Majority of the content on this website might indicate that my travelling goals are Bollywood inspired. I don't blame you for the assumption, but in all honesty, Kangana had no role to play in my desire to travel solo. Thanks to my overanalysing, this plan took some time to fly, but as a fan of clichés would have it, better late than never
Why Pondicherry? Let me break it down for you,
The first solo trip experiment had to be in India, did not want to spend a bomb at the risk of getting bored. Amongst safe destinations for female travellers, top picks are Goa, Pondy and Udaipur. I have been to the other two. What better than a beach place to simply chill if nothing else works out
So I booked my Mumbai to Chennai flights, from where one can easily take a bus to Pondy. The buses are available every 20-30 mins and no prior booking is required (unless weekend though). After boarding the bus, by the time my overabundant enthusiasm found its way on Instagram and Facebook, I reached Pondicherry.
I had booked my accommodation through Airbnb in this alluring little abode - House of Blue Mangoes. Truly a good find and highly recommended. More about it coming soon.
I spent 2 and a half (count 4 by Mumbai pace) days here, and this is how they went by -
My first day started at 4 pm, so I spent my time getting familiar with the surroundings. Most of the boutique hotels, shared accommodations and homestays are located on the Promenade beach and around White town area. The busiest street (Mission Street) for shopping, dining and renting bikes is also less than a km away. So if you stay somewhere in this part of the town, all your needs are met within a 3km radius.
I spent the evening taking a stroll on The Promenade. It is about a 1.2 km long stretch that starts from the War Memorial and ends at the Dupleix Park (after whom our hotel is named) on Goubert Avenue. Extremely calming and astonishingly clean, it makes for a rather relaxing evening.
Dinner was at Cafe Xtasi, popular for their wood-fired pizzas. More about food options here.
The second day was dedicated to the experimental town of Auroville, also known as 'City of Dawn'. There are precisely three ways to get to Auroville, which is around 8 km away from the town. You can rent a bike (charges 400-500 Rs per day), rent an auto (800 Rs for the whole day) or book an Ola rental. I found Ola the most convenient and safe option.
Once you enter, you have to leave your vehicle and take a 5 min walk to the Information Centre. This is where they take you through a video presentation that explains the history of Auroville. I would suggest not skipping this; else you might miss on soaking in the true beauty of the place. From here you head to the 'viewing point' of Matrimandir (the golden dome). Standing in the middle of a beautiful garden, its beauty and solace can be experienced even from a distance. The entry passes to the Matrimandir must be taken 2-3 days prior to your visit there, in person, Disclaimer: the tranquillity of this place is welcoming only to those who seek it. As a tourist, half a day is enough for exploration, but if you are looking for a more profound experience, they have many volunteering options available around the year. My spiritual bent being tattered, I decided to head back by afternoon.
Since I had half a day to spare, I went back to Promenade for a drive (in my Ola rental) until rains decided to crash my plans. But I took it in my stride and enjoyed a rather luxurious siesta in my pretty little room. Nothing beats a mid-day nap, in a lazy town, in the middle of the day, need I say no more?
For dinner, I decided to treat myself to a fancy Creole meal at Le Dupleix.
Having been a lazy traveller for the first two days, I decided to make this day a power packed one. Started off by renting a bike from Mission Street. I chose this over taking a cycling tour because that costs you around 1200 Rs for 2 hours (breakfast included) while renting your own bike is 100 Rs for a day. Frugality won over organised travel. But if you are open to slightly expensive options, so check out Storytrails and Sita Culture Centre for interesting workshops and tours.
This part is the most of what you see on travel blogs about Pondicherry. Homes and villas with white shutters and bright yellow and orange facades, wooden doors covered with red bougainvillaea, clean streets, and mostly no motor vehicles. You find interesting cafes and bookshops tucked in nooks and corners of these French streets. I wandered around aimlessly for about an hour on these streets before I took to Google maps for direction.
Next stop was Aurobindo Ashram. Again, the amount of time you want to spend here is a function of your intent. I got out in less than 10 minutes. But for more spiritually inclined souls, you can take time here to meditate. Very close to the Ashram is also the Arulmigu Manakula temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Vibrant, with ornately carved stone walls, it has a 7.5 kg golden chariot made entirely from the collection of devotees. Once every year on the day of Vijayadashmi this golden chariot is pulled out of the temple as a part of the celebration.
One thing on my list that I sadly could not tick was the Paradise beach. Hate the rains!
Well, that's that, packed all my luggage and memories the next day and travelled back to Chennai to catch a flight back home.
Listing down a few 'good to know' things that might come in handy
Do pick up a lot of incense sticks and handmade soaps from Pondy. Although they are made and sold in Auroville's, you will find a lot of cheap options in Pondicherry. Look for Kalki on Mission street. Hidesign has its flagship store and factory outlet here, in case you are a fan You have plenty of Autos available in the town. They are overpriced but still convenient. Although I took the longer route, you can fly in directly to Pondicherry as well, just that the flight options are limited. It is nothing like Goa, Period. The mood is unhurried, but the overall vibe is slightly conservative. I would recommend you make your apparel choices accordingly. Be Roman in Rome and soak in the intriguing mix of cultures. Explore all three cuisines - Tamilian, French and Creole (a mix) It is absolutely safe to venture out till 8-9pm, after which it gets slightly isolated. Places to eat - Cafe Xtasi, Anand Bhavan, Surguru, Le Dupleix, Tantos, Bakers Street, La Pasta World, Villa Shanti. Details here.
What I loved the most about travelling alone was how it breaks all your inhibitions. For instance, I am geographically challenged and a closet introvert, but I did surprisingly well!
Do you have any travel stories to share about Pondicherry or about your solo trips?
I think travel and food stories are the best kinds of conversations...leave your comments below and share your tips/memories/experiences etc.