My Pondicherry plans have been on for quite some time. The initial ones were being made with my besties, but three moms making plans to escape alone without kids was just not happening! Finally it was with husband dear and my son in tow that we suddenly made it to Pondicherry (Things happen pretty fast when wives begin to sulk about how bored they are…..at least this is what did it for me!). This quaint little town is about 150 Kilometres away from the bustling Metro city of Chennai.
We go zooooom………………what a drive!
On the morning of 5th April, we started in a rented self-drive car at around 8 in the morning with our GPS on. Clear skies and balmy weather greeted us as we made our way out of a friend’s home and towards Pondicherry. The drive via East Coast Road is a spectacular canvas splashed with lush green fields, coconut groves, blue lagoons and creeks. On the way you will find way too many places that seem to be perfect settings for photographs, which made for non-stop clicking! The scenic drive goes through salt pans that are nothing but a vastness of brilliant white laid in front of you, with the bluest of waters on the sides. If it were not for the weather that was becoming increasingly hot, we would have probably spent more time exploring these places by the roadside.
A view to die for!
At noon we finally entered Pondicherry and that we came to know because of a board saying, “Welcome”. To tell you the truth, first look at Pondicherry sort of made both of us look at each other since the place looked like any other small Indian town. Then we began our journey forward towards our hotel, which was in the French town. Slowly, steadily and then all of a sudden we found the entire scene around us changing. Cute buildings, neat roads, rows of Bougainvillea in all colours led us to the beach road of Pondicherry where our hotel was located. The azure blue waters of the Bay of Bengal and its restless waves pushing and falling against the rocks created a breathtaking view. The heat obviously urged us to chill our heels in the water but the main beach of Pondicherry is not the kind where you go for a swim. We hurriedly made our way into our hotel with stomachs rumbling and begging for food. After a hearty meal, we retired to our room for a nap. When we woke we opened the windows in our room and the magnificent view of the beach came alive right in front of us and on the right side, an old worn out but beautiful light house stood proudly. It was one of the best views to fall in love with!
The heat subsided by 5 in the evening and we lazily changed to hit the road. Now, Pondicherry has a very laid back atmosphere. You can simply walk and walk and walk some more….it is all about exploring this erstwhile French colony. The French town in fact has preserved a lot of its colonial character to date and that is what makes it so enchanting. This is one place where you will see buildings dominated by yellow hues and they look absolutely stunning! The Chambre de Commerce was my first rendezvous with this colour here and it continued with Hotel du Parc on the Jawahar lal Nehru Street. My mission here was very clear….i wanted to eat, soak in the views and shop!
Eating, shopping and everything in-between
Eating in Pondicherry is not only about teasing your taste buds but also learning about the rich history and culture of Pondicherry. First night our dinner plans involved getting into a very famous pizza place called Xtasi which makes lip smacking pizzas in a wood fired oven. In fact the entrance of the restaurant is the kitchen so before you enter the seating area you are already super hungry!
Next day after soaking in the hotel’s tiny swimming pool (because that is what heat demanded), it was again time to venture out. Our second day was spent exploring the shopping scene at Pondicherry which mostly included hopping from one stall to another in front of Vinaygar Temple. This place does get a little chaotic with everyone from shoppers to worshippers coming together in one place. There are two very famous Indian eating joints here – Ananda Bhavan and Surguru. From South Indian specialities of Idli, Dosa to North Indian Paani puri and chat, we could find everything at Ananda Bhavan!
As we made our way up on the MG road we came across the flagship store of Hidesign. For those who do not know, Pondicherry is the birthplace of iconic leather bags brand – Hidesign! The woman inside me squealed with joy and I entered and dived in to the sea of bags! I limited myself to just buying one of the beauties and then headed to their café on the top floor. This café has an old world charm just like the rest of Pondicherry. A couple of butter croissants and cinnamon laden cappuccinos made my day here.
We again walked back to the heritage town to sit under the shade of massive trees in the huge lush expanse of Gandhi Park. This was also to appease our four year old son who needed some “me-time” there. Our next box to tick was eating at Baker Street, which is a very popular French café here. It is thronged by a lot of international crowds throughout the day and is a great place to sip on your coffee as the world goes by, and may we say that the place did not disappoint.
Other places that we missed but are highly recommended for an eat are Maison de Rose and Galerie des Arts. A simple walk around the town gets you to landmarks like Shri Aurobindo Ashram, Raj Nivas, Chambre de Commerce, Vinayagar Temple and very many churches, and all the places are located quite close to each other.
Piece of Heritage – BIG RECOMMENDATION!
Now when you are in Pondicherry there is one place you absolutely must not miss – Hotel Le Dupleix on Caserne Street, a lane just behind the beach road. Though I strongly recommend staying there, in our case it was not possible as this hotel was sold out months in advance of our visit, so we had to make do with dinner.
Le Dupleix is one of the best preserved heritage buildings in all of Pondicherry and oh it is mesmerising! Home to the French Mayor of Pondicherry during French times, and star heritage property now.
We had the option of eating either in the beautiful courtyard, which has a flowing water body and a dense lush mango tree or, the Governor’s lounge. We chose the latter because of the air conditioning inside. The lounge has intricate and impressive woodwork, which was rescued from the actual home of Joseph Francois Dupleix – the most famous and popular French governor of Pondicherry who used to live in the brown town area. It was a surreal experience as we felt the history of this beautiful town surrounding us, while we had a relaxed dinner under dim lights with food that was simply gorgeous.
With a promise to be back………….
Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. But on our last day we had one more visit planned to Auroville, an experimental township located a few kilometres away from the French town under the lush forest cover. In this place people of all religions and countries come together to live in harmony by breaking the barriers that society has put upon us. Lots of handicrafts and hand-made items come from this township.
The main thing we took away from this trip is that this place needs a week or more to really soak in and understand. That I guess….. is for next time!