Much like in Goa where you get the feel of the Portuguese settlement in its colonial era houses, churches and buildings, about 5000 miles away from France and around 3 hours drive down from Chennai on one of the most scenic highways of the country – the ECR (East Coast Road), Pondicherry still retains much evidence of its colonial history and lets you soak in its French legacy.
The french legacy, clearly preserved in its French quarter, in the streets lined with trees and adorned with colorful bougainvillea, the mustard colored colonial villas, chic boutiques and quaint little cafes at every nook and corner, gives me a French feel and a vibe that’s decidedly Pondicherry in nature and every time I walk down the tranquil and shaded streets of this beautiful town, I wonder if I’ve been transported to a French town.
It’s been almost a year since I last visited this little town with my best friend and the past few days have been calling me out to drift through those beautiful Pondy (as affectionally called) streets that scream of a fresh Bohemian vibe with cozy and quaint little cafes at every little corner.
Following are the reasons why this French Riviera of the East calls me back again and again.
1.Witnessing sunrise and sunset
There are some things in life you can never get tired of. Witnessing a sunrise or a sunset is one of them. I personally love waking up early to chase a sunrise. Because you get beautiful shots at this time of the day and there are always lesser people (the thing about me hating crowded places) owing to the laziness of waking up early. When on a holiday, you always tend to sleep in but get those lazy bones out of bed and you’ll thank yourself later. Or take a friend like myself who will always insist on waking up early for a sunrise at the beach. Hit the Promenade beach and take long strolls along the entire stretch of the beach in the wee hours of the morning unperturbed by loud honks or unruly traffic and you’ll know why this rocky stretch of beach is a favorite for many.
Wake up to a surreal and serene morning for a magical sunrise at the Auroville beach. I personally loved the sunrise at Auroville Beach. There’s nothing quite like seeing the sun rising out of the deep blue sea. Sure makes my day.
2. Drifting through the streets of Pondicherry – To find all things little and beautiful
Rent a cycle or simply take a walk down those beautiful tree lined streets sandwiched between colonial houses with fastidious designs, houses that seem to have aged gracefully over the years with a vibrancy that screams louder than words, houses with cute little courtyards, streets adorned with mustard colored buildings with vintage window panes that will make you want to stop everywhere and stare in admiration. Some of these are best exemplified in some of the loveliest old heritage buildings turned boutique hotels that dot Pondicherry’s French Colony. I guarantee you it’s one of the best things to do while in Pondy.
There are numerous antique shops and furniture houses in Pondicherry with backyards and little courtyards just at their entrance. Make sure you check them out.
And do not forget to take a heritage walk in the Tamil quarter. We took a walk at the Moullah street and we saw glimpses of the Black town/Tamil quarter.
Excited children saying hi to us
3. Catering to your taste buds
Perhaps this is one of the best ways you can experience Pondicherry. Pondy has a myriad of multicultural cuisines and flavors to satisfy all your hunger pangs. There are quaint little cafes and eateries at every nook and corner of the French colony.
Whether it’s a breakfast by the beach or a dinner at some of the best looking boutique hotels, Pondicherry and its flavors will spoil you.
While I cannot recommend enough places, I would love to recommend one place where I’ve had possibly the best Pizza of my life.
We had the chance to see our pizza being made in front of us at Tantos near Auroville with the toppings of our choice and I must say it was one of the best freshly made pizzas I’ve ever had in my life. I’m sure this place won’t disappoint you.
4. Cafe hopping and graffiti hunting.
While you can’t be eating at all these cafes you come across in beautiful bougainvillea strewn streets for there are so many of them and unless you keep coming by every now and then to try each and every one of them, it’s always a pleasure to soak yourself to the feel of a fresh bohemian vibe that screams out of them at every turn of the street.
Creative art slapped across the walls of the streets, some of them in cafes or street walls and others in places you’d least expect, Pondicherry is so full of them. Drift through the alleys and go graffiti hunting. It’s always a pleasure to look out for an artistic trail as you trot.
One cafe I’d recommend is the Cafe Des art. You’ll be blown away by it’s quirkiness.
5. Meditating and cleansing oneself at Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
If there’s one place I’d recommend for a spiritual retreat, to do some quiet meditation or yoga and to soak yourself in the stillness and serenity of the place, it’s Aurobindo Ashram. There is something about the place that smells of peace in the already peaceful neighborhood of the Ashram.
The grey and white colored buildings could be seen everywhere around the Ashram – schools, libraries, shops, restaurants, hospitals. Even if you aren’t the type to meditate, just go sit and breathe in and out peacefully at the Ashram. You’ll surely feel restored, a lot more calmer and energized when you step out of the Ashram.
6. Auroville – an experimental township.
Auroville, ‘the City of Dawn’, is one of those ideas that anyone with idealistic leanings will love: an international community dedicated to peace, harmony, sustainable living, and ‘divine consciousness’, where people from across the globe, ignoring creed, colour and nationality, work together to build a universal, cash-free, non-religious township and realise good old human unity.
Some 12 km northwest of Pondicherry, Auroville was founded in 1968 on the inspiration of ‘the Mother’, co-founder of Pondicherry’s Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and her philosophy still guides it. Aurovillians run a huge variety of projects ranging from schools and IT to organic farming, renewable energy and handicrafts production, employing 4000 to 5000 people from nearby villages. It’s citizens opt out of conventional society but remain very much actively involved in its problems and challenges.
On my three visits to Pondicherry, I’ve always seen the Matri Mandir, yes the ferrero rocher like structure but till date, I’ve not had the chance to stay for longer days in Auroville and soak myself in the ideology of this township, to do the things that you love, to live your dreams and follow the drive for your passion, even if it’s for a while. I would love to someday experience this – something I wish to do in the coming days. I’ll write about it when I do experience it.
7. Churches – of architectural designs and spirituality
There is nothing quite like the lovely chant of choir songs lingering in your ears, of church bells ringing at a distance calling out to you to soak yourself in the peacefulness for a little while. And it sure does take you to the slow lane. There are numerous churches in Pondicherry and the designs and architecture of these churches will definitely make you wonder in amazement and appreciation. Two of the churches I’ve been to are Notre Dam and Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – both of them beautiful. The rare stained glass panels depicting events from the life of Jesus and the saints of the catholic chruch will leave you speechless.
8. For the beach bum in you
Head to any of the four main beaches for the beach bum in you.
Promenade beach – This beach resembles nothing short of a carnival at all times. Beach lovers, foodies and people of all ages throng the beach road till late in the evening.
Whether it’s the charming colonial buildings that line the beach road on one side or the locals selling icecreams and balloons and cafes on the other side, taking an early morning stroll or evening walk on this ‘full of life’ beach is one way to experience the Pondy vibe.
Auroville Beach – Watch the sun go up in its magical way. There’s something about this beach I cannot quite describe. See it for yourself.
Chunnambar Backwaters / Paradise beach – No doubt the sandy beach at the mouth of the Chunnambar backwater sandwiched between the waters on both sides is beautiful but it could get a little crowded which is why I didn’t like spending much time there. But on a day with a lesser crowd, I’d love to chill by this beach all day long. The 15-20 minutes ferry/ speed boat ride to the beach from the backwaters is one exciting ride. There are a couple of thatched roof shelters to provide respite from the sweltering heat on a very sunny day. The beach also has bathrooms for changing. For the adventure lover, the backwaters provide water sports activities.
Note – The Chunnambawater sports centre operates from 9 am to 5 pm
And there’s Serenity Beach which I missed out on, while in Pondicherry. The next time perhaps.
9. For the avid shopper in you
Though I didn’t indulge myself in shopping here, Pondicherry is a place where you can buy goods for good enough prices. From chic boutiques that may sell goods at a slightly higher price than you would expect, to various other stores with goods reasonably priced or even low priced, this is a place every avid shopper would fall in love with.
I’ve been to Pondicherry three times but this big city calls me back again and again for it brings a small town feeling of friendly neighborhood, peacefulness and quietness. There is a sense of quiet in the chaos. Whether it’s the food, the wealth of thrift store shopping, a long stroll on the beach or amidst the shaded or tranquil streets, Pondicherry with its confluence of rich heritage, grace, chicness and quaintness will always spoil me.
Still not convinced? My next post will be a photo essay on the beautiful white town. Perhaps that will convince you?
PS – All pictures were taken by me and my friend.