48 HOURS IN PONDICHERRY
WORDS BY RASHMI GOPAL RAO
Pondicherry is a city like none other. A French colony until 1954, Pondicherry (also known as Puducherry and fondly called Pondy) is an ideal seaside destination and a perfect weekend getaway from Chennai or Bangalore. The old-world charm and colonial cityscape of the White town capture the attention of the first-time visitor, while the newer part of the city is a picture of hustle bustle with a heavy South Indian influence.
The soul of the city is arguably the French Quarter. With a perfect synergy of French and Indian influences and a host of unique experiences, Pondy is sure to leave you enchanted with every visit.
10:00 a.m.: Take a spiritual sojourn at Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple
The Manakula Vinayagar Temple was established well before the 17th Century when the French settled in Pondicherry. The eclectic local market outside the temple premises has attractive stone and terracotta artefacts you can buy as souvenirs. Do not miss Lakshmi, the elephant at the entrance of the temple, and a chance to get your head tapped by her trunk, which is akin to a blessing!
11:00 a.m.: Pay your respects at Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Established in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo and a French lady famously known as "Mother", the Ashram has a focus on community living. The institution today has close to 2000 members and is currently managed by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, a public charitable trust. The grey, sombre building is a sanctuary of peace and tranquillity. An impeccably maintained space that is surrounded by greenery, the centre of the Ashram complex houses the "samadhi" of both these leaders.
12:00 p.m.: Visit the Pondicherry Museum
Located on St. Louis Street, the Pondicherry Museum is a treasure house of statues, artefacts, and other objects from the Chola period. The stone sculptures and bronze statues from the Pallava and Chola dynasties are of particular interest and a significant feature of the museum.
3:00 p.m.: Take a stroll around White Town
Bougainvillaea-lined avenues; colonial-style buildings in white, yellow, and ochre; and cobbled, bicycle-friendly streets characterise the French quarter that is separated from the rest of the city by a canal. It is immaculately planned, with roads laid out in a perfect grid replete with blue boards with French road names painted in white. With a substantial French population, this part of the town is home to several bakeries and restaurants serving authentic French cuisine (think croque monsieur, baguette, crepes, and quiches). You also have traditional home-grown brands like Suguru where you can sample delectable local Tamil/South Indian cuisine.
6:00 p.m.: Experience the promenade seafront
Beach Road or Goubert Avenue is a popular haunt with locals as well as tourists. While the actual beach is separated by a wall of rocks (the waters are not accessible to the public), the road is a great place to walk along the sea. Beach Road is teeming with street food vendors and hawkers selling curios. Towards the end of the avenue is a lighthouse that is almost 30 metres tall, as well as the famous Gandhi statue flanked by eight intricately carved 17th Century pillars.
10:00 a.m.: Visit Auroville and Matrimandir
Auroville, a township 10km away from Pondicherry, was founded by Mother in 1968 with a vision to achieve human unity. People from over 50 countries live here in peace and harmony irrespective of caste, creed, and colour. It is spread over 20 square kilometres amongst forested and semi-urban areas, and an ideal way to start your exploration is at the visitor centre where you can spend few hours learning about the ethos of this unique community whose name translates into "City of Dawn". The Matrimandir – "Temple of the Mother" – is the highlight of Auroville, designed like a golden sphere and surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Auroville offers plenty of food and shopping options. Ceramics and pottery are wonderful buys, and there are many cafés where you can sample wholesome, organic fare apart from a host of world cuisines.
3.00 p.m.: Unwind at Chunnambar Boat House and Paradise Beach
The backwaters of the Chunnambar are a popular boating venue. There are several other activities you can indulge in as well, such as trekking, beach games, and yachting. The point where River Chunnambar meets the Bay of Bengal is an exquisite sight. At the mouth of the backwaters is Paradise Beach, which has pristine white sands and is an ideal place to sunbathe or laze around while watching the sunset.
7:00 p.m.: Retail therapy
Head back to the city for a stint in shopping and retail therapy at Jawaharlal Nehru Street, Mission Street, and MG Road. The Ashram shops have high-quality handmade goods like incense sticks, candles, and perfumes as well as exclusive handmade paper and craft materials. Kalki, Casablanca, and PonFab are stores where you can pick up fabrics, souvenirs, and collectables.