Puducherry is a quiet little town on the southern coast of India, with a visible French Heritage, quaint little colonial buildings and unpoilt beaches. The Union Territory of Puducherry comprises of four coastal regions namely Puducherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam, the city of Puducherry being the Capital of this Union Territory.
Puducherry had been on my to-do list for forever. I am a big Goa-fan and had heard that like the Portuguese colonial vibe that still permeates Goa, Pondy (as Puducherry, the erstwhile Pondicherry, is fondly called) retains its French charm. And not to mention the pictures I had seen and things I had read on the internet. So we planned a trip to Pondicherry and Chennai – Chennai, I must confess, was an afterthought, which actually turned out to be where we spent more time due to logistical reasons. Short on time, and with a very laid-back itinerary in hand, we set out with kids to explore these two cities down south (India).
So, whether or not you are big on experiences, there are a few things that you would want to do when in Pondy. Three kids between two families, here is what we managed to catch and highly recommend.
1. Pondicherry’s Abundant French Cafés
I admit that the promise of French food in India, does sound questionable. However, Pondicherry having been a French colony and due to the presence of French quarters with a lot of expat population, abounds in French Cafés that serve French as well as Fusion French dishes.
Our first stop in Pondy for lunch was Les Chefs café in White Town. Tucked in a corner of the sleepy town, the cafe serves up gems like Vegetable Bamboo Biryani, Spinach Ravioli and a rich Brownie with Ice cream – not really French food, but yummy nonetheless.
For breakfast the next morning, we visited Baker Street, thanks to recommendations online and by the locals. A quaint cafe, Baker Street is surely worth a visit. You will be surprised with the variety on offer and everything is fresh. A host of breads, Panini, Sandwiches, Quiches, Pizzas, Tortillas, Burgers, Lasagne and much more. And did we mention the desserts… We ordered a Vegetable Lasagne and a Pesto Panini, along with a Strawberry Shake and Cold Coffee. While none of the items was big on presentation, it was a lesson in why not to judge a book by its cover. Each and every bite and sip we took seated at our croissant shaped table was heavenly. The Chocolate Eclair is a specialty and it doesn’t disappoint.
Les Chefs: No 27, Yanam Vengadachalam Pillai Street,Pondicherry – 605001. P:(+91) 7338775757
Baker Street: Bussy Street, 605001 Pondichéri, Puducherry, India. P: 0413 645 8888
Sweltering heat aside, the trek to Matrimandir, Auroville, could have been quite pleasant in better weather. Auroville is an experimental community 10 km from Pondy, founded in 1968 by spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa, the then Executive President of the Sri Aurobindo Society to propagate the vision of Sri Aurobindo. Matrimandir is a spherical golden temple, that looked much like a Ferrero Rocher to me. The Botanical Gardens around it are magnificent. If you wish to go inside the temple, you may be required to make bookings in person. For details, refer here.
3. Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Located in the lovely White Town, Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a landmark in Puducherry. It is a silence zone where noise of any kind is discouraged. The white marble samadhis (tombs of Sri Aurobindo) in the tree shaded courtyard have devotees and visitors meditating around it. As serene as it can get, it will be the quietest (possibly, most peaceful) half an hour you would spend in a while.
There are a few temples you can visit while in Pondicherry. A few steps away from Sri Aurobindo Ashram is the Arulmigu Manakula Vinayagar Temple. Nestled in an alleyway, its approach belies its beauty. It is considered auspicious to bring new vehicles here for blessings of Lord Ganesha. The vibrant detailing in the temple starts outside with a very impressive roof mural. The paintings and sculptures of Gods and Goddesses inside are detailed and beautiful.
Other popular temples in Pondicherry include Sri Gokilambal Thirukameshwara Temple (also referred to as Villianur Temple) and Kamatchiamman Temple.
5. Raj Nivas
Raj Nivas translates to Government House. The mansion which is a harmonious blend of French and Indian style architecture, is an iconic building in Pondicherry. The site was once the location of the Hotel de la Compagnie (the French trading company that ruled in Puducherry from its first settlement in 1674 until the French government took over in 1769) and is now the Lieutenant Governor’s residence. Raj Nivas is not open to the general public except on certain days.
You can however, admire the magnificent white building from the imposing gates, that give you an indication of the grandeur within.
6. Pondicherry Botanical Gardens
We didn’t really take a tour inside the Botanical Garden as the kids were tired with all the walking but the place did seem inviting, lush green and vibrant with people from all walks of life. The Botanical Gardens in Puducherry were laid out in 1826 in ornate French style, with pruned trees, beautiful flower beds and gravel lined paths and fountains, including musical fountains. The gardens also offer toy train rides, so these are a great bet for families with children.
7. Night Stroll by the Promenade Avenue
The Promenade beach is a rocky beach and makes for a surreal sight during the day. But come nighttime, there is no vehicular traffic and nothing to stand between the sights you want to admire and you. Take in the beautiful French windows across the road, the majestic Mahatma Gandhi Statue, Joan of Arc’s statue, the old Light House, the remains of an old pier and a host of eateries to choose from.
8. Dinner at Bay of Buddha
Nothing beats the views and food at Bay of Buddha, located on the terrace of The Promenade (by Hidesign). They have a nice varied menu, so take your pick – we were impressed with the Mapo Tofu (Chinese Szechwan pepper tossed tofu with soya sauce and scallions) that we had with Jasmine Rice, and the moreish Holy Basil Cheese Cake (Basil flavoured Ricotta Cake). The open terrace restaurant serves world cuisine and the lit-up views of the beach side area are a sight.
Bay of Buddha: Goubert Ave, White Town, Puducherry, 605001. P: 0413 222 7750
9. A Cemetery
Because why not! There is unmissable serenity, a treasure trove of lovingly carved crosses, poetic epitaphs and humbling sculptures that make it worth a visit. Reading some of the inscriptions, such as that of a teacher who dedicated her life to bettering that of her students or that on a family tomb which underlined the desire to be together in afterlife, one gets a sense of mortality and how important it is to make the most of our time.
10. Shop or Window Shop
The small stores that line the town are a treat for the shopoholics. Beautiful sculptures and artefacts make for a wonderful browsing experience. These stores are sure to offer some wonderful finds that are good as knick-knacks, mementos and presents for friends back home.
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