. Ensure to book your rooms well in advance if you want to avoid the rickshaw drivers looking to make a quick buck off you.
I have listed a few common yet interesting places one can visit in this town located about 135 kms from Chennai. The list does not include the web-splashed paradise beach or scuba diving but a slightly less extravagant list.
1. Pondicherry Lighthouse:
The light house is a good place to start with. Before you scout the city, you can get one nice long look at the city you will be exploring for the next couple of days. One of the best locations for a bird's-eye view of the serene Pondicherry is the Light House. Open only on weekdays between 3- 5 pm for the public for a mere Rs.10 entry fee, this giant structure is around 2km off the French colony. With no provision for an elevator, 13 flights of stairs to the top is definitely worth all the huffing and puffing. Overlooking the town, you can view a good part of the city as well as the sea just beyond the horizon.
2. Explore streets of French Colony:
The best way to see the French colony is on foot or a bicycle. Be sure to pack some comfy clothing, sunscreen & a pair of sneakers and get ready to see the white town! My preferred way to know a place better is by walking around; also it helps me to stop umpteen times to pose against a backdrop of colorful facades and Bougainvillea covered walls.
3. Café Crawl:
Pondicherry is a town with beautiful streets, delicious food and home to some of the best cafes you will ever come across. Stop by Baker Street Café for some Parisian breakfast or chill on a sunny day at Le Café along the promenade of Rock Beach. You can enjoy some of the best offers at Hi Design Café or indulge in coffee & chocolate delights at Café Zuka & Café Ole or some fantastic steak & wine at La Maison Rose or go for some quiet personal time atop the roof of Qualithe Hotel.
4. Deity Time:
Pondicherry treasures some of the best architectural places of worship. The magnificently carved temple Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple or the beautifully designed French architecture-inspired Eglise de Notre Dame des Agnes church overseeing the Bay of Bengal & the Roman architecture enthused Immaculate Conception Cathedral, an atheist would struggle to stay away. The wide scheme of bright colors and jaw-dropping architecture is a lensman’s dream.
5. Matrimandir, Auroville:
Contrary to common travel itineraries, the Matrimandir is not a tourist spot but a meditation centre where people come to soak in the spirit and bathe in the spirit of peace and purity. One can visit as a guest or if you decide to stay and take the meditational journey, you will need to book in advance. A path from the visitor’s center leads to the Matrimandir, a gold plated dome structure. The shuttle services to the viewpoint are tempting, but I recommend walking through the green pathways reading on the spiritual signboards explaining the meaning of human emotions. Visitors are allowed only until the viewing gallery which is about a km off the Matrimandir nestled amidst lush green spaces.
The promenade of Rock Beach is reminiscent of Mumbai’s famous Marine Drive. Every evening, the promenade is flocked by hordes of locals and tourists alike. Auro beach, which has not quite gained popularity as yet, is not quite people friendly and could afford a skip. I do regret missing out on visiting Paradise beach due to time constraints but I will be back some day.
7. Goubert Avenue:
This stretch of asphalt along the promenade holds a string of architectural tributes created to pay respects to various people
• French War Memorial – a tribute of pillars erected in memory of all French soldiers who lost their lives during World War I
• Statue of Dupleix – installed in honor of a Governor General of the French Establishment
• Mahatma Gandhi Statue – Our Father of the Nation, surrounded by 8 pillars from the earlier centuries stands tall atop the promenade. The space opposite the monument is used for shows and artist performances on weekends
8. Other places to see:
• Local Market at Tamil Quarters
• Bharti Park – the lush green park situated in the centre of the White town,
• Pondicherry Museum – houses relics & artifacts from the French, Dutch & British eras
• Raj Niwas – official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Pondicherry
Without the influence of the Colonial rulers, Pondicherry may have been just another city on the map of India and would have been living in the shadow of it’s more extravagant neighbor, Chennai. Dust the cobwebs from the backpack, sling the DSLRs’ and get going!!
If you have been to Pondicherry already, have you explored the city differently?? Spill the beans!