Born and brought up in the West (Mumbai) with roots in the North, I was not at all aware of the beauty of South India until I visited Puducherry (earlier Pondicherry) last year, which was a French colony in the early 18th Century. Completely contrasting to any other place in South India, Pondy (as it is lovingly called and universally known) has a colonial commune and it preserves gently the “Gallic air” placed over the archetypal Indian milieu. Blossoming bougainvilleas, wild and leafy boulevards, bougainvilleas, French culture, luscious International cuisine, exceptional French architecture, friendly locals (Indians as well as French) and a prominent Aurobindo ashram, the amiable Pondy has it all!
When I visited Pondicherry I was in love with its beaches, multi-cuisine, the multi-kulti atmosphere and the serene air that blows throughout the place. The Goubert Avenue just few steps from my hotel was absolutely delightful. The beautiful Rocky Beach with astonishing monuments on the seafront is truly a visitors delight. The statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jeanne d’Arc, the graceful War Memorial raised by the French, the 27m tall old lighthouse, the heritage building “Mairie”, Gandhi Thidal and the spherical shaped customs house are historians, travelers, rovers, architects and a photographer’s delight.
The emblem of Pondicherry Government , La Place du Panthéon, a reminder of the beauty of French architecture is surrounded by five parks and is just opposite to the promenade or rocky beach. The 1.5 km long promenade running along the beach is the pride of Puducherry and one of my favorite spots. On this promenade is the famous Le Caffe, a 24 hours coffee shop where you can not only have an amazing view of the beach but can also sip nice brewing coffee along with continental snacks. Nice place to chill out with family friends.
This is the place where you saw the car accident in Aamir-Rani-Kareena starer, Talash (Bollywood flick)
Not just scenic, Pondicherry is also a spiritual place due to the presence of Aurobindo ashram which was founded by Sri Aurobindo along with the Mother (Mirra Alfassa, Shri Aurobindo’s French collaborator and co-teacher). People all around the globe come here to study meditation, yoga and learn all about inner development. Just one visit to this amazing ashram and I was all mesmerized by the milieu and spiritual mood. The ashram is not only very serene, calm and peaceful but very gorgeous with the beautiful arrangement of flower cultivation. Unfortunately, no one can catch a glimpse of the ashram from inside as cameras are not allowed.
I was accompanied by my friend who is into meditation and I got to know about the ashram through him. I am glad I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful Ashram which formed the basis of my interest into spiritualism. And guess what? The spiritual attraction perfectly blends with the rolling waters of the Bay of Bengal and rich cultural inheritance to make Pondy an enthralling destination. You’ll always find lots of foreigners (Europeans, Americans, South East Asians, Africans, Chinese) coming all over India to visit the Ashram. Some of the Europeans here are the locals who speak very good Tamil.
Next, If you want to spend some serene time you can visit beaches and get yourself tanned with a pleasant sun at Sangamam beach and Auro beach. Get the absolute view of the beaches and enjoy the magnificent sunsets However, if you want to try some water sport Plage Paradiso (Chunnambar beach) is the place to be. If you are in love with food and wine, you’ll be glad you visited Pondy. From Italian, French, Chinese to Mexican, American and Japanese, you will get exclusive eateries, hotels and restaurants that serve your favorite menu. Most of the restaurants of Pondicherry offer a kaleidoscopic view of its charisma and tranquility with an exclusive chance to experiment with the various cuisines in this gorgeous place.
The pizzas which I ate at Café Xtasi, Mission Road was mouth watering. I really cherish them and so, all my visits to Pondy do include a Pizza from this eatery. Also, the Italian Restaurant Don Gouivano at the rooftop of hotel Corbelli run by an Italian chef was also a delight. I slurped some tuna with spaghetti while my friend was busy tearing yummy pork steak with a knife. Amazing food. Moreover, the whiskeys, rums, wines, beers, scotches are cheaper here as there is no crippling taxes over them. For a nice drink session with a beach view, jump in on the terrace of St. James Court on the ECR road opposite Pondy University. I visited the place and watched the sunset. Truly magnificent! Exotic views, mouth-watering cuisine, spiritual climate, peaceful atmosphere with absolutely cheap drinks, what else can be a rover’s wish!
Next, Pondicherry encompasses the famous Universal Town, Auroville which delights you internally and spiritually. Auroville welcomes folks from all parts of the world to live together and explore spiritual, educational, cultural, scientific and other quest in accordance with the Auroville Charter. Matri Mandir and Auroville Information hall are the places worth visiting. It offers less to see but lots to experience. It was started by Mother in 1968. It is not just endorsed by the Government of India but also the UNESCO and his holiness, the Dalai Lama. Hearing about it is nice but seeing it is believing it.
Historians, archaeologists can visit the Pondicherry museum which brings back memories of the magnificent past of Pondicherry, from the Greco-Roman days till the present, providing glimpses of the art and culture during the Chola, Pallava and Vijayanagar days. Artifacts from the Arikamedu excavation are conserved here.
Pondicherry is really an amazing place to visit and can be easily reached by all three modes – air, road and rail. However, the bus is the most convenient and preferred mode of transport. You can easily reach Pondy either via Chennai (150 km) or Bangalore (320 km). I went from Bangalore. You will find many buses that go from Bangalore and Chennai to Pondicherry. The best part about visiting Pondy is that, no matter what your budget is you find accommodations within your funds. The hotel accommodations available here are as cheap as Rs. 400 per day even the authentic ones aren’t so expensive.
A nature’s paradise with an amazing environment, culture and peaceful atmosphere, Pondicherry is that easy going coastal city which deserves a visit and once you are here, I am sure you will find yourself staying longer than you intended!