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THE BACKPACKSTERS

A soulful weekend in Pondicherry

The town of Pondicherry is reminiscent of French culture and architecture even today, and is the easiest way of experiencing a little bit of France in our own country! 

 

Beaches, Culture and Food come together so well in Pondy!

 

Most visitors have the same question - "how many days do we need to experience Pondicherry?" Well, we think that three days is just about enough to cover all of the alluring spots there. And here's what you can cover in those three days.

 

 

1. Getting there:

  • Pondicherry or Puducherry, as it is officially known is easily reachable from any part of the country. It is a 300 km drive from Bangalore and about 160 kms from Chennai (nearest Airport).
  • When we drove down from Bangalore over a long weekend, we found the roads quite good, except for certain sections in Tamil Nadu which were quite bumpy. It took us about 6.5 hours including a breakfast pitstop and 3 tolls with mile-long queues! This makes it is a great choice for a road trip for both couples and families alike.
  • There are a number of private and government-run buses (including AC Volvos) that ply from Chennai (INR 400), as well as Bangalore (INR 700)
  • There is also rail connectivity with the major cities in the country.

 

Pondicherry's beaches are always bustling with fishermen and visitors

 

 

2. Getting around:

  • Exploring Pondicherry is actually very easy! Since it is a small town, you can literally reach any part of it within a half hour. 
  • Autorickshaws (flat charge of INR 50) and local buses (very cheap tickets) are easily available within the town.
  • If you are driving your own/rental car, there is no need to worry about parking - it is easily available in most points of interest or in the vicinity. We did not struggle to find parking anywhere the whole time that we were there, except at the beach where the roads are quite narrow and become bottlenecks.
     

Rickshaw rides in Heritage Town


 

  • Walking or riding a bicycle around the older French and Tamil quarters of the city are a must-do! These are the most satisfying and beatific ways of exploring the culture of Pondy.
  • Renting a two wheeler is also very easy - it can be as low as INR 200 per day.
  • Auroville is outside Pondicherry and an auto/taxi ride costs about INR 300 per trip, but if you take the Auroville Community bus, it costs only about INR 60.

 

Share-autos are an extremely cheap way of getting around White Town

 

 

3. Staying in town:

  • Now, Pondicherry has some really extravagant hotels like the Palais De Mahe and The Promenade. These hotels look gorgeous, especially with the French theme of the architecture, but they can be very expensive on busy holidays.
  • There are many budget friendly hotels in the town centre averaging about INR 1,500 to INR 7,000 a night depending on what suits your needs.
  • We stayed at the RKN Hotel, and the Mass Hotel, both of which we never booked ourselves (so we reserved rooms at Villa a La Mode and the Golden Sun Inn, since all other hotels, BnBs and Oyo rooms were fully booked for the weekend - and these turned to be overbooked and we were offered complimentary stays in the only other vacant places in town). 
    We actually found the RKN hotel fairly good. The room was quite big and clean. There is also a small resto-cafe there.
    Mass Hotel was huge let down though - we would never go back there ever again! The rooms were big but were not clean enough.

 

The room at RKN Hotel

 

  • For the best experience, you can reserve a wonderful beachfront Casa on Serenity Beach or Paradise Beach, or stay at BnBs like The Hermit Frog or the Theevue Plage Beach Club. There are also innumerable rooms with alluring french themes inside White Town. 
     

The view from the cafe at Theevu Plage 

 

 

4. Activities:

  • Paradise beach is a very popular beach in Pondicherry. It is picturesque and is clean. Access to this beach is by a ferry only, starting from the Chunnambar Boat House. The speed boat ride costs about INR 300 and you need to buy tickets for your camera as well. Things to keep in mind here include beach timings (9 am to 5 pm), ferry queues (take over an hour on most days to get the ticket and board the boat). You can buy food at the shacks since outside food is not allowed. There are many water sport activities to choose from. The beach is perfectly safe for couples and families alike.
     

Pondy's beaches are very popular on the country's east coast

 

  • Serenity Beach is lesser known beach compared to Paradise, but is so much fun to visit! The small waves are ideal for amateur surfing. The long shoreline makes it comfortably accessible to every visitor. The rocky pier is perfect for photography and enjoying conversations. And if you are interested in heading out into the sea, the local fishermen also have offer boat rides for INR 200 in the calm waters of the Bay. Serenity Beach is our #1 pick in Pondicherry!

     

Families, especially Children will really enjoy Serenity Beach!

 

  • Auro Beach is another less-crowded beach that you can plan to visit if you want to just relax and enjoy the peace and calm. It is mid way between the town centre and Auroville. 
     
  • The beach at the Veerapattinam fishing village is just a couple of kilometres from Paradise beach. The beach is rarely crowded and apart from a few snack vendors and kite flyers, there's hardly any other visitors. In fact, the whole time that we were there, we noticed only 50 other people, mostly families playing in the beach.
     

The beach at Veerapattinam isn't well known on the tourist circuit yet

 

  • Exploring White Town is a MUST-DO! You can start your walk/bicycle ride from just about anywhere in the quarter but make sure you visit the Promenade by Rock beach where you can see many French-themed buildings including the French Consulate, the War Memorial and the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The Rock beach is a great muse for photography - day or night! Every weekend, the Promenade is cordoned off. 

The French War Memorial by the Promenade

 

  • No vehicles move around, so its a walker's paradise starting from Friday every week. There are so many cafes and restaurants here too! 

You can never get enough of the bright building walls in White Town

 

  • The Sri Vinayagar Temple in the vicinity is one of the most important Temples in Pondicherry. It is very old and is beautifully decorated with murals, including one of Lord Ganesha's wedding ceremony. 
     

The Sri Vinayagar Temple in Puducherry

 

  • Across the street, the Aurobindo Ashram attracts thousands of visitors every day. In the central portion of the ashram, are the samadhis of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Mirra. It is extremely quiet inside and not a word is spoken by anybody out of great respect. The ashram has a beautiful garden all around the samadhi and it felt extremely liberating to sit there in meditation. There is also a library and a book store inside.

The humble entrance to the Aurobindo Ashram

 

  • Our walk through White Town led us to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, a Church dating back to the time of French Colonial rule in Pondicherry. It was built in the 1690s and eventually torn down and built back up over three times. It is a very popular tourist spot, but miraculously the place was nearly empty when we walked in. The Basilica of The Sacred Heart of Jesus is another cathedral that you can consider visiting. The cathedral looks similar to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, after which it was modelled.
     

The Immaculate Conception Cathedral is remnant of the French theme in town

 

  • Auroville, also called the City of Dawn, is located in Tamil Nadu, about 14km to the north of Puducherry. It was founded in 1968 as a place where anybody from anywhere could come live together in peace, irrespective of nationality, caste, religion or other boundaries. The self-sustaining town works on a concept of no-money, instead everyone offers their services to building a better community. At the time of our visit, we learnt that there were nearly 3,000 residents there. And we couldn't believe it when we heard that over 4 million trees had been planted over the years! At the centre of this site is a Banyan tree, which is deeply revered; just a little further away is the Matrimandir - a spherical dome that is supposedly one of the greatest sites to experience the inner of power of the self. Although day-visitors are not allowed inside it, it is possible to make a request a few days beforehand to enter the sanctum on specified days of the week.
     

The legendary Matrimandir inside Auroville is a spiritual magnet

 

  • The Gingee Fort is about 75 kms from Pondicherry on the route back to Bangalore. The fort dates back centuries and was considered to be one of the most impregnable forts in the whole sub-continent and was even called as the "Troy of the East". Many great dynasties ruled from here, including the Cholas and the Kings of the Vijayanagar empire. Eventually the British took control of it during the Raj. Today it is a modest tourist attraction with not too many visitors making it a perfect off-the-beaten path attraction.

The Fortress of Gingee, Tamil Nadu

 

 

5. Food and shopping:

  • This is one of the best things about Pondicherry! We had the BEST breakfast in forever at Bakers' Street - cheesy Lasagnas, hot thin crust Pizzas, extremely delicious quiches and the most delicate croissants - and then some mouthwatering chocolate twister pastries.

Yummmmmmm

 

  • There are innumerable cafes offering food with a delectable french accent. Apart from Bakers' Street you can also check out Le Cafe, Crepe in Touch, Le Cafe Chaplin and the Theevu Plage restaurant on Serenity Beach. You could expect to spend about INR 1,200 for two for a full course meal. 

Theevu Plage Cafe on the Serenity Beach

 

  • Street food is abundantly available by the Promenade and the nearby streets. You must taste the masala puri prepared in the local style! Corn cobs, popcorn, fruit sodas, and ice-creams are the specials on the neighbourhood menu and the prices are very wallet-happy!
     

The cafe-filled streets of Pondy!

 

  • Traditional south Indian meals (thalis) are also a must-try. On our drive back to Bangalore, we had lunch at a little restaurant just opposite to the Kalyan Jewellers store. The meal cost only INR 60, but the memory of the taste has left us yearning for another visit (we feel so awful that we can't recollect the name)!
     
  • Shopping spots are spread all over the town with souvenir stalls at all the major beaches and a street-market near the Mahatma Gandhi statue (Pondy being a union territory, does not have a concept of state taxes, so naturally things are very cheap). Souvenirs like shells, terracotta lamps, wall hangings and stone statues are very popular.
     

If you love terracotta, then you wont be disappointed shopping in White Town

 

Our two night stay at Pondy cost us about INR 12,000 including fuel, hotel-stay and food! This was on the higher side only because we never reserved our hotel rooms well ahead in time, but it is easily doable in under INR 8,000 for a couple.

 

Do you have any suggestions about Pondy? Write to us about it!

 

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