Culture Trails

As Perfect as Pondicherry

Old trade towns of India are a treat for the tourists. Especially, if these are port towns, where various ships docked for the exchange of goods. Being important trade centers once in time, these places have historical footfalls of trading communities from various parts of the world. One can experience cultural confluence at its best here. I was on my way to visit one such maritime town and a former French Colony, Pondicherry( now Puducherry), quietly lying ashore the Bay of Bengal. 

What makes Pondicherry an ideal holiday destination?

  • The architecture of this former French Colony is enchanting!
  • A perfect blend of historical and modern aspects to fill your holiday with lots of adventure
  • Less crowded beaches that give you quality time at sea
  • Well -maintained tourist facilities 
  • Pondicherry is the only diving spot on the eastern coast of India and one can take up various water sports
  • Backwaters and beaches serve as picturesque locations that are click-worthy
  • Moderately priced hotels and eateries that ensure you stick to your budget

Visiting Pondicherry right after trotting all the temples in Chennai was a mild cultural shock for me!. The panorama changed drastically as I embarked on a four -hour morning drive to Pondicherry from Chennai.

The roads got greener with groups singing popular songs in their car as opposed to religious melodies played in tourist buses of Chennai. Serious -faced families were replaced with loud chattering crowds arguing on the number of bottles of cheap alcohol that were allowed to be purchased from this Union Territory of India. 

As I entered the town limits, The Chettinad style houses disappeared and I was greeted with little French cottages with high windows. Wood and white were generously used. Bright creepers and wild roses tagged along the fence, adding to the colonial charm.

Clean walkways with petite signboards ran neatly along the streets lined with trees. The heavenly baking smell of French tarts enthralled me as I tried to locate my homestay. Many eateries listed classical French crepes and the local crispy dosas together on their outdoor menu. Two of the world’s famous languages, Tamil and French were spoken together in this little town. Pondicherry was known to have over thirty churches and ancient Hindu temples. I looked forward to meeting Ella, my local host who was part French.

Tourist Fact File: Pondicherry

  • Best time to visit: November- February/Winters
  • Nearest Airport: Chennai International Airport
  • Nearest railway station: Villupuram (Trains from all major cities of India)
  • Connectivity: State transport buses from all major cities of Southern India
  • Ideal duration of stay :2 Nights/ 3 Days
  • Themes: Beaches, Gastronomy, Historical Places, Adventure

My homestay was a mustard-colored French cottage facing the sea. My host also had a perfume outlet connected to their home. Ella and her mother were welcoming and they escorted me to my room. After a quick freshening-up ritual, we headed to the Chunnambar Boathouse, to take a 10 am boat to the Paradise beach. The backwaters were clear and were bordered with thick deep mangroves. It took twenty minutes to reach one of the cleanest and confined beaches across India. 

Coconuts hung lazily on the groves as I tucked my flip-flops under their shade. The soft granular sand felt velvet beneath. Waters were shallow and the view was spectacular. Fishing nets were available on rent for those blessed with the patience for a good catch. The beach was lively with flying frisbees and I could see beach volleyball in progress.

We indulged in water sports and later installed our hammocks. The place was notably well kept with shower and change facilities for the tourists. 

Our lunch was a fresh and tasty seafood platter with cooling sips of coconut water which we whole-heartedly enjoyed. After a little rest, we decided to take a walk in the botanical gardens and later explore the town on a bicycle ride.

Experiences in Pondicherry

  • Sunrise at the Promenade beach while sipping fresh coffee
  • Take surfing lessons on the Serenity beach
  • Heritage walks of the White Town
  • Birdwatching at the Ousteri Lake
  • Take private French Culinary Lessons or take recreational classes at Sita Cultural Centre
  • Yoga & Meditation at Auroville 
  • Indulging in Authentic French Cuisine in specialty restaurants
  • Half-day excursion to the Paradise Beach
  • Climb atop the Lighthouse for spectacular views of the town

We collected our bicycle keys from the rental office and embarked on an evening tour of this little town. She took me to the famous Promenade Beach, also called the Rocky beach that ran a kilometer long between the War memorial and the Dupleix park. 

My heart raced at the sound of sea waves that ran up to the rocks and crashed with all their might. As the water receded, big red crabs peeped from the rocks and crawled along the wall. The cool sea breeze took turns to sway my curls and Ella’s hat jumped several times as we walked our bicycles along the Promenade. 

It was soon dinner time and we cycled our way to a renowned café on Mission Street. The walls were painted beautifully and high chairs complemented the tall wooden round tables. I indulged in a wood-fired pizza that tasted divine while Ella enjoyed her steak and fine wine. I learned that she spoke Tamil fluently, loved playing the violin, and studied perfumes, inspired by her French ancestry. 

We returned to rest later that evening to rise early for our visits planned for the next day.

Where to shop and what?

  • Souvenirs at HabitArt
  • Handicrafts at Auro Woodworks
  • Towels and tablecloth at Cluny Embroidery Center
  • Antiques at Geethanjali
  • Essential oils and perfumes at Senteurs- Fleurs En Flacon 

The next morning, post a light breakfast at Baker Street (without a Sherlock Holmes) we visited Auroville, the universal town, named after Shri Aurobindo who was an Indian Philosopher, a nationalist, an exemplary writer, and a poet. He contributed to the Indian freedom struggle in his early years and later went on to become a spiritual reformer and a guru. We availed a free entry pass by booking a day prior.

There were well-maintained spaces dedicated to yoga and meditation and we walked through the main edifice of Matri Mandir dome.

We indulged in some retail therapy at Auroville and next took a trip to the architectural ruins of the port of Arikamedu. They had a story to tell!

We found eroded columns from a once important trading port, captured by the Romans in India. The Chola kings too controlled their maritime activity through this port and in later times, the French.

Arikamedu was the principal center for manufacturing glass beads around the world some time in history. Artifacts unearthed from the port were preserved at the Pondicherry museum which also housed ancient Chola sculptures. I stood there studying the columns in detail when Ella tapped me to remind of our boat ride to watch the mangrove forests of the eastern coast…I loved being in this diverse part of India...

Pondicherry gives you what you seek. I say this as I am touring the town. From private yacht experiences to thrilling water sports.From meditation to lazying on the golden beaches.From fishing to birdwatching with your family on the boat ride of Ousteri Lake. Name it and you have it in this former French colony… I find this location perfect for a New Years’ bash with friends and family…I am coming with them again. How about you?

P.S: Don’t forget to try Ratatouille in a French specialty restaurant when in town!

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