Leisure and Pleasure – Pondicherry
A beautiful escapade by a friend of mine – Harkishn Mourjani (firstname.lastname@example.org) to Pondicherry described in his own words 🙂
Have a read…
Early morning at 5:30 on reaching Pondicherry, I woke up to a sleepy city where communicating is very difficult and the rickshaw drivers are waiting like scavengers to pick on you. I wanted to head to “Le Café” a 24 hour cafeteria which was one place I was keen on seeing. Hopped on to a bus and reached the café before sunrise to catch a glimpse of rock beach and the promenade where one witnesses people of all ages coming for chats, chai and walks.
On first sight the promenade boasted of hotels and government offices (incl. Customs & Excise, DTDC, etc.) and the hotel rooms averaging from 5000/- to 20000/- per night. However after scavenging the area a while, I found a guest house belonging to the Aurobindo Ashram which was cheaper than expected and luckily there was a room available!
Pondicherry is divided into two parts first being the French colony and other the local colony. The French colony gave me a feeling of being in French cities with colourful entrances, wooden doors and French windows. These lanes also had buried within them bistros, boutiques and cafeterias’ which could easily be ignored as just houses round the corner. The colony had lots of French residents and a few locals. The serenity and peaceful ambience of the colony made me feel totally at peace with myself, unlike places like Goa where you witness an influx of foreigners and is too crowded and commercialized. I took a map and started exploring all the streets in the colony and I was falling in love with the golden architecture and ambience of the place. There were some abandoned houses, broken hotels, construction sites, all giving a feeling of old places closing and upcoming of new places. The museum is a nice place to visit which depicts lot of coins, artefacts, carriages, weapons, etc. which any museum would have, sadly photography is banned. The visit to the museum can last for maximum half hour, not more. Every city has an MG road, so does Pondy, which was a typical commercial street having vendors for household items, hardware items, etc. and like any other commercial street with local brands and branded showrooms. Sunday markets on MG road is a different sight where local handcart vendors display their items for sale from scrap vendors, clothes, utensils and pawn dealers selling old currencies.
The most populated stalls were of old electronic goods where people flocked hoping to get their hands on working electronic items. ” which is incidentally a boutique for clothing, shoes, accessories and precious stones. The chef Vani was a French lady who prepared lovely salads and sandwiches which more than satisfied my hunger and provided good ambience.
I had heard of Auroville of being a nice place and pictured it in my mind as a place such as South Goa. But what sadly the place lacks public transport. The Ashram has shuttles in the morning and evening at specific times and on missing the same be prepared to shell out 400/- to 500/- bucks to the rickshaws. The Matri Mandir is the main attraction which sells a unique A golden dome has been made on top of a place through which sunlight comes inside and is channelized through some process and meditation inside is considered as an out of the world experience. Sadly appointments have to be taken in advance to enter the meditation room and its very disappointing if you do not get entry. However, as luck rides at times, April and May are off seasons and there can be a chance of getting a pass in the next 2-3 days. Auroville is spread over 5000 acres of land which they intend on making into a Unity park in phases over a period of time. There is a tie up with people and guests houses can be booked online. However, there lies no connection in booking the guest house and getting permit for meditation.
So, I reached the place at 9:00 am and found places offering sumptuoustoasts, coffee and pastries which highly priced as per French standards but it was worth the price in terms of quantity and taste. So one can spend 2-3 hours max and get done with Auroville as there is a bus departing at 11:30 am. The bus fare is reasonably priced.
Came back to pondy and again visited the French colony and on the way had fried fish from a local vendor selling rice, sambhar, rasam it was risky but too tempting as it was unbelievably cheap for a meal. I’d admit not visiting the local areas to explore more local delicacies as anyone would on visiting Konkan beaches but I guess I was more impressed and attracted to French cuisine and people.
Evenings I spent time walking along the promenade and lazing on rock beach, where there were numerous stalls of pani puri, bhel and other usual street foods. It was a sight beautiful as mornings where people would come chat, eat and wrap of their day.
Hired a bike at 250/- per day and deposit of 500/- for a visit to paradise beach, which was an absolutely mind blowing experience. It can be called a Virgin beach, as there weren’t too many people (being a weekday and Holi, which is not a public holiday at Pondy). A ferry takes you to the Island and on days where its populated the maximum time you can spend is two hours. Very nice place for couples to have a peaceful time and you can walk miles on the beach without being disturbed by prying eyes, population and other distractions. Sadly one place where you can buy snacks (highly priced as expected) and limitation of the items on offer. Also, the price per person for the trip being Rs.150/- for parking but entrance charges and camera charges are all separate.
Took me half an hour to visit to the Ashram where a Samadhi has been prepared where people come and pay tributes to the great mind and visionary. Silence has to be maintained and there is a library and some publications on sale for general public. From there I drove back on the highway towards Chennai for Auroville beach which is close to Marti Mandir. It seems to be a place which would be flocked by foreigners, which is a kind of attraction; However, it was a major disappointment as the place had nothing to offer and there were no souls on the beach. The place was dirty and not much activity on the beach, so can be skipped if there is no transport.
Alamparai Fort is 50 kms from the city on the same highway ahead of Auroville, which is worth the visit as the ride is pleasant, the roads are fine and enough petrol pumps so the tanks can be filled when needed. There is no fort but what remains is a fort which was torn down by the British for some reason I don’t know. It was built as a fort to protect from enemies taking the sea route to enter the place. It houses a small dargah inside and apart from broken walls there is nothing else to offer. For people who are photography enthusiasts it’s a nice place to create a theme. The beach was very nice and only few local people were enjoying playing in the waters.
On returning from the fort I had to catch a bus for an 8 hour drive to Bangalore where there was border checking for liquor and other contrabands. So an advise for travellers, do not carry too much of booze as it can land you into trouble and the roads in certain stretches is very bad.
Overall a 2 day trip can cover Pondicherry and Auroville with places to eat and wrap up early every night!
(For all the travel enthusiasts, do try exploring this small yet beautiful beach destination on your own!)