Am I in Europe?
The city looked more French to me than a small settlement in Tamil Nadu. I knew that Pondicherry was a French colony until 1954 but reading about it and actually seeing it was a different experience far away from what I had envisioned. Pondicherry or ‘Pondy’ as it is referred to language has an old town area and a new town area. The old town is also known as The French Riviera of the East (La Côte d’Azur de l’Est) and this the area you want to be in.
The whole city makes for a pleasant mix of East and West. The layout of the town is like old- square blocks old roads and new at right angles. Some cobbled streets reminded me of beautiful European cities that I have visited.
The other side of the settlement is the Tamil quarter, or the Ville Noir. This is a different world which reminds you of the old world charm of south style large mansions with a big central courtyard. It’s like two distinct world coexist together in one small settlement.
Pondicherry offers a whole world of culinary delight. The French and Dutch flavours intermingled with the local delicacies make for the most wonderful of flavours and I being a foodie tried everything that I had ever been recommended. Cafe Ole had the best coffee that I have ever tasted in India. The calamari salad at the Le club, an open air restaurant, tingled the different zones of my palette that I didn’t even know exist. The other restaurants that I would recommend are DisDis & Co for continental food. The Gelato from the French gentlemen at the Gelataria Montecatini Terme are a must try. He came to Pondicherry many years, fell in love with the place, opened a gelato shop, trained the locals and never went back.
We stayed at a boutique hotel, La Closerie and every day I would just spend hours at the reading spot there going through various books.
The best way to see Pondicherry and its surrounding areas is by renting out a “pedal cycle” or a “gearless scooter”. You can also walk around as most places are within 2-3 kms from each other. If you are a restless person the slow pace of this city will get to you. There can be a lot to do in the city depending on your interests but try and embrace the peace and calm here and take a break from your hectic life.
Much has been written and discussed around Aurobindo Ashram. My extended family has been staying here for two generations, so I got to peek in their daily lives. Everyone here lives in quarters with minimal furniture. You cannot get anything perishable so there is no fridge. They don’t buy dresses they make them their own. Everything around the ashram including cooking and cleaning is done by them. The one thing I noticed was that even with no amenities, without electronics and away from the world they all looked so happy and at peace with life.
Just approx. 10 kms outside the city is the very fabled Auroville Ashram. While it is not a touristy place it was highly recommended and I realised it’s magnificence after reaching there. Right in the middle of a huge green spot was a Golden sphere which is a prayer area. Sky reflects onto the building and looks beautiful. It is here that I noticed how blue the sky is. I guess in my hectic life I have never bothered to notice the sky and Delhi’s sky is no longer blue. You can try your hand at serious meditation here or watch Bharatanatyam performances that are often organized there by the Auroville Cultural Exchange. Once here I would suggest to head to the Visitor’s Center for more information regarding the Ashram and events happening there. Do remember not to intrude in the privacy of the people staying in the Ashram.
Other things to see there would be the Notre Dame des Anges Church which is modeled on the lines of the basilica in Lourdes.
Would suggest to take some heritage walks while in the city. The one I took was in the French Quarter or Ville Blanc. You get to walk around the old streets and learn all about the history of the place.
You can also go fishing in a Catamaran or while away your evenings at the; the Promenade, Serenity Beach, Auroville Beach and Paradise Beach.
While in Pondicherry my wife and I found many things to satisfy our shopaholic cravings. Here we found the funky boutique Casablanca, which has bric-a-brac, Kalki, Hidesign (which makes leather bags, but here they have their factory outlet so you get them at a reasonable price). There are delectable pastries and handmade chocolates from the chocolaterie called Chocola.
I was there for a good one week, however, I feel that all of this can be covered in 3-4 days.
How To Get There
There are no direct flights to Pondicherry from Pune, Mumbai or Delhi. So we flew via Spicejet to Chennai and then hired a cab to Pondicherry.
Very soon the Pondicherry airport will be functional and you would be able to fly into Pondicherry directly.
It’s just a 3 hours road journey from Chennai and it is one of the most beautiful road trips that I have experienced. You can either travel by bus or book a taxi. We took the east coast road which also passed through Mahaballipuram, which has some beautiful temples that you can stop for.
The other route that can be taken to reach Pondy is through the National Highway 45 (NH-45) famously called as the Grand Southern Trunk GST Road.
This article is authored by the admin based on inputs given by Ankit Srivastava, a management consultant, and a Travelophile who is a complete foodie and loves trying out different cuisines when he travels.