Pondicherry through rose tinted glasses

More than just French

What is it about Pondicherry that the world doesn’t know yet?

What is it about Pondicherry that is still waiting to hog the limelight?

Why would anyone read this when one can simply go to the Wikipedia page?

When I began writing about Pondicherry, these questions proved to be a setback. The answer to the above questions was a different question altogether. Is Pondicherry worth all the hype without its French connection? Well, you will know.

The ‘art deco’ style was dominating France during the mid 20’s and the 30’s. So when the French invaded Pondicherry, they added a splash of colour and geometry to the otherwise sleepy town of Pondicherry. Hence, you see those fences, those walls, those roofs, those pointy apexes of churches which happen to be an unusual sight in other parts of the country. I can dedicate a whole paragraph on how it is also the best place apart from the uber-cool eateries of South ‘Bombay’ where you can relish on mouth-watering French delicacies.

I will not talk about the French quarters or the beautiful monuments or the lavish restaurants boasting of roasted beef, Rillettes or dainty crepes and croissants.

My trip to Pondicherry was a hushed one. I started on a Friday evening and by Monday morning I was back in Bangalore.

Pondicherry is one of those places, where Mother nature has been extremely generous.  Let me begin with the Goubert Avenue. Yes, it wouldn’t have been what it is without the French style boulevards and buildings on one side of the Promenade. But had all that mattered, had there been no sea? While I was sitting on the rocks and staring at the sea, the ambiance reminded me of Marine drive from time to time. Although, Marine Drive is way too humid and the Promenade can certainly boast of a pleasant weather. I felt fortunate to actually feel the sunbeams on my face which made its way through the dusky clouds. You can sit on those rocks for hours and stare into absolute nothingness. I suggest you visit the place during the wee hours of the day. The chances of being poked by fellow tourists, requesting you to click a picture of them are relatively less at that time. Your state of trance can be disrupted by the commotion in the nearby Le Café.

Le Café is analogous to that brand of clothing which used to have an edge on style and uniqueness about itself in the past. There is nothing extraordinary about the menu. But the idea of sipping coffee and eating brownies for breakfast while admiring the Bay of Bengal is definitely worth the hype. If you are lucky you might get a seat on the terrace. What could be more fulfilling than resting your foot on the railings and looking at the clear blue sky?

The infamous Le Cafe near the rock beach

While you make your way out of the Café, you can’t help but notice the hoopla around the Gandhi statue. It is the favourite spot for children to roam around and make merry. The sight will certainly put a smile on your face.

My next stop was Paradise beach. If you have visited any beach in Maharashtra before, the sight is bound to make you nostalgic. But if you are visiting a beach for the very first time, you won’t be disappointed.

Paradise beach of Pondicherry

Afternoons are not really the best time to visit the beach. It will be scorching hot and walking on the white sand can burn your feet. But if you wish to take a dip and then soak in the sun, it might work out just fine. The beach is clean and serene. It is a picturesque location for couples honeymooning, wanting to capture a lovey-dovey pose. I did see a fair number of couples. Mostly, married and coming here for the first time. Too much mush! You can rescue yourself by taking refuge inside one of those tiny shacks that sell fish fries. Don’t expect it to be some kind of gourmet fish preparation. It is just pieces of fish dipped into a spicy batter and then deep fried in a huge pan. A plate of oily and spicy fish fry, and coconut water, I was done with my lunch. I had travelled there on a scooter. The place is approximately 8 Kms away from the Cuddalore main road. One more way to reach this place is to take a boat from the Chunammar boathouse. I suggest you opt for this route; you will also get to enjoy the sight of the backwaters.

All in all, there are 9 beaches in Pondicherry including the Promenade beach. Spoilt for choice, eh? I did not have much time in my hands. Hence, I could make it to only two of them. The second beach I visited was the Auroville alias the Auro beach. It is a lot cleaner than Paradise. It is approximately 12 Kms away from Pondicherry and falls on the opposite route to that of Auroville. The magnitude of the tides is comparatively lesser than what I observed in Paradise, making it an ideal place for swimming enthusiasts. I being a lazy bum chose to sit on a secluded corner and observe the people around. The place is a lot calmer than Paradise. The best time to visit is before sunset. A lazy stroll and good music, a perfect way to walk down the memory lane. All you need is a friend or maybe a bottle of beer 😉

My Saturday was well spent, courtesy, the sea, the fish fries, a good cup of coffee and a few good clicks with the help of my android phone. I hadn’t planned my Sunday. But I did have some things on my mind. Auroville was on top of that.

Speaking of Auroville, I hadn’t done any prior research before visiting that place. I thought of it as just another cult that preaches spirituality. And then, I was pleasantly surprised. Auroville was named after the Indian nationalist and the driving force behind the spiritual evolution of many – Sri Aurobindo. It is a settlement comprising of men and women from countries across the globe who believe in preaching and practicing “Karma Yoga”. It can be described as the yoga of performing a task or a job at hand. Aurovilians mainly take up a task or a project and carry out the work like doing yoga. They put their heart and soul in the manifestation of their work. Fascinating? Isn’t it! I thought so…

Another fact coming your way! It was founded by Mirra Alfassa in 1968. She was known as ‘The Mother’, and also happened to be one of the spiritual collaborators who worked alongside Sri Aurobindo.

Now, you are wondering as to why this piece of information is relevant? Well, if you are planning to visit Auroville, the first and foremost thing to visit is the humongous and absolutely stunning “Matrimandir”. It is supposed to be the epitome of peace and tranquillity but call it paradoxical; you can hardly find any peace around that particular area due to the significant outpouring of tourists who are willing to go great lengths to get a perfect click with the backdrop of a remarkable structure of modern design.

The Matrimandir in Auroville

Inside the monument, a spiraling ramp leads upwards to an air-conditioned chamber of polished white marble. It is known as “a place to find one’s consciousness”.

My second stop in Auroville was the ‘Visitors Centre’. You can do a range of things, once you are inside it. Firstly, you can get to see the all-inclusive exhibitions and video viewings on the settlement/town’s goals and activities, a special segment on Matrimandir, and an information centre that is well-stocked with several brochures and handouts on Auroville’s educational and cultural activities.

Shopping enthusiasts, anyone?!

Here, you will also get the chance to shop unique products manufactured in Auroville at the boutiques. If you happen to like pure linen or Khadi, I strongly recommend visiting the boutique. The selection of clothes is very earthy and trendy at the same time, not to mention, very comfortable.

It was nearing afternoon, I still had a few more places in my bucket list that I didn’t wish to miss. Thanks to the friendly and incredibly efficient auto rickshaw driver I came across in the nick of time, I could hop onto these places one by one and also catch my train back to Bangalore.

Here it is..

Some noteworthy mentions!

  • Cluny embroidery centre: You can lay your hands on intricate embroidery artwork. You will come across a wide range of tablecloths, napkins, bed sheets, pillow covers, hand towels, kitchen towels, curtains, bath towels, and wall hangings that have some exquisite and utterly delicate designs embroidered on them
  • The Goubert market: From fresh flowers of various kinds to locally cultivated vegetables, this market will give you glimpse of how the locals of Pondy reside and live a relatively simple lifestyle compared to the ultra-posh neighbourhood of the French quarters.
  • The Manakula Vinayagar temple: It is one of the most ancient temples of Pondy, and is dedicated to Lord Ganesha. I was 15 when I had first visited this temple with my parents, and now, I was 25. While entering the temple, I was struck with nostalgia. The interiors of the temple are still a sight to behold. Watch out for the temple elephant that stands at the entrance. She will bless you with good health and good fortune using her trunk.