Who knows the flower best? The one who has read about it in books, or the one who finds it out in the wild?
After numerous reviews about Pondicherry – some bad, some good, some awful while others simply wonderful- I decided to go see, that town of India which is forever French, myself.
This getaway, unlike most of my travels, was not budget. So I flew from Bengaluru till Chennai, took a state bus from Chennai to Puducherry (Pondicherry). After bargaining with a couple of Auto Rickshaw drivers, I figured the best way to reach Koyambedu Bus Stand was by an Uber. There are plenty of buses to Pondicherry from Koyambedu, I hopped on a non AC state express bus (Rs 100)- which unfortunately was full -but, owing to impatience I did not want to wait for another one and decided to stand through the journey. It took exactly 3 hours for the bus to cover 170 KM via NH 32 to reach Puducherry and a 5 minute auto ride to get to my hotel – Fabhotels, Esparan Heritage.
A canal divides Pondicherry into the French Quarter (La Ville Blanche) and the Tamil Quarter (La Ville Noire) – both of which are unique in their own ways.
The French Quarter is where I spent most while here. It is easy to get lost in the perpendicular lanes of La Ville Blanche. And at the end you would be baffled at how fast the time went by simply walking down the paved streets, staring at slaty walls, rejoicing French Architecture and trying some of the many cosy cafe’s nestled in these colonial buildings.
Sri Aurobindo Ashram is one the most iconic places you would want to go to when in the white town. A visitor does not have access to all the parts of the Ashram, the parts accessible sure are quiet, serene and encapsulating. But, not as informative as I thought it would be. There are plenty of books and pictures, but a better display of information would have been helpful for a layman. Keeping the air of spirituality going, one can not leave Pondicherry without visiting Auroville – one of a kind township. Auroville is considered to be the only endorsed experiment towards human unity. It is said that the idea came to The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) who along with Sri Aurobindo and citizens from across the globe built the township of Auroville.
Auroville is divided into 6 zones:
- Industrial Zone
- Peace Area (Matri Mandir)
- International Zone
- Residential Zone
- Cultural Zone
- Green Belt
Best way to commute in Pondicherry is by hiring bike (Rs 250-300 a day), it will definitely come handy if Auroville is on the list. Located just about 11 km from city centre, one reaches the information centre first. All you got to do is view the video of how MatriMandir was built, grab your free pass and get exploring all the zones. (Strong possibilities of visiting again to experience living in Auroville, keep watching the space)
Some of the must try eateries are:
- Villa Shanti – A quaint colonial building located in the white town, offers an array of european and indian dishes. Restaurant is in the pillared courtyard, surrounded by greens. If you are ready to splurge, experience living at this boutique stay.
- Cafe Xtasi – Citizen of Pondicherry sure do love Pizza, with least two restaurants serving wood-fried pizza every other street, all of which claim to be the best in Pondicherry. I got to try least one of them – Cafe Xtasi – they run a number of deals Monday-Friday making them a budget option. Another must try (according to a friend) is Tanto pizzeria.
- Baker Street- A French Bakery located at MG Road, one of the busiest streets in the Tamil Quarter. Pick anything off the counter you would not be disappointed.
- Palaise De Mahe- This place was on my list the moment I knew I was going to Pondicherry. And well,it was such treat. Palaise De Mahe is a state of the art boutique hotel. With all the rooms overlooking the courtyard and a pool in the ground floor, this luxury pad offers an exquisite architectural design. If traveling on a budget, you must avoid staying as well as eating here. The beautifully lit restaurant in on the 3rd floor, the only drawback was megre vegetarian options in the menu.
- Gelateria montecatini terme- The best ice-cream I have ever had. Hands down. Came across GMT while taking a stroll down the Promenade, it is at the far end right next to Alliance Francaise.
- Auro Bakery: Located half way through Auroville – a quiet bakery and a cafe. Perfect place to stop by for a quick bite post long day at Auroville.
Pondicherry, turned out to be a slow getaway for me. I came here with zero expectation and no checklist. And while I sat at the rock beach, it hit me that THIS is the Bay Of Bengal that I kept reading about in my geography and history classes, it was not just a point on a map anymore – I knew it better than just literature and books.
For those of you seeking eat pray love -Puducherry has got it all covered for you.