Ever felt a sense of serenity while walking on a beach front that thronged with several thousands – where every step that you take is matched by a few hundreds walking in the same direction? Waiting to watch the sun go down to chalk down another day as well-spent on the planet? The city is rather over-hyped, only some bits were explored over weekend, but amid all this, I took a walk with myself, thought a lot of thoughts while waiting for that perfect moment to capture a photo to keep the evening fresh in my head for years.
The promenade along the sea face of Pondicherry is not for the feeble hearted on a Sunday evening. We didn’t have another time – three women on a trip away from spouses and kids and assorted family worries. So we went. One look at the crowds and my friends chose to sit and soak in the humid sea air and talk a bit more. I trudged on, jostled by little kids and their toys, trying hard not to step on pint-sized pups that people had brought along on their evening walks. At one end of the promenade, is the Gandhi statue. Across the street is another statue of Pandit Nehru,
But was Pondicherry about that walk alone? Not really, but it was largely centred around the quaint French Quarters, the yummy eateries and Auroville. Some say there’s little else to see in Pondicherry. For many Auroville and Pondicherry are synonymous. What have you done if you haven’t been to Auroville? Few people know its a way away from the city. But do venture that way. The vast expanse of forested civilisation is a world apart. Imagine living your life on a bare stipend that is expected to keep the body and soul together, while contributing to the society’s various occupations – join the bakers, the carpenters, leather designers, paper makers – or work at their schools. There are jobs for nearly all kinds of skills. And if you are a guest visiting, you could chose to stay at Auroville – bicycle your way through the dense thickets, spend time meditating at the Maitri Mandir or even explore the eateries serving up some great food from across the world. I ditched the Maitri Mandir, my meditation is best done amid the madding crowds – you’d have got an inkling of that from the first half of the post itself, right? Did I mention the Auroville bakery? Get there well on time, or you might not get what you have set your mind on. A recovering stomach kept me away from the buttered-sugared delights, but that shouldn’t worry you now, should it?
Considering we only had two days of downtime, don’t think we did all that bad. What did bad though was my wallet first and then my credit card. How do you head to Auroville and not buy their exquisite leather (or for that matter Hidesign?). If you are part of the anti-leather brigade, you’ll still splurge on the amazing paper and other products from Auroville. Or you could be like me, averse to neither leather nor the exquisite paper and other handmade products – do I need to explain what the results of that were??
Did I say it was also about some great food, insanely girlie conversations late late into the night and two days of walking all around the French Quarters? If you didn’t look at the Tamil script on the nameboards under the French Rue’ names then like me, you’d be lulled into thinking you were in Phnom Penh. The French made their colonies quite identical, didn’t they? Young groups who flock to Pondicherry swear by the cheaper alcohol. Well, not a drop of alcohol was bought that weekend in Pondicherry, I might add. But eat well, we did. If you want to explore the good continental cuisine, Villa Shanti’s restaurant is worth a try. We were recommended that place by local Aurovilleans. For the authentic Tamilian fare, no better place than A2B, Adayar Ananda Bhavan – two As and it becomes A2 ( get the drift?) We did try some good desserts at Baker’s Junction and some coffee too ( all are places at walking distance within the French Quarters. We told you we didn’t move around much, didn’t we?)
Choose why you want to head to Pondicherry. It’s a quiet coastal city, beautiful in parts like many others. If you happen to stay in the pretty part, like I did, I’d tell you to go back time and again. But do it in short spurts perhaps, if Auroville and their way of living isn’t your biggest attraction to visit Pondicherry. As a destination to catch up with your girls, well, that’s gets a big two thumbs up!!
Accommodation – We stayed at Neemrana’s beautiful Hotel de L’Orient ( a 10% discount in peak season for Friends of Neemrana made the bargain sweet. When splitting the fare three ways, you can splurge on the biggest room in the villa. Just what we did! The spacious Karaikal was worth the money we spent on the room!)
Transportation – You’ll need to hire a rickshaw or taxi to take you to Auroville and other places. Bargain hard, or stick to a hotel arranged taxi. The rickshaws charge you a hand and a leg if they know you are a tourist. There are no fixed rates and running by the meter unheard of!
Things to do – Eat well – lots of lovely places to choose from – Must mention Cafe Xtasi – unpretentious pizza joint but they kind of go out of their way to help you – we had one vegetarian and two non-vegetarians in the group and very little appetite – so they graciously made us a half-half pizza – one side was a veggie garden while the other a hunting ground of local chicken. The other places were mentioned earlier too, let’s not make it look like anyone’s paying me for this! 🙂
Another must visit is the Auroville Paper Factory – its in the city itself and not in Auroville. If I could, I’d have brought back the entire shop. We spent about 3hours and wished there were more days to go back to pick up some more.
Oh..and the last tip – if Hidesign stores tell you there is no factory outlet where you can get yummy stuff at a bargain, look them in the eye and say stop lying. There is one in the city itself. It’s a little hole in the wall, but you might just find yourself a good piece of bag or baggage at lovely prices!
So there, bidding au revoir from sunny Pondicherry, ( that’s about all the French I brushed up!)